Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Monday Reflection - Graham Lunn

Graham Lunn, a first year MTh student and ordinand of the Diocese of Oxford, gave this homily at Evening Prayer on Monday, the feast of the Chair of St Peter.

Today’s Feast of the Chair of St Peter at Antioch is, as you will understand, not one normally associated with Northern Irish evangelicalism, nor indeed Wycliffe Hall, so I am relatively new to its celebration. As such, I don’t feel it my place to pontificate on the nature of the Chair in question, its plush upholstery or lack thereof, how comfortable Peter found it and so on; rather I’d like to share some thoughts on names.

Tangential, one might think. I do not. Some words from Acts:

"Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch."

It was at Antioch that our first-century brothers and sisters in the faith, our fellow-travellers on the Way, were first known as Christians. It seems that this was initially a term of derision, of scorn, of reproach. But Jesus’ followers, adhering closely to their Master’s example, delighted in turning the word’s usage upside-down, embracing it, and being glad to be associated with the Christ in such a manner, rejoicing indeed in being mocked as he was before them. As Peter himself wrote:

"If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye;… if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf."

Names; names play a hugely important part in the Scriptures. As Dr Jarick so helpfully reminded us a few Sundays ago, the message of the great Hebrew prophets could almost be summed up in just their name. Our Lord Himself was given a name that speaks of His mission. His disciple Simon was given a new name, one that pointed towards the mission he was to fulfil on the Lord’s behalf.

Names speak of purpose, they give meaning. To name something or someone also tells of a relationship, creating a difference that draws together. I met a man in the Half Moon public house yesterday evening, for example, who had named his wheely zimmerframe thing Henrietta.

More seriously, we have all been given names. In our baptism, not only did the priest speak our name, but God Himself called us by that name, and will ever call us by that name. Indeed, it is only by God’s speaking of our name that we have life, and any hope of the life to come and the vision of His Glory.

Let us therefore use this Lent as a time to create space in which we can hear the Lord speak our name. Let us hear Jesus plead for us to the Father, and by the Spirit receive the name He gives us. Let us use the devotions we are blessed to have laid on for us, let us attend to the increase of our love for the Lord in His Sacrament. And having done this, may we hear the mission given to us, and act upon it, that we may be Christians not in name only, but also in fact.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lent I - Fr Damian Feeney

This homily was preached by the Vice-Principal, Fr Damian Feeney, at All Saints, Ecclesall on the first Sunday in Lent.

‘In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house
and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.’
Mark 1:35

This passage speaks of three things: The priority of prayer, the importance of solitude and silence, and thirdly what I call the ‘prayer of expectation and hope’ which is the common inheritance of the people of God. In what follows I will try to speak to all three.

There’s a very real sense in which there’s no such thing as private prayer. All our prayer belongs, in a sense, to the whole community, and when we pray, even fleetingly, we are joining in with the praying people of God across all time and space. I love the hymn ‘The Day thou gavest, Lord, is ended’ because it expresses well that sense of never being alone when we are at prayer:

‘The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
thy wondrous doings heard on high’

Even if that were not so, we should never be alone in prayer, because we know that all our true praying is prompted, from within, by the Holy Spirit; that it is therefore in the power of the Spirit that we pray, and that we are in union with Christ Jesus as we pray to the Father. In prayer, we are never alone, but in Divine company.

Jesus himself did ‘pray alone’ in the sense that there was no other human present. More than that, he deliberately got up early, left the house, sought out a lonely place, and there he communed with the heart of his Father. It doesn’t sound very glamorous, and the very opposite of the more public moments of his ministry: but Jesus is showing us the importance, the value, of personal devotion – a personal prayer which contributes to the whole, and yet is conducted in the quiet hours, the quiet places. As so often, it is the use of time beyond the public gaze which in the end makes a difference, and bids us ask about our own use of such time.

Let’s cast our mind to the adult ministry of Jesus as told in the gospels. We are treated – especially in Mark’s gospel – to a whole series of encounters and meetings where demands are being made upon Jesus. Maybe your day feels a little bit like that, too. Jesus moves from place to place, from encounter to encounter, and it is generally among people who have needs – people in need of teaching, people in need of healing, people in need of wisdom. What is the net effect upon us when we have such encounters? They drain us of physical, spiritual and emotional energy. Do too much of it, and pretty soon the tank runs dry, and there is nothing left to give. So – Jesus models a style of living, ministering and praying which seeks a sense of balance. In order for there to be focus and energy for the public, the energetic, the times when Jesus was giving all the time, there had to be a balance of the other – the solitary, the gentle, the calm and the nourishing, if he was to fulfil his vocation as the image of the invisible God. Without it, the shape of his living would change, and he would have been unable to fulfil his earthly mission.

