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St Benedict on People Management: Rule 3

 

 

 

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St Benedict, Prague c. 1300 via Wikimedia commons

Yesterday was the Feast of St Benedict and many of my online friends were tweeting and blogging to remind of this fact. The Revd Bryony Taylor @vahva tweeted: “For leadership advice we couldn’t do much better than the Rule of Benedict in these turbulent times.” I replied “Roughly translated as ‘The Abbot Knows Best’ “. Over-simplification is the besetting sin of erstwhile teachers and I was well advised by my mentor, @DigitalNun, Sr Catherine Wybourne, “Not exactly…. read RB 3 (and forgive me for butting in.)”.

So naturally I turned to my well-thumbed copy of ‘Work and Prayer: the rule of st benedict for lay people’, translated by none other than one ‘catherine wybourne’.

It is extraordinarily apposite advice, at a time when the Church of England is thinking hard – again – about leadership, both at a senior clerical level and for the laity.

I offer you Rule 3 of St Benedict:


 

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The Reasonable Society: by Sir Robin Day

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Like most of my fellow compatriots, the last fortnight has felt so tumultuous that the very basis of our communal lives seems threatened. This blog deals with the Church of England, so at first glance you might argue politics is an area we should steer clear of. But Church and State are not separated in this country, in fact they are intertwined in a perpetual dance in which the survival of each depends on the ability to accommodate the views of the other.

Our General Synod is now in purdah as they engage in ‘Shared Conversations’, trying to find a modus vivendi. Please pray for them, and the Church.

Many years ago, I copied out by hand the 577 words which follow, words to live by. Please take the time to read them, and think how we can hold on to these values in the face of the multiple tsunamis which beset us.


 

 

 

I have only one life to live and only one country I wish to live it in. In this country, we do not live in a valueless moral vacuum, like astronauts floating weightless in a a lunar spacecraft. We are entrusted with a set of values through which our reasoning is tempered with humanity, moderated by fairness, based on truth, imbued with the Christian ethic, applied with commonsense, and upheld by law. If there is a gulf of hypocrisy between the professing and the practice of these values, that does not mean that we should abandon them.

Our society…whatever its present troubles, is by nature and tradition reasonable in the way it lives and governs itself. That way is by peaceful reform rather than violent revolution. For all that we have to be ashamed of or anxious about now, we have only to look at what enormous social and economic progress we have made in these islands during the last hundred years, without bloodshed, under the much-abused parliamentary system which is the cornerstone of the Reasonable Society.

In the Reasonable Society, there can be no place for absolutes, no place for theories which must be rigidly adhered to, no place for dogmas which must be defended to the death…there should be no principle which is too important to be reconsidered for the sake of others, no interest which cannot make some sacrifice for the common good.

The idea of the Reasonable Society is deeply rooted in our temper and tradition. That temper and tradition has much in common with our climate…and also perhaps with the quality of light and colour which goes with that climate. To a visitor from a country where the climate is fierce, where the sun and sky are harsh and brilliant, the English light is gentle and the colours have a certain softness – the qualities of light and colour captured with such magical effect by the genius of our greatest painter, Turner, in his landscapes.

The Reasonable Society, and the institutions which have grown with it, has flowered in the temperate climate of our mental habits. Equanimity is preferred to hysteria. Experience is a wiser guide than doctrine. Absolutes are alien to us. We know that absolute equality would extinguish liberty; that absolute liberty would demolish order. We shrink from extreme measures. We harden ourselves to take them if we must, though sometimes we are almost too late. Humour, both coarse and subtle, is part of our very being. Humour is our sense of proportion our sense of proportion is the essence of our reasonableness.

The Reasonable Society is not, as may be thought, merely a convenient idea to play about with  in argument. It is fundamentally indispensable to the practical working of the British system of democracy. This is because we have no written constitution, no fundamental law to be applied, no judicial review by a supreme court, no basic rights engraved in marble. It is arguable that we should move towards such a constitution…but for the time being, and the foreseeable future, our constitution is expressed in six unwritten words: ‘The Queen in Parliament is supreme’. Such a constitution has only worked, and can only work, with the accompaniment of the conventions, traditions, customs, compromises, voluntary restraints and the national sense of fair play, all of which go to make up the Reasonable Society.


 

Chapter 6 of ‘Day by Day’ by Sir Robin Day, William Kimber & Co, 1975.

Sir Robin Day defined the modern political interview. He died, aged 76, in 2000. You can read his obituary from the Daily Telegraph here.

Intercessions for Lent 1 – Year C -series 2 – 14 February 2016

 

The Temptation of Christ, Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily via Wikimedia

 

The Collect

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit; and, as you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Deuteronomy 26.1-11

Moses spoke to the people, saying: When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm:  91.1-2,9-16

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High ♦ and abides under the shadow of the Almighty,

Shall say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my stronghold, ♦ my God, in whom I put my trust.’

Because you have made the Lord your refuge ♦ and the Most High your stronghold,

There shall no evil happen to you, ♦ neither shall any plague come near your tent.

For he shall give his angels charge over you, ♦ to keep you in all your ways.

They shall bear you in their hands, ♦ lest you dash your foot against a stone.

You shall tread upon the lion and adder; ♦ the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

Because they have set their love upon me, therefore will I deliver them; ♦ I will lift them up, because they know my name.

They will call upon me and I will answer them; ♦ I am with them in trouble,
I will deliver them and bring them to honour.

With long life will I satisfy them ♦ and show them my salvation.

Second Reading: Romans 10.8b-13

What does scripture say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Gospel Reading: Luke 4.1-13

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
The Lord is a great God, O that today you would listen to his voice.
Harden not your hearts.
Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”’ Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’ Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,  “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”, and  “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Prayers of Intercession

The Church of Christ

Lord, you drive us once again into the desert as you challenge us to make a choice: a choice which is simple, but not necessarily easy. Give us, we pray, the clarity of insight to know the right path, the path that leads to your kingdom; and give us also the courage and the perseverance to reject the tempting well-worn tracks of habit, and the merely expedient.

