Words from our reading from the Epistle to the Philippians:
“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in
Christ Jesus.”

May I thank the Dean for his invitation and welcome to the National
Cathedral. I have the fondest memories of previous visits to your
marvelous, central cathedral church in the Episcopal Church of the
United States. And on this occasion to renew friendship that has
extended over the years with two men—and I’m probably going to risk
losing their friendship in what I am going to say next—two men who in
many, many ways have been the architects of the Anglican communion in my
lifetime: Canon Van Culin, Canon Peterson, former secretaries general of
the Anglican communion. They have steered our worldwide communion
through troubled waters, and they have gained the respect and the gratitude
of many, many Anglicans across our world.

In a few moments we will rejoice together as worshipers in this
liturgy of sacrament when we remember that in the breaking of the bread,
we are brought in our own way to the nearest point to Christ’s real link
with his worshiping community and with his Church, the body of Christ. I
wonder, do you share this impression with me: I often feel myself that
at that point in the liturgy we are very close indeed, beyond our human
failings, to the meaning of it all. The bread broken for the world, the
bread broken for us, in our lives and in the experience we call this
world. In the first instance, reminded of the link between the breaking
of Christ, the sacrifice of our Lord, and doing this in remembrance of
him, that in the breaking of the bread we are totally identified, as he
is with us, with the sacrifice of our Lord and Master.

I want to reflect for a few moments this morning in this service on
what I believe is central to the liturgy of the sacrament that has drawn
us together from all parts of the United States and, today, from all
parts of the world. And that is that we are doing what Christ
commanded, the one command he left his followers: that when you do this,
you do it in remembrance of me. And central to that: the symbolic
breaking of the bread.

Let us first think of that significance in terms of ourselves. Life,
as we were reminded in the letter to the Philippians, could so easily be
a constant turning back to what is past, allowing the past to envelop
us, control us, and put dimensions to our views of the future. I say
that with some feeling, for I live and work in a situation, as many of
you will realize, where community memories of the past dictate far too
many lives—grievances past, injuries, and hurt allowed to dominate
people’s hearts and minds—even when there is a vestige of hope for the
future. And in the words to the Philippians, there is a constant
straining between what will draw us back into the mistakes, the sadness,
and the hurt of the past, and striving and straining like a dog on a
leash to move forward according to the commands, the vision, and the
hope and love of Christ. And I’m sure for most of us that is also our
experience of the human condition.

As someone has written recently in my own country, the past is what
makes us what we are and determines so often our vision of the future.
In the pilgrimage that you and I call the Christian life, surrounding as
it does the whole worship of the body of Christ, is this constant
tension between what God has shown us in the past, what we have
experienced in the days that are gone, and what we believe and can trust
for the days to come. How often in pastoral life do clergy in any
country come across example after example for so much that could flower
and develop and be good in a person’s life but is darkened into submission by
the way in which the past is constantly dragging them back? And yet, as
we reflect this morning on this great act of worship and look ahead to
the breaking of the bread—the reminder of the breaking of Christ for
us—we can have but one conclusion: that in the forgiveness of
Christ, the past is the past; in the love of Christ, the present is
worth living; and in the sheer certainty of the great life to come, God
is constantly holding out to you and me the hope for the future. And it
is at that point, when the celebrant breaks the bread in our name, that I,
for one, feel so close to the hem of the garment and to the promise of
the future. For in this great act of communion between God and his
people, we are making space for God that God may make space for us.

I remember so often in the dark days which, pray God, my community are now
moving beyond, ministering to someone whose dearly beloved child had
been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when a car bomb went off,
the little life ended. And as the parents reminisced on the past, and
yearned that what had happened had not happened, the words of her mother
will long remain with me: “Archbishop,” she said, “if there is a God, I
need that hope. If there is a God, I need that love. But most of all, I
need the reconciliation that God and love lives on.”