The second reason is that such prayer is good and rich of itself. It is part of God’s desire for us, and needs no other justification than that. Put simply, it is for such moments that we were made – closer union with God, a union made possible not in human words and petitions but in the unspoken longings of the human heart, where the Holy Spirit will speak for us, in sighs too deep for words, as the human soul reaches beyond the superficial. To break the habits of movement and noise in our lives, and to give a serious place to silence and stillness this Lent – what a worthwhile thing that would be.

In reality, a change such as this is a profound change of habit for many. Our lives are so busy, with so many demands upon our time. Many of us operate with ludicrously full diaries, as we seek to fulfil the flattering yet ultimately destructive demands that are made of us. To determine that our schedules need to permit space, and balance, is a courageous act indeed – and, like most worthwhile things, it can best be a achieved a step at a time. We cannot all become serene contemplatives overnight. Such changes of habit – and the recognition of the worth of such changes – do not come easily or immediately.

Can I recommend a book to you? It’s short, and very accessible. It is called ‘Do nothing to change your life’ and it is written by the Bishop of Reading, Stephen Cottrell. He tells the story of an unanticipated delay on a journey, which deposited him in an airport lounge, with time on his hands. He writes

‘What matters is what happened. Something was awoken within me while I was ostensibly doing nothing. I thought my flight was that evening, but actually the enforced delay took me on a much more exhilarating journey. Rooted to the spot I was able to travel back into myself: back into a part of me that had lain dormant for many years: crowded out with all the activity of work and busyness.’

So, there is, even before we consider the activity (or non-activity) of prayer, a sense of re-connection – reconnection with our authentic, playful, human selves – perhaps the child which elsewhere Christ reminds us that we should strive to become.

In addition to this, there is a sense in which, by not cluttering this precious space with words, requests or the like, we are reminding ourselves that the best thing we can ever ‘do’ is simply to ‘be’ with God – giving our questioning and our pleading a rest, just content to be with him. This in turn reminds us of true perspective in our lives – that first and foremost, we are precious children of God, created to love, worship and enjoy him. Self-assertion and self-centredness have no place here. This process is about truly enthroning God in our hearts, so that he might increase, and we might decrease. This bringing together of our own scale and size in relation to God is the beginning of the key virtue of humility.

All of these things point to the priority of such praying on our lives, as a balance to more public prayer, and as a balance to ceaseless activity. In placing such praying in solitude and silence, we are recognising that this prayer needs to be set apart, to require no distractions – mobiles and pagers off, no activity, no music or sound. As a society we do not do these things well, and become restless – that is because we have so little practice. You will know from your own experience just how difficult it is to carve out space and quiet in the midst of your lives – hence another reason for the early hour when all this too place.

Our third reason is the prayer of hope and expectation. Praying in the early morning is in so many ways a parable for our lives. If we are Christian people, then we are (or are meant to be) people of joy, hope and expectation – joy in what God in Christ has done, and continues to do, in us – hope for the future realisation of the Kingdom of God, and expectation in the mighty and glorious promises which he has made. The early morning is a time when we look forward – just as we do in Lent, to the Lord’s death and resurrection, and Advent, to the Lord’s Birth. In my last parish, we used to refer to those who looked forward in hope (hopefully all of us!) as Purple People, to reflect the fact that the colour purple in the church’s tradition ties together the seasons of Advent and Lent, as well as representing hope and expectation. Many years ago, one Advent, when a curate in Harrogate, I had just attended Morning Prayer in my home parish, after which I was reminded (I had forgotten) that I was meant to be taking the 8.00 am Service at Collingham, on the Northern edge of Leeds. Timing wise, this was not good. I leapt into my car and flew down the A61 (without once compromising the speed limit – it was entirely by miraculous intervention) and arrived at Collingham at two minutes to eight. What was remarkable, however, was not the speed of the journey. The true miracle was the colour of the sky. It was a deep, rich purple, such as artist could not conceive. And I remembered a saying which another priest once taught me – that the colour purple was the colour of hope, because it was the colour of the sky just prior to the arrival of the Sun. For us, members of the body of Jesus Christ which is the church, that translates into our Christian hope because we too are people who await the coming of the Son.

