‘Come and See’

Zechariah 8.20–end; John 1.35–42
a sermon at the Installation of the Venerable Ian Jagger
as Archdeacon of Durham and Canon Residentiary
St Andrew’s Day 2006

by the Bishop of Durham, Dr N. T. Wright

‘Give me the map there,’ commands the old king. ‘Know that we have divided
In three our kingdom; and ’tis our fast intent
To shake all cares and business from our age,
Conferring them on younger strengths, while we
Unburden’d crawl towards death.’

The parallel is not of course exact. The comparatively recent division of the Diocese of Durham into three Archdeaconries had, I think, nothing to do with the incipient demise of the bishop who planned it; and the appointment of a new Archdeacon at this juncture has, I hope, nothing to do with the final crawl of the present one. But nevertheless Lear’s ‘fast intent’ has a ring to it which, in these days of delegated authority, shared episcopacy, collaborative working and all that, leaves a good taste in my mouth at least: ‘to shake all cares and business from our age, conferring them on younger strengths’. It is said of the great Michael Ramsey that during his time here in Durham he never really worked out what Archdeacons were for. Had he lived today, he would have discovered quite quickly: there are all manner of things, cares and business indeed, churchwardens and chancels and drainpipes and Deanery Synods and all, not to mention the regular filling in, in one parish after another, for the vicar who is absent or ill, engaging in the mission and ministry of the diocese as well as enabling it from behind the scenes – all manner of things that need doing, that the Diocese can’t survive without, and yet that neither the bishop nor the vicar has the time or indeed the expertise to do. These are the things that the ‘younger strengths’ are needed to carry out; and both bishop and vicar are duly grateful, and indeed, in awe. I often feel, towards the end of a Staff Meeting, after hearing of the PCCs visited, the clergy admonished, the houses bought and sold, and the appointments set in train, that there are undoubtedly many other things that the Archdeacons have done which, if they were to be written every one, the Diocese itself could not contain the books that should be written.
The combination of gifts and talents needed for this multi-tasking vocation is remarkable, and it is a matter for rejoicing and gratitude that God has provided us in this Diocese with that rich mixture which we have needed – and indeed more besides, because, though it is no part of an Archdeacon’s brief to write hymns in his or her spare time, it does almost seem to be a requirement for membership in the present Chapter of this Cathedral Church, and we are delighted that Ian thus contributes, as we know is deep in his heart to do, to the life of worship which lies at the centre of all Christian ministry, not least that of the Archdeacon. The Archdeacon must, in fact, model in his or her own person, life, devotion and mission that which we seek to foster in the deaneries, localities and parishes; one cannot hide behind even the heavy burden of administration and pretend that the life of a priest, and the life of a deacon which remains at the heart of the priesthood, is now someone else’s business. Often, indeed, the Archdeacon is put on the spot in a crisis and has to respond at once with a pastor’s heart, even while the head is only too aware of legal issues and the feet sometimes itch to administer a more direct rebuke. And so, just as when the people are with their priest they should hear the message which says, ‘Come, let us entreat the favour of the Lord, and seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going’, so when the clergy (and the churchwardens, and the PCC) are with their archdeacon they should hear that invitation deep within themselves: here is someone who delights in worship, whose life is constantly being refreshed with the forgiving, healing, renewing, celebrating love of God; let us go with him, let us work with him, because we trust him, and know that he will not impose on us mere human schemes for reorganising our buildings or our money, but rather those plans which flow from a humble devotion and a deep desire to see God’s kingdom go forward. And even if this sometimes means that the Archdeacon finds himself beseiged by too many people at once – ten people from nations of every language taking hold of an Archdeacon, grasping his garment, and saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that you have an inside track to the Bishop’s discretionary fund’, nevertheless the principle holds true, that for many the Archdeacon is the public face of the Diocese, and, if that public face shows no sign of the devotion to our Lord which should animate all that we are and do, then people get the impression that the Diocese is uncaring and that after all we are simply another business organisation. Thank God that in our present Archdeacons we have the opposite: people in and with whom both clergy and laity will say, more importantly, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’
And so on this St Andrew’s Day, as we license and commission Ian, translating him to this ministry which is in continuity with his most recent work (interesting how this evening’s Gospel reading is full of translations), but which marks an important development in bringing that work, and just as importantly that person, to the heart of the Cathedral, we hear again the simple but utterly compelling words of Jesus. ‘What are you looking for?’ he asked Andrew and the other disciple. ‘Rabbi,’ they replied, ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ And they came; and saw; and stayed. And then they went out and spoke. The matchless monosyllabic simplicity of that account remains at the heart of John’s vision of Christian life and mission. Come; and see; and stay; and speak. And, in that speaking, bring others to come, and see, and stay, and speak in their turn. What could be simpler? What could be more profound? A ‘relationship’? – horrid, clunky word; no, a friendship, a delight, an exploration full of surprise, gentleness, challenge, consolation, new perspectives; a love never static, but growing and blossoming and maturing and bearing fruit, a love that answers the invitation with its own:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath;
Such a Truth, as ends all strife;
Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come; and see; and stay; and speak.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength;
Such a Light, as shows a feast;
Such a Feast, as mends in length;
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come; and see; and stay; and speak.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart;
Such a Joy, as none can move;
Such a Love, as none can part;
Such a Heart, as joys in love.
Come; and see; and stay; and speak.

That is what this Cathedral is all about. That, please God, is what this Diocese is all about. The invitation from Jesus himself to each one of us, and each one in the wider world, to come, see, stay and speak is to be answered, at the heart of all Christian life and ministry, by the prayer which delights in Jesus: way, truth, life – the call to each of us to follow; light, feast, strength – the grace which enables all the multiple tasks of ministry; joy, love and heart – the inner reality which breathes through into all that we do. And from that reality, and only from that, there can flow all the letters and emails and PCC meetings, all the CRB forms and parish strategies, all the sick clergy and silly clergy and downright annoying clergy (who exist, so I’m told, in every diocese except of course our own), all the car journeys and the snatched meals and the tricky phone calls, all the daily and hourly work of the Archdeacon, which is still gospel work, and Jesus-work, and love-work. At every point, the inner language must be saying: Come, and see, and stay, and speak. Thus:

To your eternal hands
I trust myself today,
to find through all life’s shifting sands
the Godly way.