Preacher: The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson, Dean

In 2010 Christine and I found ourselves in southern Bavaria in the beautiful village of Oberammergau. It is a tourist village where people come to admire and enjoy the stunning mountain scenery and purchase any one of the multitude of hand-carved statues, cuckoo clocks and other paraphernalia. But every ten years the town is transformed as the once-in-a-decade Passion Play is performed. Hundreds of years ago a deadly plague swept through the district. The villagers pledged that if they were spared they would perform the Passion Play in thankful remembrance. That tradition has continued – almost unbroken down the ages. For me, the most moving moment in the five hour production was towards the end when the Jesus figure, played by the local dentist, was gently and lovingly taken down from the cross. The 5000 strong audience sat entranced at the gentleness and loving care shown in handling the dead body.

I found myself thinking of that scene about ten days ago when I received an email with a photo of the rood cross lying on the sanctuary floor. Kate’s words accompanying the picture were – ‘the rood is resting’. Standing looking down at the rood were the workmen who had lowered it down gently and carefully from the heights of the Cathedral ceiling, in much the same way as those people in Oberammergau, or indeed, Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus must have done with the actual body of Jesus. This was a holy moment – high viz vests, hard hats and all!

And so the rood rests. On Tuesday this week it will be carefully wrapped and transported to the ecclesiastical warehouse in Salisbury where it will remain until a decision as to its future is known. I suspect that will be some years away as we need to get on and get the organ restored and then do the urgent work needed on the roof and rest of the Cathedral, as part of the Cathedral 150 programme. But for now, we too should pause and gaze on that resting rood. After today’s service I invite you to come up into the sanctuary and look at the rood cross – notice the rough carving of the Hungarian-born artist, the huge hands of Jesus, the hands of Mary and John stretching up towards the body on the cross. Pause for a moment and place yourself back in Jerusalem – perhaps see yourself as Joseph or Nicodemus, or one of the soldiers, thankful that their terrible work was finished for the day.

Yesterday afternoon I invited our Choir trebles to come and have a look – which they did. I had hoped they might sing an Agnus Dei while there – ‘O Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us’. But of course I hadn’t thought to suggest they bring music with them. Instead, they sang, unaccompanied and beautifully, the children’s Christmas Carol, ‘Away in a manger’. And on this weekend, when we give thanks for and remember Mary, mother of Our Lord, I thought of the old man Simeon’s words to her when he took the baby Jesus in his arms in the temple: ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2: 34 – 35) The Christ-child, Jesus of Nazareth, the Lamb of God, carried on his shoulders the sin of the world – the weight of our transgressions, our hatreds and narrow-mindedness and bigotry, our petty arguments and selfish want want wants! He took it all and, in the words of Isaiah, ‘was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.’ (Isaiah 53: 5)

And so the rood rests.

There will be another laying up to rest this week. On Friday night, at the very end of the liturgical service of farewell to Archbishop Jeffrey, our Archbishop will process to the high altar and, in a simple yet profound ceremony, lay his pastoral staff, also called a crosier, on the altar. In recent days he has been telling us what he will be thinking as he performs that last action as Archbishop of Adelaide. He says to imagine a number of Woolies shopping bags – each suspended from the pastoral staff. In one will be the weight of years of listening to the pain of others – those who, as children, suffered the horrors of sexual abuse at the hands of trusted church people. In one will be his own failures – the missed opportunities, words uttered, things done that he wishes he could recall. In another will be the immense joy of seeing things begun and grow to fruition. In another will be the joy of the many friends he has made up and down the Diocese of Adelaide and the Province of South Australia in church and school, community and home. And so he will lay down, not only the staff, but his life as Archbishop.

I have always called the bishop’s pastoral staff a crosier, but have never really inquired about the origin of the name – until a few days ago. It’s one of those words which has transferred its meaning from one thing to another. From an old English word, with its roots in the Latin ‘crux’ meaning cross, the crosier was actually the person who carried the cross in procession in front of the bishop! The crosier was the cross carrier. Quite how it came to change from the name of a person to the name of a staff I have no idea. But in a very real sense the bishop is the crosier – the cross carrier. He or she must carry the people of God before God – holding them in prayer, being a shepherd and leader, a wise elder, one who holds the truth of the Gospel, an encourager and enabler. It is a lonely task to be the cross carrier and Archbishop Jeffrey knows that very well. Now should we forget his wife Lindy – who has no doubt often had to bite her tongue and simply be there for her husband.

Before we leave the idea of the crosier and cross carrier, let me say something about another cross that all Christians in Australia must continue to carry. Just as this Diocese reeled in shock and pain at the revelations of sexual abuse of minors by trusted people a decade and more ago, and continues to pay the cost of the terrible things done to innocent young people, so the Diocese of Newcastle is reeling now as the Royal Commission uncovers shocking and shameful abuse, which has left so many badly scarred. As Deans gathered together in Townsville last weekend we spent time in prayer for the victims of abuse, and recommitted ourselves to ensure, as far as we are able, that our Cathedrals are safe places, places of sanctuary and shalom. I call on all of us, all of you here today, all who love and worship and find fellowship in this sacred space of St Peter’s Cathedral, to commit yourselves to ensuring that never again will this sort of thing happen. Those who hold positions of responsibility in the Cathedral, those who work with, or alongside, children and other vulnerable people, must continue to be vigilant, to take seriously the content and intent of “Faithfulness in Service” and to work together to make this a place of sanctuary, of safety, of wholeness. To do that together, faithfully, religiously, honestly and whole-heartedly, will be truly to be crosiers – cross carriers.

And so the rood rests.

On Tuesday it will be wrapped, packaged and taken to its temporary resting place. In a sense this is Holy Saturday – that in-between space when nothing happens and the future is uncertain. It is an uncomfortable place to be, just as a Diocese without a bishop is an uncomfortable place to be (or a Cathedral without a Dean for that matter). But it is also a place for growth and new opportunity. With hind-sight we know that Easter follows Holy Saturday, and new life follows even the darkest of times.

‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Hebrews 12: 1 – 2)