To pray in solitude and silence requires effort of will, in seeking out such places and times. It requires a grace filled discipline which seeks to place that time at God’s disposal. It requires that we are people who earnestly want to seek the Lord, in our hearts and souls. It requires perseverance, so that we do not give up when things get difficult. If we can do these things, we will be richly rewarded, as the silence and the grace permeates our being, and is spread even beyond ourselves to others. Seek these things, and you will be richly rewarded, both here and hereafter.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Next before Lent - Daniel Lloyd

Homily given by Daniel Lloyd, a final year ordinand, at Pusey House, Oxford, on Sunday 14th February 2010 - the Sixth Sunday of the Year.

It is, I think, among the greatest crimes of the homilist to be too self-referential. You do not want to know of a funny thing which happened to me on the way to the pulpit, and trust me, you wouldn’t like me when I’m being trendy. I would like, however, to put to you two questions: what day is it, and where are we? No, this is not the effect of temporary release from S. Stephen’s House. I have not emerged blinking into the sunlight like a prisoner in Fidelio, unsure of time or place. I wish, simply, to put to you these two questions because they are, I think, of colossal importance, and I hope to suggest why that is the case.

For Christ has been raised from the dead.

We can go some way towards answering the first question. It’s the fourteenth of February, 2010. It’s the 30th of Sh’vat, 5770. It’s the 30th of Safar, 1431. It’s also the first of February, if you’re on the straight, undiluted Julian calendar. And, let us not forget, it is also the beginning of Fifth Week. Ah, how the wheel of time grinds on and on, and are we not but grains of wheat caught under it, to be worn away as the years roll by? This is sequential time: it is what the Greeks knew as chronos. It is, “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow”, creeping “in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time”. It is “the violet past prime,/And sable curls all silvered o'er with white”.

But Christ has been raised from the dead.

And because of this, secular time is not the only measure there is. It is the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, or the Sunday Next Before Lent. It is the Commemoration of S. Valentine, in both the Old Rite and the High Street. And, if that were not the very apogee of romance: the Book of Common Prayer and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite both agree that it is Quinquagesima. Perhaps, in the new and living way, we ought to be in what used to be called pre-Lent, that period of middling fasting before the more exacting strictures of Lent kick in. In Austria, this week was called Butterwoche, butter-week, since it was the last opportunity to eat dairy products before Easter. It is said that the great tower of Rouen cathedral was built by the dairy farmers of Normandy as a penance for not abiding by these strictures, and hence preserving their livelihoods. Would that all such disobedience could result in beautiful architecture – and Camembert.

We can go further still in pinning down our temporal location: we are in the two thousand and tenth year of the Incarnation of our most blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Martyrology, that compendium of useful information and horrible deaths, articulates this in perhaps the most developed way. So, the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh took place not only on “the twenty-fifth day of December”, but in:

the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;
the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;
the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king;
in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;

Archbishop Ussher of Armagh trumped even this precision when he wrote that the Creation of the world took place “in that night preceding the XXIII day of October... in the year 4004 before the first of our Era, commonly called Christian.”

So, on to the secular world’s routine counting of Olympiads, of foundations and of reigns, of dates, of tax deadlines, examination entries, births, marriages, divorces, deaths, there uncoils another time: Kairos, as the Greeks called it. Kairos is “God’s good time”. It is the appointed time, the “time for the Lord to act”. Yet it is not in some way separate from, or other than, our ‘real’ time. So Paul writes that Christ is the “first-fruits” of those who have been raised from the dead. The Son of God is eternal, begotten of his Father before all worlds, as we confess in the Creed. And yet He was born in time, in a stable, to a mother; he walked and talked with His disciples; He suffered on a real cross and died a real death. And He rose again, on the first Easter morning.

And Christ has been raised from the dead.

And so we know when we are, but where are we? Why, in Pusey House, of course. And what is Pusey House? A glance at the Termcard will begin to tell you that, but a glance at one another is, perhaps, somewhat more revealing. And what, then, of we who do frequent these buildings? As Sydney Smith wrote, “Pray tell me what’s a Puseyite? ’Tis puzzling to describe/This ecclesiastic genus of a pious, hybrid tribe...” No lover of the Oxford Movement he, Smith wrote in a letter of 1842:

'I am just come from London, where I have been doing duty at St Paul’s, and preaching against the Puseyites – I. Because they lessen the aversion to the Catholic faith, and the admiration of Protestantism, which I think one of the greatest improvements the world ever made. II. They inculcate the preposterous surrender of the understanding to bishops. III. They make religion an affair of trifles, of postures, and of garments.'