Lord, strengthen us against temptation: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, open our eyes to the glory of your creation, as we open our hearts to you this Lent. Give us a clearer vision of your presence in and through all things, even in the troubled areas of the world which it seems can never know peace. Show us how to intervene in a way that will help, not make situations worse.

Lord, strengthen us against temptation: in your mercy, hear our prayer

The local community

Lord, we thank you for the gift of community. Through our human companions we know the essence of living: warmth and laughter, quietness and sadness; who we are and who we could be. We thank you for the joy of sharing as we journey the pilgrim road together.

Lord, strengthen us against temptation: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Those who suffer

Lord, in the midst of struggle and pain, we trust in your love that endures. Help us to bear one another’s burdens as courage moves us onwards and our faith trusts in the future. Companion on our journey, protector at our side, you comfort us with the assurance of your presence.

Lord, strengthen us against temptation: in your mercy, hear our prayer

The communion of saints

Lord, we pray for your servants who are now with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

We bring before you………… May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers….

 


Prayer after Communion

Lord God,
you have renewed us with the living bread from heaven;
by it you nourish our faith,
increase our hope,
and strengthen our love:
teach us always to hunger for him who is the true and living bread,
and enable us to live by every word
that proceeds from out of your mouth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 Invitation to Confession (Lent) © The Archbishops’ Council 2002 Collect (1st of Lent) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

 

Intercessions for Sunday next before Lent – Year C – series 2 – 7 February 2016

The Collect

Almighty Father, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death upon the cross: give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Exodus 34.29-35

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterwards all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Psalm 99

The Lord is king: let the peoples tremble; ♦ he is enthroned upon the cherubim: let the earth shake.

The Lord is great in Zion ♦ and high above all peoples.

Let them praise your name, which is great and awesome; ♦ the Lord our God is holy.

Mighty king, who loves justice, you have established equity; ♦ you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

Exalt the Lord our God; ♦ bow down before his footstool, for he is holy.

Moses and Aaron among his priests and Samuel among those who call upon his name, ♦ they called upon the Lord and he answered them.

He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; ♦ they kept his testimonies and the law that he gave them.

You answered them, O Lord our God; ♦ you were a God who forgave them and pardoned them for their offences.

Exalt the Lord our God and worship him upon his holy hill,   for the Lord our God is holy.

Lord God, mighty king,
you love justice and establish equity;
may we love justice more than gain
and mercy more than power;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2

Since we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practise cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Gospel Reading: Luke 9.28-36(37-43)

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ Peter did not know what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And the disciples kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God. Everyone was amazed at all that he was doing.

 

Jane Williams:

In the passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul is referring directly to today’s reading from Exodus. But his take on the story is eccentric in the extreme. In Exodus, there is no suggestion that the people of Israel are to be blamed for the veiling of Moses’ face. It is natural that the after-effect of an encounter with God should be so dazzling. But Paul implies that the veil is a sign of the Israelites’ determination not to see what is offered to them. He suggests that they deliberately choose to put a barrier between God and themselves, and that that barrier remains until Jesus removes it…. he is exhorting his readers not to copy the Israelites by choosing to ‘veil’ things… Subterfuge and deceit are ‘veiled’ things. Christians live with the open truth. 

 

Prayers of Intercession

Let us pray to the Father, who has revealed his glory to us through his Son.

The Church of Christ

Lord, you show yourself to us in moments of piercing but unheralded clarity, and are gone as suddenly. Your glory does break into our lives and brings us back to you, the ultimate reality which underlies all our earthly endeavours. Teach us to wait in your presence in stillness, to stop our busyness long enough to hear your voice, for in you alone we find perpetual peace.  *

Lord, help us to push back the darkness so that we may see your glory: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, we pray for all those who govern the nations of the earth yet seem almost wilfully blind : grant to them all a glimpse of your glory, that pearl of great price. Come to those whose vision is veiled by material cares, and give them light. To all those charged with leadership of nations and institutions, give them hope that the future does hold possibilities, if they do but search for them.

Lord, help us to push back the darkness so that we may see your glory: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

The local community

Lord, open our eyes and our wisdom, that we may see, hear and in some way understand the people we live amongst. May we connect with their energy and pain. May our looking, our listening and our hearing be for others a small liberation this day. And may others in turn liberate us by their attention, when we are locked within. **

Lord, help us to push back the darkness so that we may see your glory: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

Those who suffer

Lord, pour out your transforming love on all who long for release from their sufferings. Give them peace and bless them with hope. Guide them into your sanctuary, especially all those whose suffering is hidden from the world and unimagined by the rest of us.

Lord, help us to push back the darkness so that we may see your glory: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

The communion of saints

Lord, we pray for those who have passed through the veil of death…

May they now behold your glory unfurled in the eternity of heaven.

 

Merciful Father, accept these prayers…

 


 * see R S Thomas, ‘The Bright Field’

** based on a prayer from Stephen Cherry’s ‘Barefoot Ways’.

Prayer after Communion

Holy God,
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ:
may we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know his power to change and save.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Post Communion (Sunday next before Lent) © 1985 Anglican Church of Canada: The Book of Alternative Services Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000

 

Messy Conversations Between God, Church And People – by Andrew Bennison

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The success of a conversation is ultimately determined, I think, not by the answers we receive but by the questions we choose to ask. In the realm of dating, for instance, it is obvious that a romantic relationship cannot be built on small talk alone: since love requires knowledge, sooner or later we’re going to have to ask the questions that enable us to really know the other person. To communicate what is most important to us, we rely on being asked the right questions – or inviting those questions ourselves.

I sometimes wonder whether the Church’s problem in engaging with secular society is that it answers the wrong questions. There are two questions which contemporary culture commonly asks of religion in the public sphere: ‘Is it true?’ and ‘How should we behave?. These questions derive from the way that ‘religion’ is conceived in contemporary discourse: as a set of ideas about God, which influences our moral decision-making. ‘Religion’, in other words, is simply a tool that enables the autonomous individual to make choices and attain satisfaction. Religious Education in schools, for instance, commonly focuses on intellectual arguments for and against God’s existence, and on moral decision-making: religious faith is thus presented as an intellectual and moral framework, to be adopted in the manner of consumer choice – like putting on glasses.

