[Extract from the Sermon given at the opening of the 50th Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, October 6 2010]
Synod is also about words – more printed papers than you can absorb, and more speeches than you’d ever want to listen to (at least this will be the case about mid-way through Friday evening). Whether or not all the words we read or speak in these coming days are the right ones, there is a Word underlying all we do, and to which – or rather to whom – all our words are accountable. This one Word of God is witnessed to in the words of scripture that we also call the Word of God. Yet the specifically Christian understanding of God’s Word is not about words as such, but about flesh. In Jesus Christ we encounter the one who, as Word made flesh, does in and as flesh what our own words cannot.
In Colossians we read that Paul “became …servant [of that body, the Church], according to God’s commission that was given to me…to make the word of God fully known”. Where the NRSV speaks of “[making] the Word of God fully known” the original Greek actually has “completing” the Word or “fulfilling” it.
To complete or fulfil that ultimate Word is not to utter every word that might occur to us, but more and more to become that body which is the Church; thus to have, as Colossians puts it, “Christ in [us], the hope of glory”. We can be tempted, as Tom Wright puts it, to turn flesh back into words again “…but what changes the world is flesh”. (1)
John’s Gospel, which more than any other part of scripture witnesses to Jesus the true Word of God made flesh, presents Jesus offering his most intimate words to the Father in chapter 17 of the Gospel. He prays “not only [for] these, but [for those] who will believe in me through their word”; God’s Word, speaking his own words, about our embodiment of his word.
Jesus calls us together, not simply for our own various words, but for the sake of those who might believe through our embodied witness to him. If really being Church means that we have the authenticity and diversity of Christ’s fragile body, the other condition of being Church must be that we are here for others who may therefore believe. We are called to make the Word fully known in word and deed, not just saying or doing but being what we are called to be, and thus living and proclaiming the Gospel.
So in the end even Synod is not about words, however much it depends on them, but about the one Word who has pitched his tent among us, and the mission to which he calls us. Synod is about Church; not because institutions matter, or even because Synod does, but because we have this call to make the Word fully known.
So perhaps the two most important things we could do in these coming days of Synod, prayerfully and carefully, would be these: to ensure that our decisions, and the words we use to make them, acknowledge and protect and enhance the fragile, difficult and rich diversity to which we have been called as Christ’s body; and to pray that our decisions and actions reflect our shared call to make the incarnate Word fully known, not only to those in our existing communities, but to those who may believe through our word.
(1) N. T. Wright, The Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), 61