Chrism Mass Sermon – by Bp. Graham Kings

Silence: Space for God’s Eloquence

Sermon preached at the Maundy Thursday Chrism Eucharist

by Bishop Graham Kings

Salisbury Cathedral, 21 April 2011


At this Eucharist, where thanksgiving is central, I would like to begin with thanks.

Thanks for your prayers for me and the senior staff during this vacancy. It has been an extraordinary learning experience.

Thanks to God for guiding all involved in the process of choosing our next Bishop, Nick Holtam. Together with the senior staff, I greatly look forward to welcoming Nick and Helen to the Diocese and to sharing with them in God’s mission. Nick comes to us with vast experience, gifts of pastoral sensitivity and communication and a wide hinterland of thoughtful reflection.

We have known each other since 1978, when we were training together for the ordained ministry in the Cambridge Theological Federation. Nick was at Westcott House and I was at Ridley Hall: different traditions preparing us for the one Church of England. We were both in the Federation football team but neither of us can remember much about the results…

In the Diocese of Salisbury we delight in our depth of history (Stonehenge and the Jurassic Coast); our breadth of traditions (catholic, liberal, and evangelical); our distinguished writers (Richard Hooker and George Herbert); and our shining saints (Aldhelm, Cuthberga and Osmund). Nick longs to serve the whole of the Diocese and we welcome him and Helen as Christ has welcomed us (Romans 15:7), with joy and celebration for the glory of God.

Thanks to you, this Maundy Thursday, for your ministry over the years and especially this year. To all of you here, and to many others who could not be here, for your varied ministries, I give thanks to God for you, give thanks to you from me, and give thanks to you from God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As you receive the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, receive them in particular this morning, as a thanksgiving to you from God for your ministries.

In today’s gospel, an unnamed woman is humble, profound and silent. In our proud, shallow and chattering world, her actions question all our ministries. She is a contrast to Simon the Pharisee who is hosting Jesus, who does not really recognise the Ultimate Host in his invited guest, nor the astonishing incarnation of faith and love in his uninvited guest, the woman.

Simon is an example of Luke’s description in verse 30 of chapter 7: ‘By refusing to be baptised by John the Baptist, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God ‘s purpose for themselves.’ That tragically, is the ultimate judgement which people can make: to reject God’s purpose for themselves.

In responding to Jesus’ question, after his the parable of the two debtors, ‘Which of them will love him more?’, Simon pronounces judgement on himself, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the great debt.’ (v 43). Jesus’ words are piercingly and ironically direct: ‘You have judged rightly’. Then he goes on: ‘Do you see this woman?’  Simon didn’t really ‘see’ the woman, that particular woman: he only saw a sinner. But God in Christ, always sees the particular. As he sees you, this morning.

Yet Simon is intrigued by the person of Jesus and invites him to eat with him, ironically just after Jesus has declared, in contrast to John the Baptist: ‘The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34). I prefer the King James Version, as we celebrate its 400 years, this year: ‘A glutton and a wine bibber’.

Jesus may well be prophetically echoing a devastating passage in Deuteronomy 21:18-21.  It concerns the son who is dragged by his parents to the elders at the town gate: “‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.” Jesus knew very early on his likely fate outside the gate of the city: by crucifixion rather than by stoning.

The unnamed woman of the city was a sinner. She knew that Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and sinners. She came, for here was her hope. Before she could even open her jar of ointment, she cried. She bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Scandalously, she loosed her hair and then kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Tears, kisses and anointing. These are the real welcome – for Simon the Pharisee have neglected to provide water for Jesus’ dusty feet, to greet him with a kiss and to anoint his head with oil.

There may be other contrasts with tears, kisses and anointing. Tears come unbidden and often run down cheeks unchecked. Liquid comes from our eyes. Perhaps their contrast is spit. Deliberate, ejection of liquid from our mouths, which, when aimed at people, focuses hate. Perhaps the opposite of kisses are punches: not love, but violence and hurt. Perhaps the opposite of anointing is piercing: not soothing, but vicious nailing.

All three today – tears, kisses and anointing – find their opposite tomorrow, Good Friday, in the spitting, punching and piercing of the soldiers as they mock and crucify the stripped Lord of glory.

