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Communion And Community In Christ - Bridges Of Life
The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Douglas Williams
CEYLON 070621-1
June 21, 2007

A Sermon preached by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Metropolitan of the Church of Ceylon at the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] 

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

My dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the Church of England, especially at this time when this country faces so many challenges, all of you are in our prayers and in our thoughts each day. We hope that you too will remember us in your prayers. But it is a particular privilege to be here at this time to be able to share with you, to hear something of what it is that you face in these difficult days and ourselves as guests to draw courage and help from the witness of the church and the other communities of faith in this country.

I want, this morning to speak for a few moments about the Gospel that we heard a few moments ago.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to remain in his love; that they are to take time with him, to stay with him, to become used to him. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a short term affair. You cannot do it for a week, a month, a year and then say I've finished being a disciple. If you are to remain with him it is a lifetime's work and more. And we are not to be discouraged or distracted by pressure, suffering and temptation to turn away from that basic command - remain, stay here.

You remember what he says to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane "Stay here with me while I pray" and one of the great Christian thinkers of the last 400 years said we must not sleep while Jesus is on the Cross.

So our task as the friends of Jesus Christ is to stay and to stay awake. To remain in patience; to become used to him in his company. And when I hear those words I think of that extraordinary story in the Old Testament about the patriarch Jacob. He is about to meet his brother whom he has insulted and offended. He is very much afraid. He sends his family and servants ahead of him and he stays by the bank of the river in the darkness of the night. During the darkness of that night a strange figure comes to him and they wrestle together. They struggle together all night long till the day breaks. The stranger says "let me go" and Jacob says "I will not let you go until you bless me." And we realize that the stranger is God's messenger. The stranger is the presence of God in the darkness and Jacob all night long has struggled to stay with him. I'll not let you go until you bless me. Jacob has remained with God through the darkness until the very struggle becomes a blessing.

So the first message that we hear from the Gospel is that we are to remain with God. We have to become used to the company of Jesus and even during times when we find it very hard to make sense of what God is doing with us and for us, we struggle. We will not let him go until the blessing has become real in our lives. But then we must think of a second dimension to what Jesus is saying. In St John's Gospel it is very clear that to remain in the love of God, to stay with God's love, is also to stay with one another. To get used to one another. To be patient in the struggle to find a blessing in each other. Perhaps when those words were first spoken and first written the disciples of Jesus Christ did not try to stay with each other. Perhaps at that moment of the last supper they did love one another for a moment. But it didn't last very long. The New Testament shows us already that Christians did not find it easy to stay with one another. And our first reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles tells us of some of the struggles and conflicts in the early church which tempted them to go away from each other. Instead of staying until they found the other person a blessing, they wanted a quick and an easy way of dividing from each other.

So when Jesus says to his disciples "Stay in my love, Stay with me - struggle until you find a blessing from me." Surely he is also saying to all of us, his disciples and friends, stay with one another until you find a blessing as we struggle to find better ways of living together as Christians. That's what we are doing. We are seeking to obey the commands of Christ. Stay with one another; stay with other Christian individuals and other Christian communities. To think things differently; to see things differently until a blessing comes. Jesus says to his disciples, "without me you can do nothing"; and perhaps he also says to his church, "without one another you can do nothing". Stay through the night until a blessing comes.

That is what Christian communion and community must mean. It is the readiness and the eagerness to find a blessing in each other. To recognize that without our neighbour we can do nothing. That we are lost for the sake of Jesus Christ.

But this kind of communion and community is also what we have to offer to the world around us. We are sometimes told that modern technology and communication brings us human beings closer together. We hear about the Global Village. We are aware that on the Internet what I say here will be read in 30 seconds time on the other side of the globe and probably misunderstood. And yet the fact is that in our age we see men to be going apart in many ways. Racial prejudice, national pride, divisions of class and wealth become greater all the time; not less. In this Global Village the larger and wealthy houses becomes larger and wealthier all the time; and the burdens of the poor becomes poorer. In this Global Village where we are all supposed to be closer to each other, we have found more and more ways of retreating into our own corners, fighting for our own territories. In this Global Village it seems very difficult to have any sense that we are together in the small territories that are given to us. You know all about that in this island. A small island divided by bitter enmities, by violence and abuses. So easy to say the future must be ours only and only ours not for them. Future must be for us and not for the others. And in this small island the Church of Christ and the other communities of faith continue to witness to a hope that is greater than that; to a hope that the communities of this island will be able to say to each other "without you I can do nothing". To be able to say to each other "I will not let you go until you bless me." The communities must be able to look at one another in hope and not in fear. Jacob wrestles all night with God's messenger and he suffered in that struggle. It was not easy and he came out of it wounded.

When we struggle to stay with one another as Christians, when we struggle to bring that reconciliation of communities, we are not spared suffering. There are so many people around us who do not want to see bridges built, who do not want to see reconciliation happening. They will make us suffer and we must face that. But the command of Christ remains Stay with me - Stay with one another. Do not let each other go until you find a blessing.

I have spoken about the communities in this small beautiful island. There are many people who have spoken of the whole of our planet as a kind of an island. There is a modern American Prayer which speaks of this fragile earth as our island home. The whole world is a small island in which people have to learn to live in peace. The whole world is a territory in which we must learn to live together with a shared ownership, a shared responsibility. It is more than in this island or my own island that is too small for conflict. The world is too small for conflict. And our modern communications technology should be teaching us not how easy it is to spread the message of fear, paranoia and hatred-- it should be teaching us that we can grow into a common language, a common vision, a common responsibility, staying with one another until we find a blessing.

So the Gospel today gives us those three great and difficult messages. First of all it gives the message that each one of us in our personal faith stay with Jesus Christ. Struggle in the darkness even when you don't see where he is leading you. Become used to his company. Spend time with him in silence, in listening in prayer and in study of scripture. Stay with him because he has promised to stay with you. Second is the message to the Churches. Each Church in itself and all the Churches together stay with one another, struggle until you find from other Christians the blessing that you need in order to live and act. Don't turn away too quickly from your fellow Christians in suspicion or misunderstanding and then comes the deepest and hardest command of all. Learn to live as human beings with one another in the same way, regardless of the other's faith, regardless of the other's race, regardless of the other's convictions. Learn to live in such a way that you are ready to receive a blessing from the stranger. Remember every village is too small for conflict. Every Nation is too small for conflict. The whole Globe is too small for conflict. We cannot afford this bitterness. If anyone of us is going to be properly human what does God want from us except an abundant human light shared with one another. Give in to one another; a communion of community; human beings helping to make each other more human, to be more free, more loving, more beautiful.

May God then give us Grace to keep those bridges in good repair that connects us with one another. As I traveled yesterday from Kurunegala to Kandy I noticed how the traffic suddenly became more difficult at one particular point. And there was one rather old narrow bridge that had to be crossed. And I saw the beginnings of a new bridge being built at that point. It seemed to me that was a powerful image not only for the life of this nation but for the life of our whole world. When there are narrow bridges or unsafe bridges, people jostle together and sometimes find it difficult to cross. We must keep our bridges in good repair: the bridges of listening and sympathy, hearing the truth from one another, learning from the other's experiences in life. And as we do that we should find, as God promises us, that there is a blessing even from a stranger.

We meet this morning from the knowledge and the hope of that communion and community. We commit ourselves afresh to that vision of remaining with one another. As Christians, as human beings, as citizens of this country we commit ourselves to a communion in which we are all nourishing and serving the humanity of each other in which we will not let one another go until God has blessed us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.