Discipleship in Difficult Days 7

It feels especially appropriate to bring out an edition of this blog on Good Friday. Many of us had the experience earlier today of worshipping in new and different ways. Sometimes this made our worship especially beautiful. Today’s edition contains a prayer written in response to the zoomed Good Friday worship at Holy Trinity Geneva, some more of the beautiful prayers offered by Canon Paul Wignall in Gran Canaria and Revd Dr Sam Wells in London, a reflection by one of the ordinands of the diocese, a link to the powerful sermon preached by Bishop David Hamid at yesterday’s service for the renewal of ordination vows, and to the very helpful booklet offered by Revd Louis Darrant. It ends by offering some thoughts on reading Psalm 22 these difficult days. The next edition will come out towards the end of Easter week.

Clare Amos, Director of Lay Discipleship
clare.amos@europe.anglican.org

From our isolation
we zoom to the Cross,
see one another’s faces,
smiles,  tears not far away,
joining Christ in his isolation,
finding ourselves reduced to silence
by the exposed anatomy of love.
(Alan Amos)

*****

butterfly frances

A butterfly photographed by Deacon Frances Hiller while on her daily walk during her time of social isolation.

 

Today I will pray…
Today I will pray for those who are dying alone, afraid, too soon.
I will pray for their families and friends, who have to stay away,
and grieve in ways they never expected.
And I will pray for those friendly strangers
who accompany the dying
in their last hours and minutes and seconds:
paramedics, doctors and nurses.
And I will pray for those whose business is life
as they make decisions about death.
Lord God, be with them all,
surround them with your loving strength,
fold them in your arms of love,
take away fear, wipe away tears and,
at the right time, bring back hope. Amen

I will thank God today for singers and for songs.
I will thank God for songs of celebration and lament,
for singers who pour out their souls in joy
and their tears in grief.
I will thank God, too, for birds, wheeling in flight,
croaking ravens and ascending larks,
shrill curlews of the marsh
and the honeydew of a blackbird’s song.
And I will join my voice to theirs
in praise of the God who sings
our world into daily being. Amen
(Paul Wignall, Gran Canaria)

*****

Though self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths and of none are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect in prayer or meditation. (Queen Elizabeth II, speech on April 5 2020)

*****

Two good resource links

https://europe.anglican.org/downloads/praying-at-home-in-holy-week-2020.pdf contains very helpful suggestions of worship for Holy Week and Easter that has been put together by Revd Louis Darrant on the Costa Azahar

https://europe.anglican.org/downloads/200407-coronavirus-renewal-of-vows.pdf takes you to the text of the sermon preached by Bishop David Hamid at the Maundy Thursday service for renewing of vows.

*****

A Prayer as Things Get Harder:
God of gentle presence,
you knew the ultimate separation
when on the cross Christ felt he was forsaken;
be with all who feel their Good Friday has come today.
Comfort those who have the virus.
Empower all who care for those in distress,
through medicine, acts of kindness or imaginative communication.
Be present to any who feel utterly alone,
without companion or health or hope.
Show us your face amid grief and bewilderment.
Inspire us to find new ways to be one with one another and with you.
And bring this time of trial to an end.
In Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Rev’d Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London)

*****

 ‘His compassions fail not; they are new every morning’ (Lamentations 3.22-23)

This short reflection was prompted by the commemoration of John Keble, on 29 March, and the choice of his hymn ‘New every morning is the love’ at a service recorded in Holy Trinity Pro-Cathedral in Brussels.

How does Keble’s hymn speak to me? Well, there is the elegant simplicity in the first line: it is our rising each day which proves that God’s love, or mercy, endures. This is something to be particularly grateful for in present times.

The first line is something of a paraphrase of the verses from the book of Lamentations, quoted at the start of John Keble’s book The Christian Year. Its publication in 1822 was a phenomenal success and it became an essential part of a devout Anglican family’s library. Two verses are worth mentioning here in our situation of “enforced retreat”:

We need not bid, for cloistered cell,
Our neighbour and our work farewell,
Nor strive to wind ourselves too high
For sinful man beneath the sky:

The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves; a road
To bring us, daily, nearer God.

