29th Feb 2012
He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
The graphic account of the exorcism of what Mark calls ‘unclean spirits’ must give us cause for concern if not actually fill us with alarm. It is impossible to feel ambivalent about an exorcism. Perhaps we have images of church gatherings that take place in super bowls where graphic examples of healing lie at the heart of a frenzied worship. Individuals are ‘slain by the spirit’ and fall back as if in a state of faint or collapse as the healing minister banishes the evil spirit. Everyone is charged with a state of ecstasy. There lies in much of this the strong power of auto suggestion and the hypnotising or the lulling of the audience into a trance. For many, however, these are bold acts of witness, manifest acts, which encourage the faithful to a passionate commitment to Christian faith in the calling forth of the name of Jesus. There are those of us who feel, however, that these acts are dangerously manipulative. The Church holds on to the sense that the power of God to heal should be channelled. That is because it recognises the reality which is human pain. Christian healing should express something of God’s presence with an equal sense of the divine otherness. Above all, great care should be taken in the care of individuals. Great care should be taken in the administration of spiritual healing. The Christian healer should not presume to take the place of an experienced physician or more importantly of God himself. Many have done so with dire consequences.
The evidence for spiritual and physical healing in the Gospels is abundant. In St Mark’s Gospel such healings exist as ‘signs and wonders’ in which lies the manifestation of the presence of Christ. The presence of Christ is, as the being of God, a healing presence in and of itself. To meet and to receive Christ, as we do in this Eucharist, brings with it the offer of our own healing. To take in and eat and drink the bread and wine in the Eucharist is to receive Christ, not as a token but as a reality. Whilst my reaction to the Christian sensationalist healer is one of sharp recoil, I must not reject the idea of Christian healing itself. The Church of which we are part, practises a healing ministry within its own long tradition, and shows forth through the sacraments a primary means of grace. It is an inseparable part of Christian Faith that we acknowledge the reality which is sacramental grace, a grace given to us in Baptism and in the Eucharist, but a grace also given crucially in the laying on of hands and anointing. While working at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham under the leadership of Dame Ciceley Saunders, it was by meaningful coincidence that my predecessor here at Holy Cross, Fr Paul Lewis, was its Chaplain. And on many occasions, Fr Paul would arrive at a bedside, where the curtains would be closed, and anoint a patient. The words uttered from scripture were always taken from the Letter of James:
"Is any among you sick? Let them call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over the sick person, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick one, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed sins, they will be forgiven" (Jas. 5:14–15).
What a profound and sure promise lies here! In it, we see how beautiful and true is the promise made to us from God and addressed to our entire being. It is the promise of God himself. Of the God who reveals himself to us but a God too, who lies hidden beneath and beyond the places of our own knowing. ‘The peace of God which passes all understanding’ are the words of our Blessing.
The Rite of Anointing had once been confused with what was called ‘last rites’ but in the context of the hospice it became a rite of healing over pain and hopelessness, a simple anointing which was a silent proclamation of the presence of God not as a mood or a feeling but as reality, conveying healing grace and come down through the centuries and in the sacraments of The Church, as a sign of love and oneness in the God from whom all life proceeds. The touch of God! I am sure now that the deep friendship and regard held between Dame Ciceley, the founder of the Hospice Movement and our former parish priest, Fr Paul, was significant. It was one which brought together what she called ‘fine clinical judgement and practice’ with the outpouring of spiritual grace embedded in the calling for the experienced elder, the one in whom the act of healing had found a loving, waiting, channel. Ciceley and Fr Paul were worthy practitioners of the art of healing because they believed in God and they understood life in all its fullness, in all its depth and complexity.
What a set of contrasts we are able to make, the one a sensationalist healing, and the other experienced as barely a whisper; witnessed in a simple, centuries old action. This healing spirit is channelled through the priest by virtue not of himself but of his ordination (the apostolic succession) and conveyed in and through the sacramental rite. Our Old and New Testament readings speak of the presence of false voices and the demoniac who declaims Jesus, as one who has, like many others since, displayed a dangerous and unbalanced state. But Jesus is for Mark, the still centre, in whose heart lies perfect peace and who comes to us as the gift of deep peace.
