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O Rex Gentium: the Sixth Advent Antiphon – 22 December




O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.



O King of the Gentiles
and their desired One,
the Cornerstone that makes both one;
Come, and save humanity,
whom You formed from the dust of the earth.

Isaiah had prophesied:

  • For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
  • He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. (Isaiah 2:4) .

Last month we celebrated Christ the King , and this antiphon partly looks back to that aspect of Christ’s divinity.


But it also, in the spare Latin text, recalls Christ as cornerstone. I like to think of this as a metaphor for  a turbulent wrestling match, say, where the referee finally grabs each contestant under an arm and talks sense into the opponents while he has their attention. At the end of 2016, it is not hard to think of several groups (Brexiters and Remainers, Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics etc etc) who might benefit from such an intervention.



But Christ is also our internal foundation, our support in surviving the dark times and the framework from which we can make the most of the good times.



John Cotter, in his ‘Expectations for Advent’ has two relevant verses (see above), which he suggests be sung to the tune of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel


Pedantic footnote

Some translations have ‘keystone’ (for an arch) rather than ‘cornerstone’ (to form a right-angle join). You don’t need to be a Latin scholar to work out that ‘angularis’ is not a keystone, which has quite a different implication. Christ is both the keystone, and the cornerstone of our existence, of course. He rose above language and grammar, I am sure.


Anglicanism and Technology: “For things to remain the same, everything must change” – Iain Little


I fear for Anglicanism, or at least the liberal, discerning version that we practice in our rainy corner of Northern Europe. Above all I fear for its relevance. More Britons play chess each week than go to church.

Though a Scots-Irish descendent of the Manse on both sides of my family, I’ve come to love Anglicanism’s delicious variety, its broad and colourful sweep from feisty Evangelism to fusty Anglo- Catholicism. But, to the outsider, the Church, once a power in the land, is tearing itself apart, lost in ancestral quarrels and incomprehensible points of principle that defy both legal reality and easy explanation. Above all, and most tragically, its charms and relevance are lost on its most important demographic, the young. More young people can name Lady Gaga’s hairdresser than name the Archbishop of Canterbury. And fewer than one million in the UK are now what my parents would have called “proper, practising Anglicans”. Yet the Church of England still claims a heroic role for itself on our national stage despite being, as in T S Eliot’s poem “The Hippopotamus”, “wrapt in the old miasmal mist”. Relevant to a 15 year old? Hardly. If our three teenage children are anything to go by, this generation’s grasp of theology is as thin as a communion wafer and every bit as nutritious. (How shocked I was when not one younger member of our church knew who Moses and Elijah were, let alone their symbolic roles –the law and the prophets- in Our Lord’s Transfiguration).

Linda Woodhead and Andrew Brown’s critique of the Church (“That Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People”) and the latest bums-on-seats statistics make for depressing reading for a modern Anglican. Isn’t it all now hopeless? How does Anglicanism triumph in the market place for ideas and more importantly, become relevant to its younger followers? What are the new bottles into which the old wine must now be poured?

Maybe human ingenuity brings us some good news, some “gospel”. New technology means that it’s far from hopeless.
Modern social media technology has a vital role to play in the “reincarnation” (sic) of the Church. This starts with Lambeth Palace further recognizing the vital role technology has played in the past: Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press, better social mobility via canals and railways, television etc.
But with a change in technology comes a change in behaviour. Has Mankind itself changed? Maybe not, but Mankind’s behaviour has.
More than two billion people are now online. This number will soon double. The average person has 24 apps on their smart phone, but uses only 8. That’s the trouble with technology: winner takes all. So what do modern social media offer Anglicans and –the critical question- how can a religion “app” get into the top 8? The answers to both questions are the same.

First, one must offer community, a New Community. St Paul and others criss-crossed the Mediterranean and founded the communities, the networks, from which Christianity sprang. A modern social media community has significant advantages over one from the Middle East of the first century. It’s not limited by weather forecasts in Cyprus, ship technology in the Aegean or even censorship. And it can instantly cross time zones and include demographics, from young to old. Imagine being on a train journey and joining a live prayer group composed of Anglicans in Abuja, Adelaide, Atlanta and Acton. Or, before you sleep, how about plugging in to a discussion group practising the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola?

