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January 2013 Archive:

Intercessions for the Baptism of Christ: 13 January 2013

The Collect

Eternal Father, who at the baptism of Jesus revealed him to be your Son, anointing him with the Holy Spirit: grant to us, who are born again by water and the Spirit, that we may be faithful to our calling as your adopted children; 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.

First Reading: Isaiah 43.1-7

Thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’, and to the south, ‘Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’

 Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, you powers of heaven, *ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the honour due to his name; *worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;the God of glory thunders; *the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is mighty in operation; *the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedar trees; *the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon;
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf *and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord splits the flash of lightning; the voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness; *the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare; *in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’
The Lord sits enthroned above the water flood; *the Lord sits enthroned as king for evermore.
The Lord shall give strength to his people; *the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Second Reading: Acts 8.14-17:

When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Gospel reading: Luke 3.15-17,21-22

(In the wilderness John proclaimed a baptism of repentance.) As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’


¶The Church of Christ

Lord, as we are all united in baptism, we ask you to help us break down the barriers that keep us apart. As all things are made new in your son, renew your Church, we pray, that we may gather new strength for the mission  that you have charged us with of spreading the good news.

Lord, as you have called us, make us worthy of our calling: in your mercy, hear our prayer

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

Lord, as your Holy Spirit moved upon the face of the waters, you brought light into the world.  Look now, we pray, on the hidden corners of our world and lighten the darkness of ignorance and error, that the world may be truly free. Breathe something of your wisdom and compassion into the souls of those who have authority over others, that they may exercise it wisely.

Lord, as you have called us, make us worthy of our calling: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Pour forth, O Lord, your love upon this land and its people as we try to follow the example of your Son in whom you were well-pleased. Daily renew in us the desire to serve you and our neighbour and help us to overcome all pettiness in our dealings with each other.

Lord, as you have called us, make us worthy of our calling: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, look with pity we pray on those whose lives are bruised, whose hopes are quenched.  Help them to feel the reality of your wonderful promise that you will be a constant presence to us through fire and flood, and that we shall not be overwhelmed since you are with us always, even unto the end of the world.

Lord, as you have called us, make us worthy of our calling: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The communion of saints

We commend to your love those who, washed in the water of baptism, were close to you in this life and are now one with you in the life eternal. May they rest in your love and the life of the Holy Spirit

Lord, as you have called us, make us worthy of our calling: in your mercy, hear our prayer

The illustration is whirlpool by: Val Pope via


This year, the Feast of the Baptism of Christ falls on the Second Sunday of Epiphany. The readings of the Baptism of Christ are used.


Decisions, Decisions, For The Next Cantuar

Will you help me draft a letter to (Arch)bishop Justin Welby? I would like Lay Anglicana to summarise for him the laity’s worms’-eye-view of the Church of England. I had hoped there might be a magic moment between the time he steps down from being Bishop of Durham and the time he assumes the responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury. But that is not to be:

…the Confirmation of Election, will take place on 4th February 2013 at St Paul’s Cathedral. The Dean of Canterbury will report to a commission of senior diocesan bishops chaired by the Archbishop of York that Bishop Justin has been elected according to statute, and the Archbishop of York, on behalf of his fellow bishops and the wider Church, will confer on him the ‘spiritualities’ of the diocese of Canterbury. At this point, he becomes the Archbishop of Canterbury – until then he remains Bishop of Durham. On 21st March, after paying Homage to Her Majesty in his new role, his public ministry will inaugurated in a colourful ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral…

Nevertheless, although his last few days in office as +Dunelm are no doubt busy, it seems likely that he may be reflecting on the task ahead. It is perhaps one of those moments in the movement of celestial spheres  when worms may indeed address future Archbishops of Canterbury and cats may look at kings. After the enthronement, it will be a different matter.

So what should we say to him? I offer some random suggestions, which I hope you will comment on and add to. At this stage, we needn’t worry about the elegance of our prose, I think – that can come later.