On point the first, we might ask how much headway has been made in the intervening century and a half. On point the second, would that it had not only been the surrender of the understanding to bishops which we had attempted to inculcate, but also the very nature and theology of the episcopate! On the third charge, we have always had to guard against what is often a natural tendency... That is precisely why the present difficulties of our ecclesiastical polity are not extras for the train-spotters among us; they are not distractions from the round of prayer and praise, of charity and Christian hospitality. They are the foundations, they are the buttresses, the roof-bosses and the door-handles. They define our ability to go out and “compel them to come in”, because they are part of the very thing into which we are compelling them to come.

We are in a building, in an institution, the very stones of which cry out its purpose, and that is the worship of Almighty God through sacrament and study. My predecessors in this term’s series of sermons have already alluded to aspects of the House which have brought them to where they are to-day. Something which I think it is important to understand is the whole business of the liturgical sensibility of this place. The offer of grace to us in a particular place at a particular time, particularly in the sacraments, is only one aspect of the House’s ministry. Another aspect is the importance attached here to music, and I wonder whether the mass settings chosen for the term bear any relation to the character of the individual preachers: but no, I will not speculate... Still another is the reverence for those sacraments which, as I have said, the entire conception of the building is intended to present. And, of all the many fine sights, sounds and smells of the House’s witness, I think the sight of the staircases, common rooms and gardens of Ascot Priory littered with undergraduates tentatively preparing to make their first confession is one of the greatest spectacles of Christendom in this country.

Because Christ has been raised from the dead.

The when and where flow from, and points to, that truth. The first-fruits of which Paul speaks are our key to understanding this. Christ is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. That the first-fruits have been harvested implies that more is to come. And, whilst it is in this agricultural sense that Paul is deploying the term, if we look back, the books of Moses are replete with instructions on what to do with the first fruits. They are that which is to be offered to the Lord in accordance with the cultic prescriptions. Indeed, the custom of offering the first-fruits remained within the Church – as the tithe-offering of the people which allowed the priest to continue with his task, on their behalf, of prayer and sacrament, freed from the constraints of tilling his own soil. Not for nothing is the first mass of a priest known in German as a Primiz – from primitiae, first-fruits. We are – we should be – always offering to God through His Church our first-fruits; the ever-new harvest of our souls and bodies.

Why? Christ has been raised from the dead.

Where we are matters. It matters where we are, and it matters why we are there. The First Fruits have been gathered in already – one day it will be time for the rest of the harvest. We have a great responsibility for the care and cultivation of that which God offers to us. It requires attentiveness, and it requires sacrifice. And that is not simply a sacrifice of sweat and labour. For the things we need to tell the world are things the world finds hard to hear. When we take Christ out from this place, we can expect the world to spit just as much as we can hope that it will fall to its knees, for that is how it is. We can – and we should – expect to be hated, excluded and reviled. But, in the end, the best way of taking care of what we are offered is to trust in the Lord, to hear His voice and to do His will. For then, if God wills it, we may be like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream; and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green; and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.

For Christ has been raised from the dead, to Whom be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Second Sunday before Lent - Lucy Gardner

Mosaic above the High Altar, Keble College Chapel

I wonder how you would feel if you met the remarkable figure John has been listening to. Just take a moment to picture him in your mind’s eye: he has white hair and eyes of flame; he has a long robe, tied with a golden girdle; his voice is like the sound of many rushing waters; he stands and walks amidst seven golden lampstands, and holds seven stars in his right hand; his feet are like burnished bronze; his face shines bright like the sun in full strength, and a sharp two-edged sword issues from his mouth.

Extraordinary. Awesome. Arresting. I wonder what you would do if you turned to see him coming towards you.

John fell at his feet as though dead. Sensible fellow, I think. Fear would seem a natural response. But like so many before him, John is gently corrected and reassured: 'Fear not!'

Fear not! Easier said than done, I think. Are not fear and awe and quite simply stupefication precisely what such occasions demand? But our natural response only gets us so far. For this awesome and terrible figure is someone John and we should recognise, and He does not want us to fear Him.

