DAY 1 You did not choose me, but I chose you (John 15:16)
Genesis 12:1-4 The call of Abraham John 1:35-51 The call of the first disciples
Prayer Jesus Christ, you seek us, you wish to offer us your friendship and lead us to a life that is ever more complete. Grant us the confidence to answer your call so that we may be transformed and become witnesses of your tenderness for the world.
Questions • Have you ever been aware that God was asking you or someone you know to begin a new journey in life – whether literally moving to somewhere else, or ‘changing direction’ in some other way? How did you respond? • What changes could your church or group of churches make to empower God’s people to walk more faithfully the path God has set for you, or to discern God’s guidance more clearly? • What are some of the stories of the ‘new’ members of your community, whether they have crossed a county boundary or journeyed across continents to get there?
The booklet for Church Unity week can be found here.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity starts tomorrow. I have no idea what shared service might be possible, but we’ve been learning how to stay together in new ways for months now. If we cannot gather in each other’s buildings, we can pray together at Pope John Paul II’s ‘Altar of the World’.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2021 has been prepared by the Monastic Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland. The theme, “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit”, is based on John 15:1-17 and expresses Grandchamp Community’s vocation to prayer, reconciliation and unity in the Church and the human family. The Grandchamp Community has its origins in Europe in the 1930s, when a group of women of the Reformed tradition sought to rediscover the importance of silence and listening to the Word of God. Today the community has fifty sisters, all women from different generations, Church traditions, countries and continents. In their diversity the sisters are a living parable of communion. They remain faithful to a life of prayer, life in community and the welcoming of guests. In producing the material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for 2021, the sisters are inviting churches across the world to enter into their tradition of prayer and silence that is rooted in the ancient traditions of the Church catholic.
Jesus said to the disciples, “abide in my love” (John 15:9). He abides in the love of the Father (Jn 15:10) and desires nothing other than to share this love with us. The Father is the centre of our lives, who centres our lives. He prunes us and makes us whole, and whole human beings give glory to the Father. Abiding in Christ is an inner attitude that takes root in us over time. It demands space to grow. It can be overtaken by the struggle for the necessities of life and it is threatened by the distractions, noise, activity and the challenges of life. We who know the full value of a spiritual life, have an immense responsibility and must realise it, unite and help each other create forces of calmness, refuges of peace, vital centres where the silence of people calls on the creative word of God. It is a question of life and death.
Agnellus Mirror will reflect some of the meditations and prayers suggested for each day of the week of prayer; let us pray today for the gift to be silent with others, allowing them room to speak or just be quiet with us.
Good morning to you all, well at least it’s not raining this morning! Though it is going to get colder with some sleet forecast tomorrow. So hope this finds you all well, as we are here at The Rectory. Curate Some exciting news! In our last PCC’s I mentioned that we have been asked to have a curate for three years, from Petertide 2021. Having met the ordinand, and spent 5 hours together, along with further input from the diocese, we all feel that The Benefice is the right place for this person. I will be making the announcement on Sunday in our service, and will give you all further details in Monday’s briefing; but this is really exciting and recognition of what the Benefice can offer for training. You will recall that in 2019 we had an ordinand Ylva with us for three months, along with Isobel, reader in training and both said how much they enjoyed their placements and how much they got from their involvement in the life of the Benefice. The diocese offers on-going training for a curate in terms of academic study, and Training Incumbents also receive training, again overseen by the diocese. So tune in on Sunday and you will find out who will be joining us!
Services for Sunday: 10.00 live streamed Eucharist accessed via our website: www.dunstanmildredpeter.org.uk I will send out hymns, Orders of service and zoom coffee link this evening.
Words from today’s psalm: 67:1
Godbe gracious to us, and bless us, and make his face to shine upon us.
Since this week already has a monastic flavour, let’s hear from Sister Johanna OSB, our friend at Minster Abbey in Kent. Another story from the early part of Jesus’s active ministry, soon after his Baptism.
When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled Jesus out of the town, and they took him to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him off the cliff, but he passed straight through the crowd and walked away. (Lk 4:29-30).
This violent scene recorded by Luke erupts after Jesus has preached in the synagogue of Nazareth, his home town, for the first time. When he begins to preach, everyone seems rather pleased to see Jesus up there – they are even said to be ‘astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.’ In fact, the text tells us that ‘He won the approval of all.’ Then, inexplicably, it all starts to go horribly wrong. We are not told exactly what Jesus said that made everyone so angry, but before we know it, Jesus is being confrontational with the congregation: ‘[N]o prophet is ever accepted in his own country,’ he famously tells them. And things quickly get worse and worse; soon the crowd becomes demonically violent – they want to kill him.
