Her Majesty the Queen
Elizabeth Alexandra Mary
21 April 1926 – 8 September 2022
The people of St Thomas of Canterbury parish community join with the rest of the nation in mourning the death of Her Majesty the Queen. Confident in the gift of everlasting life given at baptism we now pray for her.
Incline your ear, O Lord, to our prayers by which we humbly entreat your mercy, that as you graciously numbered your servant Elizabeth, among your people in this world, you may now set her in a place of peace and light and grant her a share in the company of your Saints. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.
We pray that the death penalty,
which attacks the dignity of the human person,
may be legally abolished in every country.
Jesus was crucified between two thieves. These willow crosses were used to make Easter Gardens for Saint Mildred’s church in Canterbury and for our community houses, but they do not convey the torturous death of crucifixion. The ivory figures on the crosses in Winchester Cathedral express the attack on the dignity of the three condemned men, each one unable to lift a finger to ease his suffering. The only way to alleviate the pain is for the overseeing centurion to intervene with a leg-breaking, death-dealing blow.
When today someone is killed by firing squad, hanging, electric shock or lethal drugs, there is not the three hours’ agony endured by Jesus, but there is a lifetime of sorrow for the criminal’s relatives, while ‘closure’ for the victim’s family may still be elusive. It is well-known that the greater number of violent offenders have experienced violence themselves; are their lives to be terminated in violence?
We could add to Pope Francis’s intention a prayer for the children who are subjected to violence, that through the love, care and respect of adults who work with them, they may come to live in peace with themselves, with other people and with God.
And let us remember Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief: this day you will be with me in Paradise.
Mark reports that Jesus says, ‘You need to do one thing more’ (Mark 10:21). This very gentle remark of Jesus accompanies his gaze of love. Jesus seems to be tenderly overlooking the young man’s sense of himself as being perfect–or nearly so. Surely, Jesus knows that there is not only “one thing” but many things the young man needs to do or become, but Jesus may be thinking that there will be time enough for the young man to come to terms with his weaknesses and to acquire a more realistic estimation of himself. For the moment, Jesus knows that if he can just persuade him to do only ‘one very important thing more,’ that very important thing will enable the young man well and truly to begin a deeper life, rooted in God: ‘Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’ (Mark 10:21).
And, tragically, here the conversation ends. The delightful young man with the “can do” personality suddenly confronts something he cannot do. Possibly, his life has been a bit too easy up to now and he knows it. That may be one of the reasons why he is there to begin with, kneeling before Jesus. But the effect of Jesus’ words is immediate.
The young man clearly didn’t expect Jesus to say that. And indeed, wealth was considered by the Jewish people to be a sign of God’s favour and blessing. “What’s this about?” he may well have thought. But he doesn’t linger to discuss the matter with Jesus. Had he done so, Jesus might have explained that the Kingdom belonged to the poor in spirit and that wealth, with its trappings of glamour and its conferral of undeserved honour, was a spiritual handicap. In any case, now we reach the part of the story where the rich young man ceases to be an example of how to win Jesus’ love (although I do not doubt that Jesus continued to love him deeply). At this stage in the story the young man becomes an example of the paradox that we lose everything when we attempt to save everything–for we who read this know that Jesus himself is ‘everything’ and he is more than worth the loss of everything else. Indeed, the loss of everything else is the condition for gaining a close relationship with Jesus. It is a small price to pay.
A small price, but I am asking myself now what I am trying to hang onto that may be separating me from a close relationship with Jesus. I will stay with that uncomfortable question for a day and return tomorrow.
To be acquainted with celestial things
is not only to know them,
but by frequent meditation to be familiar with them.
The effects of which are admirable.
For by this those things that at first seemed uncertain become evident,
those things which seemed remote become near,
those things which appeared like shady clouds become solid realities:
finally, those things which seemed impertinent to us and of little concernment,
appear to be our own, according to the strictest rules of propriety
and of infinite moment.
I felt like adding, ‘Come Holy Spirit’, to this meditation by Thomas Traherne. He seems to be writing about the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These are given to us at Baptism and Confirmation, and reinforced by frequent meditation – or as we at Agnellus’ Mirror would say, frequent reflection.
‘Impertinent’ here seems not to mean ‘cheeky’ but ‘irrelevant’; ‘little concernment’ is more like ‘nothing to do with me’. But the things and people that seem that way are connected to us; they are our brothers and sisters as Saint Francis would remind us. And of infinite moment – ‘moment’ meaning both ‘momentum’ and ‘importance’.
While they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. Acts 1:7.
Charles Wesley wrote many hymns, and this one fits the end of Eastertide, the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus. I like the image of us soaring where Christ has led: on high and beyond. Let us soar now by enjoying as much as we can of what life offers, as Jackdaws, Starlings, Swifts and Seagulls so often seem to celebrate the gift of flight together. Together may we soar when we are called to go above the cloud and the sunset.