It is this expression of faith as the total response of our being and the promise that we can find all our spiritual resources in daily living, which we must call to mind in our current cloistered (!) situation. In much the same spirit as the Caroline Divines, Keble seems to be saying that we don’t require the religious or academic life to come closer to God, but rather the ‘trivial round, the daily task’ will suffice. This may be especially true in the current situation if we are struggling to get through the day. But perhaps it is recognition of the diurnal rhythm which allows us to see more clearly that our Lord’s mercies fail not but are new every morning.  Keble was true to his word here, since for all his academic brilliance demonstrated in his poetry and as founding father of the Oxford Movement, he followed the calling of the parish priest and to support his father and two sisters at Fairford, Gloucestershire. And as the motto of the Oxford college founded in his name in 1870 remembers him, ‘Plain living and high thinking’.
(Jonathan Halliwell, ordinand, Brussels)

*****

Reading Psalm 22 in these difficult days

I find the book of Psalms an inexhaustible treasure. Though I have lived and worked in Geneva for a number of years, I doubt that I would agree with John Calvin on all aspects of his theology, but I am certainly willing to affirm his comments on the Psalms: They are ‘An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul’; ‘There is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror’. In spite of many of its benefits, one of my regrets about the liturgical renewal that has seen Holy Communion frequently displace Matins and Evensong as the most regular act of common worship participated in by lay people, is that use of the entire book of Psalms in Sunday worship is now less and less common. Although a ‘snippet’ of a Psalm is sometimes used in Holy Communion (generally between the Old Testament lesson and the Epistle) the psalms used in this way do not seem to reflect the whole repertoire of the Book of Psalms. In particular the psalms of lament end up being considerably underrepresented among those which make a regular liturgical appearance.

One of the reasons I value the psalms is because they make me grapple with the question of the nature of the inspiration of scripture. Most of the psalms probably began as our human words to God, but through their inclusion in our canonical Bible, they have also become God’s words to us. Perhaps one day that will lead me down some interesting channels to explore further with you, but for today…

Today, Good Friday, is the day when one, almost certainly the most well known psalm of lament, Psalm 22, is included in the liturgical worship of many Anglican churches. Its special place is secured by its association with the crucifixion of Christ. According to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew the last words of Jesus Christ before his death were a quotation from Psalm 22. One of the problems that this close association with the cross can mean is that we jump too readily to the use of the Psalm in the New Testament without spending enough time first exploring its original Old Testament context. Who originally wrote Psalm 22? When did they write it? What was the reason for their anguish? I have been reflecting over the last few days that perhaps this year we perhaps find it easier to identify with the original voice of the suffering psalmist of the Old Testament than we may have done often in the past.

In a short blog there is not space to share even a fraction of the glories of this psalm. But six short thoughts.

  1. One of the features of the psalm is the way it starts off with the voice of the psalmist expressing a sense of complete isolation and loneliness, cut off from everyone and everything – even almost from God. The only word that ‘saves’ him (and us) from a situation of complete separation is ‘my’. The fact that the psalmist can say the words ‘my God’ is the starting point from which the movement of the whole of the rest of the psalm springs.
  2. As one reads through the first 21 verses of the psalm, God who in the psalmist’s anguish is initially challenged with the words ‘why are you so far from helping me’ seems to draw nearer, so that by verse 19 the writer feels able to say, ‘But you, O Lord, do not be far away’.
  3. There is an extraordinary shift between the sense of complete human isolation of verse 1, and the way that from verse 22 onwards, the psalmist seeks to call an ever widening group of people to join him in a his circle of praise. We move from … my brothers and sisters… you who fear the Lord…you offspring of Israel… the great congregation… the ends of the earth… until by verse 29-31 the past and the future generations are also invited to join in. Often on Good Friday we only read the psalm up to verse 21. Perhaps this year we need to intentionally read verses 22-31 in Eastertide, in the days of the resurrection.
  4. Psalm 22 is a lament. One of the features of the lament psalms of the Old Testament is that they don’t believe that there are easy answers. That is perhaps why they are a helpful spiritual resource for our difficult days when it is also a mistake to think that the answers will be easy.
  5. It has been noted that Psalm 22 is primarily a psalm about human suffering. There are other psalms which explore human sin – but not this one. The fact that it was this psalm that Jesus spoke on his cross perhaps suggests that it is helpful to remember that somehow the cross of Jesus is God’s response to the problem of suffering – at least as much as it is to the problem of sin.
  6. Psalm 23 comes after Psalm 22. The ‘ordering’ of the psalter is unlikely to be totally haphazard. The placing of the gentle ‘Lord is my shepherd’ immediately after Psalm 22 may well be a hint that before we can reach the quiet acceptance of Psalm 23 we need first to journey through the agony – and then the ecstasy – of Psalm 22.

At Holy Trinity Geneva we have been using ‘zoom’ to enable us to keep Holy Week and Easter as much as possible. The professionalism and commitment of the group working together to enable this has been a source of joy in these difficult days. We have been doing our best. Occasionally things don’t go quite as planned. Last night, Maundy Thursday, a recording of Psalm 22 was played at the end of the worship to mark Jesus’ departure from his Last Supper towards his passion.. It was intended that while it was playing a picture of a cross would be shown on the screen. But that didn’t happen. Instead the zoom service seemed to pan round from face to face of our people, living in their isolation, listening intently to the music in their different and solitary dwellings, yet through that shared listening somehow helping to create the community that the latter part of Psalm 22 celebrates. In those faces we saw, experienced and perhaps contributed to the sharing of the cross.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s