The Archbishop of Canterbury was the celebrant at a closing Eucharist for the Anglican Consultative Meeting (ACC-14) in Kingston Jamaica.
The Eucharist was held at The Cathedral of St. James in Spanish Town- the oldest Cathedral in the British Caribbean. The first Anglican Church building was destroyed by hurricane in 1712 and rebuilt in 1714. The Cathedral is a mixture of many architectural styles with the tower (added in 1817) having one of the few steeples found in the Caribbean.
During the closing service the members of the Standing committee including Bishop James Tengatenga (chair) Mrs Elizabeth Paver (vice chair) and the newly elected member of the Standing Committee were commissioned in a colourful service. The music was sung with joy and enthusiasm and included everything from the setting of Psalm 121 by Walford Davies through to Three Little Birds of Bob Marley.
The preacher was the Bishop John Paterson, the Bishop of Auckland New Zealand and the retiring chair who finished his long and distinguished ministry with the Consultative Council with this service.
In his homily he reflected on his years of service and spoke directly about ACC-14, “ Our meeting has been characterized by some rigorous debates, but with respect and even affection across the floor of the house. As your outgoing Chair, I have been deeply grateful for that. And that surely is one of the many gifts that we can return home with, knowing that the ACC has met well, and the renewed confidence we can have in the strength and the life of the Anglican Communion.”
He also had the privilege of announcing that the next ACC meeting (ACC-15) will be held in his home province of The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
A gala dinner concluded the evening with a heartfelt expression of thanks from The Council to the Bishops clergy and people of the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands for their warmth generosity and gracious hospitality.
Address at the Closing Eucharist of ACC-14, Kingston, Jamaica, 12 May 2009
Mark 16: 1-8
This morning the Bible Study for the ACC looked in detail at the Gospel reading for this service, and the much-debated question of the abrupt ending to St Mark’s Gospel. Did Mark really finish in mid-sentence, or, as the old Sunday School joke would have Eve saying to Adam in the Garden of Eden is there a leaf missing?
Despite Janet’s carefully crafted Bible Study this morning, I take the view that the last piece of Mark’s manuscript has gone missing, and that he did not intend to leave the women trembling in fear and silence. Mark makes the point that these same women witness the death and burial of Jesus. These were strong, courageous, loving women who went to the tomb at first light without their men, intending to see to the necessary preparation of Jesus’ body, expecting to have trouble with the massive stone, but hoping no doubt that someone stronger would be around to help. You see, they were not going there in order to witness Jesus’ resurrection from death. They had no idea that any such thing was even thinkable. They were going to complete the primary burial tasks, the anointing of his body as their one last act of service to him, sad but necessary, leading to eventual permanent entombment.
And they got the shock of their lives. The stone was already rolled away. ‘The stone was rolled back’ – an example perhaps of Mark’s use of the passive voice to avoid speaking directly of God. We are to understand that the entire event is God’s doing.
I like to ponder about that stone. Mark makes the point that it was extremely large, yet when the women arrived, they found that it had been rolled away. Are there any large stones in our lives? “Who will roll the stone away?” the women asked. Who can roll the stone away from the death, from the negativity that so easily causes us to stumble and even to stop? Who will roll the stone away from those places where death and decay have us locked in, have us trapped? Are we looking for the experience of triumph or hoping for the experience of presence? Does the empty tomb represent the assurance that God is present in our times of limits and losses? Have we manufactured any large stones and are now unable of our own strength to roll them away? Have we manufactured a large stone called ‘An Anglican Covenant’ that will seal off creative, faithful life in the Communion? I trust not. Perhaps there are other large stones with different labels that we might wish God to roll away – stones that might be labeled ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, ‘orthodox’, ‘Windsor’, ‘Gafcon’ – are a few possibilities. Will God roll those stones away in order to let new life, new light, new hope emerge.