Christianity will always struggle in a conversation which begins with these questions, because the New Testament shows relatively little interest in them. The contemporary conception of religious faith is very far from the message of Jesus in the Gospels, who invited his followers not to ‘bolt on’ a set of intellectual or ethical attitudes, but to something much deeper: a journey of loss and dispossession through which a new and radical life is discovered – ‘those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it’ (Matt. 10.39). St Paul likewise conceptualised the Christian life as an experience of deep transformation, through which we relate to ourselves in radical new ways – ‘it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me’ (Gal. 2.20).

So, what question should the Church be inviting instead? My suggestion is the following: ‘What does religious faith feel like?’ If Christians are those who, in the words of Rowan Williams, ‘have tasted the reality of new life’[1], then this question should yield fascinating and fruitful responses. Indeed, it is the question that I most enjoy answering, since I find the Christian life to be an experience of living more deeply: faith does not draw me principally to words and ideas about God, but to a fresh apprehension of the rich and varied texture of life. Because it frees me from fear, it allows me to face open-handedly the mysterious, complex and difficult feelings that life involves – shame, pride, sexual desire, grief, anxiety and anger: all these become much more interesting and easy to talk about! Indeed, perceptive theologians have noted that lived experience is where God-talk has most purchase: Luke Timothy Johnson insists for instance that ‘the human body is the pre-eminent arena for God’s revelation in the world’.[2] According to this understanding, words about God in Scripture exist not as abstract ideas to be grasped, but as resources for comprehending more fully the reality of our lives. Beginning the conversation with the question of what faith feels like thus allows us to place the question of ‘truth’ in a proper context: the ‘truth’ of religious claims lie not in their intellectual coherence but in their capacity to account for and reimagine human lived experience in all its depth and complexity. Doctrine that has no purchase on lived reality cannot be said to be ‘true’.

So, confronted by the deep missionary challenges of our time, I wish the Church would start talking more frankly about what faith actually feels like. But isn’t this a risky conversation? Asking about God’s reality in human lives begins a messy process: life – not least the life of faith – is complex and bewildering, and so the answers we receive will not always sound comfortable, orthodox or systematic. But herein lies an opportunity: beginning this messy conversation invites us to become more fully the Church – it invites churches to become inclusive and fearless communities where there are no ‘wrong’ answers; places where our confidence in the Gospel allows us to welcome, without judgement or anxiety, the witness of all those people whose lives God has touched.

And so perhaps inviting the right questions isn’t the only important thing; perhaps we also need to give honest answers. Maybe then we’ll be having a proper conversation.

A Season in Hell by Taylor Carey 

Capture

 

‘I am not sure’, writes George Steiner of the most haunting tragedy of the twentieth century, ‘whether anyone, however scrupulous, who spends time and imaginative resources on these dark places, can, or indeed, ought to leave them personally intact. Yet the dark places are at the centre. Pass them by and there can be no serious discussion of the human potential’.[1] His remarks are directed in part against the poet Sylvia Plath, whose ‘holocaust poems’ – Lady Lazarus, Daddy, and Mary’s Song – employ the systematic annihilation of European Jewry in the service of vivid metaphor. Such usage reveals a ‘subtle, corrupting fascination’ which remains at the heart of our culture; yet, argues Steiner, poetic appropriation of Auschwitz usually fails to do justice to the singular horror, the staggering barbarism, and the ineluctable tragedy of that mid-century Arschloch der Welt. The failure remains with us, as does the haunting memory of that time when centuries of civilisation, and generations of cultural and artistic achievement, gave way almost without protest to the insanity of mechanised slaughter. Those who sent 1.5 million Jewish children to the gas chambers had, in the evenings before the days of carnage, read Schiller’s Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, and, weeping, turned to the consolations of Schubert’s String Quintets or the triumphal humanism of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Condorcet had assured them that ‘all people whose history is recorded fall somewhere between our present degree of civilisation and that which we still see among savage tribes’, yet that very ‘civilisation’ incubated a neurotic impulse which hungered for bloodthirsty destruction. [2] Such a culture is our inheritance; its history and memory have become our responsibility. Seventy-one years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, how are we to relate to Europe’s season in hell?

Conceptual difficulties abound. The Shoah is usually defined as the slaughter of six million Jews from 1939 to 1945, and the systematic murder of various other ‘undesirable’ groups.[3] A fuller account would surely encompass its antecedents: Kristallnacht, that terrible catharsis of 1938; the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which denied citizenship to European Jews; and the Enabling Act of 1933, the legal foundation upon which the terroristic policies of Nazi government were built. The backwards march could go on, chronicling innumerable manifestations of a brooding, frustrated continental ennui which regarded flourishing European Jewry with shame, disgust, jealousy, and loathing. Perhaps the genealogy of anti-Semitism can be traced back to St Paul; the ‘rift’ with the Synagogue among early Christian communities, and the origins of the worship of Jesus as divine remain among the most controversial topics in contemporary historical scholarship.[4] We may never possess a complete account, though widespread historical episodes, from the Crusades to the Dreyfus Affair, provide narrative anchors. Jew-hatred, for practical historical purposes, may not possess an exact beginning or end, yet its ugly, bloated midriff disfigures nearly every period of Western history on record.

At least two dangers attend any ‘explanation’ of the Shoah. The first is a form of reification, whereby Auschwitz is taken as the indictment of a generation, and raised to a singular, meaningless fame. This might be called the danger of contingency. The second is its opposite: the Holocaust somehow acts as a cipher for the entire history of human evil, despite being – in practical terms – just one more episode of familiar, barbarous violence. This might be termed the danger of universalisation.[5] The problem with the former is that all evil becomes relativised, and the concrete connections between human action and its consequences are sundered; we may yet have another Auschwitz, a terrifying possibility that we can scarcely comprehend, so long as we meet any modern manifestation of evil with the comforting quip that ‘at least it’s not the Holocaust’. The problem with the latter is its absorption of various and diverse manifestations of persecution into one, ahistorical category; if any instance of injustice constitutes a first step on a road to Birkenau, why should the Shoah have occurred, quite specifically, between 1939 and 1945?

