Le Anglicane Gentilhomme

A short, incisive, eminently helpful book for the preacher is Raymond Brown’s An Adult Christ for Christmas.   In it he hones in on points in the familiar stories we might well have otherwise missed. For example, Brown focuses on the fact that the magi, traditional healers or holy men, manage by their traditional divining to get themselves in the vicinity of the Holy One, but can’t find the spot that requires knowledge of the law and the prophets of Israel. In other words, there is a kind of natural theology-in-miniature at work here: the kind of knowledge planted in the human heart, albeit distorted, is not nothing, but it cannot reach the saving place either. And of course we must also reckon on the violent madness of the king’s heart as well. Of both we who are Gentiles, are capable, prior to saving grace.

Epiphany is the time to think about the Gentiles, who we ourselves, for the most part, are.   We receive from our culture the affirmation of cultural diversity, which is itself a thread in Scripture - in our case mediated by the romantic tradition in modern thought. The nations of the earth, after all, exist prior to Babel, though that disaster adds the blight of misapprehension one to another, which only begins to be healed at Pentecost. Finally, at the close of Revelation, we read that the nations and their kings process into the new Jerusalem in splendor. But prior to this, the nations rage (Psalm 2) and demand of the imprisoned people of God an alien’s song (Psalm 137). As Gentiles in Christ we need think about this status as a significant factor in our mission and spiritual life.

It is at this point let me wade-in for the New Year where angels fear to tread. The global nature of our Anglican faith is in many respects the product of accidental factors: colonialism and globalism of an earlier age, the courage of missionary orders, the interaction of Gospel and local cultures and the resilience of the Prayer Book. At the same time these accidents cannot help but appear providential to us. What a gift to us, that we find ourselves part of a fragile, tensive, yet enduring communion of our fellow Anglicans throughout the world, in the Arctic, Melanesia, the new Churches of southeast Asia, the vast numbers in Nigeria, post-apartheid South Africa, the bravery of fellow believers in Pakistan, and on and on. Of course all this has come to be embroiled in the cultural debates of our time. But deeper than all of that is the significance of the nations to the catholicity of the Church, the very intimation of the nations entering in splendor. And there is no way to skirt the importance in our understanding of Church to real accountability one to another, to the hard but essential calling to sit in council together.

As you know, soon the primates of our communion (including our own Presiding Bishop we pray) will be called together by the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose see is the symbol of our ancient roots and our unity. It is my prayer that this occasion will mark the restoration of a more robust ‘walking together,’ as the Windsor report and the resulting covenant process spoke of. We are not, Epiphany reminds us, islands to ourselves, and this pertains not only when there is an easy peace, but when there is hard disagreement. Gathering in such time, as family beholden in a costly way to one another, prefigures the coming gathering of us Gentiles around the throne of the wounded Lamb. Please pray for that gathering, and give thanks that we of the nations, once far off, are now brought near in Christ (Ephesians 2:12).

Bishop Sumner's Christmas Letter: The Truce of God

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Greetings in our incarnate Lord. This past Sunday I took part in the splendid Lessons and Carols at Incarnation. The rector made mention of the service’s roots in 1918, as the British sought to come to terms spiritually with the trauma of the First World War. A video of the service from Cambridge, I had watched, included a reading from a letter of a young British soldier in the trenches at first wartime Christmas in 1914. You may have heard it. He describes how, as night fell, they could hear the Germans singing carols, as they were only 100 yards away. They began singing in turn, and that went on all night. At dawn two Germans raised their hands and began rolling a keg of beer out into no-man’s-land. Four Brits came forward to receive it, and they greeted one another with a ‘Merry Christmas’ in the middle. On the morrow, the fighting started up once more. The story is a moving one, for it combines the courage of the young men, the poignancy of their day of spontaneous cease-fire, and the expectation of warfare to come. But it also highlights the fact that they were all Christians, indeed most of them Protestant Christians, singing the same Christmas hymns.   Theirs was what the medievals called the ‘the truce of God,’ a day of jubilee in the midst of the powers and principalities, of division and conflict.

In his book by that name, Bishop Rowan Williams wrote about how such a scene enables us to understand the Eucharist. We live in the midst of divisions. We long for peace, but cannot ignore the realities around us. The peace of which the New Testament speaks lies ahead of us on God’s great day. For now the feast of the reconciled is a promise of that day and a sign of contradiction and questioning to the world, which wants to push the meal and the Church to its margins.

But all this is so because first ‘He is our peace’ (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus is the one who walks into the no-man’s-land. He will absorb the conflict of the opposing lines into his own body. But first he comes into the human world in this powerless and vulnerable form. He becomes a refugee, but only after he narrowly escapes genocide. So He at once doesn’t fit into our world, and yet has everything to say about our world as it really is.

We live in a world with various kinds of trenches dug-in. We need to do what we can to assure security and to restrain violence, though this will never be perfectly achieved. But we also are witnesses to the One in whom we can, perfectly, find security and peace, and to Him, especially, this Christmas, we give thanks.

In this Nativitytide may Christ richly bless every one of you and all of our congregations,



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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.