God and love lives on. The breaking of the bread, the sharing in the
body of Christ, is first of all a personal dimension to life. But
secondly, there must be a relevance between that point in this service
and the life we are called to live in our community, and in our world.
For it is the brokenness of the world, as much as the brokenness of
lives, to which Christ speaks. I’ve just referred to my own experiences in
my own ministry, and after over 40 years of serving in my
situation, I have seen humanity at its best, and I’ve seen, so often,
humanity at, dare I say, its worst.

And so often when, in the most unlikely circumstances, a person or
people seek to find forgiveness, and speak the words of love that you
would least expect them in a human sense to use, one’s faith in God and
in the dignity of humanity is, of course, renewed. When surrounded by the
sheer destruction of lives and loved ones, I’ve been amazed at times by the
resilience of the Christian faith in people of all traditions.

I remember once having a meal in a rectory in my diocese, and the
middle of the meal the light fitting above our head shook. There was a
noise in the bedroom above us, occupied by the rector’s seven-year-old
son. The rector, presumably to impress the archbishop, took the stairs
two at a time and dived into the bedroom to see what had happened, to
find his little seven-year-old sitting on the carpet in his pajamas
roaring with laughter. He picked him up, popped him back in bed, and asked
the inevitable question, “John, what on earth happened to you?” There
was that silence as the philosophy of a seven-year-old sought to give
some eternal expression. And then, my friends of the National Cathedral,
there came words from a seven-year-old’s lips, which I personally find
very significant. First, “Daddy, I don’t know what happened.” “But,
John, did you have a bad dream? Did you roll over onto the clothes? You
must have fallen out of bed! Why did you fall out of bed?” Silence
again, and then this answer, “Daddy, I think I fell out of bed because I
stayed too near where I got in.” If you don’t see it, reflect on it.

You know I’ve smiled as you have at the philosophy of a little
seven-year-old child, then I’ve stopped smiling for this reason: what a
truth there was in those words, for so often in the breaking of bread we
are reminded that for us the Christian experience of life is keeping us
far too enclosed in the comfortable, far too away from the edge where
life really asks questions that beg an answer, where experience must be
addressed with depth and faith, if only we had the urgency of the
seven-year-old son who had learned the eternal message that in staying
too near the edge where he got in, he’d fallen out of bed. And when you
and I, in the experience of living the faith in this world, do not have
the confidence and the faith of the breaking of the bread of Christ to
move into the depths, to show faith and confidence that takes us away
from the safety of the sheets of human life.

So often our experience is insufficient to live up to the questions
that need to be answered. The symbol of life in the spirit is so often
also for those who live in a community, and nowhere more obvious than in
the life of the Church. I say to my Anglican friends of the United
States, the Anglican Communion needs you. The Anglican Communion owes
you so much. Over the years I have been so privileged to see how that
strength has reached out to the rest of us, and in my own little way
have tried in an international sense to encourage that
“looking-forward” rather than “looking back.” I
pray that may be the breaking of the bread for our beloved

Do you remember that wonderful example in the New Testament when
Jesus slipped away from the disciples and was obviously lost in his own
thoughts, and they brought a question to him that, I wonder, did they
know the answer they wanted? We Christians are very good at knowing the
answer before we ask the question, aren’t we? “Master, what do we have
to do to be like you?” What answer did they expect? Did they want a
recipe that would take them, like some great spiritual insurance policy,
removed from danger, removed from temptation and sin, and give them a
comfortable life? We know the answer he gave: “If you would be followers
of mine, deny yourselves, take up the cross, and follow me.” And when
they had learned the meaning and did it, far from taking them into the
comfortable pew, it took them up a winding road to the greatest
suffering they’d ever encountered at the cross of Calvary. But the
breaking of the bread and the breaking of the life of Christ began to
make sense when they saw the first dawn of Easter morning.

What was it that the church at Philippi was asked to do?
“Forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies
ahead, press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of
God in Jesus Christ.” May that be our experience. May that be our
hope. But may that all stem as the bread is broken for us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.