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Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury on commissioning the new Secretary General

Posted on: January 19, 2005 12:21 PM
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The Chapel of St Andrew, Anglican Communion Office, London
Tuesday 18 January 2005

At the beginning of the Epistle, the apostle describes himself as a "prisoner of the Lord". A prisoner for the Lord's sake, yes. But also, surely and deliberately, the Lord's prisoner. The apostle is somebody whom Christ has taken captive. And no doubt anybody beginning a job like the one you are now beginning, Kenneth, will have a certain sense of prison walls closing around the growing child! But also, because you are not here simply of your own volition and desire, you will have a sense of being the Lord's prisoner. Christ takes us captive to make us free. He takes hold of us, includes us, draws us in, saturates our lives with his reality so that we can't say 'no!' to him, without saying 'no!' to ourselves. We are his prisoners and, because we are his prisoners, we know freedom, and love, and hope.

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling." It's very hard to read those words without being reminded of that extraordinary phrase in Isaiah about prisoners of hope. Christ has taken us captive which means that hope has taken hold of us and we can't deny it, even if we want to. And that's the sense that anyone undertaking an apostolic ministry must rediscover again and again. There's something that has taken hold of us and someone who has taken hold of us. There is a hope and a promise that we simply can't deny, whatever the evidence, whatever it looks like and whatever it sounds like. That hope has become part of who we are, and that person who has taken hold of us has become part of who we are - and we can't say 'no!' to him. Well, of course we all know that we can - at some level our freedom remains - but what kind of freedom is that? Jesus speaks in the gospel we heard this morning about what the good shepherd does. As we read those words in the context of the whole gospel story, it's quite hard not to have the sense that Jesus was saying, not so much that the good shepherd doesn't run away when his sheep are in danger, but that the good shepherd can't really run away when the sheep are in danger. He has taken hold of their lives; they have taken hold of his. Jesus, in Gethsemane, when the forces of darkness are clustering around, is in one sense free to say 'no!' and to go away but in another, much deeper sense, who he is requires that he stayed there. He exposes himself to the suffering and humiliation and the risk that is involved with his being there, with his people.

So Christ takes hold of us and we of him. He becomes part of our life, our identity. He has made it by his grace and freedom, so that we become part of him, his body. As we seek to live out the apostolic calling, we have to see ourselves as bound, bound up, in him, and bound up in each other. To minister to a Communion - not just to one church, one congregation, one locality - to minister to a Communion worldwide, is surely to minister into this reality. We are bound together, because we are bound in Christ; bound in the one hope of our calling. Prisoners of hope, together. There is nothing we need more than to be reminded of how we are bound with Christ and with one another in that way.

You may have noticed, Kenneth, that there are one or two problems in the Communion facing us at the moment. I don't think it is entirely inappropriate, I think I can say it, even in the presence of our ecumenical guests, that the future of the Communion is a very murky matter. All the more significant then to have before our eyes clearly, firmly, daily, the reality of being prisoners of hope together. How tempting and how easy to say, 'well, there must be a simple and less hopeful solution'. But how impossible for anyone taking seriously the body of Christ, not to say, 'we have to have a patience that takes us beyond the simple and wounded solution to the long haul of fellowship in Christ's cross, bound to, and with, one another - prisoners of hope in such a way that, much as it might be tempting to say 'no!', in the fullness of hope, we hang onto it.

And so if there is one thing that I would have to say to you on this occasion, Kenneth, it is to exhort you to be, yourself, a prisoner of hope, to hang onto that compelling, tyrannic hope - yes let me put it that way, that tyrannic hope - that won't let us go, however often an easier and shorter solution might suggest itself. And to let all of us know, in the Communion, that the hope that has taken hold of us is more than just a feeling in our hearts or a thought in our heads, but the hope that is the very presence of Christ - that is the centre and the focus, the engine and the energy of everything we are.

Be the Lord's prisoner and remind all of us whose prisoners we are, and what the freedom and the hope are, that come with Christ having taken hold of us.

© Rowan Williams 2005