  • The vote on women bishops vividly demonstrated the un-representative nature of the laity in the House of Laity: we hope steps can be taken to rectify this.
  • The attitude towards, and treatment of, the laity by the clergy in the Church of England still reflects the 1662 preface to the ordination of clergy: ‘it is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been…Bishops, Priests and Deacons‘. No account is taken of the Enlightenment, as does the 1979 prayer book of The Episcopal Church, whose catechism relates:‘The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons…The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.’ We seek a similar ‘priesthood of all believers’ in the Church of England.
  • The Bishop of Winchester addressed Andover Deanery churchgoers in November, saying: ‘The Church of England is an episcopal church. It is not presbyterian, nor is it congregational, it is episcopalian‘. While we do not dispute the facts of this statement, we suggest that it may be in the interests of our Church to borrow from the Presbyterian, Congregational, and even Methodist models to adopt nationwide the existing system of Lay Elders, for example, in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. There are similar schemes scattered round the other dioceses, but nothing at a national level.
  • We believe that this needs to be addressed over the next decade in order to compensate for the increasing amalgamation of parishes to form mega-benefices under overall clerical supervision. Without clergy to take regular services in each parish church,  their place needs to be taken by lay people during intervening weeks  if the congregations are not simply to wither away.
  • Many of those willing and able to fill the role of ‘lay elders’ are those approaching retirement and the newly retired. It is not realistic to expect them to train and qualify as Licensed Lay Ministers – their long service as practising Christians should be regarded as sufficient (assuming their candidacy is backed by the PCC and incumbent).
  • We realise that there are very many pressing demands competing for your attention: the elevation of women to the episcopate and a greater inclusivity of LGBT in Church are but two of these. However, the greater use of the laity in ministry is, we hope, likely to prove easier to implement.

We should end by saying that Lay Anglicana has, of course, no official position in the Church. The website, which aims to draw together lay and clerical contributors alike to discuss the Anglican Communion, was set up in Autumn 2010. It currently has about 10,000 hits a month, and several regular and occasional contributors to the blog. We know of no other online organisation which represents views on the relationship between Anglican laity and the clergy  in this way.

Men in Pink: The Church of England’s Gay Bishop Decision: Taylor Carey



One of the joys of the holidays is to wake up mid-way through the Today programme rather than at its opening six bleeps; the headline summary luxuriously accompanied by maternally-provided coffee and the gradual rediscovery of whatever book I fell asleep reading the night before.  Yesterday’s news that the church had lifted the moratorium on gay bishops thus proved the most effective alarm clock I’ve experienced in quite some time.

On 20th December 2012, the House of Bishops (the Episcopal portion of Synod responsible for church teaching) heard an interim report from a group set up in 2011 to consider ‘the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality’. The panel, chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, continues to consider a wide range of issues concerning civil partnerships, in the wake of a moratorium imposed on the elevation of homosexual clerics to the episcopate after conservatives threatened schism in 2011. One of its key reference points is the pastoral statement which the House of Bishops promulgated in 2005 in response to the Civil Partnership Act. The document decreed that, whilst homosexual clergy were free to enter into civil partnerships, the church’s teaching remained that ‘sexual relationships outside marriage, whether heterosexual or between people of the same sex, are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings’.  Therefore homosexual priests, denied the institution of marriage, were expected to remain celibate. Quite how this applied to bishops was left unspoken and unclear, not least due to a perception that the issue would be fatally weakening for an already fractured church.

The 2011 freeze on gay bishops effectively promulgated the already implicit doctrinal stance that civil partnerships – or even homosexuality more generally – were incompatible with episcopacy. The December announcement effectively marks a rejection of this tacitly accepted position in confirming that

‘the requirements in the 2005 statement concerning the eligibility for ordination of those in civil partnerships whose relationships are consistent with the teaching of the Church of England apply equally in relation to the episcopate’.

In other words, the House of Bishops appear to have aligned themselves with the view that civil partnerships need not be a bar to the episcopate for homosexual clergy who wish to live a companioned life and enjoy a legally recognised relationship, albeit on the condition of continued celibacy. The standards imposed on priests across the church can now be applied to and expected of those who lead them. As the Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, stated:

‘The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate. The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline’.

