Predigt des Erzbischofs von Canterbury (Originalfassung)

Sermon preached by Archbishop Justin Welby at the Frauenkirche on 15 February during a visit to Dresden to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the allied bombing of the city. 

Isaiah 62: 6-122015 | Mark 8: 31-37

Unlike my wonderful predecessor I do not speak German, a fact of which I am both ashamed and disappointed. I therefore have to ask you to listen to my English when standing in this extraordinary church, preaching in which is one of the great privileges of my life.

During my five years in charge of the work at Coventry Cathedral on the Community of the Cross of Nails the story of Dresden, the terrible events of seventy years ago, the appalling suffering of the Europe of those days, all were part of the story which has so shaped my own priority on reconciliation in so many parts of the world.

Until recent years, central and western Europe could feel confident that reconciliation was well established and that never again would any of us either go ourselves or send our children or grandchildren to fight other Europeans in  the field of battle.

How tragic it is that this glorious church, speaking of liberty, of hope, of the faithfulness of God and witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ now and in the centuries past, should be set once again in Europe where the sound of battle is maybe but a rumour, but a rumour growing in strength.

It is a deep reminder that reconciliation is a gift of God which is to be taken, made part of our very selves, and then nurtured and tended as one would a tropical plant in a cold climate, knowing that carelessness will lead to chill and ice killing the plant.  

We find this urge to continual renewal of the living out of our vocation as Christian disciples set out clearly in the New Testament reading through the words of Jesus.  

Who can doubt his frustration?  He has just heard the declaration from Peter that he is the Son of the Living God, that he is the one for whom Israel has been waiting. And in a swift moment, in another sentence, Peter not only demonstrates his own failure to recognise the history-changing, life-transforming, world-reversing nature of this revelation, but also touches Jesus at the point of greatest vulnerability.

We are to take the humanity of Christ seriously. Above my mantelpiece in my office is a drawing by Sutherland of the face of Christ on the Cross, the same artist Sutherland who created the great tapestry at the east end of Coventry Cathedral.

It is a face in which the reality of humanity is shown at the deepest level. Underneath it is a reproduction of the twisted wood of the cross scarred by war that stands on the high altar at Coventry. Near it is a picture called “Victim, No Resurrection” by Terry Duffy. Again it is an image of deepest suffering. Should we not understand that for Jesus the idea that He might not need to go through the cross was immensely attractive at every level of His humanity. Would we ourselves not prefer to avoid the cross?

That is why he turns to say that not only must he do, but so must also all those who call themselves Christians. We are to take up our cross and in imitation of Christ, walk after Him. The cross weighs on us in so many forms.

Above all though, it is the cross that bruises and presses on us as events press upon us and fears gather around us. Yet the call of the Christian is not to put it down, to turn away and pretend that the world is other than it is, but like Jesus to bear the full weight of the sin of the world moving onward proclaiming the good news of salvation and of hope for all.

Yet, like the cross which God lays upon our shoulders so that we may be true disciples of Christ, so also is the gift of hope and redemption, the certainty of joy and deliverance. Look at Isaiah. The people of Israel, returned from exile, found not the easy path of new empire and new Davidic kingdom which they expected, but rather the everyday struggles exacerbated by local war lords and bandits, by fear and danger on every side. For its reality read, the book of Nehemiah.

The prophet does not pretend that things are other than they are. He is utterly realistic as we Christians must also be. He recognises evil both threatening Jerusalem and within the community of faith. We must be equally real and equally humble about our own failings as well as the dangers of the world around. We cannot demonise the other without remembering that the other often has legitimate cause to say much about our own sin.

Yet Isaiah does not lose sight of the fact that God is faithful and will redeem. And therefore he calls the sentries to pray, like the importunate widow in Luke’s Gospel, to pray so much that God cannot help but answer. The church is to cry out to God in protest and lament at the tragedy of the world, to say as in Mark’s Gospel “I will take the cross”, like Isaiah earlier in his life to say “here am I, send me”.

The reality of the world in which we live, the reality in which this great Frauenkirche stands is of a world in which the lust for power and the hunger for dominance, the desire to hold on to what we have even when it has not been justly gained, is as dominant now as it has ever been in history.

We look to the east and see the Ukraine threatened with invasion. We look to the south and find immense poverty and struggle as a result of governments that have taken on debt, the slavery of which must now be borne by those who are mere observers in the error. We look further south-east and south-west and find a cruelty that is beyond description in Isis and Boko Haram, masquerading as religion revealed by God.

On all sides we hear the cry of the oppressed, and yet in our part of the world and many others there is more peace, more prosperity, better medicine, healthier living and better community relations than has ever been.

What are we to do as Christians? First we are to remember that the Jesus we serve, who reveals the very nature of God, bore a cross and would not tolerate for one second the idea that anything less than bearing it to the full extent was essential to His vocation, and thus to ours.

Secondly, we are to be a people who amidst the changes and chances of this life hold utterly to the reality of a God to whom we cry with every emotion from praise and thanksgiving, through lament and sorrow, to anger and resentment.  

We are to be the sentries that do not cease to pray, knowing that the God to whom we call is the one who will transform our society, who will enable the kingdom of heaven to come. We may carry the cross, but it is only in bearing it to its fullest extent that there is the transforming joy that fills us as we walk within the footsteps of Jesus.