Monday, November 1, 2010

Monday Reflection - Chris Johnson

This homily was given by Chris Johnson, a second year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 1st November 2010 (All Saints).


I don’t know about you, but at this stage in term, I begin to feel rather tired. The bell that summons us daily to prayer has been summoning us for five weeks now, and I have about got to that stage where my body clock automatically wakes me up at 6:30 in the morning, whether it is a Monday, Wednesday, Friday or – much to my annoyance – a Saturday. In fact, the problem was exaggerated just yesterday morning when the good Lord gave us one extra hour in bed... and I woke up at 5:30 GMT. Tiredness, we are told, kills. The Highways Agency advises us to ‘take a break’ – but that’s not advice the seminarian, priest or tutor can easily accept, as the daily round of obligations in chapel, refectory and classroom each make their separate demand on our time and energy.

Tiredness and exhaustion are indicative of our humanity, and our fallen humanity at that. How often do we complain about this or our other failures or frailties? When we do, it should be comforting to know that the saints were made of the same mould as us. But, being sensible of their weaknesses, they were careful to ‘retrench all incentives of their passions, to shun all occasions of sin, to ground themselves in the most profound humility, and to strengthen themselves by the devout use of the sacraments, [and] prayer... [Yet] It was by the strength they received from above, not by their own, that they triumphed’.

The lives of the saints instruct all Christian people to rely on Jesus. In doing this, we must die to our own passions and deny our own will, by uprooting ‘pride, vanity, revenge and other irregular passions, and planting in the heart the most perfect spirit of humility, meekness, patience, and charity’. Such a pattern was exemplified by St. Joseph in our Gospel reading tonight: Joseph, being a righteous man, planned to dismiss Mary quietly. ‘But just when he had resolved to do this’, an angel appeared to him and commanded him otherwise. In humble submission to the will of God, which required the displacing of his own desires, Joseph obeyed the angel’s command.

Our reading from Isaiah, on the other hand, shows us that this is not always the response of humanity to God’s call. Isaiah instead paints a picture of a people to whom the Lord had spoken, but who neither knew His voice nor understood it. Yet even there, all was not lost. As the prophet said, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword’.

The virtues in which the renunciation of our selves consists – humility, meekness etc. – are styled by Christ as Beatitudes, because they not only lead to happiness, but also bring with them a present joy. The reward of the saints in the kingdom also serves to remind us that everything which is suffered here on earth is made light there. The holy ones of God show us that path from one to the other, from present trials to future glory, and this glory strongly animates our hope and excites our fervour.

In the rite for Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer, the priest reads aloud the Comfortable Words, opening with that promise of the Matthean Christ: ‘Come unto me, all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you’. These Words fit snugly between the Absolution and the Sursum Corda – and their position reminds us that following our own purging, we can look forward to meeting God Himself at that time when sacraments shall cease. Thus when we are tired and heavy laden, fallen in our humanity and weak in our service, Christ comes to us and promises us rest. He transforms the utter poverty of our nature, with all its natural limitations, by the great riches of His grace. The saints show us that that vision of God is attainable – for they now enjoy it.

At the opening of his many-versed hymn, William Walsham How wrote: ‘For all the saints, who from their labour rest; Who Thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia! Alleluia!’ The Christian soul thus finds its rest in God, and in particular in the true worship of Him. And right now, through the grace of His sacraments, we can join with saints and angels around the throne worshipping the Lamb, though our vision is still ‘through a glass darkly’. When we are tired, burdened and heavy laden, we would therefore do well to remember another verse of For All the Saints:

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

May our toil through this life not distract us from knowing that our hope is in God, to whom is due all honour and praise, now and in all eternity; and may His holy ones pray for us as they share in that vision for which we long.
Let us pray.

Almighty God,
Thou hast made us for Thyself
and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee:

pour Thy love into our hearts and draw us to Thyself,
and so bring us at the last to Thy heavenly city
where we shall see Thee face to face;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, now and for ever.