My meditation on this text today was not so much focused on the way the violence intensifies against Jesus. I was absorbed, instead, by what happens at the very end of this scene, as the brief text above describes it. (If you wish to read the full text, you can turn to Luke 4: 16-30). It is amazing that – in the middle of a riot, no less, where an enraged crowd is determined to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff – Jesus was able simply to slip quietly through the crowd, and walk away. St Luke does not comment on the strange phenomenon. But it is a curious moment to imagine, and I spent some time just thinking about what that scene might have been like. I imagine a confused cluster of outraged men running around, looking all over the place and shouting, “What’s happened to him? Where is he? I thought you had him?” But no one knows where Jesus has gone.
Usually when I read this passage, this final scene seems to slip away as easily as Jesus slipped through the crowd that day. But today I realised that it tells a breathtaking story of its own. It seemed on one hand to be saying that the demonic presence within the crowd had no real power over Jesus. But then I thought of Jesus in his final hours. The crowd that bayed for his execution was also fuelled by the demonic and was way out of Jesus’ control (see Lk 23: 13-25), and in the end, when the crowd demanded Jesus’ death, Pilate had no choice but to order it. Why was Jesus powerful over evil in today’s passage and not powerful later on?
Although the mystery of evil, and of Jesus’ surrender to it in his Passion, is too deep for me to speak fully of it here, this much can be said. In today’s passage from Luke 4, we are looking at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, not the end. He demonstrated his power over the demonic here, as part of his self-revelation and of his mission to make known the kingdom of God. He would not allow the devil to end his mission before it had really begun. Three years later, when his public ministry had reached its fulfilment, Jesus’ hour had arrived, and he had his final revelation to make – which was his ultimate victory over death. He could not make this revelation without allowing death and evil to take their course, all the way to his own death on the Cross, all the way to Hell. And he harrowed it and triumphed over all evil. Other Gospels emphasise that Jesus voluntarily laid down his life. He could have avoided this death, but he chose it voluntarily to show his ultimate power over it. This is a very deep mystery.
As I thought about all this, I realised that I have, as a follower of Jesus, a certain participation in this mysterious trajectory – which is really Jesus’ trajectory in me. In my life, looking back, I can see that Jesus has been able to walk me straight through, unharmed, some circumstances which have been ‘crowded’ with evil. Some of these circumstances I am aware of and I give thanks to him for delivering me from them. There are other destructive circumstances from which he has delivered me that I am not aware of because his grace was at work ahead of time, preventing me from even entering into what I would not have been able to survive. But, there is also a third category here: he has also carefully chosen some circumstances of suffering that have constituted his ‘hour’ within me, when he seemed to allow a series of destructive events to over-take me, even seem to overwhelm me. And he has walked me through those experiences, also, harrowing my Hell, and completing his ‘hour.’
But let me not crow too loudly here. I see clearly that this walk is still going on – a walk through a fallen world in which evil and good are mingled, and in which I still may be misled or overwhelmed. And, this confusing and risk-riddled existence will continue until I take my final breath, because that is simply the nature of our life on earth. But I need not be frightened: my ‘way through this crowd’ is led by Jesus, and I must walk with him, holding on tightly to his hand, and trusting that with him – and only with him – I will be able to elude the grasp of evil, and walk away, unharmed.
Outside the City is the result of a year spent with the community of Mount Saint Bernard’s Cistercian Abbey in Leicestershire, England. The monks speak about the monastic vocation which some of them have followed for half a century and more. We witness the decision-making process that resulted in the first English Trappist Beer, Tynt Meadow, being perfected, brewed and brought to sale, with the help of a Dutch beer consultant. He reiterated what I was told in a small brewery in Amsterdam: the brewing is the fun bit; cleaning, cleaning, cleaning is 95% of the task, and indispensable.
The brewery will be the main source of income for the community, but there are other forms of work, such as pottery, welcoming guests, housework, and care of the elderly and infirm monks. The main work of the monks – the Opus Dei, God’s work – is prayer: the Eucharist, the Divine Office, and personal prayer.
There were two parallel streams: the presence of God and the presence to oneself: monks spoke of God as unknowable, not within human understanding, but certainly knowing and loving each one of us; therefore there is a mission to pray on behalf those of those of us who do not have time for prayer, or even time for God at all.
Death was spoken of in a very matter-of-fact manner, a presence in the lives of older monks at least, and we witness the last rites of two of them. ‘My friends are all here in the monastery’, one of them had said, but the crowd that gathered for his funeral witnessed otherwise. The monastery may be outside the city, but the city makes its way there.