It is to this twin-headed conundrum that George Steiner has dedicated much of his illustrious, polyglot scholarship. It is perhaps worth mentioning in this regard that his own perspective on the Holocaust (denied a capital letter for much of his early career, and generally not referred to directly by most writers until the 1960s) has shifted across and between the two positions as his thought has developed.[6] In an early, prize-winning essay entitled Malice (1952), Steiner subsumes the Holocaust within a broader discussion of human evil. The juxtaposition of high culture and barbarism displayed by Beethoven-loving camp commandants is contextualized in broader patterns of human wickedness. The old adage that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is offered by Steiner as an explanation for Europe’s ingrained anti-Semitism, particularly at a period in history when economic frustration and hardship ran high, and neighbouring Jews seemed to prosper.[7] In later years, however, his position changes: the Holocaust becomes not simply another manifestation of human evil, but rather a singular phenomenon which lies buried in the nexus of civility and barbarism deep in the heart of European culture.  An empirical claim to uniqueness may of course be tenuous; Steiner recognises that ‘quantitatively there have been worse killings’, and that systematised, mechanical mass murder did not in fact originate with the Nazis.[8] Thus an adequate account of the Shoah, if possible at all, must be found elsewhere: ‘if there are qualitative differences between the Shoah and the innumerable examples of mass-murder which punctuate history both before and since, they must lie very deep: in that symbolic and metaphysical-theological realm which I want to point towards’.[9]

Which realm is this? In part, it is the domain of institutionalised Christianity, which Steiner holds responsible for some of the gravest acts of evil that humanity has witnessed. For Steiner, Christianity has established the grounds upon which humans can be rendered ‘subhuman’. Furthermore, it has applied this cruel and demonic label to the very womb in which it was created – Judaism. Golgotha and Auschwitz exist in a tragic, tangled nexus of neurosis, since ‘in the fascinations of Nazism, those starved, beaten, gassed to extinction were not men and women and children but vermin, members of a species other than that of man’. This was only possible because of the ‘symbolic symmetry’ with the Jewish denial of Jesus’ messiahship:

In the eye of the believer, God had, through the incarnation of Christ, through the descent of the divine into human form, affirmed, attested to the literal godliness of man. Man had, in Christ, been of the nature of God. This modulation had been scorned by the Jew. Was it not inevitable that the Jew, who had refused transcendence for man, should bear the final, logical consequence, which is to be made less than human?[10]

Very little could be said in defence of institutional Christianity during the Holocaust; as usual, its only redeeming features may be found among the individual lives of selfless human beings – the Edith Steins, Etty Hillesums, and Dietrich Bonhoeffers of the world – whose generosity and self-sacrifice belied the stasis of their churches’ grandees.[11] Alone among many of his contemporaries, the Anglican theologian and philosopher Donald MacKinnon, whose friendship with Steiner lasted until MacKinnon’s death in 1994, diagnosed the extent to which Christianity was implicated in the phenomenon of barbarism at the heart of European civility. ‘If for the Christian’, argued MacKinnon,

‘it is in the events of the first Good Friday that the sense of the final judgement of the world is to be glimpsed, as well as the foundations of its hope, he must also remember that part of the price paid for the accomplishment of these things in human history was the unmentionable horror of anti-semitism whose beginning can be traced in the New Testament itself and whose last manifestation in our own time was Christian acquiescence in the ‘final solution’’.[12]

To a very great extent, argues Steiner, such a gulf of antagonism between Judaism and Christianity cannot be bridged.[13] At the same time, however, it is precisely the Arnoldian retreat of the Sea of Faith – in Europe, specifically the Christian faith – which Steiner places at the heart of his understanding of the Shoah. It is in his working through of these seemingly contradictory premises that we may glimpse the enduring spectral presence with which the Holocaust haunts European civilisation today.

Steiner’s 1970 T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, published during the following year as In Bluebeard’s Castle, equip him with a distinctive and much-quoted phrase, ‘the blackmail of transcendence’.[14] It is this which he believes has contributed most to the persecution of Jews throughout history, a narrative of resentment which drew together its various sub-plots most completely in the Holocaust of the twentieth century. For Steiner, Judaism has blackmailed Western civilisation through the creation of three ultra-demanding systems of morality: the Law of Moses, the commands of Christ, and, finally, the secular messianic philosophy of Marx and utopian socialism. Each of these has burdened European society with an ethical load too heavy to bear, and has thus created a source of shame, and a lingering flicker of resentment which directs its heat again and again to its covenantal source in the religious identity of Israel. ‘Three times’, argues Steiner, ‘Judaism produced a summons to perfection and sought to impose it on the current and currency of Western life’:

Deep loathings built up in the social subconscious, murderous resentments. The mechanism is simple but primordial. We hate most those who hold out to us a goal, an ideal, a visionary promise which, even though we have stretched our muscles to the utmost, we cannot reach, which slips, again and again, just out of range of our racked fingers – yet, and this is crucial, which remains profoundly desirable, which we cannot reject because we fully acknowledge its supreme value.[15]

Viewed in this way, the Holocaust constituted the supreme rejection of theology, the ultimate statement of contempt for a system of obligations of which the Jewish people were a constant, damning reminder. Yet – and this is crucial – such a rejection could only have become a possibility as the Christian fabric of European civilisation was discarded. It was displaced by an Enlightened vision of progress which, following the revolutionary fireworks of 1789 and 1815, floundered in the long, hot, summer of boredom. This lasted until the advent of the First World War, and was marked by stasis, deceleration, and conservatism, and by peace broken only in 1830, 1848, and 1871, and during short, limited conflicts between hegemonic powers. The frustration was thus twofold: Enlightened modernity launched itself in protest at the clerical demands of Christendom, which beat a hasty retreat on Dover Beach. Yet secular progressivism, exemplified all too quickly by the dark satanic mills of an industrialised, alienated society, failed to meet the human spirit’s demand for transcendental consolation, and instead stared in envy at its revolutionary past, miserably contenting itself with its distinctly anti-revolutionary heroes – Stendhal, Musset, Byron, and Pushkin.[16] Concomitantly, the exponential growth of finance and industry produced ever more frequently the phenomenon of the ‘urban inferno, with its hordes of faceless inhabitants’.[17] This combination of ‘extreme economic-technical dynamism with a large measure of enforced social immobility, a conjunction on which a century of liberal, bourgeois civilization was built, made for an explosive mixture’.[18] It created a neurotic itch that was only worsened by the horrors of the First World War, which itself proved more than ever that humanity’s secular utopian dreams all too often ended in disaster. Europe yearned for another revolution, even as its faith in the human revolutionary project dwindled; with stasis and disappointment came the impulse for chaotic violence described by Freud as a ‘perverse longing’ for destruction.

