24 May 2009
Mattins – Woodchurch
Readings Acts 1:15 – end, John 15:1-8
May I speak in the name of God, +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“that they may be one as we are one”
On Monday Tuesday and Wednesday of last week I stayed in a monastery – the Community of the Servants of the Will of God. They are an Anglican contemplative order who spend a great deal of time in prayer and silence. It was an amazing experience to spend time in a place and with people so utterly devoted to the life of prayer and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting to seek God. Although you should probably be warned that whilst the interior and spiritual life is rich and fulfilling the exterior stuff such as accommodation and food are slightly on the frugal side.
Not everyone realises that there are such things as Anglican monks and nuns but there are at least a dozen monasteries and convents in this country and there are hundreds around the world. Some people think that because Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries at the same time as setting up the church of England that there must be some deep theological reason why Anglicanism rejects the monastic life – the truth, of course, is that Henry VIII was not in the least motivated by theology and simply wanted to steal their land and money. Over the last 150 years Anglican monasteries have staged a comeback and I, for one, think that they add hugely to our being as a church.
Some Christians I know are not in the least convinced that monks and nuns have any role to play in the church of England, especially contemplative orders who do not do any useful work in the community such as teaching or working in parishes. My view is that if you believe in the power of prayer, which I do, then we should all be grateful that there are people whose entire lives are dedicated to prayer and that they are praying for us literally night and day. I think of the monasteries and convents around this country like power stations of prayer, all tapped into the national grid of prayer and helping to keep our lights on whether we know it or not.
The particular calling or gift, charism call it what you will of the Order that I stayed with is that of restoring unity between all Christian churches. And they don’t mean the slightly chummy but ultimately unsatisfying unity of events such as Churches Together once a year, they mean full sacramental unity between all churches. Every day they pray not only for Archbishop Rowan but also for Pope Benedict, Bartholomew the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch and the leaders of all the Evangelical Churches and they pray that we should all be one.
And of course that is exactly what Jesus prayed for in the reading the prayer from today’s Gospel:
“…that they may be one as we are one.”
Jesus wanted his followers, the church, to share and to display the same unity, the same level of intimacy and togetherness and Jesus and his Father share.
Have we achieved that oneness – have we lived up to Jesus’ desire for unity?
Unfortunately much of church history has actually been a history of division and walking apart rather than together – in 1053 the Great Schism between Catholics and Orthodox divided the church between East and West – in the 1500s protestants divided from the Catholics and much of the history of Protestantism itself is one of myriads of churches and denominations branching off from each other. Jesus wanted his church to be one and yet we have constantly ignored that prayer.
What is the cause of all this factionalism and division – this disunity which constantly wounds the body of Christ which is the church? Surely, ultimately, it is the most invidious and dangerous of sins – that of pride. Thinking always that we know better than the other person or the other church and that rather than walking together in mutual humility, which surely is the way of Christ, we would rather walk apart thinking that we know best and being too proud to admit that the other may also be right.
It is also interesting to reflect that the English word Devil comes from the Greek word Diabolos which means ‘the one who brings division’ or simply ‘the divider’. The devil brought division between man and God in the garden of Eden and he brought division in the kingdom of heaven itself so, in many ways, it is not surprising that he continues to bring division in the church. But all is not lost and the prayer of Jesus cannot be in vain – if diabolic pride brings division then the Holy Spirit brings unity. As we approach Pentecost we remember the time that the Holy Spirit was sent on the early church and we pray to receive that same unifying and holy blessing – but let’s not forget that following the original Pentecost the Holy Spirit, the Spirit sent by Jesus, is always with us to the end of time if we but ask and pray. But we need to put away our pride in order that the Holy Spirit can fill us with the love of God and enable us to recognise Christ not only in one another but in all our brothers and sisters in Christ in other churches – that we may be one as God is one.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.