Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry sizzled with his red-hot histrionics at the recent Royal Wedding, but fizzled when it came to preaching the Gospel message of Divine Love, writes Editor in Chief Father Raymond de Souza.
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Like the morning dew before the rising sun, the preacher’s words evaporate, aspiring toward heaven, only briefly touching the ears of the congregation, passing ever so lightly through the memory and rarely settling in the heart. That is why the preacher must never tire of the preaching, for so little of what he says has enduring effect.
So that the Royal Wedding sermon – “address” – delivered by Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the United States, has been widely noticed is welcome. The Washington Post headline called Curry the “Surprise Star” of the nuptials, no doubt causing upset in the executive suite of Oprah, Inc.
There were lessons for preachers there, principal among them that a preacher who visibly – with his face and features, arms alternatively akimbo and spread like eagles’ wings, pivoting back and forth, bobbing and weaving and on the verge of breaking into the Ali shuffle – manifests his own confidence and joy that he has the Gospel, real Good News, to offer is a more persuasive preacher.
Not all preachers can “have church” like American black preachers, and most would look foolish if they tried. But Bishop Curry conveyed his own exhilaration in response to the redemptive love of Jesus Christ. Those who listened to him preach about the “power of love” – John 3:16, not Celine Dion – knew that here was a believer. Too many preachers speak of divine things, but their voice and demeanour convey that they don’t really believe it, or at least don’t believe it makes a great deal of difference.
The Queen, with more than 65 years of practice, conveyed with her demeanor what she always intends to convey – nothing. The rest of the royal family smiled and smirked, raised eyebrows and exchanged furtive looks, suggesting the unlovely spectacle of a 19th century royal court marveling at the talented natives brought back from the colonies. One British Catholic commentator confessed that he mistook the reference to the Negro spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead” for a “bomb in Gilead” and thought the good bishop was making a terrorism reference. There is no doubt that some of the gathered great and good regarded Bishop Curry as more of the court jester than the court chaplain. Pity for them.
The text itself was exactly what American Episcopalianism stands for today, namely that the Christian Gospel, lived fully, would make this world much better along the lines of a gently leftist, agreeably progressive politics. The “power of love” that Bishop Curry hymned “can change this world.” As his rose to his peroration, Bishop Curry nodded to the practical religion of most of those in his congregation by sidling up to John Lennon, asking those to “imagine” a world without poverty or hunger. Which is all to the good, of course, but rather less than what Jesus came to give us.
Pope Benedict XVI once chided Christian preachers for spending so much time speaking about how “to make this world better” that we neglect the “better world” – life with the blessed in heaven. Bishop Curry’s preaching was largely horizontal, about how love can make this vale of tears less tearful.
“Rev. Michael Curry could almost make me a believer,” tweeted Ed Miliband, the former Labour Party leader who describes himself as a “Jewish atheist.” Preaching that is palatable to progressive atheistic politicians is likely heavier on progressive politics and lighter on Christ crucified and the faith that was, once for all, delivered to the saints.
But Bishop Curry was bold enough to challenge, albeit implicitly, one sacred doctrine of the assemblage, from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Prince of Wales. He spoke is favourable terms of “harnessing fire” and how it made remarkable advances possible: the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Industrial revolution, the automobile and the airplane. The international jet-set does not speak that way about the carbon economy that powers their private planes and monster homes, certainly not as Bishop Curry did, without pretend guilt and faux concern for climate change. Bishop Curry’s fellow Anglican prelate Archbishop Desmond Tutu made an embarrassing visit to the Alberta oil sands a few years back. It was a good thing he was not on hand to hear praise of internal combustion resound in St. George’s Chapel.
But the fire of hydrocarbons is the not the fire of the Holy Spirit, even if the Bishop was preaching on the vigil of Pentecost.
The last royal wedding, that of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, also included homiletic references to fire. The address on April 29, 2011 was given by Bishop Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London, who noted that it was the liturgical feast of St. Catherine of Siena. He began with the great Dominican mystic and doctor of the Church, rather than Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire," preached Bishop Chartres. “So said St. Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves. In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.”
Bishop Chartres spoke of a different fire, the fire of Divine love that lays blessings and burdens upon Christian disciples united in marriage. Bishop Curry, oddly enough, did not speak about marriage at all, much less how it was the path by which the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would share life with others, and help each other toward eternal life in heaven.
Bishop Chartres was not the surprise star of the wedding of Will and Kate. Pity.
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