This prayer from Alistair Maclean’s ‘Hebridean Altars’ seems the right introduction to November, when we remember all who have died and been guided over the ford to Heaven. Consider, if you will, the phrase, ‘When I shall make an end of living’. Maybe we should do that each night before sleep: ‘The Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen’
O Holy Christ,
bless me with Thy presence
when my days are weary
and my friends few.
Bless me with Thy presence
when my joy is full,
lest I forget the Giver in the gift.
Bless me with Thy presence
when I shall make an end of living.
Help me in the darkness to find the ford.
And in my going
comfort me with Thy promise
that where Thou art,
There shall Thy servant be.
I was wondering what to post for All Saints’ Day, when along comes a couple of reflections from Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey, which fit just right for today and for All Souls’ Day tomorrow. Enjoy these hope-filled posts!
Anyone who is not against us is for us. (Mk 9:40).
This short saying of Jesus is one I have not really pondered before now. It is soon followed in verse 43 by some of Jesus’ most sensational sayings, all about cutting off your hand if it should cause you to sin and to do likewise with your foot and your eye, should they become wayward. This self-inflicted apocalyptic has always rather overwhelmed me, to tell you the truth. I know that Jesus is not speaking literally here; he is using hyperbole to make his point. So what is my problem? I cannot entirely answer that question, but what has tended to happen in my lectiodivina* is that the effort to cope with those fierce sayings of Jesus has somehow resulted in my inability to ‘see’ those few words of Jesus in Mark 9:40: Anyone who is not against us is for us.
But the Holy Spirit working through the text saw to it that today I would hear those words with much greater attention: Anyone who is not against us is for us. For the first time I thought, ‘What an encouraging remark this is, Lord!’ I briefly imagined him saying it with a little rueful smile – for he says those words right after he has had to correct his disciples for trying to stop a man who was not connected to the disciples from casting out devils in Jesus’ name. Poor disciples: wrong again! Jesus tells them that a person who works a miracle in his name is emphatically not one of their problem people, even if they’ve never seen him before in their lives.
Anyone who is not against us is for us. I repeated this saying slowly and soon found myself focussing on the generosity of Jesus that is expressed in the first word of this saying, ‘anyone’. The Greek word for it is tiny, consisting of only two letters. It is also translated as whoever or whosoever – so the meaning is clear: this small word has big implications: it includes anyone and everyone who is “not against” Jesus. The reason for the rueful smile became clear to me: Jesus’ saying includes the disciples, too – who manage to muddle a lot of things in their three-year training period. Their wrong-headedness perhaps places them among the most dubious of disciples at times, but they are still counted among those who are ‘for’ Jesus.
We in L’Arche Kent zoomed our All Souls’ Remembrance Service. With my internet connection on the blink, I was not present for it all, but the stories I heard of people I had known and lived with, as well as those who had joined the community when I was less involved, were moving.
I was moved to smiles and laughter, but after my connection declined one last time, I was left feeling outraged but not with my net provider. My connection was restored by the evening and a new hub is on its way. No, it was the way so many of my friends had been treated before I met them.
Many people born with epilepsy or a learning disability were, before and after the Second World War, locked away in rural hospitals or asylums, sometimes housing 1,000 or more. Drugs to control seizures were not available, so people were herded away from society, ‘it’s better for them’, their parent were told.
Time and again this morning we heard how people had blossomed on leaving ‘care’. I had seen and worked in such places and saw how dehumanising they were. Not even personal clothing, but heavy duty corduroy trousers and jackets, twill denim shirts, navy blue jumpers, all rough from being washed on the highest setting in industrial machines. Ablutions in troughs with cold water. Many by then on modern drugs, as much to control behaviour as seizures.
One young man with Downs turned out to be a gifted, self-taught-by-ear pianist, learning on a ward instrument. He was used to raise charitable funds but remained on the ward. An elderly man had disappeared for three days, a cause of panic as the countryside was searched in vain. He had been sitting in front of a foxes’ lair, watching the cubs at play; the animals accepted his presence. I was not the only member of staff who wondered why he was in the asylum.
Neither of these men joined L’Arche Kent, but the men and women who came brought their own gifts that had been buried for 20, 30, or more years. Artistic talent, gardening, hard work, sense of humour, dress sense, loyalty, persistence, sensitivity, loving care, faith.
L’Arche and other organisations allow people with disabilities to flourish within society and within the church – I won’t say churches, distinctions between us blur into the background with L’Arche. But if an unborn baby is found to have Downs Syndrome, doctors will recommend abortion and the same for any other perceived disability. How many people are dismissed as not quite human in 2020? Migrants for a start? What do we do about it?
Another briefing from Revd Jo Richards, who welcomed Bishop Rose to Saint Mildred’s Canterbury for All Saints. Bishop Rose looks after Canterbury diocese on behalf of Archbishop Justin Welby. Photo by Tim. More change to worship is coming.
Good Morning to you all on this All Soul’s Day, another damp autumnal morning. It was a delight however yesterday to welcome Bishop Rose to St Mildred’s for our All Saints’ Day Eucharist, which you can watch here. It was a lovely service and thank you to all those who worked so hard behind the scenes to make it all happen so smoothly, a very memorable day, a hidden gem as Bishop Rose called it – and literally as it took her a while to find it!
From what we understand, following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Saturday night, places of worship will once again close on Thursday 5th November, with the exemption of funerals, individual prayers and to broadcast acts of worship. Further details will be coming out this week from CofE, as to what exactly this means, but our initial thinking is that we will live-stream a Sunday Eucharist from St Dunstan’s at 10.00. As before this will be on Facebook Live, and uploaded to YouTube. If we go down this route it would be really good to have pre-recorded readings and intercessions, and may well have pre-recorded hymns ie – what we did from the Rectory, but in St Dunstan’s – please watch this space!
Meanwhile, today being All Souls Day, thoughts for all those who remember loved ones today. From Exciting Holiness: “Since its foundation, Christians have recognised that the church, the assembled people of God, is at its most perfect when it recognises its unity in God’s redeeming love with all who have said, who say now, and who will say in the fullness of time ‘Jesus is Lord'”.
God Bless you all, and do keep safe, keep praying and keep connected
Rev Jo Richards Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury
The New Year waits, breathes, waits, whispers in darkness.
While the labourer kicks off a muddy boot and stretches his hand to the fire,
The New Year waits, destiny waits for the coming.
Who has stretched out his hand to the fire and remembered the Saints at All Hallows,
Remembered the martyrs and saints who wait? and who shall
Stretch out his hand to the fire, and deny his master:
who shall be warm
By the fire, and deny his master?
This is from the opening of T S Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’,* written for the Canterbury Festival, 1935. A chorus of Canterbury women are setting the scene for the events that followed Saint Thomas’s return from exile in 1170. We will celebrate his 850th anniversary next year.
Will we be ready to leave our comfort zone this coming year?