On tiptoe all the night: Sermon for Advent Sunday

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Advent Sunday

29th November 2020

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Isaiah writes: “awesome deeds we did not expect”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A poem, by the British Australian poet Kevin Hart:

It’s not too late, Dark One, 

      For you to come 

      And have me close 

And stay an hour or two, 

It’s not too late at all 

      For you to slip 

      Past fossil light 

And quickly touch my hand. 

It’s deepest night, Dark One, 

      I look straight up 

      And won’t be born 

Another billion years 

If you’re so far away; 

      Come closer now 

      So that I taste 

Your breath: I have been here 

On tiptoe all the night, 

      And I shall wait 

      For you, Dark One, 

Till all those years are done.

Christmas will soon be here. 

We know that the days are still getting shorter, that the darkness appears victorious but we light the candles. The light grows stronger as we light more candles each week of Advent, as we deck our trees with lights.  Our homes with Christmas decorations and strings of light.

And yet the darkness grows stronger.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, this terrible year of plague draws to a close with vaccines within our reach; multiple ways of defeating the virus seem possible. We can almost begin to think think that life will be normal again, one day.

And yet the darkness grows stronger, we are told that it will be a hard winter, there will be many deaths. We can’t visit the elderly; we are encouraged not to see family and friends at Christmas.

We’ve just heard from the final chapters of Isaiah of the frustration the people feel. It is sixth century Jerusalem. The rebuilding of the city, the restoration of the temple and its worship are possible. But they have not happened yet. The people are still walking in darkness and even worse God appears to do nothing. “O that you would …” the prophet cries. He cries it because God doesn’t. God does not tear open the heavens, the mountains do not quake, fire is not kindled, the water does not boil.

These are the things the people expected. Wanted. Hoped for. 

And they do not happen.

*

What do you expect, want, hope for from God?

How does God disappoint frustrate you? Refuse to answer prayer?

Why doesn’t God act as you would like him to?

God is the one who acts in ways that we did not expect. He acts today, in my life, in yours, in the world, in ways that we did not expect. And do not recognise. 

Our great expectations will never be met. God of surprises he has been called. 

The unexpected God. 

The unknown God St Paul identified at Athens.

Jesus is unexpected. Christmas is unexpected. It’s not the story we would tell of God coming; of God made known. And Jesus tells us how we should live our lives ready for the unknown God, the unexpected God:

keep alert

keep awake.

Jesus is unexpected; he doesn’t give the answers people want; he is not the Messiah they were hoping for; he did “awesome deeds we did not expect”.

To be alert, to be awake is to have beginner’s mind; to be open to possibility; to refuse to be the expert; to swim in uncertainty and to delight in the provisional.

This is where the dynamism of Christian living comes, where the energy of prayer is to be found. This is why God always reveals himself to us when we are waiting; when we are in-between; when things are not turning out the way we planned them; when the paper is blank, the road ahead unknown. When we remember that we are always beginners and never experts.

Is there room for the unexpected in your life as you prepare for Christmas?

As we emerge from lockdown what will you change? What will be different?

This will be an Advent like no other. There won’t be the office parties; the family get togethers; the queuing in shops; the meals out. 

It is an Advent we did not expect.

The question is can we allow ourselves to be alert, awake, can we allow ourselves to meet the unexpected God?

Friends, I suggest something quite simple. That you change something about the way you pray. 

Perhaps you only pray when things get really bad; or only when you come to church; or even every day just before you go to bed. Whatever you do break those habits and try something different. Make a regular time every day to pray. Pray without expecting anything other than the unexpected. Put it in your diary. An hour before lunch, or in the afternoon or best of all get up an hour earlier, when the world is dark. That special darkness that is giving way to dawn.

I don’t know anyone who has a solid practice of daily prayer, who is growing in holiness who does not spend time early in the morning to pray. Whatever you tell yourself there will be interruptions, appointments, phone calls, emails at every other time of the day.

We say that God is light, but we find him in darkness. He will be born in the middle of the night.

It’s not too late, Dark One, 

      For you to come 

      And have me close 

And stay an hour or two,

Darkness is a nurturing place; it is the place to escape the overstimulation we subject ourselves to. 

It’s not too late at all 

      For you to slip 

      Past fossil light 

And quickly touch my hand.

This Advent we have a better chance than ever of feeling the touch of God’s hand. Of finding him in the unresolved situations of our life; the time we would have spent at parties; or meals; or preparing for friends and relations.

Keep alert Jesus says, 

keep awake Jesus says. 

As he did to his friends on that night in Gethsemane when they fell asleep. Keep awake, stay on tiptoe. Be ready.

On tiptoe all the night, 

      And I shall wait 

      For you, Dark One, 

Till all those years are done.

