Yesterday I, a boring, institutional, compromising (according to some of my non-conformist friends) Church of England priest had a spiritual moment. As I watched the installation (enthronement?) of Justin Portal Welby as Primate of all England and Primus inter Pares amongst the leaders of the Anglican Communion, there was a tangible sense that something awesome was happening in front of our eyes.
Just look at the hymn choices. Song after song, even those before the service officially started, were chock full of clear Biblical language. Classic orthodox themes of genuine dying to self and rising in Christ were repeated again and again in the words being sung in the Cathedral. Even the first hymn lay down the form to come.
O let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
We then moved to the classic hymn of trust in God’s sovereign purposes and the joy of knowing true forgiveness from true repentance.
GREAT is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not;
As thou hast been thou for ever wilt be:
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided,
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Great is thy faithfulness!…
As Justin moved from the Old Palace to the West Door and the Dean’s party travelled towards him within the Cathedral to greet him, we had the Dean’s own hymn utilising the I AM sayings of Jesus and finishing with the subtext of the uniqueness of Christ’s revelation of himself and salvation through himself.
I am the Resurrection life,
The power of God whereby
Whoever truly trusts in me
Shall live and never die.
I am the Way, the Truth, the Life
And truth shall set you free
To seek and find the way to life
And live that life in me.
As the procession, Archbishop now attached, moved back down the Nave, the sound of Isaac Watt’s classic hymn “When I Survey” sounded around the ancient walls, significantly with the addition of the often dropped fourth verse re-emphasising the themes of dying to self and the world.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Evangelical hymn followed Evangelical hymn. Procession to the Quire happened as the congregation sang “The Church’s One Foundation” with Samuel Stone’s words and Samuel Wesley’s tune.
THE Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation
By water and the word:
From heaven he came and sought her
To be his holy Bride;
With His own blood he bought her,
And for her life he died.
Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses
With every grace endued.
On and on it went. The cries of dismay from liberals on twitter when the Cathedral sang “In Christ Alone” were evidence of the way the service was going – clearly and unambiguously returning to the Church of England’s Reformed roots.
In Christ alone! – who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
“The wrath of God”. “Satisfied”. “Bought” with Jesus’ blood. The words echoed around the Norman pillars, carried down the fibre-optic cables and thundered into living rooms and media operation centres up and down the country and across the world. Powerful words of a powerful Penal Substitution.
And then the sermon. Oh what a sermon. If ever there was a moment to read the sub-text this was it. Beautifully crafted words that alluded to powerful messages from Scripture and left you to read on where the Word of God had been referred to and connect the dots of the simple picture Archbishop Justin was painting for us through his choices for this service.
Today we may properly differ on the degrees of state and private responsibility in a healthy society. But if we sever our roots in Christ we abandon the stability which enables good decision making. There can be no final justice, or security, or love, or hope in our society if it is not finally based on rootedness in Christ. Jesus calls to us over the wind and storms, heed his words and we will have the courage to build society in stability.
What is “justice” if we don’t know Jesus? What is love if we have not surrendered to Jesus?
For nearly two thousand years the Church has sought, often failing, to recognise in its way of being that Jesus is the Son of God. The wind and waves divided Jesus from the disciples. Peter ventures out in fear and trembling (as you may imagine I relate to him at this point). Jesus reconciles Peter to Himself and makes the possibility for all the disciples to find peace. All the life of our diverse churches finds renewal and unity when we are reconciled afresh to God and so are able to reconcile others. A Christ-heeding life changes the church and a Christ-heeding church changes the world: St Benedict set out to create a school for prayer, and incidentally created a monastic order that saved European civilisation.
Oh yes, ++Justin is well up for reconciliation, but the primary reconciliation he points out must be the sinner to a holy God, the rebel to the Divine one he/she has attempted to supplant. If we wish to be agents of change in the world we must be ones whose whole world has been changed by Jesus. What’s more, real genuine change does not look like the world around it but rather is so often despised by the society within which it incarnates.
The more the Church is authentically heeding Jesus’ call, leaving its securities, speaking and acting clearly and taking risks, the more the Church suffers. Thomas Cranmer faced death with Christ-given courage, leaving a legacy of worship, of holding to the truth of the gospel, on which we still draw. I look at the Anglican leaders here and remember that in many cases round the world their people are scattered to the four winds or driven underground: by persecution, by storms of all sorts, even by cultural change. Many Christians are martyred now as in the past.
You could positively feel Katherine Jefferts-Schori shaking in her robes, if only she had had the biblical literacy to understand what was being preached to her and others present.
How to end such a litany of orthodoxy? What else but the hymn of the man ejected from the Church of England for daring to simply preach the truth. John Wesley’s magnificent testimonial was the backdrop for the return of the newly enthroned Metropolitan Archbishop to the Nave altar and the vast body of his people.
AND can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray -
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light,
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ, my own.
And then it was done. Justin left his house and walked outside into the bright sunshine of a beautiful Canterbury afternoon, illuminated further by the bank of photographers showering him with flash after flash as they sought to get the best picture of the man who has come from nowhere to be the head of all Anglicans, a worldwide Communion of people almost everywhere on this planet.
That Justin is an Evangelical there is no mistake. That he wanted us to know it through his choice of music and words for the service, there is equally no mistake. That he is the man for such a time as this?
I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God,
to travel with you in his service together.
I am sent as Archbishop to serve you, to proclaim the love of Christ and with you
to worship and love him with heart and soul, mind and strength.
I come knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified,
and in weakness and fear and in much trembling.
Excuse me, I have a shiver down my spine. I need to go and lie down somewhere and dream dreams.
All photos © Picture Partnership / Lambeth Palace