We must not divorce ourselves from some of the realities which these accounts open up for us of the need for our own healing and of the reality of healing grace. After all, we know all too well of how mental health issues and the plain fact of human depression and nervous breakdown has issued out of the understanding of who and how we are as moderns. There is too the proven relationship, established by Freud of the damaging effects of inner pain and negative feelings which have lain buried and unacknowledged and which hurt and limit our existence, of which mental illness is a predictable outcome. We speak very rightly of the ‘healing of memories’. For the Christian I believe, the outcome of these observations is the one which finds us in need of understanding and of the reaching out in hope to find mercy and healing. For some that might mean a psychotherapist, for others a revivalist meeting, but for the Christian there is the being of Christ. We find ourselves in the church open to both the reality and the possibility of God’s healing as we follow the Christ who had what we might call ‘healing authority’, the one which understands from the deepest level of human being.
The possibility of healing in Christ does not find us in a faint, slain by the Spirit, but as we are met by the spirit of God, This is a presence of mercy and forgiveness, which holds our longings and pain in a suspension of love, and which continues to hold us at those times when life tears at us and threatens to fragment that which is made to be whole:
It is the holding together that is hard –
The resisting of the centrifugal forces
Acting on mind and heart
That break the tenuous links of thought and feeling.
And then there is the fear (which on black days
Transmutes itself into a dark seducer
Parodying hope) that the next revolution of the hand
Upon the sadly common clock
Will bring the final, the inoperable rupture,
and burst the dams of past
And future pains.
It is the holding you must help us in (O God):
We cannot enter heaven in fragments
The gates will not allow of that.
And you must give the means to keep it
If you love us, as I fear you do.
Father John Ball, Parish Priest, Holy Cross Church,
Curate and Vicar 1969-1977
O God who are the only source of health and healing, the spirit of calm and the
heart of my being, grant to me such a consciousness of your indwelling
and surrounding presence that I may permit you to give me health and strength and
peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
19th Feb 2012
“And he was transfigured before them” Mark 9.10.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
G M Hopkins
Transfiguration of Christ on the mountain is not for the Gospel writer Mark, a theatrical effect, but one which introduces notes of awe and of wonder and draws us into itself. For Mark and Hopkins we are ‘falling into the hands of the living God’. It is a meeting with the Jesus who has become Christ. It happens right before our eyes. To see such things with the inner eye is to experience glory. The glory is enveloped in brightness, and yet reveals a terrible secret - of the Christ, the One who has fulfilled all things, even unto death and resurrection. The secret is disclosed in dazzling white and yet within thick shadow and dark cloud. Even though the Feast of the Transfiguration takes place in August, this Gospel reading is deliberately set before us as a key text for the Sunday before Lent. The mountain of Transfiguration the place of amazing appearances, and also of stark realities; of terrible truth. It points to the Cross even as it manifests the glory of God. As we sing the well-known hymn ‘Tis Good Lord to be Here’, there is already a strong sense of foreboding:
Fulfiller of the past,
Promise of things to be,
We hail Thy body glorified
And our redemption see.
This terrible truth-telling in the Transfiguration shows us that there is always the danger of not seeing the other side of things; of the existence and the seriousness of human suffering, of life as a struggle and of the need for forgiveness and the experience of much pain and adversity. This is the Cross of Jesus and it is our Cross, too. Jesus takes this Cross upon himself and it is the Cross of Jesus which is the glory that God reveals in the mountain-top. But this is a strange and difficult kind of glory. It is the one which brings us into contact with the living God. But this is the God who is vital, and whose influence upon us is as the double edged sword,
…piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart…” Hebrews 4.12
No wonder that this reading is set for the Sunday before Lent. It was not easy consolation that is provided here. Instead, there is the invitation to find our truest humanity in Christ and to find it through ‘the changes and chances of this fleeting world’. This is to begin to be honest with ourselves and toward God. To recognise life’s essential contingency. To begin to find in God that active love and the mercy we need to move us on. For we cannot stay on the mountain. It is a place of revelation and a vital and necessary point of departure.
