The importance of World Mission Sunday -- observed February 26 across the Episcopal Church -- was underscored as Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold preached in Havana, calling for reconciliation between the people of Cuba and the United States.
The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
February 26, 2006 Cathedral of the Holy Trinity - Santisima Trinidad
Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters. My thanks to your bishop, to the dean, and the clergy and people of the Episcopal Church of Cuba for your wonderful hospitality.
The Episcopal Church in the United States shares a deep bond with La Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba. This goes back to 1871, when Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple of the Diocese of Minnesota in the United States stopped in Havana en route to Haiti. When he returned home Bishop Whipple persuaded the Episcopal Church to send its first clergy and missionaries to Cuba. This began a relationship that led to the founding of the missionary Diocese of Cuba as part of the U.S. Church. The close friendship of our two Churches has continued for 135 years. My Church is deeply committed to accompanying the Church of Cuba in our common witness to Jesus.
During my visit here I have been moved greatly by the faithfulness and vibrancy of your Church. Also, I have been saddened to see the suffering caused by the policies of my country’s government. The Episcopal Church in the United States strongly opposes the Blockade against Cuba. In the four decades of its existence, the Blockade has done little except exacerbate the suffering of the Cuban people. Reconciliation must begin, and people of faith must lead the way.
In that spirit, I find myself affected and challenged by this morning’s Gospel account of the Transfiguration of Christ. Jesus leads Peter, James, and John to a high mountain to pray. For a moment the disciples see a vision of Christ’s divinity. They are able to see Jesus as he truly is: the Incarnate Word of the Living God. Then, the voice of God pierces through the heavens – “This is my Son, the Beloved.” This echoes words spoken at Jesus’ baptism. (Mark 9:7) At the moment of the Transfiguration, just as in the moment of Jesus’ baptism, those present encounter God’s sheer delight, God’s pleasure, God’s joy.
The story of the Transfiguration points back to the story of Jesus’ baptism because it is in baptism that Jesus – like each of us – most intimately encounters God’s outpouring of unbounded love. Baptism marked for Jesus, as it does for us, the beginning of active participation in God’s work in the world. But Baptism is not about taking up of an agenda. Rather, baptism is about giving up our own agendas and giving of ourselves so that God’s plans may be worked in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me, and to complete his work,” Jesus declares at the outset of his public ministry. (John 4:34) For us too, then, by virtue of our Baptism and God’s love poured out upon us, we are called to engage God’s work in our world.
This is made clear by Jesus on the mountain of the Transfiguration. The disciples who witness God’s declaration of love were not allowed by Jesus to linger in their awe or contemplation. Instead, he brings them back down from the mountain, back to the work of the baptized in the world.
And what is that work of the baptized? What is the mission of the Church?
The catechism of the American Prayer Book says: “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (BCP, p. 855).
Or, as St. Paul says, the mission of the Church is to proclaim – in both word and deed – that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, and has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.” Because of our baptism we, like Jesus, are proclaimed beloved by God and called to be fellow workers in God’s project of reconciliation.
The ministry of reconciliation strikes a particular chord for me in Cuba as I witness the devastating effects of the Blockade. My country’s policies have driven wedges though your country, wedges that are profoundly at odds with the Scriptural call to unity among all people in Christ. The U.S. embargo has helped fuel inhumane poverty among your people, brought large parts of your magnificent cities and infrastructure to ruins, and cut off Cuban families from the support – financial and otherwise – of their loved ones in the United States. On occasion, the embargo even has put distance in the relationship between our two Churches. American dioceses and parishes are hindered or blocked entirely from providing financial and logistical support for their brothers and sisters in Cuba, and my Church has been prevented from paying the pensions rightfully owed to the clergy of your Church.
This division and separation of people from people is scandalous to a Church which claims the ministry of reconciliation as its work in the world. The strongest supporters of the Blockade in my government frequently make the claim that until Cuba changes its political structures, Americans and Cubans cannot even come to the same table and together explore avenues toward healing. Such thinking – in which the responsibility for repentance, restoration, and healing falls exclusively on one side of a disagreement – is not the way of reconciliation laid out for us by the Scripture. Reconciliation requires each of us working for the re-ordering of all things on earth according to God’s passionate desire for justness and righteousness. No one is exempt from this process.
And so, the question is how can we – the Churches of Cuba and the United States – re-dedicate ourselves to the ministry of reconciliation? Also, how can we offer an example to others in both of our countries?
The first step must be repentance. We must acknowledge that we have failed to live into God’s transforming love. As we enter into Lent this coming Ash Wednesday we are called to think deeply about the ways in which our actions cause division and pain. We are called to confess those sins to our merciful God. This process involves letting go of our own narrow and self-serving views. As Archbishop William Temple said, repentance means seeking to adopt God’s point of view in place of our own. In this way, the divine compassion breaks into our lives and shows us the truth of who we are – not as we would like to be known – but as God knows us and loves us.
For my country to repent, we must acknowledge that we bear a great deal of the responsibility for the suffering and pain endured by your country over the last forty years. Such repentance must include – indeed it should be led by – the Church. We in the U.S. Church must acknowledge that, while we long have opposed the embargo, all-too-often we have accepted it as a fact of life and allowed it to hinder our common mission with the Episcopal Church of Cuba. I fear we have not spoken vigorously enough against the embargo.
Some of your clergy have described feeling abandoned by your Mother Church, and for this, I offer my Church’s repentance and plea for forgiveness. We must look for creative ways to remain in partnership with the Diocese of Cuba despite the embargo’s legal restrictions. Working together, I believe we can move forward in companionship.
To that end, I will return home from my trip to Cuba with four specific challenges to the Episcopal Church in the United States.
First, I will ask all Episcopalians in the United States to rededicate themselves to accompanying the ministry of the Church of Cuba in whatever way they can, certainly through daily prayer.
Second, I will ask my Church – at all levels – to rededicate itself to advocacy against the Blockade.
Third, I will call upon dioceses and parishes of the Episcopal Church in the United States to intensify and expand companion relationships with the Diocese of Cuba.
Fourth, I will ask the national staff of the Episcopal Church and the Church Pension Group to continue pursuing ways to make full payment of the pensions owed to Cuban priests who were ordained by the American Church.
The Episcopal Church in the United States is committed to reconciliation between our two nations because we are limbs and members of the body of Christ, the Church. By virtue of our baptism we are bound together in what Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams describes as “solidarities not of our own choosing.” Each of us is an indispensable member of Christ’s risen body. When one member of the body suffers, we all suffer.
“This is my Son, the Beloved,” thunders the voice of God on the mountain of the Transfiguration. That same voice likewise proclaims that each of us is beloved of God. God sent his only Son among us to embody that love. God’s saving embrace enfolds all history and can contain all the complexities, struggles, divisions and difficulties which challenge and afflict us.
Even the wide gulf of the embargo can be made small by God’s love; even years of separation can be undone by the saving embrace of our God, who “in Christ was reconciling the world to himself.”
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