Before the ending of the Day 5

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It surprises me how often I find Christians uncomfortable with the thought of dying. You’d think they did not know Jesus said: take up your cross daily and follow me.

The cross was a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of the Roman Empire at the time of Jesus. It was used to end its victims’ lives in humiliation, exposure and vulnerability. A person’s life ended in a pain-filled death.

Faith in Christ invites us to prepare to die. Continue reading

Before the ending of the day 4

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What tradition will help me find my way to my true self, my vocation and my community? Henri Nouwen

I was brought  up in the baptist tradition whose defining theological foundation explores what it means to build community in the light of baptism into Christ. This has meant that most of my life I have been part of Baptist churches. However, I have come to realise that it is not enough to say: this is the church for me or I go to such and such a church.

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Before the ending of the day from the beginning 3

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Earlier this Sunday I was drawn into the Psalmist’s delight in the cosmos:

‘The heavens are telling the glory of God;

And the very ground beneath our feet proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech,

And night to night declares knowledge.

 

We live in a creation of revelation.

God has no desire to be silent; but he cannot do without his mediators.

Each day provides material enough for a night-time of meditation.

It is all Epiphany.

Before the ending of the day:

Have I the generosity of spirit

to see what I have seen,

to hear what I have heard

and delight in the glory offered in the gifts of the living world?

Before the ending of the day 2

Before the ending of the day

Creator of the world, we pray

That you, with steadfast love, would keep

Your watch around us while we sleep.

 

From evil dreams defend our sight,

From fears and terrors of the night;

Tread underfoot our deadly foe

That we no sinful thought may know.

 

O Father, that we ask be done

Through Jesus Christ your only Son;

And Holy Spirit, by whose breath

Our souls are raised to life from death.

Bishop Ambrose of Milan

 

On first reading this might appear to be a very dated prayer. God is compared to a careful parent putting an anxious child to bed. The ‘deadly foe’ is the serpent Satan from Genesis who disturbed the equilibrium of Eden.

Yet who has not known the ‘terrors’ of the night? Is it so naive or primitive to reach out for the protection of God?

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Before the ending of the day 1

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Before the ending of the day

Creator of the world, we pray

That you, with steadfast love, would keep

Your watch around us while we sleep.

From evil dreams defend our sight,

From fears and terrors of the night;

Tread underfoot our deadly foe

That we no sinful thougt may know.

O Father, that we ask be done

Through Jesus Christ your only Son;

And Holy Spirit, by whose breath

Our souls are raised to life from death.

This is a prayer composed by Ambrose Bishop of Milan in 4th century. He was one of the leading Christians of his time. It reveals a deep trust in the protection of God the Creator not only during the darkness of night but also facing times of doubt and depression as well as our own mortality. It was translated by John Mason Neale who was an historian of the Eastern Church and renowned hymn –writer in the 1800s.

Untitled1I first heard it in plainsong sung by the monks at Crawley Down Monastery. I was in the early years of my ministry and there on sabbatical.

Each evening we would gather for Night Prayer (Compline). The day had been spent in cooking, farming, printing, building and prayer. It was the final time of prayer.

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What happened next? Mary, the mother of Jesus


This meditation appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I follow it with some of my thoughts as I tried to compose it and some suggestions for reflection and prayer. We pick up the story of Mary, mother of Jesus sometime after his ascension as the disciples gather in the Upper Room. (Acts 1)

 

Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Mary quietly left the room and made her way to the wall of the city where she could see Olivet. She sat down carefully and lent against one of the great stones left by the builders. The pinnacle of the temple soared above her and she watched the birds launching themselves into the wind as it swirled up from the valley below. She could smell the desert – heavy with heat.

So she would see him no more. He spoke of a return but she did not think it would be tomorrow. Where had the years gone?

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What happened next? The shepherds

Untitled2I offer this brief series for anyone who would like to have some material for their prayer or reflection on the meaning of Jesus Christ over the Christmas season. This meditation on the story of the shepherds appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I have added some questions and back-up material.

The Shepherds

Let us imagine that two shepherds who had gone to Bethlehem to see the child in the manger and wake up the next morning. We listen to their conversation …

I told you to let me sleep. All that running across the hills isn’t good for me at my age.

Well I don’t know how you could sleep after what we had seen. Angels. Mysterious voices. A baby in a manger. It was wonderful.

I know, pass the water I’m as dry as dry. So what? What does it all mean? It’s a miracle to me that the sheep are still here. They could have been half way to Jerusalem with all that noise and fuss. I expect we’ll have some still-borns later this season.

We’ll deal with that when it happens. You’re right though, what now?

We could ask the Rabbi.

Him! He would take so long to work it out the Messiah would be with us. In any case that’s what it all meant. The time of waiting is over; the exile is finishing. The Land is going to be ours again. No more working for others. No more stewards lining their pockets whilst the bosses are all down at the coast with the Romans. People didn’t need convincing last night. Once we told them what the angel said the party started.

Yes, but that was last night. You know what people are like. Last night’s party is today’s hangover. Can we really believe it all? After all it’s only a baby.

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What happened next? Elizabeth

Untitled1I am writing this brief series for anyone who would like to have some material for their prayer or reflection on the meaning of Christ over the Christmas season. This meditation on Elizabeth appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I have added some questions and back-up material.

The case of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist?

She had spread the washing on the rocks to dry. The wind was getting stronger. She had placed stones from the stream on the clothes to hold them down. The other women still kept her at a distance. It was time for a brief rest. Shading her eyes she looked up across the valley to see if he was in sight.

People used to tell her he was God’s blessing. She would smile but kept her thoughts to herself. Zechariah insisted they call him, John. She did not argue … much; but she would have chosen Aaron, an ancestor. John was always wandering to edge of the wilderness. He spent more time there than their house. It was as if it were his home. He had his ancestor’s blood in him.

She worried. She couldn’t relax until she heard him calling her name from the hillside.

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What happened next? Herod the Great

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This meditation appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I am imagining what a Teacher of the Law in Jerusalem might have thought about Herod sometime after the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem. I follow it with suggestions for reflection and prayer.

 

Herod the Great

I turned my back on the Temple and made my way through the crowded streets. It would soon be the Sabbath and I wanted to be in my home long before it started. I had to struggle because there were still visitors gawping up at the Temple walls. I hated the look on their faces. Didn’t they know the cost in human life this building had exacted just because of one man’s desire?

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The Gatherer: Was there something I was supposed to do?

Untitled1A time comes when life is no longer about what we will achieve but what have done with our achievements.

Harold Kushner wrote a series of reflections on the experience of the Gatherer. He compares them to a point in our life when we move from asking: ‘what is the meaning of my life’ to ‘what will my life have meant’?

We might call this mid-life or the Second Journey but it comes with a haunting question:

Was there something else I was meant to do with my life whilst I was living it?

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