He is one like one of us; He is like a son of man; He is, it is true, Son of God; He is the First and the Last; but He is also the One who died and came to life; the One who died for us, and lives that we might live with Him. Like one of us, He likes us - He loves us! He calls us not to be afraid; He calls us to follow Him, just as He called those fishermen in Galilee, just as He called Saint John. He comes to be the Friend and Companion we fail to be for ourselves and each other; He is the helper entirely fit for us [see Genesis 2:18 and 20]; He comes to make us friends – friends of God and friends of each other.

He is, it is true, the Holy One, the True One; He is, it is true, the Amen, the faithful and true witness; but He is also Jesus: the baby born at Bethlehem, the young man fasting and tempted in the wilderness, the friend rent with grief at Lazarus’ death, the gentle healer and inspiring teacher.

‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’ Revelation 4:8 and:

‘Worthy art thou our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power for thou didst create all things and by thy will they existed and were created!’ Revelation 4:11

Sadly, as ever, the Lectionary does not have room for the important twist in John’s tale of his vision. In the next chapter, a Lamb, standing as though it had been slain, a Lamb who is also the Lion of Judah, and the Root of David, appears between the throne and the winged creatures and takes the scroll which no one else can open. He, too, is now greeted by the elders together with the voice of thousands of thousands of angels singing new hymns:

‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!’ Revelation 5:12

‘To Him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb, be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever. Amen.’ Revelation 5:13

John’s spectacular vision confirms for us what the Gospels in their more ordinary way so clearly suggest: the One who commanded spirits and they obeyed; the One who healed and forgave sins; the One who delivered new laws which did not undo the old; the One who commanded the wind and the waters and they obeyed; did so because he is One with God; indeed, He is so One with God that He is as worthy of all praise as God is, without taking anything from God.

In today’s Gospel, the disciples are perhaps just beginning to grasp this; they still have a long way to go. When the storm whips up, they are afraid. Who wouldn’t be? Is this not again that most natural response to the presence of awesome power?

But the problem with fear is that it drives out faith. They had enough faith to follow Christ, but now fear has made them forget to trust Him. And so they wake Him with their fear: ‘We’re going to die!’ they cry at Him. They forget to ask Him to deliver them; they hardly believe that He can. He proves their fear wrong and calms the storm, but wearily asks them ‘Where is your faith?’ Their fear had driven out faith, and now their fear of the storm is exchanged for a new fear of a mightier power: ‘Who is this? that even winds and water obey His command?’ How patient Christ is as their faith struggles to understand!

And how patient He is still: ‘Follow me!’ ‘Where is your faith?’ ‘Fear not!’ His address to us, one and all, is the same. He might or might not come to you in a long white robe with a golden girdle; He might or might not come to you with flashing lightning and rushing water; He might or might not come to you as a quiet voice within; He might or might not come to you in the life and work of another. But when He does come, He does not want you to fear Him: He wants to deliver you.

And if you are trying to follow Him, then like as not your little boat (like those of the Saints before you) will meet great and stormy waters. Fear not! Do not be afraid! The One who is God will be able to deliver you out of your distress [see e.g. Psalm 65:5] even if you forget to ask Him – though it would be better if you remembered to do so [see also e.g. Psalm 107:28]!

And He is just as patient still with the Church. She has been promised deliverance, but she is still impressively capable of making spectacular mistakes, of allowing her fear to drive out her faith, instead of allowing her faith to drive out her fear. Acting on fear can lead to all sorts of foolish mistakes. In the stormy seas of change and uncertainty, in the world and in the Churches, it is as important as ever to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and on God, instead of attending to ourselves and our myriad fears.

We need to remember to trust Christ and to pray for deliverance, daily; we need to learn to see how Christ is God, and in so many ways just like God - powerful and worthy of all praise; we also need to learn to see how God is part of Christ, and in so many ways just like Christ – loving and gently working with and for us.

Christ lived and died so that all might become friends – friends of God and friends of each other. God raised Him so that no one need ever be afraid of the shadow of death again. Eternal life is promised to those who exchange their fear for faith in Him. He tells us not to fear Him, for all that this is a natural and in some sense proper response. Indeed how should we fear Him, He is Love, and He longs for us to worship Him in love, not fear.

Instead of fearing for ourselves, we should be asking, what happens when faith drives out fear? What happens when we trust God in Christ to deliver us? And what happens to our lives together when they are truly shaped by His promise and His power to save?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Purification - Christopher Johnson

First-year ordinand, Christopher Johnson, gave this homily at Evening Prayer on Monday:

Here’s a question to ponder: what’s your favourite Christmas carol? Are you a fan of dear old Mrs Alexander and her beautiful Once in Royal? Do you perhaps enjoy the stillness of Silent Night? Maybe you’re completely the opposite, and love the blast of the organ to O Come all Ye Faithful and Hark the Herald. Maybe, and I say this with some reservation, you’re a fan of Graham Kendrick’s Look to the Skies, or something even more rocky or pop-like – the likes of which, I have to say, my own iTunes has never encountered.

