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.
I 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.
I would sit at the back of the chapel and try to follow what was a very unfamiliar way of prayer for me. But this prayer in particular stayed with me together with its haunting plainsong setting.
I was reminded of this as I sat at the back of another church just before Christmas. It was Great Bowden Parish Church. It was Compline and here it was again; that prayer which had lodged in my memory from many years before.
It was a Sunday evening. The day was ending; the sun was well-set and another storm was making the trees swirl and sway. A day was coming to its close. The prayer asked me to pay attention to its closing.
It is important to end a day before the next arrives.
Each day of our life is given. Whatever might have happened in it we should not leave any day behind as a thing to be discarded or unmarked. This must be especially true of the Lord’s Day. Before the ending of the day that service of Compline gave me a few moments to wonder what the day had meant to me and then turn toward the threshold of the next through the veil of sleep and night.
So what had it meant, that Sunday in Advent for me? How may I sum it up?
It was the day I rediscovered that prayer of Ambrose. A prayer which challenges the modern obsession with self-sufficiency and to calls me to end each day well. I will come back to it next weekend.
Before the ending of the day will be the title of a regular series of Sunday evening reflections during the coming year.
Picture by trinitylewisham.com