Of all of this, argues Steiner, the Jews stood as a terrible, infuriating reminder. For him, it comes as no surprise that it was a culturally Christian, yet increasingly agnostic or atheistic, society which turned all of its monstrous technical capability to the end of the destruction of European Jewry:

It is when they are exhausted or degenerating that organs and muscle tissue secrete contagious and maleficent substances into the human body. So it was that the original Pauline and Patristic theology of Jew-hatred, together with the more general and even deeper-lying resentment of monotheism and sacrificial morality, took on their terrible, festering virulence precisely as Christianity and a belief in God as such began receding from spiritual habits and intellectual-political adherence of Western civilisation. There is a perfect logic in the anti-Semitism of a Voltaire. There is a clear pattern in the fact that the Auschwitz-world erupts out of the subconscious, collective obsessions of an increasingly agnostic, even anti- or post-Christian society. Long-buried, and freed of doctrinal inhibitions and abstractions, the symbols and metaphors which cluster around the Judaic invention and “killing” of God…turned murderous’.[19]

Steiner’s is an astonishingly confident vision, which for all its mellifluous eloquence, may ultimately be found wanting in its detail. Steiner himself has frequently stressed that, despite all his years of scholarship, no answer to the question of ‘why the music didn’t say “No!”’ is forthcoming. Yet perhaps this is the wrong, but telling, question to ask. Music, for Steiner, has become the ‘prayer of the unbeliever’, the avenue of human existence which most supremely allows for God’s presence – whether or not in terms of conventional religious belief – to be acknowledged as utterly fundamental to human existence. Music and art defy the secular, since they cannot admit of closure among any number of negotiations of human perspective. They belong to the realm of human subjectivity, which itself eludes exhaustive definition as an object of human awareness – for the simple reason that human minds are not objects at all. As such, all music and art raises the question of the transcendent, the very question which religious traditions never answer, frequently muddle, but always hold open. To take music, art, and literature seriously is to allow for the possibility of taking time, of investing one’s object of awareness with potentially infinite attention, to covenant always to hold open human practices against what cannot be realised within human history: a total, final perspective, the last word about human existence and meaning.[20] The Jews could be slaughtered. But their presence was a stark reminder of what couldn’t be banished from the universe by any empire.

Could it be that, as those who oversaw the systematic liquidation of children read that exquisite comment of Immanuel Kant about ‘starry heavens above me’ and ‘the moral law within me’, and ingested the romance of Rilke; as they felt the utter transcendence of Beethoven’s late quartets, or allowed themselves to be drawn into the sublime dance of Bach’s cello suites; as they reached the summit of the Missa Solemnis, or lost themselves in the epic landscapes of Wagner’s Parsifal; could it be that they realised this terrible truth, this earth-shattering epiphany? And did that realisation so damn them, so completely mock their infatuation with ultimate and final power, and humiliate them to such an extent, that they were driven in an ever more nihilistic, rabid, and crazed fashion to destroy that small and defenceless population who so embodied, at the heart of European civilisation, the hope and transcendence woven into the very fabric of the human spirit?

 

* * *

Or perhaps that is all too simple.

I have stared down at those three cracked and lop-sided steps which lead to the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have leant against the wall of the sanitation block as a Rabbi mumbled the Kaddish, and blew the Shofar. It was a damp, bleak, freezing day. And it was appropriate, tempting, and seductive. This was the Auschwitz everyone wanted to know. This was the contingent Holocaust (“How could they have done this?”), soon to become the universalised Holocaust, in the hands of well-meaning school education officers (“So what do you think about human rights now?”). Tempting, very tempting. But not uncomfortable enough.

The late Gillian Rose, has, as ever, provided a piercing and insightful diagnosis:

To Plato, doing wrong could only occur if one lacked knowledge of what was right – one could not wittingly intend wrong; to Aristotle, it was possible to intend and act rightly but unwittingly to incur wrong…To modernity, this dilemma of contingency acquires a systematic twist: for, it is possible to mean well, to be caring and kind, loving one’s neighbour as oneself, yet to be complicit in the corruption and violence of social institutions. Furthermore, this predicament may not correspond to, and may not be represented by, any available politics or knowledge.[21]

Perhaps this is where Steiner’s thoughts edge us. There is a danger that we might read him as suggesting that each and every perpetrator of the Holocaust sought only the tragic reconciliation of their atheism and love of Schubert. This would be absurd; at the individual level, many Nazis were mundane, petty, uneducated, and cruel – and indeed extremely kind. The point, perceptively made by Rose, is that individual morality relates dialectically to its institutional framework. We may struggle to see the injustices upon which our kindnesses are premised:

[I]t is the very opposition between morality and legality – between inner, autonomous ‘conscience’, and outer, heteronomous institutions – that depraves us. Simultaneous possession of inner freedom and outer unfreedom means that the border where cognitive activity and normative passivity become cognitive passivity and normative activity is changeable and obscure. There is a diremption in our agency and in our institutions…[22]

Perhaps even those who visit Auschwitz without a gross caricature of Nazism often fail to grasp the full implications of this point. It is not enough to ask ‘could I have done this?’ (the answer, ‘yes’, is immediately obvious). The point about Auschwitz, about the Shoah, is the radical questioning of that ‘I’, and the terrible, horrific realisation that it rested then, and may rest now, on unimaginable violence.  To so question ourselves might, as Rose puts it ‘contribute to a change of awareness and a questioning of our sentimentality as modern citizens, protected in all ‘innocence’ by the military might of the modern state. For, in modern dirempted polities, it is the relation between the…inner and outer boundaries of our self-identity and lack of self-identity that turns us into strangers to ourselves as moral agents and social actors’.[23]

I can recall those three steps to the gas chamber vividly. They were steps to hell. And it may be that we all need to go there. At least for a season.