The women enter the tomb and find a young man whose message is perhaps the central message of Mark’s entire Gospel – “he has risen, he is not here”. The message brings dramatic reversal to a tragic narrative, which had seemed to end in the abandonment and death of the Son of God. The tragedy though is turned upside down. Looking among the dead for the one crucified, the women are assured that they are looking in the wrong place. “The place where they laid him” Mark says is empty. In this emptiness is expressed the futility of every effort to capture, to contain, to possess the Nazarene, the frustration of every quest of the historical Jesus. To see Jesus, the women and the disciples must look ahead, as the second part of the message makes clear. He would see them again in Galilee, and they are to go and inform the disciples and Peter – the man who had missed Good Friday. Even after those catastrophic denials, Peter was not to be regarded as being beyond redemption.
The falling away of the disciples and the denials of Peter are not the end of God’s plans for them. In this command to the women lies the promise of forgiveness and restitution, a renewed call and a fresh start for disciples chastened by failure but empowered by the resurrection.
One of the things that some of us have noticed about Mark’s Gospel is that people are often told to remain silent. Particularly people whom Jesus has healed are charged with maintaining silence. But they seldom take heed. For Mark the revelation of Jesus of Nazareth is not complete until the resurrection has occurred – only then is the command issued, and it is by the youth in the tomb – “go and tell”. And the supreme irony of the ending of Mark’s Gospel is that they do just the opposite. “They said nothing to anyone”.
Overcome by ecstasy, fear and trembling, the women flee from the tomb. Emotionally, they are overwhelmed with joy, but physically they are shaking with the enormity of what they have learned. “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”. The revelation for Mark has been completed, and at last the command can be given – ‘Go and tell’. The silence of the women, in Mark’s abrupt ending, then for me is inexplicable. Some scholars inform us that the real ending of this Gospel is for the reader to write.
“But go and tell his disciples and Peter, that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” At one level, the mention of Galilee functions in both a literal and a geographical sense. Other evangelists understood it in those terms, and Mark Chapter 13 presupposes that some such meeting must have occurred. A reflection perhaps of a life setting in which restored disciples are engaged in mission to all nations in the face of severe opposition and persecution.
As we celebrate the ending of this fourteenth meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, pack our bags to begin the journey home, perhaps we could also reflect on a different reading, on a different understanding of the significance of Galilee. Janet made this explicit this morning. At the level of discourse between the text and the reader could we not also understand Galilee as the Galilee of the Gentiles, the locus of mission to the nations? For Galilee is the place from which the disciples and the women came – Galilee is their home turf, the place of their daily life, their daily routine. So the place where we as readers of Mark’s Gospel must write the fuller ending, is precisely there also – at home, at our place of mission and ministry, and not simply here in this historic Cathedral in Kingston, Jamaica.
There is much for us to process as we return home, much that we have both contributed and learned in these eleven days together. For some of us it is also the last occasion that we will be together in an ACC gathering as members. Those whose ACC journey began in Hong Kong with ACC-12, and continued through ACC-13 in Nottingham, have finished their usual term of membership here in Kingston. In my case a journey from ACC-8 in Cardiff through twenty years until Kingston Jamaica and ACC-14.
I have sat alongside three Archbishops of Canterbury in that time, and three Secretaries General, during seven full meetings of the ACC. It was one of those Archbishops, Robert Runcie, who spoke of the ‘bonds of affection’ which used to hold the Anglican Communion together, and that certainly was my experience of these gatherings, certainly up until our meeting four years ago in Nottingham, when our holding together was severely challenged. But thanks to our wonderful hosts here in Jamaica, thanks to the magnificent way in which you have made us feel good to be here, thanks to the outstanding manner in which you have made us feel proud once again to be Anglican in your midst, in your worship, in your hospitality, in the broad smile of a Caribbean welcome, those bonds of affection are back in place. Thank you, Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, thank you Church of the Province of the West Indies. That in itself is a gift of great value, perhaps another aspect of that pearl of great price with which Archbishop Rowan began his time with us ten days ago.
