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.