 

* I owe the title to the second of George Steiner’s T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, delivered in 1970.

[1] George Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture (London: Faber & Faber, 1971), 32.
[2] Marquis de Condorcet, Political Writings, ed. Steven Lukes and Nadia Urbinati (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 5.
[3] To adapt a working definition offered by David Cesarani in The Holocaust: A Guide for Students and Teachers (London: Holocaust Educational Trust, 2010).
[4] The literature is vast and overwhelming. See Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), and Jacob Neusner, Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition (London: SCM Press, 1990). These and other perspectives are brilliantly incorporated into Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000BCE-1492CE (London: The Bodley Head, 2013), chapters 5-9.
[5] These competing ‘pillars’ of interpretation correlate to the respective positions of Emil Fackenheim, To Mend the World: Foundations of Future Jewish Thought (New York: Shocken, 1982), and Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Oxford: Polity Press, 1989).
[6] For an excellent survey, see Catherine D. Chatterley, Disenchantment: George Steiner and the Meaning of Western Civilization after Auschwitz (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011).
[7] George Steiner, Malice (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952), 13, 16-17.
[8] George Steiner, ‘The Long Life of a Metaphor: An Approach to “the Shoah”’, Encounter (February 1987), 57.
[9] Ibid., 57
[10] George Steiner, ‘Through That Glass Darkly’, No Passion Spent (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 342-343.
[11] For an unflinching look at Christianity’s many painful silences, including the Holocaust, see Diarmaid MaCulloch, Silence: A Christian History (London: Allen Lane, 2013).
[12] Donald MacKinnon, The Borderlands of Theology (London: Lutterworth Press, 1968), 103. For a survey of the fascinating dialogue between MacKinnon and Stein on the subject of tragedy (with particular reference to the Shoah), see Graham Ward, ‘Tragedy as Subclause: George Steiner’s Dialogue with Donald MacKinnon’, The Heythrop Journal, 34 (1993), 274-287.
[13] Steiner, ‘Through That Glass Darkly’, 345. I would not put as much emphasis theologically on this point as Steiner (I do not dispute his cultural-historical argument). For a more nuanced view, see Rowan Williams, ‘The Finality of Christ’, On Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 93-106.
[14] Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle, 41.
[15] Ibid, 41.
[16] Ibid., 21-22.
[17] Ibid., 23.
[18] Ibid., 24.
[19] Steiner, ‘The Long Life of a Metaphor’, 59.
[20] For a discussion of secularism, see Rowan Williams, ‘Has Secularism Failed?’, Faith in the Public Square (London: Bloomsbury, 2015). For an overview of its effects on the humanities and human imagination, see Roger Scruton, The Face of God (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).
[21] Gillian Rose, ‘The Future of Auschwitz’, Judaism and Modernity: Philosophical Essays (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 34.
[22] Ibid., 34.
[23] Ibid, 35.

Intercessions for Epiphany 4 – Year C – 31 January 2016

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Shutterstock Image ID:359288114 Copyright: design36

Intercessions for the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Candlemas) can be found here

The Collect

God our creator, who in the beginning commanded the light to shine out of darkness: we pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ may dispel the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, shine into the hearts of all your people, and reveal the knowledge of your glory in the face of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Ezekiel 43.27-44.4

The Lord said to Ezekiel: ‘When these days are over, then from the eighth day onward the priests shall offer upon the altar your burnt offerings and your offerings of well-being; and I will accept you, says the Lord God.’ Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east: and it was shut. The Lord said to me: This gate shall remain shut: it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince, because he is a prince, may sit in it to eat food before the Lord: he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate and shall go out by the same way. Then he brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; and I looked, and lo! the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord: and I fell upon my face.

Psalm 48

Refrain: We have waited on your loving-kindness, O God.

Great is the Lord and highly to be praised, ♦ in the city of our God.

His holy mountain is fair and lifted high, ♦ the joy of all the earth.

On Mount Zion, the divine dwelling place, ♦ stands the city of the great king.

In her palaces God has shown himself ♦ to be a sure refuge. R

For behold, the kings of the earth assembled ♦ and swept forward together.

They saw, and were dumbfounded; ♦ dismayed, they fled in terror.

Trembling seized them there; they writhed like a woman in labour, ♦ as when the east wind shatters the ships of Tarshish.

As we had heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, the city of our God: ♦ God has established her for ever. R

We have waited on your loving-kindness, O God, ♦ in the midst of your temple.

As with your name, O God, so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; ♦ your right hand is full of justice.

Let Mount Zion rejoice and the daughters of Judah be glad, ♦ because of your judgements, O Lord.

Walk about Zion and go round about her; count all her towers; ♦ consider well her bulwarks; pass through her citadels,

That you may tell those who come after that such is our God for ever and ever. ♦ It is he that shall be our guide for evermore.

Refrain: We have waited on your loving-kindness, O God.

Father of lights,
raise us with Christ to your eternal city,
that, with kings and nations,
we may wait in the midst of your temple
and see your glory for ever and ever.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 13.1-13

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Gospel Reading: Luke 2.22-40

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons”. Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Prayers of Intercession

The Church of Christ

Lord, as we draw a circle around those in the Church who think like us,* help us widen the circle to encompass through your love also those who think differently. Let us not become so engrossed in the finer points of doctrine that we forget your command to love you with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, with all our strength, and our neighbours as ourselves.

Knowing we shall see you face to face, Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer

Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, forgive the imperfections of our human vision and help us to see your Truth more clearly, and then to act accordingly. Where the victims of war and famine stand at our gates, helplessly asking for our mercy, let not our hearts be hardened against them. Inspire our leaders with the knowledge of how they can help, and give them the courage to do so, in our name.

Knowing we shall see you face to face, Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer

The local community

Lord, set us on fire with the power of your love, and burn from us all that dims your light. Kindle, we pray, an answering flame in the lives of those around us, that darkness may be driven back and glory stream into this world, transforming it with your love.