Our ministries need to reflect this unnamed woman, rather than Simon the Pharisee and the Roman soldiers. Do they echo her humility, profundity and silence? Her actions question us. It is extraordinary that she is silent through-out. She overhears the parable and Simon’s self inflicted judgement: she hears words of forgiveness of sins, faith, salvation and peace. Sometimes silence is eloquent and provides space for God.

One of the most cogent, succinct sayings I have found on ministry comes from Bishop Michael Marshall, in his 1984 book The Anglican Church Today and Tomorrow. His words challenge us today: Only an episcopate stripped of its prelacy, and a priesthood stripped of its clericalism, can really set the laity free from churchiness, and help them be the priestly people of God, for the sake of the whole world.  In the coming years in this diocese, I believe that is our calling.

 I finish with a poem, reflecting further on the ministry of this extraordinary woman:  Humility, Profundity and Silence

Humility comes from the ground, from being earthed in ‘humus’. from dust we come and to dust we shall return.

 Humility is attractive, a focus of God. We are drawn in, delighted: our petty selves are drawn out, transformed. Profundity comes from the sea: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. It also comes from way-back, from afar, from long-past vocations and foundations, from the wisdom of God and language of learning. Out of the depths of Hebrew scriptures, Greek gospels, Church fathers and mothers of all ages, We cry to you, O Lord.

 Silence echoes the stars: In returning and rest we are saved, in quietness and trust is our strength. For God alone our souls wait in silence. We have calmed and quieted our selves, like a weaned child with its mother.  Silence brings peace amidst chatter; stillness amongst clatter; essence at the end of incessence; space for God’s eloquence.


In a surprisingly ‘ catholic’ sermon, Bishop Grahame Kings demonstrates all that is best in solid English Evangelical convergence – between the extremes of ‘Low’ and ‘High’ Church reformation theology. Having a profound respect for the Eucharist, and the virtue of Silence in Worship, Grahame Kings is at his very best in this Sermon on the occasion of the Mass of Chrism, where Holy Oils are given their traditional Blessing by a Bishop, in preparation for their sacramental use in parishes of the diocese – for Holy Unction, Baptismal and Confirmational Crismation, and for other occasions of special blessings. In England, the new monarchs, at their coronation, receive the anointing which seals their monarchy.

As a Bishop of the Church of God, this is now Bishop Graham’s ministry – the Blessing of the Oils – as it is of every other diocesan bishop, whether Catholic or Evangelical, this is one of the roles of a bishop in the Church – as important as that of the ordination of clergy in their role of ministry. In any diocesan Cathedral, it is the custom of the Bishop of the Diocese to preside at the Mass of the Chrism – together with serving priests of the diocese. This is a potent sign of the collegiality of all the diocesan clergy – as their Bishop leads them in the Celebration of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday.

In ‘catholic’ parishes, much is made of the Presentation of the Holy Oils (already blessed by the Bishop st the Chrism Mass) for the evening Celebration of the Mass of the Last Supper, where the parish priest washes the feet of twelve of the congregation, in imitation f Jesus in the Upper Room. This is the beginning of the Triduum – the first of a Solemn Feast of three days – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, when the Solemn Vigil is kept – with the Lighting of the First Fire and the Paschal Candle, the reciting of the Prophecies, to herald First Mass of Easter in celebration of Christ’s Resurrection.

It is interesting that Bp. Grahame should have been a contemporary of Father Nick Holtam, the new Bishop-Elect of Salisbury, while they were being trained for the ministry – however, at rather different institutions: Grahame at Ridley Hall, and Nick at Wescott House. Both came under the patronage of Cambridge University, but with a striking difference in ‘churchmanship’.

It is entirely possible, on the text of the ‘woman’ who anointed the feet of Jesus (the subject of the Gospel of the chrism Mass), that Bishop-Elect Nick – bearing in mind his sympathy for the LGBT community in the Church – might have a somewhat different emphasis from Bishop Graham. The usual emphasis from anti-gay conservatives is on the reported words of Jesus to the woman: “Go and sin no more”. The more liberal emphasis would have been on that part of his dialogue with the woman which showed Jesus’ lack of direct condemnation of her, in these words from the Gospel:  Jesus: ‘Where are your accusers now, do they condemn you?‘ Woman: ‘No’. Jesus: ‘Neither do I’.

God so loved the world…..

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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