Second, one must offer “Bible”. “Scholarship” to the few, yes, but “Bible” to the many. And social media can break new ground here. It can transcend linguistic barriers via software packages that compare and interpret meaning. It can take ancient tongues and convert them into modern expressions. Software now exists to analyse unstructured data and use natural language processing to understand grammar and context. This is perfect for textual comparison and Bible study. This aspect –Bible- must be at the heart of the New Community (obiter dicta, can anyone tell me why most Anglican churches don’t even offer you a Bible when you enter the church? Totally dotty. And why not hand out a fun iPad instead of a noisy piece of paper for crinkling behind my ear? Just asking.)

Third, one must offer help. Help to find a church. Help to pray. Help to buy presents for others. Help to send Christmas cards. Help to discuss life’s Big Questions. Help to find a place to baptise a baby. Help to find a Christian “Au Pair”. Help to get married. Help to find like-minded people when you move. Help with depression. Help with catering. Help with finding schools. Help with booking pilgrimages. The list is as long as the human longing for help. Social media, in some of these areas, can be more helpful than a church.

Fourth, one must offer fun. Make someone smile and you win their heart. Lighten someone’s day and they’ll pay attention to what you have to say. Amongst UK politicians, Boris Johnson understands this better than anyone. Social media can make people smile; comedy, jokes, videos, games, fun occasions. To look at our 3 kids coming out of church, I don’t think they always had “fun” on their faces or joy in their hearts.

New technology can ally new experience to old ideas; we’re forming “Ananas” to do just that. “Ananas”, “Pineapple” in English, is one of the most frequently recurring words in all languages, nearly 30, from Hebrew and Arabic to Icelandic and Esperanto. It’s a verbal image of what we want to achieve, a cradle to grave app for all ages and all shades of belief, customized to the user, non-judgmental… other words, very Anglican. Ideas to make religion relevant are sprouting like fruit in due season. We now need partners to help us grow our pineapple. They can speak any language they like as long as they share our mission and our sense of fun. Young and old can now find both reverence and relevance.



  1. Iain Little, Chairman of Ananas (Chairman) / email address and +41 79 359 2720
  2. Bio.  “Iain Little studied Russian at Cambridge and became a banker and investment manager, living first in Japan and Asia and, for the last 16 years, Zurich.  His day job for 36 years has been looking after other peoples’ money.  His current night jobs include helping people better connect with their religion, “Ananas”, and a venture growing furniture directly from trees which he hopes will revolutionize the way people all over the world connect with their environment.  He has a wife and 3 university age children.”.




‘That Was The Church That Was’: Review by Richard Ashby


For those not old enough to remember, ‘That Was the Week That Was’  was a satirical television programme of the 1960s, starring David Frost, Millicent Martin, Bernard Levin and Willie Rushton who used their considerable talent and insight to comprehensively demolish the pretensions of the ‘establishment’ as part of the satire boom which also produced the still surviving magazine ‘Private Eye’. As such it was part of the movement which destroyed ‘deference’, one of the elements which has changed the Church of England over the past half century and more as identified by the authors of this entertaining book and which has contributed to its current existential crisis, where lack of direction, different visions of the future, ham-fisted leadership and illusory expectations combine both to alienate the Church from the people and offer most people nothing which will sustain them outside the material world in which most live these days.


Andrew Brown is a distinguished journalist, well known for his writings in both the Guardian and the Spectator, not the most likely of bedfellows. His press column in the Church Times is where I turn first when I get my weekly copy. Linda Woodhead joined the staff of a theological college and was so appalled by what she saw that, in order to understand what was happening, she retrained as a sociologist of religion and now spends a lot of time telling the Church things it doesn’t want to hear and getting scarce thanks for it.


One of the temptations when reading a book of joint authorship is to try and discern who has written what. Here it’s quite difficult. What unites the book is a rather racy style which may well emanate from the journalist in Andrew Brown. The exposure of the outrageous, hypocritical and mendacious behaviour of church people, both lay and ordained, alongside the cool statistical and sociological analysis makes for an entertaining romp while at the same time painting a picture of a Church in deep and probably terminal crisis. Indeed it’s really necessary to read this book twice, in order to separate out the two elements and in order to appreciate the depth to which the Church has sunk.


The book has much in common with ‘A Church at War’ by Stephen Bates, published in 2004, covering much of the same ground, in particular the disastrous Lambeth Conference of 1998. Conservative evangelicals, amply funded and prepared for by US money and manpower simply out gunned and out manoeuvred the more liberal and inclusive Anglicanism of previous generations when, with their African and third world allies, largely bankrolled by US dollars, they pushed through the notorious resolution Lambeth 1.10, which, along with ‘Issues’ has become the touchstone of ‘orthodoxy’ amongst too many Anglican leaders across the worldwide Communion. The farcical scene of the Revd Richard Kirker being exorcised of his homosexuality by an African Bishop only underlined the sense that this had been a coordinated and authorised lynching of gay people within the church.


