Scriptorium: "The Light Burns On"
The Light Burns On
Bishop Thomas J. Faulkenbury
Sermon Delivered June 23, 1996 - The Feast of St. Morgan of Wales
On the occasion of his consecration to the Episcopate
St. Brendan's Abbey Church, Springfield, Oregon
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 61:1-8; Hebrews 5:1-10; Psalm 100; John 17:18-21
In the name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I would like to tell you a modern day parable written by Mike Mason, a Christian storyteller and weaver of fables.
There once were two brothers ~ Seth and Theo. When the land was young, they migrated West in order to find some land which they might till and earn their livelihood. They settled at the foot of a great and imposing mountain in a remote and rugged valley.
It was not the best of land by far. Somewhat arid. Very little rainfall. A rock strewn terrain. But they felt that it was the land they were meant to till. So, they set about clearing the rocks and attempting to divert a small stream for irrigation. It was truly difficult and back-breaking work which would leave them totally exhausted at the end of a long workday.
Like any spot on earth the valley would often appear spectacularly beautiful. But the winters were bitterly cold. And the summer heat was blistering. The whole region was like paradise in front of their eyes. Yet, somehow, they could never enter it.
In spite of all this the hardworking brothers managed to eke out a living from the stubborn soil. Poor as poor could be yet able to wrest from their labors enough satisfaction to carry them through each day.
One frosty morning in fall a goat appeared, standing in the yard outside their cabin. They had seen wild goats on the mountain side but never this close. It seemed almost domesticated and perfectly tame. She allowed them to stroke her, to lead her into a corral, and even to milk her. Upon sampling the milk they found it to be rich, creamy, abundant, and sweet as honey. It was far superior to that which they milked from their cow.
Where, they wondered, could such a fine and well-fed animal have come from?
For several days the brothers enjoyed this welcome gift from their mysterious guest. Then one night, abruptly, the goat was gone. They woke to find an empty corral. Searching the valley from one end to the other failed. The goat was nowhere to be found.
Some days later the goat returned of her own accord. Again she stayed several days and disappeared as mysteriously as she appeared. And again no amount of searching could find her.
The third time she made her appearance the brothers decided to tether her to the barn. And the milk seemed more delicious than ever. But, somehow, the goat broke her bonds and once again disappeared.
She appeared again a fourth time. On this occasion Theo came up with the idea that instead of trying to keep the goat corraled or tethered they should attempt to follow the goat and see where she went. So Theo tied a rope around the goat's neck and secured the other end to his wrist. For several days he maintained his binding to the goat ~ much to the laughter of his brother Seth.
One night Theo felt a tug on the cord and woke to follow the goat. He tried to wake Seth but Seth had succumbed to a deep sleep after a hard day's work and could not be aroused. Off Theo went with the goat gently pulling him along. In the black of night, the goat led him up the mountain, across rocky and treacherous terrain, higher and higher. With the guidance of the goat, Theo overcame tremendous obstacles until they came to a plateau at the top of the mountain.
Theo saw an opening between the great rocks. The goat entered the opening and Theo followed along, being pulled by the rope. It was a long, dark tunnel of twists and turns which seemed to be going downward into the heart of the mountain. Deeper and deeper they went until the tunnel opened into a great expanse of space.
It was a great subterranean cavern but without any walls, and dazzling illumination. Theo could see no sun yet everything radiated with light and warmth which seemed to come from within things of themselves. Above him was not a stone ceiling but a firmament of watersmooth silk.
The landscape had all the appearance of an Alpine valley. Lustrous emerald-green grass. Tiny star-like flowers. A river clear as wine. Trees as thick as haystacks. In the distance flocks and herds grazed on rolling hills. Fields of thick ripe grain and orchards heavy with fruit. This was indeed a land of milk and honey, a garden paradise.
Theo's immediate thought was to go and fetch his brother. But he knew an elder brother doesn't usually listen to his younger sibling. And Theo wasn't sure he could find his way back to this paradise without the goat. So Theo took a scrap of paper, wrote a note, and attached it to the goat's neck. The note read:
I am writing to you from a brand new land, the glory of which is beyond description. Please believe me, this place is everything we have dreamed about, and it makes our little acreage look like a desert. You must join me here and to do so you need only tether the goat to your hand, just as I did, and follow her up the mountain. Please come without delay.
Well, the goat did not depart immediately but grazed in the grass for several days before proceeding down the mountain, leaving Theo to enjoy this wonderful garden paradise.
Back at the foot of the mountain Seth had been left with the hard work of tilling the arid soil. He was at first angry with his brother for having left him to face this toil alone. Then he became concerned that something harmful had come upon his brother. And he cursed the goat for ever having appeared and leading Theo away to an unknown fate. Anger and fear simmered in Seth's heart.
Suddenly the goat appeared. Seth's mind was ablaze. He thought, "That goat's a trouble-maker. She has brought nothing but ill-fortune and she will be the death of both of us." As the goat approached, Seth's fear, anger, and frustration flooded forth in an overwhelming passion. He took an axe and split the skull of the goat, instantly killing it with one blow. Only then did his eyes fasten on the note from his brother. By the time he read the words they were already soaked in blood.
In the course of the history of Christendom there was once a strand of spirituality much like the goat of the parable. It was a strand which taught a love and respect for the physical environment; a love of learning; an innate yearning to explore the unknown; a love of silence and solitude; time as a sacred reality blessed and redeemed by God's overwhelming compassion; an appreciation of ordinary life as sanctified by Christ; and the building of spiritual friendships over ecclesiastical institution.
