CCR London

September 2009  

On Monday there could be chaos in Samoa .  The rules of the road there are being changed and from 6.00 o’clock in the morning drivers will have to drive on the left rather than on the right which is what they have been doing up until now.  It sounds like a recipe for disaster – some people are predicting collisions, injuries, deaths as drivers try to get used to the new rules.  

You can understand the concern – rules are there to be obeyed, but they’re also there to protect, to enable smooth living, to enable communities to function.  Anarchy may appeal to a few but for the vast majority of people it’s rules that make them feel secure.  So pray for the people of Samoa – they’ll need it!  You’ll be relived to know that in an enlightened move the government there has declared a two day public holiday to ease in the changes – so the real problems will come at rush hour on Wednesday!  

There’s a great deal of talk at the moment amongst Companions and the Community of the Resurrection about the role and form of the Rule that we commit ourselves to and it was thought that it might be a good idea to consider the whole notion of the rule together as we meet to celebrate the Eucharist and to pray this afternoon.  Changes in the Rule have been suggested – or at least, as I understand it, no specific changes have been suggested yet but rather the suggestion of change as the Community itself changes and gears itself up for the next 100 years.  

Now I have to confess to you that I’m as far away from an anarchistic as you can probably get.  There’s something in my personality that craves order and routine and that finds in those things safety and purpose.  

I’ve just come back from my annual two weeks on the beach in Spain .  A time to relax you might think.  Well, as my travelling companions know to their cost, there’s no such thing with me.  I still get up at a set time, still say my Office before setting out at exactly the same time each day for the beach to put the towels on the same beach beds before returning for the cup of tea I made for myself before going out and which will now be the right temperature to drink whilst doing some reading and waiting impatiently for the others to get up.  You might think I’m mad and I may well be – I’m sure a psychiatrist would have a name for my condition – but I’m happy!  I like a clear routine; I appreciate a set of rules by which to live my life – I find it comforting.  

You’ll no doubt be familiar with St Benedict’s rule – the model for so many other monastic rules in the western church.  Benedict describes it as ‘a little rule, written for beginners’ (Chapter 73) and in the Prologue to the Rule he says ‘we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome’.  As a consequence Esther de Waal in her commentary on the Rule speaks of it as ‘a way of life, a life-giving way’.  So, rather than seeing rules as restricting behaviour Benedict saw it as freeing people, liberating people to live alongside God and alongside others in a richer and a deeper community.   

We can, I think, be a bit confused with all of this because we’re so used to hearing St Paul speaking about the law as being life denying and there being a freedom in Christ which transcends the law.  In his Letter to the Romans he says ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8.2) and Jesus himself appears to speak negatively about the effects of the law.  So why do we need a rule if we’ve been liberated by our faith from such things, why can’t we just inhabit that freedom which Christ gives and not resort to boundaries, in effect, to law?  

But I don’t see Rule and law as the same thing at all.  Just because I’ve freely committed to something, some pattern of Christian living, of Christian discipleship, it doesn’t limit me, it liberates me.  

In this Eucharist the First Reading we heard was from the Acts of the Apostles.  It’s an important text for the Community of the Resurrection because those who founded the Community saw themselves to be inheritors of the apostolic life, living in the age of the resurrection.  

Where else do we get an idea of what that apostolic life was like other than from the Acts of the Apostles – whatever their historical accuracy might be. In Acts 2.44-47 we hear described the charism by which the early church lived and was formed – that apostolic way of living that combined community, worship and service.  When we look at the commitments we’re asked to make and which we are asked to keep as Companions we see that they mirror the life of that early church, that early Christian community, that pattern and model of authentic Christian living.  

One of the interesting things about the Companions Rule is that it is grounded in that baptismal vocation which is shared by all Christian people and which itself links us to the resurrection of Jesus.  And so everything in the Rule is an elucidation of what it means to be a baptised person. In that sense our Rule should be lived by every person who through baptism has come to share Christ’s death and resurrection – the kind of expectations being placed on us are the expectations which we really place on each other within the body of Christ.  

We’re firstly told that ‘Companions live the baptismal vocation through a commitment to community life.’  The author of the Acts of the Apostles in the passage we’re thinking about tells us first that those who believed lived as a community, sharing all things in common and distributing their goods to those who were in need.  

Secondly, we’re told that ‘Companions live the baptismal vocation maintained by common worship’ and this mirrors exactly what scripture says in that the common life of which we’ve heard then leads into a life of corporate worship, in the temple and in their house communities, breaking bread, being real companions – those who share bread.  

Finally, ‘Companions live the baptismal vocation, issuing in works that are primarily of a public character.’  Those early Christians in Jerusalem lived out their companionship with each other and with the risen Jesus in public so that every one could see and as others witnessed how they were living they were convinced of the truth of the resurrection.  Their commitment to each other and to the Lord was missionary in its character, evangelical in its effect.  You’ll be aware that Tertullian, an early Christian apologist, reported what others in the community said of the Christians, ‘How these Christians love one another’.  It’s probably the best write-up that the Church has ever had – oh that it could be said of us now!  

The Gospel reading for this Mass (John 13.31-35) took us to the Upper Room and the night before the Lord’s death and that mandatum, that new commandment which he gave to his friends – to us.  That commandment was a rule that would liberate the church and bring life to the world – the new commandment ‘that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13.34-35).  See how they love one another.  

It’s a good thing I think for us to look again at the Rule that we have and as we look to remember that what we’re not committing ourselves to is something that will limit but rather, something that will liberate us in Christ to live an apostolic life together, in relationship with God, in the sight of the community to the benefit of all – that it gives form and structure to the life we seek to live.  

And as Companions, as sharers in the bread, we now do what stands at the heart of our Rule and meet our risen Lord in broken bread and wine outpoured, the fulfilment of the law, in whom we live and move and have our being.  

Andrew Nunn