30th Sep, 2003

Barbour Requiem Mass

Requiem Mass for Carroll Corbett Barbour,
Seventh Rector of St Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood.
Sermon preached by Fr Ian Elliott Davies,
Rector of St Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood.


I’ve been asked to pass on to you Fr Hugh Barbour’s apologies; he’s been held up as a result of the blackout in Italy and is completing work in the Vatican on behalf of his Order.
May the words of my mouth…
A popular picture of God in the past has been one that sees Him as an unchanging and unchangeable power, who by His inscrutable decree orders every minute detail of what happens and comes to pass in the vast cosmos.
There is an attitude to God and religion that interprets accident or chance, religiously speaking, as the outcome of divine purpose. Such a vending-machine god (you could conceivably try and bargain with such a deity) makes of God an inscrutable imperial monarch, if not a malignant vivisectionist.
However, no one could live and work in Hollywood in the nineteen eighties and nineties and still see God as an angry deity who must be appeased at all costs. The particular priest called to minister in this place in 1986, Carroll Corbett Barbour, was of course grasped by the God of the ancient Judeo-Christian tradition who is not distant nor aloof but is in the very midst of the muck and mess of this world. That was the ministry of Carroll, to be with people in the midst of their experiences for good or ill.
Writing after the Aberfan Disaster in Wales in 1966, when a mountain collapsed and consumed an entire village school Fr William Vanstone said
“Our preaching… after the tragedy was not of a God who, from the top of the mountain, caused or permitted, for His own inscrutable reasons, its disruption and descent; but of One Who received, at the foot of the mountain, its appalling impact, and Who, in the extremity of endeavour, will find yet new resources to restore and redeem.”
The reading we have heard in this evening’s Gospel from the fourteenth chapter of St John is part of that great chunk of the Fourth Gospel known as the Farewell Discourse when Christ the Word of God incarnate has washed the disciples’ feet and then talks with them about his departure from this world, his glorification and exaltation on the cross, his promise of the Holy Spirit that will lead the faithful into all truth.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, Christ now showed them the full extent of his love.”
The love referred to in this context is the love of Christ for the disciples. However, and this is crucial in the Fourth Gospel that images the life of God continuing here on earth in the followers of Christ, this is not the only love alluded to. The love of the disciples for one another is critical if they are to be disciples at all.
The disciples are to imitate their master by living in relationships of self-giving love for each other; indeed, this new commandment to love is of the very character and nature of discipleship, remaining in Christ
The Eucharistic Community, the Church, which is the body of disciples, those who are in Christ, demolishes the old boundaries, the prejudices and distinctions must pass away. We are to become the Community of Friends, for ‘Behold, I make all things new.

“You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants (or slaves) any longer, because the servant does not know what the Master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (Jn 15: 14-15)

The early Quakers quite rightly described the Christian Community as a “society of friends.” Friends are free and equal, not divided by authority structures, by class or caste. One does not have to continually justify, pretend or placate friends. Friends and friendship are probably one of the more undervalued and less celebrated gifts Christ has given to the Church, a gift that each of you here this evening are capable of showing and living.
Disciples are friends, not in some superficial temporary manner, but we are inextricably linked and fused together, as branches are part of the vine; St John provocatively writes:
“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” There’s not actually a whole lot of choice in the matter; we’re called, whether we like it or not, to be part of the same Body of Christ. That was a source of frustration, I know, to Carroll. But it was also a source of immense joy, humour and satisfaction. I can’t help but feel that Carroll is even, as we speak, having a little chuckle that today in St Thomas we wear birettas!
The Church, the Body of Christ, is not intended to constitute a little group of the saved, like-minded consenting adults in the midst of a wicked world, eagerly beavering away at “holiness,” liturgy or some other esoteric pastime. On the contrary, God intends nothing less than the regeneration of the whole human story in this friendship, eloquently expressed in Rhett Judice’s Christus capturing Carroll’s vision of Christ the Hospitable Lord.
In the first century this concretely, painfully and practically was worked out in the breaking-down of the most intractable barriers, between Jew and Gentile, between slaves and free, and even between women and men. You see, Carroll was not making some politically trendy point about “equal rights.”
On the one side the meal with the Risen Lord is a protest, a critique of this world’s standards and illusions. It protests against unequal structures in our society. It protests against injustice and inhumanity, it is meant to disturb our complacency. As such it is an act of subversion of this world’s cynical assumptions about the inevitability of class-division or any kind of prejudice or racism.
The Mass is a sacramental anticipation of a community in which people live for others, as true friends; this meal with the Risen Lord is an anticipation of a redeemed and restored human community living at peace.
This Risen Lord, this God, is not the remote First Cause of bone-dry, scholastic, precisely articulated philosophical debate, but the untameable, indescribable, risky God who takes history and passion, suffering and humanity, into himself.
Prayer, therefore, is not “to” God but prayer is always within a history, an entering into or being caught up in an event; and we are caught up in the event, the life of the Trinity;
Whatever faults Carroll had, at the very least in the sight of this Hospitable Lord, he worked for that self-giving love in a torrential downpour in a world that is parched and arid and yearning for friendship.
Now to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be all might, honour, glory and power, in the Church and in all eternity as is most justly due.

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