When the members of ACC-10 arrived in Panama in 1996 and checked into the Hotel that was to be our home for the next two weeks, we were confronted by a large sign which said “On checking in to this Hotel, guests are required to leave their guns and weapons at the door”. Our Jamaican hosts have helped us to do just that once again. Our meeting has been characterized by some rigorous debates, but with respect and even affection across the floor of the house. As your outgoing Chair, I have been deeply grateful for that. And that surely is one of the many gifts that we can return home with, knowing that the ACC has met well, and the renewed confidence we can have in the strength and the life of the Anglican Communion. In my own case, ACC experiences over 21 years have provided me with wonderful friendships in many parts of the Anglican world, and those will always be treasured.
As well as being part of the ACC for so long, I have also had experience of two of the other “Instruments of Communion”. Only the Archbishop of Canterbury can have experience of all four Instruments, but some of us are able to claim experience of three of those four bodies. I served a six-year term as Primate, and attended a Primates’ Meeting in each of those six years. I have had the privilege and the pain of attending two Lambeth Conferences. The fact that the ACC is the only truly representative gathering under a Constitution agreed to by all the Member Churches, the only one of those four instruments where laity and clergy other than bishops can have a voice and a vote, is of lasting significance.
Anglican polity has always held that it is bishops in synod, or bishops in council, that are able to make decisions that guide the life of the church locally. For the Communion, the Primates’ Meetings cannot do that, although we should be able to look to our Primates for wise guidance and theological insights, but in my view that is quite different from making binding decisions from which the rest of the Church is excluded.
We have now moved to seeing what we have known as the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC become more simply the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, possibly meeting more than once a year, with the right balance of Primates, clergy and laity represented. That is a significant advance in the tightening of our structures, a significant advance in helping the four ‘Instruments of Communion’ work more cohesively together, without taking anything away from any of those Instruments.
So I wish Bishop James Tengatenga and Elizabeth Paver well as they take up their new responsibilities as Chair and Vice Chair respectively. I have occupied both of those positions, and so I know something of what you will experience. When I was the Vice Chair I held Bishop Simon Chiwanga of Tanzania in very high regard as the Chair of the ACC, but I privately would address him as ‘the Artful Dodger’ because of the way he very skillfully would get me to do most of the donkey work. So, Elizabeth, be careful!
I look forward to helping to organise the hosting of ACC-15 in three years time in the context of the Anglican Communion’s best-kept secret – i.e. the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. I will not have to concern myself with the deliberations, the by-laws, the Constitution, the Budget, nor the politics that have sometimes been all too present in these meetings. But the major challenge, which will face us as hosts, is to try and maintain the extremely high standards of welcome and hospitality, which have been set here in Jamaica, and were most certainly also set seven years ago in Hong Kong. Our hosts will know that I mean the Black Caps batsmen face the challenge of the West Indies fast bowlers. I know Anglicans in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, will gladly face the challenge of hosting the ACC but, perhaps a barrel or three of Bishop Reid’s rum punch would help, and I need to talk to the Bishop about that.
The abrupt ending to Mark’s Gospel invites readers to write their own. Well- Here is one such attempt: ‘The disciples - the members of the ACC went out and flew home from Jamaica. Trembling and panic had not seized them, other than going through Customs and Immigration. They told everyone they met that Christ is alive and living in Jamaica, and they fully expected him to accompany them on their journey, and to meet him when they arrived home. And what is more, they said, the Anglican Communion is alive and well, and functioning faithfully and effectively in places right around God’s world, in places of fear and strife, in places of poverty, places of wealth, places of natural disaster. Anglicans everywhere are following our Lord’s beckoning to meet him there in Galilee, in the places where they live and work, in the midst of God’s creation, which so badly needs our care. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is raised indeed! Alleluia let us keep the Feast. Amen.