Near another city, Bamenda, on another continent, Africa, Mount Saint Bernard’s has a daughter house, built to the design of one of the Leicestershire monks. We follow Abbot Erik there on his official visitation. Here the dairy farm is thriving and we witness the birth of a heifer calf, an occasion of rejoicing. As at Mount St Bernard’s, the community is self-supporting.
The film ends at the Easter Vigil. A tug at the throat to see the congregation receiving the chalice, and not a mask in sight! Let’s pray that we’ll see the return of the former and the discarding of the latter before this year is too old. In the meantime, with all these evenings when we cannot go to the cinema or anywhere else, follow the link above to buy the dvd or rent the film on-line.
Christina Rossetti called the poem from which this is taken ‘Advent’. My working title for this post was ‘Noli me tangere: Christ’s ‘do not hold me’ to Mary on Easter morning, and I would have used it for Easter week had I not received the last two posts from Tim and Sheila; it fits in nicely here, on the day when the Sun peeps over the horizon in Greenland: winter is on his way out!
I’ve been careful these last weeks: as I write our county is a hotspot of Covid19 and my family want to hold me fast for a while longer. We do appreciate what a blessing touch is, with two young grandsons to ram the message home. But only essential shopping is being done in person and we have been attending Mass on-line, at our own parish except when our tech or the church’s was malfunctioning. As my wife says, perhaps the best thing we can do is to keep away from infection and not take up the health service’s time. And take the vaccination when offered. But it also means not attending the most popular Masses. That’s one of those things we have to accept. But the Mass is the one sacrifice; it can be said to have begun with the Nativity (or even the Annunciation) and continued through the passion that, as Rowan Williams reminds us, was Christ’s life, to the passion that was his death and resurrection. My attending on a computer screen instead of in the pew does not reduce its saving efficacy.
And as Christina Chase suggested to me, this absent-presence can lead to a greater desire to receive Christ sacramentally, making St Alphonsus’ Spiritual Communion a prayer powerful in our own lives. But here is that other Christina, Christina Rossetti:
We weep because the night is long, We laugh, for day shall rise, We sing a slow contented song And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept For us,–we hold Him fast; And will not let Him go except He bless us first or last.”
( Advent from “Poems” by Christina Georgina Rossetti)
Yesterday, Tim; today his mother, Sheila, brings a poet’s eye to the face mask and what it might teach us, now and when we can discard them (and please, not on the street!) Thank you again, Sheila for your artist’s wisdom.
Will we remember that we're beautiful?
When, masks discarded, hands once more held out,
Will we remember - beauty born - oh! Beauty born,
Made by Beauty to be beautiful.
Will we recall when the wrinkles show once more, how smiles light up that beauty,
When mouths now visible
May kiss and speak in beauty?
In tenderness, you made it so, in praise, in song?
Will we have forgotten the gentleness of touch?
The scent of the winter's buried spring,
Still masked, but waiting.
This came in an online URC* newsletter. It reminded me a little of watching priests prepare for Mass as they donned the various vestments. Hope you find it useful………..
The Revd Richard Bolt, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, an international partner of the URC, has written this prayer for putting on a face mask.
Creator God, As I prepare to go into the world, help me to see the sacramental nature of wearing this cloth. Let it be a tangible and visible way of living love for my neighbours, as I love myself.
Christ Jesus, since my lips will be covered, uncover my heart, that people would see my smile in the crinkles around my eyes. Since my voice may be muffled, help me to speak clearly, not only with my words, but with my actions.
Holy Spirit, as the elastic touches my ears, remind me to listen carefully and caringly to all those I meet. May my simple piece of cloth be a shield and a banner, and may each breath that it holds be filled with your love. In your love and in that love I pray. Amen
“The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” Romans 13:12.
Tim is Maurice’s brother, who has found a home in the Methodist Church, a partner of the URC in England; the church he attends is a shared one. I find it interesting that such a sacramental prayer as this should come from a Reformed Church, finding a very Roman Catholic style, though in better English than most of our texts. I’ll never remember this whole prayer every time I mask up, but Dr Bolt has planted a seed. I hope it reminds you why we wear the wretched things and makes it less of a burden to do so. Especially, as in the photograph. if it is a white garment, symbol of Easter and eternal life.
The Baptism of our Lord: a cold shock to his system!
Father Tom Herbst describes winter mornings facing the sea at Margate in this previous post from Advent time. I don’t think many baptisms happen there in January, but the sacrament is an assertion of trust in the loving God, either personally or on a child’s behalf. Jesus trusted that this moment was crucial for his growing into the One mature human, Son of God, Son of Man.
