Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Monday Reflection - Simon Sayer

Simon Sayer, a final year ordinand from the Diocese of Manchester, gave this short homily at Evening Prayer on Monday.

Is it just my imagination, or does each morning come round sooner in 9th week than 0th week?

It may well feel to us this evening that the ‘forty days of yearly round’ has already reached its end, and that our souls are more exhausted than healed, to say nothing of our elusive search for ‘joy magnifical’. Maybe we echo the words of the psalmist: some of the days of this Hilary Term were ‘lost labour’ rather than a ‘blessing from the Lord’?

We must, though, take care about our understanding of the language of the psalm. In another translation, ‘vanity’ appears in each of the first three verses, alerting us to what one commentator calls a ‘swearword’ – so strong is its warning. If we attempt to build the house (is that perhaps vocation?) without the Lord, our labour is vain. Vain, too, is the waking of the watchman in the absence of the Lord. Getting up early, going to bed late – more vanity, made worse by our eating the bread of toil – ‘anxious’ toil in another translation. I don’t know about you, but I’m quite an expert at anxious toil, I’m afraid – especially in 9th week.

Can we, then, just stay in bed? After all, the Lord blesses his beloved in their beds, whilst they sleep. Well, no – sorry, I don’t think so. It’s about the attitude we take to our daily round. If the foundation for our life and its work and formation is the Lord, we can relax while we work, or at least approach it with love rather than anxiety. This psalm of ascent reminds us to raise our eyes to a better perspective. It is the Lord who is, as our Office hymn reminds us, ‘our succour and our stay’.

We do not earn God’s succour and stay, or indeed ‘our’ vocations: these are his gifts, blessing us even as we sleep. It is vanity to think that we can achieve these by long days and short nights, by the amount of anxiety we generate during the course of the day. My brothers and sisters, we will not become faithful deacons and priests ‘except the Lord build the house’.

In this final week of Hilary term, may we ask the Lord ‘to forgive the course that we have run’, and avoid at all costs what Hilary of Poitiers describes as “...a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him”. Relax, put all into God’s hands...and let us pray.

you teach us to trust in your goodness for all our needs.
Help us so to rest in you that you can work through us.
Grant us humility and openness towards you,
as we respond to your call to us.
May we know the strength of belonging
to the great family of those who love you.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
[prayer adapted from John Eaton]