This particular Sunday is one of those weeks that clergy love to tie themselves up in knots about. As I was hunting around for resources on line, I saw many clergy friends posting all sorts of passionate arguments regarding which readings, collects and theme to be used. Lots of strong opinions about which choices were the right ones. This is one of those discussions that comes up every year.

The issue is that for those like myself, who come from a particular tradition within the Anglican church, today would typically be the day we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi is the day for giving thanks for the sacrament of Holy Communion. Others in our church celebrate this Sunday, the one following Trinity Sunday as the return to the season of Ordinary time that sees us all the way through to Advent. A further complication, is that 15 years ago, General Synod designated this Sunday as Te Pouhere Sunday, a day to give thanks for the Constitution of the Anglican church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Te Pouhere Sunday comes with its own set of collects and readings just as the other two celebrations do. Hence, lots of discussion among clergy who get a little caught up in wondering what the best, or most appropriate option is.

Typically I come from the school of thought that suggests pick one option and do it well. Typically an approach that tries to do a little of each ends up falling flat, and at worst can feel tokenistic. That is why I’ve tended to roll the changes and do one each year. This year, however, I am going to touch on two of these events, because I think they inform each other in a helpful way.

The constitution of the Anglican church is unique in the world. 25 years ago we formally altered our constitution to recognise three different strands of Anglicanism that exist in our province. These are what we call the three Tikanga. Tikanga Pakeha, Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Polynesia. The model arose primarily at the request of our Maori brothers and sisters who wanted the opportunity to express their cultural identity in their worshipping lives in a way they were not able to previously. After many years of discussion the Three Tikanga model was developed as a way of allowing those of different cultural inheritance to be self-determining as members of the church.

At the time we voted to change our constitution to this new reality, there were critics. In fact at one particular international meeting of Anglican leaders, namely the Primates meeting which consists of the senior bishops in each Anglican province in the world, our constitution was viewed with a fair amount of scepticism. To the uninitiated, our arrangements that allow Maori, Pakeha and Polynesia to be self-determining, can sound like a form of apartheid. That is to say, separation along cultural lines often results in one culture exploiting another. The truth, however, is that this model of church aimed to do just the opposite. Prior to the change of our constitution, almost all expressions of Anglican worship in the country were exclusively Pakeha. By changing the way we govern ourselves, the hope has always been to reach a place of equal partnership between Pakeha, Maori and Polynesians.

25 years later, the constitution is still a work in progress. There are still many who do not understand its value and question why we are not as close to our Maori and Polynesian partners as we could be. That is a good question, but not one easily answered. Healthy relationships between partners require time and effort. There are also those who think that beyond symbolic value the model does more harm than good. Perhaps we have spent more time worrying about our inner life as a church at the expense of engaging with the world around us.

I think that claim is wrong in two respects. Firstly when the Anglican church adopted the new constitution there were those who hoped that by doing this we may be creating a model of governance that could be adopted by others in this country or those in other countries. As we know race relations are a challenge the world over, it can be very difficult to find ways of giving equal voice to those of other cultures, but this is what our church constitution aspires to do.

Secondly I have to question the way people criticise our constitution as only having symbolic value. The phrase, symbolic value, is used in a derogatory way and as such utterly misses the point.

In our church tradition symbolism is one of the highest values. A symbol is a way of conveying deep truth without relying upon language. All of the sacraments of the church are symbolic. To use the text book definition, sacraments such as baptism and communion, are outward and visible signs of inward invisible grace. We use these symbols as a way of delving deeper into the reality of God. The more we engage with symbolism the richer our experience becomes.

To make this a little clearer I’m going to talk about some of the hidden symbolism with the sacrament we celebrate every week, Holy Communion. Some of you may remember this from Sunday School or confirmation classes. That said, given that this is such a central part of what we do, a quick refresher course is no bad thing.

(At this point in the sermon Richard set up the Altar describing different aspects of the Eucharist. You can hear this in the podcast posted above)

I hope that having heard some of the things I have said about Holy Communion this morning, your experience becomes deeper. My broader point here, is that sign and symbol are the ancient language of the church. We do not do these things because they are the arcane practices we have inherited, but rather because they invite us into a deeper reality that enriches our lives. In the same way, our Three Tikanga church symbolises true partnership with those of different cultural inheritance. That’s not the same as saying we have solved all the problems that come with inter-cultural dialogue. But Te Pouhere does say that we are committed to upholding the value and dignity of all people.

– Reverend Richard Bonifant