Of course ‘the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics’ is, for homosexuals, far from clear. After considerable debate during the 1970s and 1980s, the House of Bishops produced Issues in Sexuality in 1991, which broadly affirmed the moral legitimacy of the homosexual orientation, whilst concomitantly opposing sexual intimacy outside of a heterosexual marital arrangement (see a useful discussion document here). But the dominance of anti-inclusive voices in the wake of the publication of Issues in Sexuality was made shockingly visible in 2003, when the Rev Dr Jeffrey John, besieged by a tirade conservative evangelical opposition, was forced to withdraw his candidacy for the bishopric of Reading. John, although living with a partner, remained faithful to the standards decreed in 1991; a fact that was well known in 2003. Yet the prospect of gay bishops quickly invoked ‘culture wars’ in the Church of England, fuelled by a language of mistrust which found an echo in the response of conservative evangelical groupings to yesterday’s announcement.

The mainstream media were quick to pick up on a narrative of injustice, inequality and exclusion. Giles Fraser’s valiant charge against the grotesque Lynette Burrows on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday PM (exchange begins at 18 minutes) made for amusing but also frustrating listening. The former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral is, in my opinion, correct to bemoan the church’s stance on homosexuality as a travesty – and to acknowledge that there is very little by way of sound theological argument against homosexual bishops – yet I can’t help but feel that we are seeking a scandal where there isn’t one. The House of Bishops hasn’t promulgated any further inequalities; it has actually lifted at least one – the exclusion of gay men from the episcopate.  I stand very much dissatisfied with the inequalities which remain – the exclusion of women, the continuing inequality between the enforced celibacy of homosexual clergy and the freedom of sexual expression of heterosexual clergy – but these have not been uniquely generated by the decision taken by the House of Bishops in December.  Indeed, yesterday’s announcement marks a cautious step in the right direction.

So where does that leave us? In the short term, pending further clarification from the House of Bishops, who are due to vote on the final report delivered by Sir Joseph Pilling later this year. But if the message emerging from yesterday marks a genuine change of direction, then prospects are looking up for a Rt Rev Dr Jeffrey John sometime soon. And, as we say a fond farewell to perhaps the most iconic and inspirational gay cleric the Anglican Communion has ever had, in the form of Gene Robinson, that might just constitute a ray of light appearing on the horizon.

The situation seems ripe for yet another reproduction of one of my favourite hymns by Donald MacLeod:

‘Courage, brother! Do not stumble,

though your path be dark as night;

there’s a star to guide the humble:

trust in God and do the right.

let the road be rough and dreary,

and its end far out of sight;

foot it bravely; strong or weary:

trust in God and do the right.’


The illustration is by Toby Melville courtesy of  Reuters, via The Guardian article by Riazat Butt on 29 July 2008

The Hippopotamus and the True Church: T S Eliot

The Hippopotamus

The broad-backed hippopotamus

Rests on his belly in the mud;

Although he seems so firm to us

He is merely flesh and blood.


Flesh and blood is weak and frail,

Susceptible to nervous shock;

While the true church can never fail

For it is based upon a rock.


The hippo’s feeble steps may err

In compassing material ends,

While the True Church need never stir

To gather in its dividends.


The ‘potamus can never reach

The mango on the mango-tree;

But fruits of pomegranate and peach

Refresh the Church from over sea.


At mating time the hippo’s voice

Betrays inflexions hoarse and odd,

But every week we hear rejoice

The Church, at being one with God.


The hippopotamus’s day

Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;

God works in a mysterious way –

The church can sleep and feed at once


I saw the ‘potamus take wing

Ascending from the damp savannas,

And quiring angels round him sing

The praise of God, in loud hosannas.


Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean

And him shall heavenly arms enfold,

Among the saints he shall be seen

Performing on a harp of gold.


He shall be washed as white as snow,

By all martyr’d virgins kist,

While the True Church remains below

Wrapt in old miasmal mist.


Thomas Stearns Eliot


I am indebted to Chris Fewings for sending me off to read this poem. It seemed as good a meditation as any on our Church on which to ponder at Epiphany.

 “The Hippopotamus” is reprinted from Poems. T.S. Eliot. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920.

The illustration is via Wikimedia by H. Barrison

Reconsidering Thomas Becket: Wendy Dackson

Reconsidering Thomas Becket

We have just passed the church’s annual commemoration of Archbishop Thomas Becket, murdered (and often said to be ‘martyred’) in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170. Many hold Becket as a brave and holy man who died for his principles in the course of standing up to a tyrannical monarch in the form of Henry II. There are some indisputable facts here—Henry was at best a bit of a head-case, and Thomas died as a result of his conflict with the king. Henry made dubious claims concerning his authority over the English church, invoking ‘ancestral customs’ to support his right to make key ecclesiastical appointments (without which power we might never have heard of Becket), and to benefit materially from the productivity of lands owned by the church. And whether Thomas had been an excellent, or execrable, archbishop, it is certainly tragic that his brains got knocked out on the floor of his cathedral. It is doubtful whether Henry II ever truly uttered the words, ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’ Although it is nearly certain that four of his knights, in an attempt to curry royal favour, proceeded to Canterbury with no good intentions towards Becket, it was probably not a direct royal order that resulted in one of history’s most famous ecclesiastical murders.