I once went to the Louvre, the French National Art Gallery in Paris. At some point all visitors head towards one great painting, The Mona Lisa. She gazes impassively through bullet proof glass and is constantly surrounded by her own paparazzi – with cameras and continuous flashes of blinding white light. She has become like the namesake Madonna, a superstar. It is difficult to get near her. But with all the adulation, one wonders what is going on? What is it that is happening when thousands of tourists take photos constantly? There seems to be a manic rush to record it all, and while the photographer is snapping away to ignore the resonance of what is being photographed and its real presence. The photographer is very unstill. There is the attempt to put an atmosphere or an object in the pocket. To capture it. To possess it. To take it away. The Transfiguration offers us the opposite of the blinding camera flash and the image you can put into your pocket. The appearance of Jesus in white light on the mountain-top is God’s revelation to his people, you and me, of his merciful love. In all we have to do or to suffer, God’s presence lies before us as and with it the promise of his holiness to surround us and to inhabit our inmost being. His face shines to show us the light of the revelation of the fullness of God…What is real is not looked at from exterior vision but from within the truth of what has appeared…
But how are we to bear true witness, especially as we approach the beginning of Lent? The Church offers us as individuals a way forward in the practice of Sacramental Confession. To tell it like it is. Though it has been derided and caricatured and is less practised by many, its effectiveness is very real. The costliness of our being more honest about what we are and what we do wrong is often too humiliating to bear. But this is a necessary humbling, a Cross, which provides us with an effective remedy. It provides a pathway to the restoration of the soul, often so damaged and maimed by our own essential pride. It is an attempt at an honesty from which new life may emerge. We trivialise this aspect of our lives at great cost to the integrity of the Christian Faith. The Transfiguration opens up on honesty to reality. It is what St Paul called
The light of the fullness of the revelation of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ”. 2 Corinthians 4.6.
It is a revelation of what lies most true for human nature. It provides the marriage between what the Old Prayer Book in its General Thanksgiving called ‘The means of Grace and the hope of glory’.
So from the ground we felt that virtue branch
Through all our veins till we were whole, our wrists
As fresh and pure as water from a well,
Our hands made new to handle holy things,
The source of all our seeing rinsed and cleansed
Till earth and light and water entering there
Gave back to us the clear unfallen world.
We would have thrown our clothes away for lightness,
But that even they, though sour and travel stained,
Seemed, like our flesh, made of immortal substance,
And the soiled flax and wool lay light upon us
Like friendly wonders, flower and flock entwined
As in a morning field. Was it a vision?
Or did we see that day the unseeable
One glory of the everlasting world
Perpetually at work, though never seen
Since Eden locked the gate that’s everywhere
Edwin Muir (1887-1959)
The Word Became Flesh
12th Feb 2012
“The Word became flesh and lived among us” John 1.13
Last week at the Parish Mass we sang the National Anthem for the Queen’s 60th anniversary of accession. 2012 will of course be a year of great commemorations. The obvious two relate to the Queen and the Olympic Games but there are three others which deserve mention. And these three commemorations all have one thing in common – they all have to do with the written word. The first is the current exhibition at The British Library ‘Royal Manuscripts – The Genius of Illumination’, showing beautifully illuminated texts, very expensively made and mainly owned by the King himself, and directed at instructing the King:
‘An illiterate King is like a crowned ass’, John of Salisbury, 1159.
The second commemoration is an upcoming Exhibition at Lambeth Palace ‘Royal Devotion – Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer’ and the third, the many events surrounding the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. It is interesting to note that these three exhibitions all detail the expansion of the written word over the centuries. There are the costly illuminated works, many of which were for a private reader of exceptional distinction and wealth. Then The Book of Common Prayer which was for the entire populace and found in every church in the land by law, recited and learnt by heart and understood by those who could not read or write:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.
