The Chrism Eucharist

Published: 17th April 2014

 One of the special services in the Church's calendar is the Chrism Eucharist which takes place in the cathedral of each diocese on the morning of Maundy Thursday.

This year, the Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Right Reverend Mark Rylands, preached the sermon, challenging us all to choose between being mourners or midwives, to choose between weeping for the past or helping bring the future church into life:


Maundy Thursday 2014       Chrism Eucharist Sermon         Lichfield Cathedral                                  

1 Samuel 3: 1-10

It is night time, a moonlit sky. In the distance, we can hear the barking of a dog and just make out the flickering of a small fire. Standing on this high place we can see the countryside all around. Make out the jagged narrow valleys, the wadis and see the terracing of olive groves. Then we turn and look ahead of us. In the shadows there is a low squat building hugging the ground. Its dark door beckoning to us. We move toward it into the darkness like entering a dark womb. Somewhere in here is a flickering light. But we realise there is also human life in this place.

We have walked into the Temple at Shiloh: see Eli and notice the language of 1 Samuel 3:  word … rare; vision… absent; eyesight… dim; cannot… see; lying… down. It speaks of Passivity, defeat, despair; of absence, not presence.

Then suddenly the camera is on the child; in  scripture the child is important- a child is possibility, a child is energy, a child is life, a child is tomorrow, a child is hope. A child is all of these things. If you had gone to the catacombs of Rome toward the end of the 1st Century and asked what is your image of Jesus? They would have pointed you to the drawing on the walls of the shepherd boy of Hermas, now with a halo. They would have said: the child shepherd, thats our Lord. With all the implications of that in early Christianity, that: we are tomorrow, not yesterday. We are child. We are not old, we are young. We are not weary but pulsating with energy. We have an innocence. For us, it is dawn.

 The boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord. Samuel was lying down in the Temple of the Lord - where the ark was.

Then the Lord called: Samuel, Samuel

Here I am! and he ran to Eli. Here I am, for you called me. The old man says: I did not call you. Lie down again.

The Lord called again. Samuel got up, got out of bed, tiptoed in and went to Eli. A little bit afraid, he didnt run this time; didnt want to enrage him.

Eli (see his warmth toward the boy a lovely thing): I did not call you, my son. What we notice he has not lost his essential sweetness. He doesnt bark angrily at him: lie down again.

And the third time, the Lord calls Samuel. Samuel responds nervously: Here I am, for you.. you did call me.

Theres a lovely line in the text: Then Eli perceived… This elderly defeated, bloated, obese man, shamed in society by his sons behaviour. Once great but now a husk of greatness. Yet still trying desperately to be faithful to the flickering light in the holy place. This is not just an experience of long ago Eli. (maybe there are times we can relate to Eli)

And Eli perceived that the Lord is calling the boy. One of the great moments in the bible where the old man realises that God is alive in the present, not just in the past. It is the temptation of age to see God only active in the past…

There are three old people in the bible who see God at work in the present: Eli, Simeon and Anna. They perceive God is present in this child. When we see this in the older generation, it is a wonderful thing. We see it in grandparents supporting Messy Church, volunteering to hear pupils read in school or starting homework clubs for children after school. God is not a was but an is. Eli becomes the fine mentor that is hidden within his battered exterior: Go and lie down. And if he calls you say, Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

Then a fearful thing happens. This is really the heart of the passage (and just beyond our set reading today.)

 Gods word to the child is for Eli. For the old man, it is absolutely over. An implacable sentence is pronounced: I swear to the house of Eli that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them… the iniquity of Elis house will not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.

Shaken and traumatised, the child lies there frightened until morning. Day break comes and the child gets up to do what he has to do open the doors of the house of the Lord. It is always the child who opens the doors to the Lords house. In some sense, if we are to open and go on opening the doors to the House of the Lord in our own ministry we must find the Samuel within us.(we are in it for the long haul and we need help) Pray that God may give to our Eli the Samuel who will open the doors of the House of the Lord day by day.

Eli says: What is it that the Lord told you? He notices the boy flinching, hesitating. The eyes of the small boy are not meeting his eyes. There is steel in the old mans voice: Do not withhold anything from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you. Tell me!

So Samuel tells him everything the unpalatable truth he hid nothing from him. And then a great thing happens, a magnificent moment. Eli says: It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.

What is the greatness of the old man? First, it is the greatness of age to discern the action of God in the present time; not to be anchored, not to imprison God in his past. Second, it is to accept responsibility and to face reality. There is no whining from Eli. There is no saying: well, if things had gone differently, I might have been able to do this or that…  If the headmaster hadnt been cruel to me when I was at school, Id be a different kind of minister… If my colleagues had supported me, then the transformation of the church would have come… He faces huge disappointment and there is no single line of victim in this wonderful old man. Thats the way it is. I face it. I take responsibility. In Eli, age triumphs over its temptation to bury God in its past. Always there is Eli and Samuel. They are archetypal figures. In history there is what seems to be; and what is coming into being, to birth.