It’s a pity though that the book seems to stop not much after the installation and the first year or so of Justin Welby’s episcopate. There is nothing about the Church’s reaction to civil partnerships or same sex marriage and the quadruple lock it engineered in parliament to save it from the embarrassment of having to itself prohibit same sex marriage. There is nothing about the disastrous ‘Valentine’s Day Statement’ or indeed the cack-handed reactions of Bishops to the fact of same sex marriage amongst the clergy and their indifference to the laity who wish for the Church’s blessing on their own marriages.


Surrounding this is much anecdote and informed gossip, which makes the book such a romp. (I would love to know what led to the first printing having to be pulped because of the threat of libel action. Just who is it who didn’t want their words or actions disclosed?) The hypocrisy of too many church people, the don’t ask don’t tell culture which gradually became an authorised intrusion into the private lives of honourable men and women, and the compromised and temporising behaviour of too many closeted gay men (and they are almost all men) both clerical and lay was and is a betrayal of all that Anglicanism and especially the Church of England is supposed to stand for.


Two Archbishops particularly get it in the neck. George Carey, chosen by Mrs Thatcher because she liked the alternative even less, presided and connived at Lambeth 1998. Having already decreed that there would never be another bishop like David Jenkins, he presided over an ineffectual so called ‘Decade of Evangelism’ which sent clergy scurrying around for good ideas to get more bums on seats and had no effect whatsoever. Rowan Williams, a good man, perhaps the most spiritual Archbishop the Church has produced for at least two generations and more, chose to put unity before truth, betrayed his friend and his principles. Having failed to prevent exactly the division he feared he retired with relief from the fray, leaving behind an even more fractured, unhappy and divided church; the sacrifice of his friends being to no avail in the end after all.


Alongside this is perhaps the more interesting though more difficult discussion of what went wrong. Church attendance has been declining for the past century and more and no one seems to know what to do about it. Linda Woodhead identifies four linked causes, all basically related to the changes in the society in which the Church is supposed to witness.


Firstly is the decline of deference or paternalism; the idea that there is someone above you who deserves your respect and to whom you instinctively defer. In a society where the individual is king and everyone’s views are equal to everyone else’s, authority figures lose their place. This can be seen in politics and other areas of civic life as well as in the Church. Moreover, against the moralising trend of much of the Church, western peoples have made up their own minds on the issues of the day such as divorce and remarriage, cohabitation, same sex relationships and abortion and the strictures of clerics have had little effect. Linda Woodhead seems to ascribe this decline to societal changes in the 1970s and the onset of Thatcherism and the politics of self-interest. I think it goes back much further, to at least the First World War and the bloody sacrifice of the working class soldiery by their political and military masters. Such attitudes also flourished after the trauma of World War 2 was abating; teenagers, teddy boys and then the satire movement all helped. Who can forget the scornful laughter when the judge asked the jury at the Lady Chatterley trial whether this was a book which their wives and servants should read? Or indeed Alan Bennett’s sermon in Beyond the Fringe, text ‘Now Esau was an hairy man but Jacob was a smooth man’ and the immortal line ‘Life is like a tin of sardines, you are always looking for the key’. This was rather too near the bone to be dismissed lightly.


Secondly, the Church has become increasingly cut off from wider society. The parson is no longer the ‘person’. The more the belief of the religious becomes separated from the society in which it finds itself the more such belief and practice is alien to the majority. Over the years much of the church has become more strident in what it demands in the way of belief. This is particularly evident in churches following the conservative evangelical line and amongst some traditional Anglo Catholics too. Holy Trinity Brompton with its enormously popular (though debatably effective in the longer term) Alpha franchise is an example where commitment and the direct debit might appeal to certain elements amongst the white middle classes and students, but which many find alienating precisely because of its requirement to sign up to its own creeds.


