The following is the text of the sermon preached by the Archbishop of Canterbury at a Celebration for the Unity of the People of God, which was held in Gramado, Brazil, on Saturday 24 May:
What is it that Jesus Christ gives us? And what is it that we are to give to the world? Jesus answers us in today's gospel, in the clearest possible way. He gives us glory; and what we are given, we must share. Certainly, he gives us forgiveness, life, confidence, the promise of eternal rest in God - but in this passage from John's gospel, he sums it all up in the word 'glory', because what he longs to give us is ultimately just what the Father gives him. It isn't a very easy word to translate or understand for many people these days. We associate glory with fame or success - and Jesus on his way to a humiliating and dreadful death is obviously not someone who possesses that kind of glory. Instead, he speaks, a few verses later, of a glory given by the Father before the world was made. And the picture conjured up for us is of a radiant light streaming from the Father, reflected without any loss or inequality in the face of the Son. The Son, who becomes human for us in Jesus, never turns from the Father, and so never loses that radiant light; Jesus in his life on earth never loses it - though it is only for a moment, at the Transfiguration, that his face literally shows this eternal light. And if we keep ourselves turned to Jesus, then that same light is reflected in our faces, and it lights up the world around.
The relationship between Jesus and God his Father is the foundation for this radiance; and so, obviously, the relation between Jesus and us is what makes the light travel still further. But what is important in this gospel passage is that it is also the relationship between us as Christians that makes the light shine that causes the glory to radiate. When we are turned to Jesus, glory is reflected - St Paul says just this in II Corinthians. But when we are turned to each other the same is true. The glory given by Jesus is given so that we may become one; and this implies that it is when we are one with each other that the glory shines out for others.
To turn to Christ is in practice always to turn to each other. Conversion is always conversion to one another if it is truly and fully conversion to Jesus. And when we are 'turned around' like this, glory becomes visible. The Church is a place of glory when we see each other face to face and give thanks - like Jacob meeting Esau in the Genesis story: Esau welcomes and forgives his brother, and Jacob says, 'Truly, your face is like the face of God to me'. One of the great joys of belonging to a worldwide communion is that we can always encounter fresh and challenging contexts in which the Christian and Anglican tradition has come alive, and we find the glory of God in the face of the stranger. We have experienced it in our meeting as Primates; we experience it as we receive your welcome, dear friends. We trust that in these meetings and welcomes, glory will appear: the world will see how our faithful gazing at each other in gratitude and delight makes room for God's own light to be reflected.
When that light is reflected, the landscape changes. Isaiah's prophecy speaks of the desert bursting into flower; the glory of the Lord appears in the glory of the actual physical surroundings - not difficult to understand in our surroundings here. When God's light shines on our world, it becomes infinitely more precious; we cannot in such a light believe that the world is there to exploit and ruin. This great country has had its share of tragedy in the exploitation both of the natural world and of human beings - sometimes both together as in the ravaging of the rain forests which has put so much life, human and non-human, at risk. And when God's light shines on the human faces around us, we cannot treat them as having no interest for us; wherever the light falls, there we see the possibility of a life reflecting God. So there we see yet another face which we must look at with gratitude and hope. This is the foundation of all the work done with those whom the world wants to forget; and it is a real proclamation of the gospel when we hear of the work done by your local churches with the forgotten and those without voices, the indigenous peoples and those who live in the favelas. The Brazilian Church , as we have learned, is one that has given to the poor a degree of loving support out of all proportion to its size, and we wish you every strength and blessing in this work. We pray that glory may dwell in this land, as the eighty fifth psalm puts it.
But we must return to what we do together as a communion, as Primates and people together. Jesus tells us in the gospel reading why our unity matters. Unless we are looking gladly and faithfully at each other, the glory we are given will fail to appear. That does not mean that we don't sometimes have the responsibility of calling each other to turn back to Jesus when it is difficult to see that the brother or sister is turning, to face the Lord, as fully as could be. And this is a service we must ask of each other: tell me when you see me turning from Jesus, when the glory that comes from looking at him has become invisible. Yet, even when we argue, rebuke and find ourselves in deep and painful division, the basic responsibility remains: to keep looking, to refuse to be turned away from the brother or sister for whom Christ died; to look in hope, until the radiance begins again to appear.
Our Christian calling is to renew the face of the earth, by the Spirit's power. By looking in love at the world and one another, we somehow allow glory to come to light - so that the non-believer may find their own awareness of the world mysteriously changed by the way the Christian neighbour looks at it. 'How can I learn to see what you see?' the neighbour asks, if we are living and looking as we should. God calls us to be at every level the agents of transformation - in a ruined and exploited natural environment, of deep divisions and much poverty, and in a Church whose communion can be undermined by fear or suspicion.
You cannot spend half a day in this country without realising that here the guitar is inseparable from the human voice! So I think of the poem by the American writer Wallace Stevens, about 'The Man with the Blue Guitar'-
They said, You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.
The man replied, Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.
Things as they are, with human beings left to themselves, so often seem shadowed by death and cruelty. But we have been given another song to sing, we, the ransomed of the Lord returning to Zion with singing. As we sing what we have learned from Jesus, things as they are changed. Glory dwells in our land, the glory that the Son shares with the Father in the Holy Spirit.
© Rowan Williams