Sermon for Lent 5
This year we are celebrating a remarkable milestone in the history of our nation … it was seventy years ago that our Queen acceded to the throne.
Some sixteen months after that moment of accession the Queen sat in King Edward’s Chair in Westminster Abbey as four Knights of the Garter held a rich cloth of gold over her.
Then, in this most intimate moment in the Coronation Service … so intimate that it was the one moment that was not allowed to be shown on everyone’s brand new televisions! … then, the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed the Queen, using the holy oil to make the sign of the cross on the Queen’s hands, heart and head.
As the third sign of the cross was made these words were said:
Be thy Head anointed with holy Oil:
as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed.
When Priests kneel before their bishop in the service of Ordination, after the laying on of hands and the giving of the Bible, the bishop anoints them, saying:
May God, who anointed the Christ with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, anoint and empower you to reconcile and bless his people.
At the baptism of both children and adults, the priest will use the Oil of Baptism as he or she says:
Christ claims you for his own.
Receive the sign of the cross.
And then, after the moment of Baptism, the Oil of Chrism will be used as the priest says:
May God, who has received you by baptism into his Church,
pour upon you the riches of his grace,
that within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people
you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit …
And then, as people lie in the distress of illness, a priest may anoint them with the holy oil of the Sick, as these words are said:
I anoint you in the name of God who gives you life.
Receive Christ’s forgiveness, his healing and his love.
The moment of Anointing was, and is, significant in the creating of a monarch, but it is not exclusively for those who are called to that level of leadership … As the Archbishop says … it is an anointing into the ancient line of kingship, priesthood and prophecy.
Similarly, as I and every other priest is anointed to forgive, to bless, and to consecrate in the name of the Church … that anointing is an anointing into a similarly ancient line … that of priesthood, service and prophecy.
And then comes the anointing we all share at our baptism … an anointing that confirms our lifelong place in Christ’s Church, and our calling to:
fight valiantly as a disciple of Christ
against sin, the world and the devil ...
and this goes on to say that we will:
remain faithful to Christ to the end of our lives.
So … where is all this talk of Anointing leading us on this Fifth Sunday of Lent?
In our reading from John’s gospel we hear of Jesus, whilst visiting the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, being anointed by Mary.
It is fair that we should assume that this must have been a pre-meditated moment because Jesus himself says:
She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial …
Such costly perfume could only have been purchased after a time of preparation … preparation for an important rite of consecration.
That is an important point in our consideration of what it means to be anointed …
The rite of anointing has three distinct purposes …
- the providing of health and comfort –
as when we use the Oil of the Sick;
- as a symbol of consecration –
as when we use the Oils of Baptism and Chrism …
as when we are setting someone aside for a special purpose;
- as a token of honour –
as when a monarch is anointed during their coronation.
And … there is something else we should not forget … We call Jesus the Christ … that is not a name, but a title … Christ means The Anointed One.
When a priest is ordained the bishop says:
May God, who anointed the Christ with the Holy Spirit at his baptism, anoint and empower you …
This is not the sole preserve of those who are ordained into the priesthood, we all share in the anointing of the Christ with the Holy Spirit.
But … how seriously do we take that anointing?
We know that the Queen took her anointing very seriously indeed … hence the ban on that moment in the Coronation being shown to the public.
Priests take their anointing very seriously … every time I pronounce the absolution, consecrate the elements at communion, and bless people or precious things, I recall that moment as the bishop marked my hands with the sign of the cross in the holy oil of Chrism.
But … all who are baptized have been doubly anointed … they have been anointed with the oil of Baptism and the oil of Chrism … and … if you have been confirmed … you have been, once again anointed with the oil of Chrism …
We have all shared in the moment in John’s gospel that we heard read today … but … what difference has it made in the way we live out our daily lives?
In our Old Testament reading the prophet Isaiah gives us these words:
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
The book of the prophet Isaiah was written some seven centuries before the Incarnation of Jesus.
Isaiah speaks of imminent judgement … but he also speaks of eventual reconciliation and restoration …
We see that time of reconciliation and restoration coming about as Mary knelt before Jesus and anointed him in the days before his trial, execution and resurrection.
Given our status as Anointed Ones, are we ready to face the new thing that springs forth in the conquering of death by Jesus Christ, the Anointed One of God?
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul urges us to forget what lies behind and to strain forward to what lies ahead.
Paul goes on to speak of pressing on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
The Christian ambition that is spelt out by Paul is not an easy one … Paul makes this clear when he speaks of his journey: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection of the dead.
In the seasonal blessing that is used as we journey through the first four weeks of Lent, we hear these words: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow … follow where Christ leads!
How seriously have we taken those words, as Anointed Ones within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people.
Being a disciple and apostle of Christ is not easy,
but, as Paul says, it is very much worth the effort.
While our faith should not be seen in the context of a ‘business transaction’, there is a reward awaiting those who recognize the power of their Anointing, and then go on to follow Christ wherever he may lead.
Yes, that path will be difficult at times, but at the end … on the other side of the crucifixion … there comes the indescribable joy of sharing in Christ’s victory over the power of death.
Let us pray that we may all hold firm to our commitment to follow the Anointed One of God …
And, when it gets tough, remember the example of Martin Luther … at those moments when his faith was tested, he would touch his forehead and say to himself:
Remember, Martin, that you are baptized!