January in the New Year is one of the times Methodist people take part in a Covenant Service. The central prayer of this Covenant Service liturgy is as follows:
“I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.”
For me, this prayer is a love poem speaking of the surrender of illusory autonomy. God in and through Jesus dwells in us, and we in God, and so through this indwelling we become what we are really intended to be – one in the love and self-giving of God. As I say this prayer this year, I pray that we may all be renewed in our faith and hope for the unity of God’s people and for the sake of the world.
That isn’t easy as a focus when the cost of living crisis rages and when we live in a nation divided against itself. But it matters more than ever that we know we are one body, who can bear one another’s burdens and bear with each other, in love.
For Christians, where is the unity, the mutual indwelling of the Father and Son, most profoundly known? The point at which God’s unity is most profoundly revealed is in the obedience of the Son and the self-giving of the Father on the cross.
Where else then do we learn what it is to be one? To share in the unity that God has already given us and to be the one people which we must seek to become? It is at the cross. If this is so – if unity, and knowing the God whose glory is embodied in Jesus, are inextricably bound up with the cross – what might this mean?
Firstly, that the love God gives and wills is costly. Our desire for unity can quickly get overtaken by our fears about losing, letting go, and becoming different. But if the cross is the place where we are truly one, then we need to learn again the strange upside-down nature of God’s order: what appears to be loss is found to be gain; what appears to be death is really life; what appears to be desolation is glory.
Second, to be where Jesus is on his cross is to be on the margins, outside the city walls. In this supposedly god-forsaken place of the town dump, Golgotha, God’s glory is revealed; in this place where people are treated as nothing, the identity of God’s being is most fully disclosed, and therefore our identity as those who are loved into being is also known. It is when we are taken to the edge, when we are least safe, when we are in the company of those who are least like us, when we are ‘de-centred’, then we come to know most clearly who God is and who we are as the people of God.
The cross stands as the symbol of what the ‘powers that be’ do to God’s peaceable kingdom in the name of security and religion. To be where Jesus is on the cross is to suffer and resist the powers that be and their vision for the world. When I am lifted up, says Jesus, I will draw all people to myself. To be where Jesus is on his cross is necessarily to have a universal horizon. To be with Jesus at his cross is to dare to share that fundamental mission in which all people are drawn into the life and love of God, in which we find unity, love, and glory.
Rev Canon Helen Cameron became a CTE President when she took up the role of the Moderator of the Free Churches Group in April 2022. Helen is a Methodist presbyter who currently serves as Chair of the Northampton and the Nottingham & Derby Districts.