Book of Common Prayer (1662), Collect for The Second Sunday in Advent
Finally there are Charles Dickens’ novels, appealing to middling and lower as well as upper class citizens and read by those who had in fact now been taught to read. In the greater sharing of the written word comes also the delight in reading as uplifting and reading for pleasure. Reading can take us into other worlds of thought and it can refresh us – it can illuminate, it can teach us and it can be enjoyed for its own sake:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
‘A Tale of Two Cities’, Charles Dickens
What then does it mean when John describes Jesus as ‘The Word made flesh?’ How do we read this phrase? Here ‘The Word’ or, Greek word ‘Logos’ means all that God does, and we learn from Genesis that what God is and does is to be known in what he actually speaks. And the creation narratives have God speaking creation into being (‘Let there be light, and there was light’). God the Father’s Word is essentially and always creative. But John the Evangelist goes further when he says that Jesus is one with the Father and existed with him before time ever began. Theologians call Jesus ‘the pre-existent Logos’. Jesus comes to the world in human form to deliver the spoken word of God to the world. He is God-in-the-flesh, as John says, ‘he lives among us’. In relation to the God who speaks and makes himself known, Jesus makes God legible.
I remember having to learn New Testament Greek and not knowing quite what to make of it! Someone once said ‘he who has another language has another world’ but perhaps this one was a bit strange. However, the setting of Greek texts for translation brings the strong reminder that Christianity as we know it did not emerge within a Judean bubble. The Christian scriptures were written in Hebrew and in Greek, even though Our Lord Jesus would have spoken in a form of Aramaic much as they do today. First century Palestine, like contemporary London, was multicultural and multilingual. And it was out of this social melting pot, this world of languages, that the Gospel writer John can say, using distinctly Greek emphasis, that ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us’. The appeal is couched not in the form of the local but of the universal. The Word of God is for all humankind and not just for the chosen few. When John says that the Word became flash and dwelt among us he is saying that before anything else Christianity draws sustenance from the Christ who is THE LIVING WORD. And for the Christian, this is a Word which is to be proclaimed in every age. Good words, great literature oxygenate our lives as surely as do trees. The spreading of the good word is for their pollination.
The reassuring part of my learning New Testament Greek was the study of the First Letter of John, which was not difficult to translate because very repetitive. Its simple, repeated phrases are very beautiful. They describe the coming of Christ in a way which is very striking and touching in its appeal to the senses:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our[a] joy complete. I John 1-4.
The complete joy of this letter lies in its direct appeal to the passion with which faith is received and known. Christian faith is seen not as a pious past time but life’s true enjoyment and enrichment. And this is to be shared, and ‘made complete’ in the sharing. And in this way we begin to answer a question that emerges out of this text, and it is this: ‘How are we, The Church to show that The Word of God has become flesh in our own time?
The answer lies in ourselves and a new discovery of our own understanding and ownership of the written and spoken word of God. We must not be afraid, in a world where the English language has been abbreviated and compressed, to own the faith of Jesus and put that faith into confident expression. We may not find it easy to speak openly about our faith, but the Gospel commits us to do this. Of course we might be afraid that we are being boring, we might feel very self-conscious, but this need not be the case. Our experience of worship in this church will grow our self-confidence. We must proclaim the faith we profess and not ‘hide our light under a bushel’.
How else is the Church to live? We must not be afraid to testify. This has been thought to be the preserve of more evangelical Christians, but Anglo-Catholics are called. Don’t tire of telling others what you find here at Holy Cross, of how you find it and what it means to you. Own the faith of Jesus and the wonders of his Word! This is Good News, and it is what many who seek God (without knowing it) want to hear. The opposite of this is that the Word of God lies dormant and your Christianity becomes an awkward kind of thing. Don’t let this happen, for God’s sake.
At the Queen’s coronation she was presented with a Bible upon which she was to make a solemn oath to defend the Church and these words were said by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. They glory in the Word made flesh and call us as The Church to proclaim the Word of God in our own age:
We present you with this Book,
The most valuable thing that this world affords.
Here is Wisdom;
This is the royal Law;
These are the lively Oracles of God.
The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Candlemass)
2nd Feb 2012
My eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all nations to see.
