FR ROLAND WALLS, the
maverick priest who was formerly in charge of Rosslyn Chapel in
Scotland, left the Scottish Episcopal Church for Roman Catholicism,
despite his dislike of what he called "this hierarchical, pyramidal
stuff". In a conversation recorded several years ago (preserved in
Mole Under the Fence, by Ron Ferguson, St Andrew's Press,
2006), Fr Walls saw signs of hope: "In the Third World, we've got
examples of bishops and archbishops who . . . give their lives for
what they believe about the justice and the peace of the kingdom;
where they live, in simplicity, the lives of the people they're
living with, where their wooden cross is the sign of their wish to
get out of the golden, bejewelled, hierarchical manifestations of
power and dignity that the world, and the kings of this world,
demonstrate." It remains to be seen whether the arrival at the
Vatican of Pope Francis from Argentina will effect such a change.
He is 76, and not in the best of health, and has layers of
tradition, habit, and self-interest to contend with.
The Anglican structure is
less opaque. Its Established character in England has, however,
encouraged it to mirror the hierarchical ordering within the state,
as witnessed at the enthronement of Archbishop Welby last week,
whether or not the new Archbishop preferred to term it the
inauguration of his ministry. The 50-minute procession signalled to
all the participants where they stood in the line of precedence.
Enthronements/inaugurations are not, of course, an everyday
occurrence in the Church of England - most events are much more
loosely choreographed. But Canterbury last week gave a glimpse of
institutional concerns that seem far removed from those of
The examples of similar
concerns in the Passion narrative are not flattering: the disciples
squabbling about who will sit next to Jesus in his kingdom, as they
approach Jerusalem; the diplomatic manoeuvrings between Pilate,
Herod, and the Sanhedrin. As always, Christ offers the antidote to
these worldly approaches. First, the prize that awaits those who
achieve greatness, or have it thrust upon them, is nothing
desirable, as Christ warned his disciples. It is to set aside
earthly trappings of wealth and status, and follow him along the
path of sacrifice. As Francis and Justin doubtless already know,
high office is not a pleasure to be enjoyed, but a burden to be
borne. As the Maundy Thursday liturgy demonstrates, the call is to
servanthood, not mastery.
Second, we see in Christ something of the relationships at play
within the Godhead. Christ submits to his Father's will, but his
obedience is freely given. Christ's sacrifice on the cross is not
demanded, but offered. Christians, too, often project on to God
their experiences of fallible, earthly fathers, and infect God with
their hierarchical views. In Christ, duty and self-giving love are
indivisible. As a result, the concept of duty loses all meaning.
All that remains is love.