Knowing we shall see you face to face, Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer

Those who suffer

We pray for all those who are struggling in their lives. Bring them hope of an end to their sufferings, and a resolution of their difficulties. Show us the best way to help those who suffer, without being intrusive but without simply turning away from their pain either. Give us sensitivity and a sense of timing as we seek to reflect your love to them.

Knowing we shall see you face to face, Lord, in your mercy: hear our prayer

The communion of saints

We remember those who have departed this life….

We give thanks for the love that brings life out of death; grant to those on another shore the perfect sight of your everlasting glory.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers….

*Based on the poem by Edwin Markham (1852-1940):

He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

Prayer after Communion

Generous Lord,
in word and eucharist we have proclaimed the mystery of your love:
help us so to live out our days
that we may be signs of your wonders in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

 

 

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Luke 2.22-40 © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton Collect (4th of Epiphany) © 1980, 1986 Mowbray, a Cassell Imprint: Prayers for the Alternative Services comp. David Silk Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 Gospel Acclamation (Epiph. to Eve of Presentation) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

Intercessions for Epiphany 3 – Year C – series 2 – 24 January 2016

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1407 AD Latin Bible in Malmesbury Abbey showing St Peter as part of illuminated ‘P’ (Wikimedia)

The Collect

Almighty God, whose Son revealed in signs and miracles the wonder of your saving presence: renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Liturgy of the Word

 First Reading: Nehemiah 8.1-3,5-6,8-10

All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’

Psalm: 19

Refrain: The commandment of the Lord is pure and gives light to the eyes.

The heavens are telling the glory of God ♦ and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

One day pours out its song to another ♦ and one night unfolds knowledge to another.

They have neither speech nor language ♦ and their voices are not heard,

Yet their sound has gone out into all lands ♦ and their words to the ends of the world.

In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun, ♦ that comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber and rejoices as a champion to run his course.

It goes forth from the end of the heavens and runs to the very end again, ♦ and there is nothing hidden from its heat. R

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; ♦ the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple.

The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart; ♦ the commandment of the Lord is pure and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; ♦ the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, ♦ sweeter also than honey, dripping from the honeycomb.

By them also is your servant taught ♦ and in keeping them there is great reward. R

Who can tell how often they offend? ♦ O cleanse me from my secret faults!

Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins lest they get dominion over me; ♦ so shall I be undefiled, and innocent of great offence.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, ♦ O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Refrain: The commandment of the Lord is pure and gives light to the eyes.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12.12-31a

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Gospel Reading: Luke 4.14-21

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

We return to Jane Williams:

The more you read the Bible, the more inescapable is the conclusion that community is basic to any human attempt to understand God. You can get only so far with personal, private knowledge of God. The test of it will come in the way you interact with others. The Corinthians are a very attractive lot, from what we glean about them in Paul’s letters. They are enthusiastic, gifted, clever, determined. But they are infantile in their inability to live together in love (Does that sound anything like a church near you?) This whole section is an impassioned plea for an attempt to think in a completely new way. Instead of thinking always about themselves and their individual needs and rights, instead of always battling to be the most important and gifted person in any gathering, the Corinthians have to learn to think of themselves as one entity, one body, whose health and whose very live depends upon co-operation and connection. And we cannot pretend that that is a lesson we have now learned. And so, finally, to Jesus’ description of his mission. Isn’t it interesting that this declaration of intent is not about teaching us a better spirituality, but about doing God’s justice, and creating God’s community? The Christian body that Paul is pleading for will be recognizable by the way it treats others. To be the body of Christ, we have to do as he did.

Prayers of Intercession

The Church of Christ

Lord, we pray to you for the unity of all Christians everywhere, according to your will. May your Spirit enable us to experience the suffering caused by division, and to hope beyond all hope that the Body of Christ may be healed. Lord of the living word, give us the faith to receive your message, the wisdom to understand it, and the courage to practise it.

Lord, renew us that we may in turn renew the face of the earth: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, we pray for all those who speak up for tomorrow’s world: those who work for action on climate change, those who continue to plant trees to renew the soil, those who speak on behalf of endangered species and habitats. and those of us who try, fitfully, to play our part in saving this wonderful world which you have made and on which we are privileged to dwell.

Lord, renew us that we may in turn renew the face of the earth: in your mercy, hear our prayer

The local community

Lord, help us to remember that the world does not revolve around ourselves: when we see no horizon beyond ourselves, when we become our own horizon, our world shrinks to nothing. Endow us with the discernment to recognize the seeds of harshness in our lives and help us to look outwards, to share your love and tenderness with those with whom we live and share our lives, even those we find it hard to warm to. May we be ambassadors for Christ.

Lord, renew us that we may in turn renew the face of the earth: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Those who suffer

Lord, we bring before you all those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit. Grant them relief from their distress, and courage to bear what they must bear. Above all, enfold them in your loving arms so that they may be comforted and encouraged by your presence.

Lord, renew us that we may in turn renew the face of the earth: in your mercy, hear our prayer

The communion of saints

We pray for those who have recently departed this life. May they rest in your love and be renewed and restored by your almighty power. And comfort, we pray, those that mourn them.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers….

Prayer after Communion

Almighty Father,
whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world:
may your people,
illumined by your word and sacraments,
shine with the radiance of his glory,
that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed
to the ends of the earth;
for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): 1 Corinthians 12.12-31a © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton Post Communion (3rd of Epiphany) © 1985 Anglican Church of Canada: The Book of Alternative Services Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 Gospel Acclamation (Epiph. to Eve of Presentation) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

 

Intercessions for Epiphany 2 – Year C – series 2 – 17 January 2016

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Wedding at Cana by Duccio (1260-1318) via Wikimedia

The Collect

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Isaiah 62.1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,  and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,  until her vindication shines out like the dawn,  and her salvation like a burning torch.  The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory;  and you shall be called by a new name  that the mouth of the Lord will give.  You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,  and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

 

Psalm: 36.5-10

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens ♦ and your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness stands like the strong mountains, your justice like the great deep; ♦ you, Lord, shall save both man and beast.