Well let me draw your attention to one theme in particular, found in many of these pieces of music – a theme which has caused some controversy over this past Christmas season – and that is the theme of the purity of the Christ-child and the peacefulness of the world on that night on which he was born among us. In Away in a Manger, we sing about Jesus ‘laying down His sweet head’ and we hear how he does not cry. Compare Mrs Alexander’s depiction of Jesus as a child mild, obedient and good. Cast your minds too to the little town of Bethlehem, which, with its Lord, lies still, and notice how the silent stars go by.

This said, we do not forget the purity of the Christ-child when the Twelve Days are over. Indeed, the Epiphany season is full of reminders of the purity of the babe born in Bethlehem. Matthew reminds us on the feast itself of the contrast between the Holy Family and the wicked Herod, the pure and innocent child and His righteous parents, and the devious cunning of the earthly king who tries to deceive the magi. Purity remains a theme at the Baptism of Our Lord, especially in Mark, whose description of John’s ministry is one of repentance, of turning round and beginning afresh. John contributes to this theme in his narration of the wedding at Cana, placing it all in context by his reference to the six stone jars set aside ‘for the Jewish rite of purification’. And now, we come to Luke. What does Luke contribute? Well tomorrow, of course, is the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple – but the festival has not always been known as that. Before the Council, as you may be aware, less emphasis was placed on the Presentation of Our Lord, and much more was placed on the Purification of Our Lady; the occasion when, in a great act of charity and humility, she sought to honour God by fulfilling her obligations under the Levitical law.

Looking at these passages together reminds us of many things. Together they enforce the belief in the divinity of Christ, who is marked for His unpollutedness and His incorruptibility. Together they also remind us of our frail human condition. Mary the woman willingly submitting to the law for purification. Jesus the man willingly submitting to John for baptism, thereby placing Himself in the position of us sinners.

The Church has inherited from its Greek roots the theological understanding that God and man are radically different; the former pure and above creation, the latter always tending to fall, always rejecting that to which he is called – the greater glorification of God and the submission to His Divine Will. Yet our God, unlike the God of the Greeks, is a God who transcends boundaries. John is clear: He came as man and dwelt among us. And in this incarnation He gathers into one all things earthly and heavenly.

The question for us is how we can be drawn into God. Yet we need look no further for the answer than the Bible readings we have already seen: the Baptism of Our Lord; the Wedding at Cana; the Purification of Mary. These to me speak ever so clearly of the Sacraments and the liturgy; an idea we Christians have inherited and developed from our ancestors the Jews, whose Psalms take their participants on a physical journey in a tangible reality in order to purify both body and soul.

The Christian tradition has understood and articulated this connection between liturgy and the state of the soul well in the past – but this has somewhat fallen out of fashion, especially, but not exclusively due to scepticism of the Enlightenment, the Evangelical Revival’s emphasis on the experience of Christ in personal encounter, and even the liturgical reforms of the 1960s. Yet reason, Scripture and tradition help us to answer the question of purity by calling us back – back to our liturgy, and back to our God. For in our worship and our rubric, we are committing ourselves to Almighty God; we say the words, we do the actions, we sing the songs, we receive His Word and Sacrament. And in so doing, we are, however imperfectly, however consciously or unconsciously, encountering God who came among us in Jesus Christ. And in this encounter with God, the Almighty once again crosses that boundary between earth and heaven, thereby making us clean; for by partaking in Him, we become like Him.

Let us therefore seek to encounter God as we come together to worship, to read or sing our office, and to receive the sacraments. And let us remember that

“only from some particular place, in some particular configuration, shaped by particular experience and memory, can such comprehensive possibility be glimpsed, and born. Incarnation is particular; Bethlehem’s world-birth took place then, and there. Without such reference, such rootedness, all large talk, all grand designs, are not merely abstract but destructive, hegemonic, riding roughshod over other stories, other places, other people”(N. Lash, The Beginning and the End of ‘Religion’ (Cambridge, 1996), p. 197).

May we be immersed in God whose presence is a purifying presence and whose love draws us ever closer to Him and to one another.