John Guy, in his new biography, Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, brings much of the Becket saga to life, and does much to balance the hagiography that surrounds the existing literature concerning the Archbishop. For that much, I am thankful. However, it does not erase my main concern from a social/public theology standpoint: the commemoration and veneration of Thomas Becket is not an unqualified good for the church today.

Had Thomas Becket not been a high-profile murder victim, we would not give him a second thought today. He would be one of many undistinguished ecclesiastical figures. Guy’s biography points out that Becket had almost no theological training prior to a sort of crash course of directed self-study undertaken after his appointment to Canterbury, nor was he more than conventionally pious for his time prior to his elevation. He felt no distinct calling to a holy life, and Guy (along with earlier analysts of the ‘Becket event’, David Knowles and William Urry) that Becket’s eventual acceptance of the archiepiscopate was more a career move than a vocation (he was reluctantly in deacon’s orders prior to being made Archbishop, and even that was more a job requirement than a sacred longing). He left us no substantial work of theology, as had his predecessor Anselm, no devotional exercises or liturgical contributions. While he did nothing to merit a death as messy as the one he encountered, from a theological standpoint, Becket did nothing much that was noteworthy.
So, what is left of Becket’s life that is worthy of theological reflection? Certainly, it is his resistance of a secular ruler in favour of the rights and privileges of the church that lies at the heart of our admiration. It is undeniable that it took a great deal of courage (even, as Guy says, to the point where it ‘smacks of arrogance’) for Thomas to tell Henry that he did not have to answer to the king for actions carried out in the performance of his archiepiscopal functions. That Becket showed courage in travelling out of Britain to appeal to the Pope concerning his disputes with the king is also beyond dispute. One gives to Caesar what rightly belongs to Caesar, and to God (through his earthly Vicar) what belongs to God.

The big question for social or public theology today, and what gives me almost all of my unease concerning the Becket phenomenon, is where the dividing line between the spiritual and the secular lies. In 12th century England, for commoners not in holy orders, it was fairly clear—just about all of life was in the secular sphere (even if their feudal lord was an abbot or bishop, most of their business was of a secular nature). For royalty and church dignitaries, the lines were significantly fuzzy. Henry could claim, because of his ‘ancestral customs’ concerning his authority over the church, that most if not all church activity was subject to secular law. Thomas claimed the opposite—if one were a priest, monk, bishop or abbot, all of one’s activities were subject to canon law. And this became, if not the major, the most important issue for deciding whether continued commemoration of the Becket phenomenon is good for the church today.

As Guy points out, the crux was how to deal with criminous clerks (priests, deacons, and others in minor orders, such as subdeacons and acolytes) who were convicted of a serious crime against the king’s peace, such as murder, robbery, larceny, or rape, for which, if the offender were a layman and not a clerk, the punishment would be death or mutilation. According to Henry, the royal judges had complained that more than a hundred homicides by those who claimed exemption from trial in the secular courts had gone unpunished on account of their holy orders. Church courts did not inflict capital or corporal punishments “lest in man the image of God should be deformed,” preferring instead to impose unfrocking, imprisonment in a bishop’s prison, confinement to a monastery, penances, or pilgrimages, either alone or in various combinations.

Guy points out that such exemption (known as ‘benefit of clergy’) was a relative novelty. It was not stricken from English law until 1827, and I believe that this is at least in part a residual effect of honouring Becket’s having died for his ‘principles’. Guy also says that church courts were not always a ‘soft option’, but the only case which he cites in which a harsher penalty was imposed than might have been given in a secular court was one in which Henry took a special interest, and where Becket presided. Furthermore, it was often the case that a cleric’s ‘first offense’ was completely unpunished in the ecclesiastical courts. Thus, it is hardly convincing that the church, left to its own devices, was a particularly strict disciplinarian when it came to clerical misconduct.

