Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory
In these talks we have seen that the Christian people is gathered and that it hears the Word of God. It asks for judgment and it receives it, and it receives mercy and it asks for it. It sings and it prays. This particular community is, for our sake, part of the communion of God. It is given this identity and the task that come with it, by God. It is that part of the communion of God that is visible to the world, and which is therefore witness to God for the world. This is a huge claim. It does not make us comfortable to make it, but we cannot not make it. If this community does not make it, this claim does not go away but hangs around with destructive consequences for our society.
1. Unbroken procession
Let us take another look at the service as a whole. The people arrived and were greeted by the gospel. They were brought up the aisle of the Church to the altar where they received Christ from God. They were led by Christ down the aisle and out into the world to travel through the world.
To see this action at its very simplest, just imagine that a large round loaf is raised above our heads. We all move towards it, we receive some part of it and we all then stream away from it again.
This is the movement that we see in the Christian service. The priest holds up the loaf. This loaf is our gate into the future world, and it is the gate through which some of the future world comes to us and accompanies us now. This loaf is the eye of the needle, so small that nothing created can get through it. But the Holy Spirit passes through this loaf to us. In the first place the Holy Spirit brings this loaf into being – God makes it. And secondly the Holy Spirit passes through it and out to us, and from it he passes into us and percolates around within us. Since we cannot pass directly through them, all created things are an obstacle to us. But created things are at best a mesh through which the Spirit freely passes. Any and every material thing is a doorway of the Spirit. But for our sake it is only these specific things, bread and wine, that have been nominated to be this doorway. It is these specific elements of creation through which the Spirit comes, bringing Christ to us, that identify Christ, and which, since we gather around them, also identify us as Christians.
The Spirit-filled people flow out from this loaf and they journey around the world, percolating through every part of it. The procession departs from the altar and comes down the church, led as before by the cross, the candles, the deacon carrying the Scripture, followed by the minister and the congregation. From this loaf the procession of God’s people streams away in all directions, into every corner of the world. This people is on the way. There are two aspects which we must hold in balance. They are already a people, and they already have a certain presence here. And they are on the move, on the way, under development and still becoming what they are to be. We are being led by our Lord and he is leading us to God. The procession of this people passes through the whole world, so that the world can see.
We could leave it at that. The Christian people come from Christ and they return from him. He sends them out to take his service into the world, and he calls them back, so they are always on the way out and on the way back. Their service and witness is only good as long as they regularly come back to be refreshed and renewed.
Each Christian is the whole worshipping assembly in miniature, the uninterrupted service of God. The service is sent back out into the world. Each Christian is the Christian worship service, live. So the procession can divide into as many little processions as there are Christians, but it does not cease. The Christians take the whole service of Christ with them, wherever they go. You cannot detach a single Christian from this company of saints, because the Holy Spirit binds each one of us to all the rest of us. Each Christian is the whole procession in miniature, so the whole procession of Christ’s people are in each place, making itself felt here for the benefit of those who live in this part of this London or wherever you are.
During the week you don’t see us all in one place, so we appeared to be scattered. Each Christian is in their particular place like a seed dropped into the ground. But though we are all in our various different workplaces, we are nonetheless single indivisible body. The Holy Spirit holds us together across all distances: space and time do not ultimately divide us.
Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory
The last stage of the service is the ‘dismissal’. Dismissal simply means commission, for we sent off together, with this mission. We are made the envoys and apostles of Jesus Christ. We have to speak to all in the person of Christ, exercise his mercy, judging for ourselves where gentle words and where hard words are needed.
At the end of the service the congregation gathers around at the back of Church.
When we are milling about over coffee and biscuits at the end of the service talking through some of the various groups and forms of ministry that this liturgy takes us to. It takes us visiting, bringing communion to people in their homes, it takes us to school, to youth work, to the night shelter, hospital and prison visiting, fair trade campaigning – all of which simply are aspects of the service of Christ for us. Each particular form of service teaches us something about the service of Christ, so in each case we have to thank whoever we encounter for being part of his service to us.
