Cookies are in use to track visits to our website: we store no personal details.

The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe

← back to list


Lines on the Avenue

Category: Bishop's Sermons

Speaker: The Rt Rev Mark D.W. Edington

Tags: cross, hungry, luxury, lines, louis vuitton

April 7, 2023 • Good Friday

The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Paris

Earlier this week the news came that Forbes magazine has crowned two new people as the world’s richest man and the world’s richest woman. What you might not know is that they are both French. Bernard Arnault, the head of Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, has a personal fortune of some two hundred billion Euros; and Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, the granddaughter of the founder of L’Oréal, is worth a mere seventy three billion Euros.

Sharing a neighborhood as we do with Louis Vuitton, perhaps exactly nothing about that is surprising to you. I am always struck by the line of people standing outside the door of the flagship store on the Champs-Elysées, just waiting for their turn to be parted from their money by the solicitations of a personal sales attendant who, at least I am told, never leaves you unaccompanied. 

What I want you to take note of in that news is this simple fact: The wealthiest man and the wealthiest woman in the world got that way by being associated with businesses that sell utterly unnecessary things. 

They do not build anything; they do not manufacture essential items; they do not improve public health or promote the general welfare. They make luxuries, and jewelry, and cosmetics, and spectacularly expensive versions of a very basic necessity: clothes. They own brands—ways that we imagine can shape our identity, or signal our worth to the world, and maybe to ourselves as well.

It is a fair question just why it is, in a world so spiritually adrift as ours, that a society that has so relentlessly eradicated all of the places for mystery and enchantment in our culture, all of the places where the sacred can touch down, why in that culture the temples of luxury would be the places where people offered their worship. 

But I suppose the answer lies in the question. This is how our culture makes its meaning—trading the mystery of the spirit for a measured, cynical hope. My learned young colleague Canon Ullery put his finger on the root of it in his sermon last night; we have lost our sense of the power and mercy of God’s love suffusing our whole existence, and what has rushed in to fill the void, whether we can admit it or not, is not doubt, but fear.

We fear our lives will be without meaning, and so we try to purchase meaning by sacrificing our resources for artificially scarce goods.

We fear our bodies will grow old, and so we try to purchase youth in jars and bottles.

We fear the tragedy and sorrow and meaninglessness of this world, the loss of the wonder we knew as children, and so we deaden our senses by buying the wide offering of intoxicants and attitude adjustments.

Into that world, that world trying to buy and sell material meaning and rigorously denying the possibility of the spiritual, comes the outrageous scandal of the cross. Into that world that values only luxury and ease and fame and wealth comes the audacious and insane claim that a helpless man crying out  from an instrument of suffering and execution creates the very ground of meaning, meaning that can neither be dismissed nor overcome.

Into the brutality of that world, in a the most brutal and unlovely of ways, love itself, self-giving, self-emptying love, love wholly for others, is revealed as the true nature of God—and of all those made in God’s image.

“The cross is not and cannot be loved. Yet only the crucified Christ can bring the freedom which changes the world, because it is no longer afraid of death.” Those are the opening words of Jürgen Moltmann’s great study The Crucified God, written fifty years ago this year. 

For Moltmann, the cross stands as a searing critique not only of the lures and lies of this world, but as an absolute interrogation of the church itself—this church, any church. The cross is “the inner criterion of all theology, and of every church which claims to be Christian, and this goes far beyond all political, ideological, and psychological criticism from the outside.” 

That is the test for us on this day. Moltmann says it clearly: “Whether or not Christianity, in an alienated, divided, and oppressive society, itself becomes alienated, divided and an accomplice of oppression is ultimately decided only by whether the crucified Christ is a stranger to it or the Lord who determines the form of its existence.”

And which of those shall we be, gathered here at the foot of the cross today?

“Only the crucified Christ can bring the freedom which changes the world, because it is no longer afraid of death.” Yes, and that is exactly why they had to crucify him. 

Because if we took the cross seriously—not the beautiful bejeweled processional cross, not the ornamental crosses that decorate the place, but the rough-hewn wood and the blood-soaked nails; 

not the artistically rendered scenes, but the agony of the God so desperate to draw us back in love that he cries out in the despair of abandonment—

if we preached that cross seriously, if we here lived that love fully, then we would all in this place be in the business of liberating people from their fear, helping them to search for it where it truly lies—in their eternal souls, not in a shopping bag. 

If we took that cross seriously, we would be shattering into pieces the fear that imprisons our neighbors, and our world, in meaninglessness. 

We would be freeing them from any need of trying to fill the void with luxury and vanity, because we would be helping them to see that the deepest, truest, most enduring source of meaning was implanted in them by God’s love from the start.

And that is exactly why the wealthiest powers in this world, aided and abetted by the powers of the state, are so desperate to make sure the word of the cross never gets beyond the doors of this place. Because if it did, if it reached them, they would have no reason to stand in line anymore. Then, they would truly be free.

We would rather not deal with the cross for most of the rest of the church year. We would rather set our focus elsewhere, on the stories, on the teachings, on the healings. We’d rather hear about the sheep, or the seeds, or the fatted calf, or the net full of fish. We would rather be reminded about the bumbling disciples or the stubborn crowds.

But none of it adds up to anything without the cross; because it is only through the cross that the absolute determination of God to love us into the full possibility of our lives is both revealed and enacted. It only through the cross that we are liberated from fear, and given the power to liberate others, too. 

“Only the crucified Christ can bring the freedom which changes the world, because it is no longer afraid of death.”

At least two times each week, there are two lines that form on the Avenue George V. There is the one I mentioned, down on the corner at Louis Vuitton; and there is one here, at the cathedral. One is a line of people who think they can buy meaning; the other is a line of people who know they can’t buy enough food. One is a line of people who think they can have everything; the other is a line of people tempted to believe they have nothing.

And of course, because of what we are here to remember today—because of the work of the Cross—both of them, by the mercy of God, are wrong.

O Christ, the master carpenter,
who at the last, through wood and nails
purchased our whole salvation;
wield well your tools
in the workshop of this world,
that we, who come rough-hewn to your bench
may be turned to a finer glory
at your hand. Amen.