Two pictures for you: Its 31st December 406 AD. Two legions of the Roman army faced a quarter of a million Germans across the frozen river Rhine. Later that afternoon that quarter of a million spilled across the ice of the Rhine, broke through the two legions of Rome and flooded down into northern Gaul. If you had been watching that as a Christian Roman soldier you would have decided that this was darkness and defeat. The barbarians were at the gates of Rome and the light of the once great Christian empire was about to dim. It was nightime. But all you had to do was turn at almost exactly the same time and look west across Germany, across Holland the North Sea across Britain to its west coast. There is a raid by Irish pirates who had taken with them a boy whose name is Patrick. From this small light, the Gospel was to come afresh to Europe through Britain.

It is 1704 and you are standing outside one of the great cathedrals of the Church of England.  A magnificent and beautiful building. And yet inside, you would weep for the indolence, sloth, cynicism and decay at the heart of this church all seems spent and lost. The Church of England gone to the dogs. But as you wept, you would not know, but you only had to look further across England to the little village of Epworth in Lincolnshire where the Wesleys had just had their nineteenth child sickly, not expected to live.

There is always the child being born. Always. It is our vocation to look for it. Especially if we are tempted to lie like Eli, weary, hurt, very angry and defeated in the shadow of the Temple with its light flickering as the light inside our heart is sometimes flickering. It is necessary for us to know that even as we lie there that a womb is opening and a child is being born.

Two things in Scripture we are not taking seriously:

  1. We say: We are the body of Christ and perhaps become dulled to the wonder of the statement by over familiarity. If it is really true then what happens to the body of Christ must happen to the Church. What happens to the Body of Christ is that it must do its dying as it will surely do its rising. That should not be news to us.
  2. The other thing is that nobody in scripture recognises the Risen Lord.

Therefore, as we move through history and he rises, we do not recognise his risings. That even now, as he rises it is only ahead that we look back on the now and say: thats where a stone was rolled away; thats where someone was meeting us in a garden; But that is remembered afterwards.

Part of our struggle and agony as a church in Britain is that we are moving from becoming the Faith of a culture to becoming a faith in a multi culture. But lets, for Christs sake, remember that it is the norm for most Christians over the last 2000 years and outside the Western world to be a faith in a multi culture. Its almost a transient accident that we tasted the dangerous luxury of being the faith of a culture.

Let me give you a verbal video:

We are time travellers think Dr Who- It is 100AD church in Antioch. We are standing in the back of a room in the 3rd city of the Roman Empire: Antioch, lovely place, cultural centre on the banks of the river Arontes. We are watching eighty men and women share bread and wine and praise the name of Jesus. We have tasted their worship and now we leave…

Fifteen hundred miles North and West: We are standing on a shingle beach leaning against the winds of the Atlantic. It is 600AD and we go forward to the stone chapel as we join the monks of Iona in their worship…

Back in the tardis and we are gone again two thousand, five hundred miles to the south East. It is 1000AD and we are standing in the blazing heat of the south Sinai desert looking at the walls of the fortress monastery of St Catherine. We go under its battlements and join the worship of the army of monks… we leave

NorthWest two thousand miles: It is 1740 and we are standing in the drenching rain of Kingswood Colliery, Bristol, listening to John Wesley preach before the miners go down the pit.

We are off again -150 miles north. We are in Bayston Hill, Shrewsbury. It is 2014 and we join a group of about one hundred - children, mothers, some fathers and grand parents. We have had the activities, sung the songs, heard the story of Jesus and prayed. We now sit down to enjoy supper together at Messy Church.

Why the verbal video? It shows that we have seen many forms of the Body of Christ and almost every one of those forms would have difficulty recognising itself in the other forms.

As we gather here in this cathedral on the edge of Good Friday, ready to renew our ministry vows: What is our Vocation? It is to find the next form of Christs body.

We have a choice Im thinking of Eli, lying there and Samuel a little way off - there is one of two things we can choose to be in todays church. We can either choose to be a mourner or a midwife: A mourner who weeps for the past or a midwife who places their hand on that which is being born and helps it to reach for life.

I am praying today for the anointing and grace to be a midwife.


In the video below, the last before his retirement last year, the Venerable Chris Liley who was Canon Treasurer of  Lichfield Cathedral explains what Chrism is all about:

Page last updated: Thursday 17th April 2014 1:12 PM
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