The question this raises from a public theology standpoint is whether this is (in the words of retired Canon Theologian of Manchester, John Atherton) ‘for the good of the city’, as opposed to merely protecting the status (financial and social) of the institutional church. By contemporary standards, it is evident that this ‘principle’ for which Thomas was willing to defy the king is unacceptable. We can hardly ignore the scandals in the Roman Catholic Church by which priests accused of serious sexual misconduct have been moved from parish to parish—and even to different dioceses—because they were not to be tried under secular law, but were only subjected to ecclesiastical discipline. Not only has this harmed many innocent individuals (and Guy even tells of instances when Becket himself covered up the precise crimes for which we now criticize the church for disciplining ‘in house’, so to speak), but the clergy misconduct and the lack of transparency surrounding it have harmed the credibility of the church more generally.

Becket, of course, had no control over how the story of his life would be handled after his murder, how he would be honoured, and how the principles on which he staked his survival would play out. We do, and to commemorate Becket without questioning the less-savoury consequences is not in keeping with good contemporary public theology. After what I have said, I am sure that people wonder whether I have anything good to say about the Becket phenomenon in terms of public theology. The answer is yes, and it may seem surprising on two counts—first, that I say it at all. But secondly, the actual moment, and principal actor, that I find redemptive may raise an eyebrow or two. The public penance of Henry II for his role in the affair is perhaps the most positive social outcome in the saga. Guy says that Henry could not beat the cult-like following Becket’s memory was gaining, so he had no political choice but to join it. That may be, as Eliot said in ‘Murder in the Cathedral’, yet one more instance of doing ‘the right thing for the wrong reason.’ This instance used the church to give a public forum to call the secular ruler to account—a liturgical ritual in which the king could be seen by the people to have been in the wrong (at least in his actions and their consequences, if not fully in the underlying motivations). This is far less messy than open revolution, as liturgy and ritual are, in one sense, a way of acting out some of our most intense (and sometimes, most intensely dark) human desires and impulses, but in a limited, controlled setting. Some eight and a bit centuries later, the recently retired Archbishop Rowan Williams claimed this role for the church, most notably in the aftermath London 2011 riots. The actions were not excused, but they were put into a context where they could be publicly and safely dealt with. This is contemporary public theology at its best.

I do not think that Thomas Becket was wrong to stand up for his principles—but I do think we have much to answer for if we only admire him for that, and do not examine the principles for which he was willing to die, and make some contemporary judgment as to whether this is something we should continue to hold dear. All theological advances stem from asking two questions. The first is ‘What is enduring about the text or issue under discussion?’ The second is its shadow, ‘What is now problematic about this?’ The Becket phenomenon is a particularly dramatic case of having failed to ask this latter question.

The illustration is a frieze depicting the murder of Thomas Becket in Antwerpener Schnitzaltar in der Kirche St. Marien zu Waase (St Mary’s Church Antwerp) photographed in August 2009 by Karl-Heinz Meurer (–Charlie1965nrw) via Wikimedia

Intercessions for Epiphany 2013

First, a statement from Church House (verbatim, I am not making this up):

In 2013, the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January) falls on a Sunday and this means it is also the First Sunday of the Epiphany. This year, the Feast of the Baptism of Christ falls on the Second Sunday of Epiphany. The readings of the Baptism of Christ are used.
Therefore, during this liturgical year (Year C), on the Third Sunday of Epiphany (20 January), the readings of the Second Sunday of Epiphany are used. Similarly on the Fourth Sunday of the Epiphany (27 January), the readings of the Third Sunday of Epiphany are used. The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany are not used this year. On Sunday 3 February, either the readings for Candlemas (if Candlemas is not celebrated on Saturday 2 February) or the readings for the Second Sunday before Lent are used.
In 2005, the General Synod made some amendments to the function of the Common Worship Lectionary for Sundays, Principal Feasts and Festivals and these were laid out in GS1520A (detailed document can be downloaded here). These amendments affect the provision for the Sundays of Epiphany when the Feast of the Epiphany falls on a Sunday, such as in 2013.
The reasons for these changes relate largely to the importance of the reading of 1 Corinthians 12 which is appropriate to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 Jan). It also ensures that the John 2 is read during the Epiphany season.
The Collects do not necessarily relate to the Lectionary provision. This means that in 2013, the Collects for Epiphany, the Baptism of Christ, the Third and Fourth Sunday of Epiphany are read. The Collect for the Second Sunday of Epiphany falls away this year.