Today’s great Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple extends and enriches the vision of the prophet Malachi that ‘The Lord you are seeking will enter his Temple’. In his prophecy is the meeting in the promised One of past and present realities. Mary and Joseph and Jesus come to enter the Temple and to receive the purification rites as laid down in Jewish Law. The profound meaning of this event is made clearer to us in the telling of a second or background narrative concerning two elderly guardians of the Temple, Simeon, the old priest and the prophetess, Anna. Both are elderly. This couple provide a contrast in time and in place to the young family Mary and Joseph and their child Jesus -- In the meeting of these two couples, Luke tells us that this is no chance or ordinary meeting, even though it was routine and traditional to present a boy child and for the mother to be ritually cleansed after the birth of her child. This is a meeting and the greeting and the blessing and the cleansing ceremony which is taking place between two religious epochs…The Old and New is being revealed in the one time and the one place and in the one child, Jesus.
Luke paints this message on the largest possible canvas : not only of history, but of the Divine purpose. The Old Testament Man Simeon is more than a mere bystander. In the closing days of his life, he is privileged to utter prophecy in the recognition of the child as a prayer to God the Father: “Mine eyes save seen thy salvation” he cries “which thou hast prepared before the face of all people…” And this is very moving, as we see the old man, coming to the end of his life, meet the new born baby and witness the outcome of his life’s longing. He sees salvation. And TS Eliot marks in a poem ‘A Song of Simeon’, the great themes of life and eath in the immensity of time and sets it slongside Simeon as one whose life has come to completion:
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no tomorrow.
TS Eliot ‘A Song of Simeon’.
As the hymn ‘Tis Good Lord to be Here’ tells us, the child is for us and for Simeon and for Anna,
Fulfiller of the past
Our hope of things to come!
We hail thy body glorified
And our redemption see.
Today for the Church is a Feast Day of Candles; Candlemass. In it there is always intended to be a procession in our churches as we follow Mary and Joseph into the Temple, and in the carrying of candles, bring to life in the manner of what the French have called a tableau vivant. A coming to life in us of things done and spoken long ago, and the holding in our hands as Simeon held in his arms, ‘The Light to Lighten the nations, and the glory of God’s people. As the Christ was presented to Simeon and to God and the world, so we in the procession present ourselves to Christ as his lights. We as the Church revivify the echoes of passion and of prayer that echo down to us from the Temple chamber. The fulfilment of the past is granted in the utterance of Simeon, and in this happening there is another thing, which is the interlocking of human destinies. If Simeon is right, then ‘the light to lighten the gentiles’ is a light which is the Creator’s light, shining on all people, and not just the chosen few or a hidden minority. All life is here.
This is the sensational message which Candlemass, the Feast of Candles offers us. That Christ is both fulfiller of the past and hope of things to come, and that all of us in Christ are set on a shared destiny. The light is the light of holiness and of truthfulness for us all. Like a bell, it rings for us and it rings true. In Christ we throw in our lot with one another and share a God-shaped destony. In this we may find peace, as time marches on and waits for none of us.
John Donne (1572-1631), Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris:
"Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.
For us in the Church, the effect of the Presentation of the infant Christ in the Temple has been to provide identity for the church and to draw us together with our interrelated fortunes and our experiences of the real in the here and the now of our existence. And in this we see the glory which has been prepared for us from long ago. In this we are given in Jesus the present moment that is in Him the fulfilment of the past and hope of things to come.
1st Feb 2012
When they found him, they said to him “everyone is searching for you”… Mark 1.36
St Mark’s Gospel is the briefest of the four gospels and the first to be written. It is known as such because it sets out the facts of the life of Christ in a deliberately succinct and informing way. It was, after all, written for the Church’s earliest believers. It contains the core Gospel message and the one upon which the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and refer, and from which they draw their own interpretation. With this brevity and clarity, there is also a refreshing sense of real and decisive action. We meet the Jesus who reveals himself in the doing of various ‘signs and wonders’; and there is also present the so-called ‘Markan secret’ - of the Jesus who does not wish his true identity to be known and of the Jesus who wishes to go to a place apart. The existence of Christ is both one of human involvement and of passionate inwardness. It is one of evidence and also of discretion. He is the man for others and the One set apart. He cares and heals as a public figure and yet he also withdraws from the scene.
To care and not to care,
Teach us to sit still
TS Eliot, from ‘Ash Wednesday, 1930’.