Each of us is the Church, and speaks for the whole Church. We speak by blessing and thanking. We talk up whatever we possibly can. We pray, that is, we ask each of our colleagues and office-holders to act with as much generosity and imagination as they can. We ask them judge well, for the widest good and for the long term. We intercede and petition: we don’t whine, but when sections of this society remain unheard, we lament, and point out that this is impoverishing for our society as a whole.
3. Uninterrupted service
We have said that we are brought together at one time to participate in the one great service celebration that takes place uninterruptedly before the throne of God. Christ does not go off-duty but is forever our servant, always here for us. When we come together, we are brought into the unbroken time of God. This week’s service is not really separated from next week’s service by six weekdays, for secular time does not divide what the Spirit holds together.
4. The people of the resurrection
Gather into one in your kingdom all who share this one bread and one cup
God comes to man in Christ. This is what has happened in the resurrection. God has anointed Christ with man and he has crowned man with Christ. Man is with God, and God is with man.
Christ is accompanied by the Holy Spirit who keeps him just the behind the threshold of our sight, so that Christ is unknowable, not available to us as the single individuated body of Jesus until we are made finally ready to receive him. Jesus of Nazareth is ascended, and now, just as the whole glory of God was poured into the single body of Jesus, that same glory of Jesus is very slowly poured into us, the unlikely body of those gathered in this Church. But just as the head has been raised, so the whole people will be raised, and this community is already the anticipation and the pledge of the resurrection. Meanwhile, for our sake the Spirit subordinates himself to every other person, making possible for us to receive them.
Looking back to the incarnation of Christ is the way we know who to look for and so look forward correctly. ‘We look for his coming in great glory’, and when he comes, all mankind will arrive with him.
Jesus sends us other people. They are his first gift to us. We have to receive from him. We have to take them as his gifts, the ones he has chosen to give to us. We could make this even stronger: they are him for us. They are not separate from him and Christ does not allow us to grasp them without him. We should not try to see through them or past them to Jesus, or to imagine them as Jesus and so imagine away their own individual particularity. Rather their very particularity and individuality is the gift of Christ to us. There is no way to him except through life lived with these people. We must be humbled by receiving Christ with every single one of these people whom he brings with him. They have all have something to give us, something that they received from Christ, so each of them represents a piece of our own true selves that we must receive from them. We cannot be truly ourselves without them.
We receive one another from Christ. Christ waits for us to consent to receive all those he gives us. So the Holy Spirit humbles himself before each one of us. His patience will outlast the resistance each of us puts up. So Christ’s resurrection comes to us in this hidden way, one person at a time. As we are ready, our refusal of one another is stripped off us. When we cease experiencing all these other persons as a burden, but are happy to receive and delight in all others, we will share the freedom in service of Christ.
5. Worship and delight
In these talks I have been pointing out what the whole Christian Church says. It is the Christians who offer this very high view of man, and we do so publicly every time we meet. We say these things, but even more than that, in unison we sing them. The agreement of our individual testimonies is evidence of the truth of what we saying. We are able to wonder at man, the creature of God, and wonder how we are going to receive him.
In the Christian worship service we are watching the Lord at work. He is working, we are watching. We have been appointed his witnesses, more than that, we have become his companions while he works.
Holy, holy, holy
We are being called into a great company. Just how huge this company is, is something that will occupy us for time without limit.
The whole world is invited to participate in this great assembly and both to watch and take delight the world but also to take part in his work. Before us the Lord reconciles the apparently irreconcilable, and brings all things into communion so that they become willing, ready for each other and finally also beautiful.
In Christ, each of us joined to every other. The Church is the companionship of God making itself tangible and corporal here. The distinctiveness of the Church from the world is the great gift that God gives the world.
We become his holy people. We now participate in this prayer, so we are able to pass the whole world back to God who will redeem it and renew it for us. This is the reason why
With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we proclaim his great and glorious name.