Got that?

So far as I can understand it, the readings for Epiphany itself, which are the same every year and do not follow the normal A, B,C cycle, are unaffected. Oh goodness, I’m doing it myself now. I’m planning to follow Visual Liturgy, cross-checked against the rota for our parish church, and hope that will guide us through.

The Collect

O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may at last behold your glory face to face; 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.


First Reading: Isaiah 60.1-6

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,  and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.”


Psalm 72.(1-9)10-15

Give the king your judgements, O God, *and your righteousness to the son of a king.
Then shall he judge your people righteously *and your poor with justice.
May the mountains bring forth peace, *and the little hills righteousness for the people.
May he defend the poor among the people, *deliver the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.
May he live as long as the sun and moon endure, *from one generation to another.
May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, *like the showers that water the earth.
In his time shall righteousness flourish, *and abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
May his dominion extend from sea to sea *and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May his foes kneel before him *and his enemies lick the dust.
The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute; *the kings of Sheba and Seba shall bring gifts.
All kings shall fall down before him; *all nations shall do him service.
For he shall deliver the poor that cry out, *the needy and those who have no helper.
He shall have pity on the weak and poor; *he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, *and dear shall their blood be in his sight.
Long may he live; unto him may be given gold from Sheba; *may prayer be made for him continually and may they bless him all the day long.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3.1-12

I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles –

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.


Gospel reading: Matthew 2.1-12

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.


Let us pray in the glorious light of Christ, who leads his people in all their worship and adoration.


¶The Church of Christ

Lord, who sent your son to guide us your people, and who sent a star to guide the Wise Men to his worship, send us now, we pray, your Holy Spirit to guide our Church as we begin a new era in our life together. Inspire our next Archbishop of Canterbury as he prepares to take on the mantle of Cantuar and lead the Anglican Communion.

Lighten our darkness and guide us to you, O Lord; in your mercy hear our prayer.

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

Lord, we face the unknown at a difficult and painful time for the world. Let the star of your justice always shine in our hearts, that we may give as our treasure all that we are to your service. Trusting in your word as a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path, we go out into the darkness. With faith that this will be better than a light, and safer than a known way, we put our hands into yours.

Lighten our darkness and guide us to you, O Lord; in your mercy hear our prayer.

¶The local community

We give thanks, O Lord, that you are present in our homes and in our lives; we seek your continuous guidance. We pray for our neighbours, especially those in trouble or need, and for those whom we love. We ask your blessing on those who have guided and enriched our own lives. Help us to offer light to those in need, and graciously accept when light is offered to us in turn.

Lighten our darkness and guide us to you, O Lord; in your mercy hear our prayer.

¶Those who suffer

Lord, we pray for all those who have lost their way and been side-tracked, all who are living below their potential or their abilities, all whose lives are unfulfilled, all those who are restricted by oppression or illness; we remember the chronically ill, those in constant pain, the depressed and the despairing.

Lighten our darkness and guide us to you, O Lord; in your mercy hear our prayer.

¶The communion of saints

We pray for all who are coming to the end of their journey here on earth and pray that they may come into your presence and kingdom. We pray for all those who have come before your face and now rejoice in the fullness of life eternal.

Lighten our darkness and guide us to you, O Lord; in your mercy hear our prayer.

The illustration is ‘Sunbeams Bursting Through Dark Clouds’ by: Andy Lindley via Seedresources.

The intercessions today are partly my own, but interwoven with prayers and phrases from David Adam (Glimpses of Glory), Angela Ashwin (The Book of a Thousand Prayers) and Raymond Chapman (Leading Intercessions), to all of whom I pay tribute and offer thanks.

Naming Jesus: Chris Fewings



Dear name! The rock on which I build
My shield and hiding place,
My never failing treasury filled
With boundless store of grace!

John Newton

Today is the Naming of Jesus in the church’s calendar. Many of our hymns specificially celebrate this name, the ‘name above every name’. Our own names and nicknames are an important part of who we are and how we relate to other people. A change of name can be highly significant. Jesus (Yeshua in Aramaic, his own language) is the same name as Joshua, God saves (Yehoshua in Hebrew). In our liturgy we rarely address Jesus – we pray to his Abba in his spirit, with his breath – but private devotions are different.

