The College of the Resurrection – Foundation Day – SS Simon and Jude: 28 October, 2009.
The Eucharist: Eph 2: 19-22
The Church of the Community of the Resurrection
Today we thank God for the Foundation of our College. We thank God that, one hundred and seven years ago, the Community of the Resurrection – then in its infancy – founded a college for the education and formation of those testing a vocation to the ordained ministry in the Church of England.
We give thanks, secondly, that, since that date, successive generations have built on that foundation, so that this College has continued to be able to make a contribution to the Church’s life and to the formation of future priests – at once coming from its own distinctive perspective and at the same time accountable to the wider Church of England.
We give thanks, thirdly and finally, for the commitment of so many to the life of the College today and to the task of building the College’s future. Again we see that twin movement of looking to the distinctive perspective of the College – a going back to sources – and at the same time an accountability to the wider Church of England and to wider perspectives on the needs of future clergy.
As we thank God, so we come to Church to be nourished by Jesus Christ acting in Word and Sacrament.
What then do we find in God’s Word on this foundation day? We find, as is so often the way in Scripture, a challenge. The challenge we find is this: we find God asking us to expand our vision – to thank God for the foundation of our College, certainly but also to place that foundation within its proper context – the much larger and more diverse building which God has founded. Or, to put it more succinctly: we are challenged to put God and God’s work at the centre of our thanksgiving and our vision. Hear these words set in the lectionary for today. Words from Isaiah [28:16].
The Lord God says this:
Now I shall lay a stone in Zion ,
a granite stone, a precious cornerstone.
A firm foundation stone.
The Community founded our College in 1902. How good a work that was! But millennia before that foundation, God the master-builder promised in Isaiah to lay a cornerstone for a much great construction. A foundation stone of righteousness, on which is inscribed the name, ‘No-one who relies on this will stumble’. It is this new building built by God – the one with the foundation stone of righteousness – which forms the proper context for thinking about our College and its foundation.
There is something else. For in our epistle, we find what sounds at first like an echo of Isaiah. Paul’s message to gentile Christians:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
However, what we find here is not an echo but an answering word – a proclamation of the fulfilment of the promise God made. In Isaiah, God promises to lay a cornerstone and to build a new edifice. In Ephesians, Paul joins other Jewish scholars of his period in saying that the Messiah, the Christ, is that promised cornerstone. Now Paul goes further, calling Jesus the Christ and proclaiming him as the cornerstone on which God’s glorious new building is being built.
The Hagaddah would put it this way: if God had laid the foundation stone and had not laid the whole foundation, that would have been enough. However, as God’s people have sung down the centuries, God’s generosity outdoes our expectations. So Paul is able to write, in this beautiful passage in Ephesians, not only of a foundation stone but of the entire foundation of God’s new building – laid by God himself - “the position of all the other stones in the foundation [...] determined by [...] the cornerstone.”
Who are these foundation stones whose lives and words have been determined by the Christ? They are the apostles and prophets. The foundations of the Church, both apostolic and prophetic, structured and pneumatic.
There is yet more. Our New Covenant Hagaddah continues: if he had built the foundations and had not begun to build the building, that would have been enough. Yet God’s generosity always outdoes our expectations. Listen again to Paul:
You are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
God beginning to build the first floor of his new glorious building and God’s people as the stones for the building.
So here is our first key point. What good news it is! God has used and is using our lives – at least to the extent that sin has not got in the way – for his own building project, the building of the New Jerusalem. For that reason our little works of founding and building – whether the work of our Founders and Benefactors, or the work to which we are called in our day – find their meaning and significance insofar as they are part of this larger whole which is God’s construction project.
Now Paul continues:
In him, the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
First Paul told us that we are built on the apostles and prophets. Now he tells us that we are built together. First Paul wrote that God takes our building work into his own, making us into living stones in his building project. Now Paul writes that we are made part of Christ himself. He continues by proclaiming that being in Christ brings us into relationship with one another. In Jesus, we are made God’s children and so members of God’s household – brothers and sisters to one another. Paul, indeed, rather labours the point. We are joined together, built together, fellow citizens, members of the same household. Grafted into God’s chosen people.
So here is our second point. Just as we need to look for the signs of God’s work in our own little corner of God’s great new building, so we need, too, to acknowledge and celebrate the signs of God’s work in all the little other corners. In Christ, the whole structure is joined together. Not just our College or our Community but the Centre, the YMC, the School of Ministry , the Resources Centre. We’re not even off the site yet. In him, the whole structure is joined together. Not just our site but our sister training institutions, our sister religious communities, our sponsoring bishops, our Dioceses, the Ministry Division, the Archbishop’s Council. In him, the whole structure is joined together. Not just the parts of the Church we find appealing or safe or comfortable but the whole Church – and for us, as for everyone, the place that truth is most difficult to live out is in the concrete, in our own Church structures, in our own Church of England. God, of course, has his own structures, not built by human hands, which are joined together in Jesus Christ. However, God has also taken our structures – to be concrete, our Church of England structures – and woven them into his greater and more glorious pattern. In Christ and only in Christ the whole structure is joined together.
We might close by recalling the words of Charles Gore, co-founder of the Community of the Resurrection, whose body is now buried beneath this building awaiting the day of resurrection. Reflecting on our epistle reading, Gore wrote:
The Church, as a visible organisation [...], can be what it is – the city of God, His household and His sanctuary – [...] because it is pervaded by Christ’s life and spirit. The ‘stones of the building’ are not merely placed together side by side [...], or held together by any external agency of government; they are as branches of a living tree, limbs of a living body.
How are we to receive this great and manifold ideal of what the Church is? [Gore asks. How are we to begin if we want to build our little corner of the building aright? His advice is this: Meditate upon [this ideal] till St Paul ’s conceptions – and not any lower or narrower ones, Roman or Anglican or Nonconformist – become vivid to our minds].
Gore was right when he wrote those words five years after the foundation of the Community and he is right today. It is precisely when we succumb to party spirit, precisely when we allow our conceptions to become narrow and mean, that we are least likely to make any contribution to God’s great new building project. If we are to build aright, nothing less than Paul’s glorious vision of Jesus Christ and his Church will do.
Joe Kennedy, Principal, College of the Resurrection