Mark seems keen to set forth the two aspects of Jesus ministry as the giver of God’s healing, and yet also the One who receives the energy and the spiritual power for that work from another source. If we are to speak at all about the true purposes of God in relation to the lives of men and women we must also speak of the lives of those consecrated and dedicated to Him. It has been the Church’s practise to see all life and all living as a consecrated and dedicated life. The Consolata Community here in King’s cross shows us what the life consecrated to prayer and stability looks like, as we meet the sisters on the streets. Their presence is telling…
For the Christian, life finds its true source, its raison d’être in and through the life of Jesus Christ. To make that statement is one thing, to believe that statement is another, and then to live that statement is yet another. The Church provides markers or events, rites of passage, in which the believer receives consecration for dedication, particularly in the rites of Confirmation, Ordination and Holy Matrimony. And the making and keeping of vows is a vital part of the life lived in God. And this making of vows is an ancient order of practice which is much needed and a vital part of the human experience in its civilised form. This is because it values our lives and their purposes as a calling, as a vocation, a duty and a determined service.
We are entering a time when we hear people speaking of ‘an old fashioned sense of duty’ or the automatic disavowal of any line of authority which is ‘top down’. There is little talk of ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’. People look back wistfully to the days when the idea of the profession related not to some imagined expertise but to an inner sense of calling and a readiness to serve. We know too, of working environments whose planning is driven to meet impossible and endlessly shifting goals and which see the changing of structures as invariably good. The re-drawing of the school curriculum yet again is an example of this. There is, sadly a mistrust of healthy kinds of permanence and a wantonness about shifting people around, cutting people down, sacking them, with the obliviousness to the human cost and of human dislocation. I attended a school teacher’s conference entitled “How do we go from good to excellent?” The title was designed to see the presence of the ‘good’ as an end in itself, a place of departure rather than as a place from which to deepen understanding of itself…
The consecrated and dedicated Christ is the One who received sources of life and of energy from another source, from God himself. It was from this source and from none other than that he was able to draw the sustenance necessary for the task; of bringing into being a real human salvation. If this life is truly ‘in Christ’ it is also a life which refreshes itself from source. It is a life which is determinedly resolved in the words of Eliot ‘to care and not to care and to sit still’. It is a life which has come to know instinctively that we humans are at our best when our lives and hopes lie in harmony with the divine order, and not as though God did not exist and that life could be lived apart from its true source. Perhaps Alain de Boton’s idea of a ‘temple for atheists’ might provide something, but what would be the object of worship and unity….?
It is fitting this morning that we anticipate the 60th anniversary of the accession of our Queen to the throne. We are marking this with the singing of the national anthem not merely as old fashioned patriots but as Christians. It is as Christians that we honour the Christian understanding of the sanctified and dedicated calling. It is well worth watching the Coronation Service of the Queen in 1953 for its distinctively solemn and worshipful character and Christian expression. This is apparent not just because our country in 1953 was ‘more Christian’, whatever that means. No, it’s Christian because everything what flowed in and through the traditions of this country found a Christian expression, an expression embodied in the monarch, who, on the day of her coronation received an anointing (the only part of the service that was not televised). And in this anointing and in all the vows and promises she made, a life was consecrated and dedicated. The Queen’s dedication and longevity still provides us with a powerful reminder of how important it is for lives to find their point of calling and of dedication and duty. A point of constancy and sameness in a shifting world that all might find beneficial. Her life has of course been played out in front of a largely admiring world. Nonetheless she has mirrored for us in her own sense of duty that which of the essence of the call to serve.
In the face of the demise of former institutions which had a strong caring and dedicational ethic we now face institutions which, run on the models of business and endless change, growth predictions and league tables. They desperately need to rediscover that strong measure of calling which has been the mainstay of the nursing and teaching professions. A nurse friend I know regards as normal the fact of other nurses taking time off owing to stress and many having had nervous breakdowns through over work coupled with a sense of stressful purposelessness. If we treat people like machines they will break down like machines. Jesus allows us to see that a careful balance exists between work and rest and between consecration and obedience. He is the one who has lead us to the place where life finds its true purposes. He and he alone is the one who shows us what it is ‘to care and not to care and to sit still’ in the consecrated and dedicated life. Let us, then, remain faithful to what we have been called.
Let us inhabit that place most fully…