That strand of Christendom was Celtic Christianity and it was made known by the ancient Celtic Church. It was of such vibrance and vitality that Thomas Cahill has called it the salvation of western civilization during the Dark Ages. Like the goat in the parable it led the way to a spiritual land far greater than we could imagine.
But like the goat it was also subject to being tethered and corralled. Attempts were made to destroy it.
The theology of the ancient Celtic Church was attacked. Men like St. Morgan of Wales (whose feast day we celebrate today) and John Scotus Eriugena were brought before councils who opposed Celtic theology. No Ecumenical Council of the undivided Church ever declared them heretics, but those who opposed an independent Celtic Church used local synods of their own device and the power of the Roman Emperor to try and suppress the theology of the Celtic Church.
The emissaries of Rome, like Augustine of Canterbury, attempted to force the Celtic Bishops into compliance with the practices of Rome.The Synod of Whitby attempted to force Roman practices on the Celtic Church.
The ancient Celtic Church was criticized for the use of females in the administration of the Holy Eucharist.
Long before the Protestant Reformation, the Celtic Church was chastised for celebrating the Divine Liturgy in the language of the people.
Time and time again the Celtic Church was forced to adopt ways contrary to its understanding of Christ and His message.From the 5th century to the Synod of Cashel in 1171, the Celtic Church suffered assaults on its theology, it's liturgical practices, and its ecclesiastical organization. But, unlike the goat in the parable, it did not die. It continued to live and breath in the heart of the people of God. Today, over 800 years since it was supposed to have been suppressed, the ancient Celtic Church stands, poised and ready for restoration.
As I stand in this pulpit of St. Brendan's Abbey Church, I am mindful of those who have patiently maintained a presence in this place. Many of the members of this parish have written me and expressed their joy and excitement that after a decade of holding this congregation and this dream together, they are experiencing a spiritual gathering of the clans as we come from across the breadth of this nation to celebrate a consecration to the Episcopate.
From those of us who have made this journey I wish to extend our warmest feelings of gratitude for the fact that you, the congregation and clergy of St. Brendan's Abbey Church and the Church of the Culdees have maintained the vigil. For without the continuing shining of your light, none of us would be here today.
Also, as I stand here today, I am mindful of those who stood before us. And I think of a song by the Celtic Christian musical group Iona. And I would like to share with you the words of their song "Irish Day."
Sand as white as snow,
Swirls like smoke around my feet
And a sky that turns in a moment
From blue to grey,
All these things I see on an Irish day.
Here before my time
Walked men of faith and truth.
In a land that was dark
They followed the way,
Bringing sweet light on an Irish day.
It is here that time has granted
That the light should still burn on.
It was here that a seed was planted
In the braveheart of an Irish son.
Here I kneel upon this ground.
Love can heal when truth is found.
Because men and women like St. Patrick, St. Columba, St. Brendan, and St. Brigit had a vision of Christ; because they planted a seed in the Holy Isles, we can stand ready to restore their vision.
For reasons unfathomable to me, God has chosen me to be elevated to the Episcopate. Fortunately, the Scripture tells us that "no man takes this honor to himself." Bishop Kallistos Ware has said that no person falls alone and no person is saved alone. We are all connected to one another. In a few moments I will be consecrated to the Episcopate. I will lay prostrate before the altar of God and before these Bishops of God's one holy, catholic, orthodox, and apostolic Church to become a Bishop consecrated in an independent Celtic Church. But, thanks be to God, I will not lay there alone. We are all connected. You will be there with me. Just as no person falls or is saved alone, no Bishop is consecrated alone.
All of us will be there before God's altar, praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, placing our trust in God's providence, seeking the fulfillment of God's will. When I rise, all of us rise together, in hope and awe of God's power.
In the holy and ancient practice of the Church, these Bishops will transmit the Episcopal charisma. When they lay their hands on me they lay their hands on all of us. What happens today is not just the consecration of an unworthy sinner but the symbolic, spiritual restoration of the ancient Celtic Church. It is not I, alone, who am being consecrated but all of us united in a desire to restore our ancient Church. It is up to all of us to make that restoration a reality.
Today, we can echo the words of King David and the Prophet Isaiah. "The Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations." We are living witnesses to that goodness and mercy. For through us the old ruins of the Celtic Church will be rebuilt by God. Through us the former desolations will be repaired by Him. If we will allow God to use us the sorrows of history will be overcome.
The ancient Celtic tradition has not been buried in a mountain. It has existed in the hearts of those who have maintained a connection and a longing for what once was a golden age of Celtic Christianity. The magnificent goat which led Theo to that garden paradise was not slain. It appears again in the hearts of each of us who desire the restoration of that ancient Church. It will not be corralled, nor tethered, nor slain. It is a light which still burns on.
This is indeed a momentous day for us. But something greater is here.
In the words of the Holy Gospel for today Jesus prays for His Disciples, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that all may be one... that the world may believe that You have sent me." By joining together in this consecration these Bishops and you, the faithful congregations, affirm that there is only one Truth; and that is Jesus Christ who was sent by our Father to save us from our sins.
The light of the Celtic Church burns on. But the greater Light is that of Jesus Christ. Whether we belong to the Celtic Christian Communion or some other jurisdiction, it is the Light of Christ with which we are to illuminate the world. Love can heal when truth is found. May each of us find the truth of Christ and may His Truth make us instruments of that love by which the wounds of His divided Church can be healed. For we have no greater purpose than to make known to the world that God our Father has sent Jesus Christ as the perfect sacrifice for our sins and the Light of the world -- the true Light which still burns on.
Today, as we celebrate this consecration and all of what it means for our Church, and as we receive the Blessed Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood by which we are nourished and sustained, may each of us know that it is to the One God ~ Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ~ that all glory is ascribed. Amen.