Christ has burst the gates of hell!
Love's redeeming work is done; fought the fight, the battle won: lo, our Sun's eclipse is o'er, lo, he sets in blood no more.
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal; Christ has burst the gates of hell; death in vain forbids his rise; Christ has opened paradise.
Lives again our glorious King; where, O death, is now thy sting? dying once, he all doth save; where thy victory, O grave?
Soar we now where Christ has led, following our exalted Head; made like him, like him we rise; ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
Hail the Lord of earth and heaven!
Praise to thee by both be given:
thee we greet triumphant now;
hail, the Resurrection Thou!
Or should I say, an encouragement for pilgrims? This particular stretch of Wales’s Pembrokeshire Coast Path winds down only to go almost straight uphill, or up 121 stairs – I counted them. At the end of the day you can discover how many metres you have climbed overall. If you began at sea-level you will have descended a similar amount. We were not counting.
Fellowship is one of the gifts of pilgrimage, as yesterday’s picture showed us. Christina Rossetti reminds us that in our life-long pilgrimage we have also the support of the Church Triumphant, the saints who have gone before.
And “Yea, beds for all who come”, though “travel-sore and weak.” She does not specifically mention blisters!
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come."
We are looking at Jesus’ words in Luke 12: 4, where he says, To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. He is telling us more than we may at first realise.
I’d like to ask us to consider under what heading we usually think of Jesus. Maybe we think of him most often as a teacher, or a miracle-worker, or a prophet. Maybe we think of him most often as the one who rose from the dead. Maybe we focus on him as God and the Son of God; maybe we turn to the Creed, with full acceptance of everything that the Creed says about him. All of these ways of thinking of Jesus are wonderful and true. But perhaps we forget that he is also a lover. He is a different sort of lover, granted, to the ones that are celebrated in novels and films, but he is nevertheless a lover. And the authentic lover, who loves the beloved more than himself, wants to protect the beloved from pain and suffering – indeed, wants to remove it entirely.
The human person’s deepest suffering is in the knowledge that we must die one day. Jesus wants not only to deprive this suffering of its ‘sting’, to use St. Paul’s expression (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 55-57), but also to reassure us about the entire experience. He tells us in John’s gospel that when we die, he will take us to himself and we go to the place he has prepared for us in the Father’s house (cf. Jn 14:3). As God, Jesus is actually capable of doing this. He does not overturn the laws of nature by taking death away. Except in the case of the miracles he works, nature’s processes remain the same. But what happens after our death is something new – it is Jesus’ ‘territory’, you might say. That is what he knows about. And because of this knowledge he tells us not to be afraid.
Let’s take a day to reflect on some of the ways in which Jesus talks about our death. Tomorrow, we’ll be back for our final reflection.
Samuel Johnson wrote poetry as well as dictionaries - and all manner of literature that paid his way. Here in an extract from 'Irene' he reflects on Spring in England. In the moonlight nature looks new from the maker's hand. Let's pray this Lent for an awareness of being created by a smiling, unoffended God, and be grateful for his ever-ready forgiveness. Irene means peace.
And let's look for a darker sky than in a well-lit street to see how the moon spreads her mild radiance!
See how the moon, through all th' unclouded sky,
Spreads her mild radiance, and descending dews
Revive the languid flow'rs; thus nature shone
New from the maker's hand, and fair array'd
In the bright colours of primeval spring;
When purity, while fraud was yet unknown,
Play'd fearless in th' inviolated shades.
This elemental joy, this gen'ral calm,
Is, sure, the smile of unoffended heav'n.
Another visit to the eighteenth century in the company of Doctor Johnson and James Boswell.
In The Idler, No. II, Johnson shews that ‘an Englishman’s notice of the weather is the natural consequence of changeable skies and uncertain seasons… In our island every man goes to sleep unable to guess whether he shall behold in the morning a bright or cloudy atmosphere, whether his rest shall be lulled by a shower, or broken by a tempest. We therefore rejoice mutually at good weather, as at an escape from something that we feared; and mutually complain of bad, as of the loss of something that we hoped.’
Boswell for once is quoting from Johnson’s written words rather than conversation. I found this text on the same day in winter that I took the photograph. My father called the piercing of clouds by sunbeams such as we see here ‘The Gate of Heaven’. A saying worth recording, as Boswell would no doubt have agreed.
I am reminded of the line of Chesterton: ‘The gates of heaven are lightly locked.’ But do we look up to see them? Dare we set a toe over the threshold, pausing even for a moment, to catch a glimpse of glory? What does the voice from the cloud tell us? I found myself hurrying the next moment, as my grandson’s school bell had rung and he would soon be out, scanning the playground for his adults. But the moment stayed with me.
From “Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784” by James Boswell