Above we see a grey sky in the Polish Tatra mountains, with light breaking through the clouds. Today Sister Hanne-Maria Berentsen OCSO shares a reflection on January grey skies over the fjord near her monastery in Norway. It comes from Northern Light, a book I shall return to.
Pope John Paul II wrote of celebrating the Eucharist ‘on the altar of the world.’ Perhaps we can give some thought to the meaning of Water, in sky, river, lake and sea, and accept a daily ‘baptism in the font of the world’ – we are within the water cycle in this life – rain, river, sea, cloud – but called to put out into deep water, like Peter and the Apostles, trusting in the loving God.
There is much pain needed to make us fully human and Christ-like … if you feel down, you can look up, look out, go out, and receive the vast sky above and around you, finding again your trust in the loving God who created all this. Even on a grey, stormy day, you can find blue spots between the clouds, holes of hope.
from Northern Light by the Cistercian Nuns of Tautra Mariakloster, Collegeville Minnesota, Liturgical Press, p4.
We will review Northern Light after re-reading it, or should I say, reading it properly!More from Cistercians later this week.
Here’s another story by Eddie Gilmore from the Irish chaplaincy blog. I recall all too well the tension felt when acting as MC, master of ceremonies, at the old Latin High Mass. The priest, deacon and subdeacon – in daily life all three priests, but concelebration had not been heard of back then – would sit during the singing of the Gloria and Creed, wearing their birettas, rather odd black hats, which had to be removed at certain points as a sign of respect. And at a signal from the MC, who stood beside them, his – yes, his – hands together in prayer. Get it wrong – well, it depended on who was celebrant what might be said afterwards in the sacristy. So I appreciated Eddie’s reflection that follows!
I was spending the weekend in York with Ann and Andy, old friends from Uni. Thanks to Andy being a verger at the Minster I got to sit with Ann in a prominent position for the service, and afterwards got invited to join the vergers and their partners for a drink in one of York’s many olde worlde pubs. They were a great bunch and it was a fascinating insight into what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in a major cathedral. A verger, by the way, is the person in the Anglican tradition who leads the celebrants to their position before and during a service. They hold aloft a virge which is a kind of long rod, and they walk very slowly and solemnly, which means that the procession behind them also walks very slowly and solemnly. The tradition, I believe, is from the middle ages when cathedrals would be filled with people milling around and the verger would almost literally have to barge their way through the throngs to get the celebrants to the altar. Nowadays it’s purely ceremonial and it’s all done with almost military style precision. The vergers even have ear pieces so they can communicate with each other regarding exactly when to set off with the procession and when they need to ‘land’ in a particular place.
There were lots of good stories from the vergers about occasions when things hadn’t quite gone according to plan. Andy told of how a verger once led the procession the wrong way at the beginning of a big important service. The other vergers were looking on helplessly as their colleague (perhaps overawed by the occasion) led the motley crew of choristers, priests and bishops first one way then another until everyone finally arriving at the altar. I told in a recent blog of the day a few months back when Evensong began again in Canterbury Cathedral following the lockdown restrictions. It was in the huge nave instead of the choir and the verger hesitated on the way in, and the Dean and canons behind her came to a temporary halt. I knew straight away what had happened and sent a message to Ann later on: “Tell Andy that the verger didn’t know where to go!”
I’m sometimes not that keen on big solemn church services, where everything is perfectly choreographed but it’s almost too perfect to the extent that I feel like I can’t really be myself. One of the riches of my years at L’Arche was being alongside people who really knew how to be themselves (i.e. people with a learning disability), even in church settings and even if it may have invoked some feelings of discomfort in those around them. Back in the early 90s I used sometimes to go with one of the learning-disabled women in my house to her local church and sometimes during the service my friend, who was very tactile, would get up and walk towards the vicar and give him a big hug. And that memory is especially poignant now in this time when we cannot share physical touch with one another. Another woman who I accompanied occasionally to that same church would let out a big scream just as the gospel reading was coming to an end (i.e. just before the homily). I would have to take her into the hall for a cup of tea and she was happy to return for the remainder of the service. It meant I also got an early cup of tea and didn’t have to sit through a long sermon, so everyone was a winner!
When things don’t go exactly according to plan it makes it all a bit more human somehow. And who could have planned how and where, according the Christian tradition, God chose to be revealed in the world: as a tiny baby born to unmarried parents in a smelly stable in a backwater town on the fringes of the Roman empire. The kingdom of God is indeed an upside-down kingdom.
And so if occasionally the verger leads the celebrants the wrong way, then in my view we’re all the richer and all the more human for it.