The third element which Linda identifies is ‘theology’ which she defines as ‘how you explain what you are doing, both to yourself and to others’. She doesn’t go into much detail, preferring to say that this is the least important of the three elements she identifies. But I think that this is crucial and I wonder why Linda relegates it to the also ran. My personal view is that it is impossible to be a conventional Christian in the 21st century and that agnosticism is the only honest approach. There is a dichotomy there which should be acknowledged. Scripture and the prayer book contain some lovely language and I believe that Choral Evensong is one of the highest art forms yet devised. But I have to ask what does it mean? Do we honestly believe what the words of the Creed mean? (I always think that it better to sing the Creed as the words take one naturally over the more difficult bits) What is salvation? Indeed what is ‘sin’ apart from a fairly obvious attempt at social control inherent in the Judeo/Christian heritage? In an age lacking deference how can God be the big man in the sky, usually angry and always judgemental? How on earth does anyone of any sensibility believe that the death of Christ on the cross is designed to avert God’s anger from us? ‘Cosmic child abuse’ said Steve Chalke, who instantly became a persona non grata amongst his fellow evangelicals. I almost fell out with a friend on Facebook recently who, attending Evensong for the first time in years, queried why the violent words of a certain psalm set for the day could be used. My attempts to explain history and context failed. Now my friend is the same age as me and has been through the same sort of educational process, but he honestly ‘doesn’t get it’, and indeed why should he?


Fourthly and perhaps as importantly as all the others, is the loss of women. Women have kept the church going, they always have. Away from the high politics of the men it was always the women who kept the show on the road, not only keeping the place clean, organising fetes and sales of work but also in working for the church as missionaries, church workers, teachers, in health care, with children and the vulnerable. They also prayed.


Two things happened. Firstly the welfare state, for which the church had argued and largely supported, removed many of these roles from church affiliation and were secularised. (The same happened with religious orders too of course.) Alongside this, as more and more women entered the workplace so the time and opportunity they might have had for extensive voluntary work became more limited.


Secondly was the battle over women priests and then bishops. The polarization this brought within the Church is difficult to underestimate. While polling showed that there were large majorities within the laity for the ordination of women, for years the activists in synod blocked any movement. While women came to participate fully in social and civic life; so the Church often cruelly and cynically kept them marginalised. The denigration of women was sometimes extreme. I remember being in a disreputable gay bar near London Bridge Station twenty years ago listening to leather clad gay clergy describe their ordained fellow women clergy with contempt and hatred. The result is that the church has lost the next generation of women. Those who remain have failed to bring their daughters and grand-daughters with them. The consequences are extremely serious.


Alongside this is the clericalisation of the Church and the exclusion of the laity from any sort of meaningful participation in the governance of the church by the undemocratic and unrepresentative structures of the Synod. We now have a caste of Bishops lacking vision and indeed theology, whose main aim seems to be to keep the lid on the boiling pot. They cannot act either prophetically or in any progressive way, fearful of leadership because of their fear of the strident opposition of the small minority, and who thus fail to do what they know to be right.


What is to be done? The authors describe some of the attempts made over the years, all to no avail. Carey’s ‘Decade of Evangelism’ along with what they describe as his ‘voodoo’ management changes seems only to be replicated in our current decade by the arch-managerialist Justin Welby. There is no evidence at all that importing discredited management techniques from the oil industry coupled with the development plans which every congregation and diocese is clearly under pressure to devise and implement, will have any effect whatever. The inevitable failure will only further the alienation of the faithful. Furthermore there is no evidence that plans to massively increase the number of the ordained will have anything like the effect desired either, whatever that is.


The majority of the English now have no religion. This doesn’t mean that concepts of spirituality have disappeared. The authors make the very good point that practices such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and Tai Chi are now part of everyday life. Numbers studying religion in schools have rocketed. It is organised religion to which so many are hostile and it is organised religion, as shown in our own Church of England which has lost the English people. Those who would do something about it seem to be planning to turn the Church into a sort of well managed HTB sect. In doing so they will kill it off forever.



That Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People. Andrew Brown and Linda Woodhead. Bloomsbury 2016

“The Church of England still seemed an essential part of Englishness, and even of the British state, when Mrs Thatcher was elected in 1979. The decades which followed saw a seismic shift in the foundations of the C of E, leading to the loss of more than half its members and much of its influence. In England today religion has become a toxic brand, and Anglicanism something done by other people. How did this happen? Is there any way back?”



I am indebted to Richard Ashby for this review. He was formerly Head of Libraries and Archives in Bath and North East Somerset. He now lives outside Chichester and is active in the Cathedral there. He is a lifelong member of the Church of England but has spent much of that life clinging on by his fingertips.



St Benedict on People Management: Rule 3





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:









The Reasonable Society: by Sir Robin Day


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


A Season in Hell by Taylor Carey 



‘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


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


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)


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