How precious is your loving mercy, O God! ♦ All mortal flesh shall take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

They shall be satisfied with the abundance of your house; ♦ they shall drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life ♦ and in your light shall we see light.

O continue your loving-kindness to those who know you ♦ and your righteousness to those who are true of heart.

 

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12.1-11

Concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.  Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

 

Gospel Reading: John 2.1-11

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

Prayers of Intercession

Let us pray to our Lord, the bountiful giver of love and mercy.

The Church of Christ

Lord of wisdom and discernment, deliver our Church from the delusion that we, as Christians, are better than others; or that one denomination of Christianity, or one tradition within Anglicanism, is alone faithful in discerning your message to us. In the light of this week’s meeting of the Anglican Communion in England, may we resist the inclination to criticise one another, but instead kneel together in all humility at the communion rail, certain only in your mercy and your truth.

Lord, you are the wellspring of all our spiritual nourishment: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord of celebration, take the tapwater of our lives, all that we see as routine and humdrum, and infuse it with your splendour. Take our dullness and our limited vision, obsessed with the next step along the path, and raise our eyes instead to the magnificence of your creation. Give us a glimpse of our part in the cosmos, as we lose ourselves in wonder, love and praise.

Lord, you are the wellspring of all our spiritual nourishment: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The local community

Lord, we thank you for all who enrich our community through their abilities and spiritual gifts. Teach us to recognise these gifts in each other, and to encourage one another to offer themselves for the common good. Help us also to hear your voice, Lord, in calling each of us to the task you would have us undertake.

Lord, you are the wellspring of all our spiritual nourishment: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Those who suffer

Lord, look with your love on those who are exhausted by emotion or numbed by their suffering; those who do not know which way to turn next. We think particularly of those fleeing the scourge of war, and no longer able to live safely in their own homes; those who have sought temporary refuge in the camps, in the hope that they may be assured of shelter, food and warmth. May their trust in the humanity of  fellow human beings not prove misplaced  as we respond in your name.

Lord, you are the wellspring of all our spiritual nourishment: in your mercy, hear our prayer.

The communion of saints

Lord, as we pray for the departed, we remember with thanks all that they gave to the life of this world.

Grant them joy in the everlasting marriage feast of heaven.

Merciful Father,  accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Prayer after Communion

God of glory,
you nourish us with your Word
who is the bread of life:
fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above):Collect (2nd of Epiphany) © 1972 Church of the Province of Southern Africa: Modern Collects John 2.1-11 © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton Post Communion (2nd of Epiphany) © 1985 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada: The Book of Alternative Services Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 Gospel Acclamation (Epiph. to Eve of Presentation) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

 

Intercessions for Advent 4 – Year C – 20 December 2015 – series 2

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“Gero crucifix“, late 10th century, Cologne Cathedral via Wikipedia

The Collect

God our redeemer, who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the mother of your Son: grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour, so we may be ready to greet him when he comes again as our judge; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of  the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Micah 5.2-5a

The Lord says to his people: But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

Psalm: Luke 1.46-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour; ♦ he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed; ♦ the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him, ♦ from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm ♦ and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones ♦ and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things ♦ and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, ♦ to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors, ♦ to Abraham and his children for ever.

Second Reading: Hebrews 10.5-10

When Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt-offerings and sin-offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “See, God, I have come to do your will, O God” (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).’ When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt-offerings and sin-offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘See, I have come to do your will.’ He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Gospel Reading: Luke 1.39-45(46-55)

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me –
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants for ever,
even as he said to our fathers.”

December 22 2015, with only 7 hours 49 minutes of daylight, is the shortest day this year. However, in the Sarum Rite, the great Antiphon, O Oriens (The Dawn Breaking, the Light of the World), is today. And, as the darkest hour is before the dawn, today we consider both darkness and light.

Scan - Copy

This poem is an extract from the excellent new book by Stephen Cherry, ‘Barefoot Ways: Praying Through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany’


Prayers of Intercession

Lord, we pray to you as our hemisphere moves to its darkest days: we look for the slant, misted light of a winter dawn, the light that brings hope to human kind.

 ¶The Church of Christ

Lord, in moments of darkness for the Church, when we seem to be talking to ourselves instead of looking outwards, and are riven with dissension and difficulties, help us to remember that you have sustained the faith of your people for over two thousand years, and that, though you will illumine our path, darkness is not dark to you, for in your sight, night is as light as day.

Lord of the dark, we long for the light: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, giver of life, we wait with you to bear your hope to earth’s darkest places: where justice is destroyed, let righteousness rule. Where hope is crucified, let faith persist. Where peace is no more, let passion live on. Where truth is denied, let the struggle continue. Where laughter has dried up, let music play on. Where fear paralyses, let forgiveness break through. *

Lord of the dark, we long for the light: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The local community

Lord, open our hearts and unblock our ears to those whom we live amongst. May we see your face in each of our neighbours, and help us to overcome our reserve so that we may offer the hand of friendship in your name, especially at this Christmas tide when there are many who are alone and long not to be. May your kingdom come on earth, and may it begin with each one of us.

Lord of the dark, we long for the light: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶Those who suffer

Lord, we pray for those who going through dark times, whether these be physical, material or spiritual. We pray for those who can see no chink of light, no way out of their despair. May they be comforted by your loving presence, and find the courage to see clearly the path forwards. May your clarity and power protect them and heal them, and give them hope for the future.

Lord of the dark, we long for the light: in your mercy, hear our prayer

 

¶The communion of saints

Lord God, you came to earth that in your power and love we might ascend into heaven, bless those whom we love who have departed this life with the gift of life and love eternal.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our saviour, Jesus Christ.

Prayer after Communion

Silence is kept.

Heavenly Father,
who chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of the promised saviour:
fill us your servants with your grace,
that in all things we may embrace your holy will
and with her rejoice in your salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


* Prayer by Robin Green, quoted in Angela Ashwin ‘The Book of a Thousand Prayers’

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Luke 1.39-45(46-55) © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton Invitation to Confession (1st Sun. of Advent to Christmas Eve) © 1988 Continuum (Mowbray) (Adapted) Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2002 Blessing (1st Sun. of Advent until Christmas Eve) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

 

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