In the Christian East, the habit of invoking the name of Jesus merged with St Paul’s injunction to ‘pray without ceasing’. This is sometimes traced back to the cry of blind Bartimaeus in the gospel story: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. The cry for help, for healing, is an essential part of this tradition (‘mercy’ is said to be a poor translation of the Greek eleison – perhaps ‘grace’ comes nearer): it undermines our illusion of self-sufficiency and reminds we are contingent beings.

Byzantine monks in the middle ages developed a meditation technique around this prayer, which they aspired to have always on their lips or in their hearts when they were not speaking or praying in some other way. In the nineteenth century, the book The Way of the Pilgrim popularised the prayer for Russian lay people. The revival of interest in contemplative prayer in the last fifty years in western Europe (and the Orthodox diaspora) has brought it to our attention too.

The prayer of the name is not unique to Christianity. Repeating a simple sentence or mantra in meditation, usually including a divine name, is found in Hinduism, Sufism, and Pure Land Buddhism for example. The closing lines of John Newton’s hymn

And may the music of that name
Refresh my soul in death

remind me of a Hindu practice of urging the dying to die with the God’s name on their lips, as Gandhi-ji did.

The traditional Orthodox form of the prayer is Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. I used this in daily meditation for a few years in my twenties, although for me it gradually became Lord Jesus Christ, give us your grace (which also fitted the rhythm of my walking). I would sit on a prayer stool in front of a candle and an ikon – well, a photo of a mosaic in the dome of Cefalu Cathedral in an art book borrowed from my parents. With varying degrees of distraction, I would repeat the prayer mentally, vocally, or just moving my lips.

I continued to think of new variants of the words, which has its down side as the traditional form is given – it’s just there – and there’s no need to think about whether it makes perfect sense. Occasionally I use the form Yeshua bar Miriam, breathe in us. Although it may seem a highly privatised practice, I’ve witnessed the CWSG Anglican contemplative community saying the prayer together daily, using a traditional prayer rope.

In late 1987, my safe little world shook up by falling in love and a week-long Ignatian retreat, I tried something new: lying on my back, hand on heart or rather aorta, the word Jesus ticking with my pulse. The following year I moved abroad, no longer lived alone, and stopped meditating, but the prayer never quite left me. Sometimes at night I think the two syllables Je-sus with my rising and falling breath (it goes well with the Eastern practice of paying attention to the air passing over your nostrils). Often I listen to the radio at the same time, and if I fall asleep, so much the better.

These are very personal details and in a way I’d rather keep them to myself and write in more general terms, but I mention them in case something in my own story gives someone a way in to a useful practice of their own.

One thing that fascinated me in my twenties was that I seemed to have finally found a way to ‘let Jesus into my heart’. This phrase had been central to my evangelical childhood, and I thought I’d done just that at the age of eight, using the sort of prayer of invitation I’d been taught. It was my own initiative, but If I hadn’t done it I wouldn’t have quite belonged in a very Evangelical family. I was puzzled that nothing much changed. However, I grew used to thinking of myself as a born-again Christian, which was reinforced by more emotional Charismatic gatherings I took part in early adolescence.

At the age of 21, after years of searching, I felt a sense of liberation from the need to find the ‘true’ set of Christian beliefs among conflicting claims. A couple of years later I started using the Jesus Prayer regularly. It breathed new life in all the Jesus-talk and Jesus-songs and Jesus-think of my childhood. While still using it daily, I wrote this poem:

O King of the world!
This world, this mottle
Of sordid little sins and
Unexpected acts of human kindness
Is this your kingdom?
Do the deadends also belong to you?

Come on, King!
Get off your throne
And make us see.
Come on, Jesus of Nazareth!
Get out of your holy book
And show us who you really are.
Come on, Kingdom!


The main illustration is Christus Pantocrator in the apsis of the cathedral of Cefalù. Edited from Image:Cefalu Christus Pantokrator.jpg. This was by  by Andreas Wahra in 2006, edited by Entheta. Via Wikimedia. The second illustration is a small eastern orthodox prayer rope (50 knots) dated February 2008 by Nesusvet, also via Wikimedia


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