The Sodality Year of Review: Preface to the Ordo 2021

Dear Mothers, Fathers, Aspirants and friends of the Sodality,

What a year it has been for us as a community. The lockdown has seen extraordinary growth for us in numbers and particularly remarkably our growth internationally. I have always described our charisms as being about joy, friendship, seriousness and diocesan priesthood as fruits of the goal of holiness. It seems to me now that the Lord is leading us to deepen those bonds of friendship that are the Anglican Communion. The friendships that many of us are forging with sisters and brothers around the world will remain one of the many blessings of 2020 for me.

An equally significant blessing for us is Archbishop Stephen becoming our patron. As priests we are servants of the church and called to love the church. We each exercise our priesthood on behalf of our bishop; we are called to belong to a presbytery around him or her. This is a wonderful antidote to the individualism of our times. This link with the Archbishop of York is an important signal of our ecclesial identity; our joy in belonging to this part of the Catholic church. Archbishop Stephen’s personal gifts of joy in his vocation as priest and bishop and confident evangelism further indicate the Spirit’s life in our community.

2019 – 2020 was always going to be a significant year for us because it marks five years since the first members made a commitment to be a community. I am grateful to Liz Jones and Frankie Ward for conducting our review to help us discern the next steps for us.

This will also be the last Foreword to an Ordo that I write. I have always said that I would do just one term as Superior. Moving on to the next Superior will be an important step in the community’s life. I am immensely grateful to the support given me by members of Council, not least Mother Imogen as assistant Superior and Fr Simon as Clerk this year. Thank you too to Fr Sam for his work, significantly on this Ordo which is no small task. Bishop Gregory our Episcopal Visitor has been a great gift to us and to me. His gentle friendship is a source of much joy.

It is impossible for me to state how strongly I believe the Holy Spirit has been leading us in this way we are following and how much joy it brings me. My love of the Rosary and sense of the closeness of Our Lady to me in my priestly ministry have never been deeper. I feel her presence daily at the altar with me just as she stood with St John at the cross. His presence as the beloved disciple is deeply significant for us as priests. Jesus calls each of us his beloved friend and he entrusts each of us to the care of Mary, and Mary into ours. This gift brings tears to my eyes. As we celebrate Mass here in Christ Church Cathedral at the High Altar we do so under the reredos showing Our Lady with St John at the cross. I find it almost unbearable to look at and have to stop myself weeping when I do so. Each of us as priests, each of our dear aspirants in formation for priesthood is stood there gazing on Jesus.

For our year of review Fr Steven Shakespeare wrote these prayers I hope as we prepare for our general chapter next year we will all continue to use them to pray for God’s continual blessing on us.

With my love and prayers and deepest affection,

Fr Richard

Canticle of the Priest

I call for glory to come

like dewfall on the grass.

I call for the hour of truth

when love will speak its name.

I call to the One Who Is

from before the world was made.

Let us break the bread of blessing

and raise the healing cup.

Christ is the Gift and the Giver

love on the altar laid.

Through him we are made one

our joy is rendered whole.

With him we are known and kept

safe in the Fathers name.

In him we are freed from the world

made holy by the grace of God.

With Mary, Heart of the Priest,

we offer the Word made flesh.

Like her, we are known and called

and sanctified in truth.

As the grains of earth are gathered

and the vine gives up the grape,

as the water of life is poured

and the oil of anointing flows,

may all we are be offered in prayer

a living sacrament of praise.

(after John 17)

Prayer

God of demanding grace:

your desire for us 

is holiness and fullness of life;

you called Holy Mary 

to share in your work of salvation

and become the Gateway of New Life.

As we daily renew our commitment,

bind our offering to hers,

that in the welcome of her heart 

and the strength of her prayers

we may be faithful to our priestly calling:

to nurture Christ within us

to labour for his birth

to bear his life-giving body in our hands

and to sing his sacrificial love.

We ask this through Christ, 

our High Priest now and for ever.

Amen.                                             

Canticle and Prayer by Fr Steven Shakespeare

Praying the imprecatory psalms

A Facebook post to members of the Sodality of Mary, Mother of priests, 28th November 2020:

Dear Mothers, Fathers, friends,
The final day of an extraordinary liturgical year in which so many of God’s faithful have been deprived of the sacraments. Much is made of the deprivation from communion, but I think also of those who have been deprived of the comfort of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially at the point of death; and those who have not received viaticum, food for the journey, as they make the journey to eternal life. I think it is an appropriate time to offer Masses for the Dead more frequently and especially as we can celebrate in public once again.
The beginning of a new liturgical year is also a good time to refresh our own liturgical practice and a good point to re-read the two fundamental documents of western liturgy, the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours and the General instruction on the Roman Missal.

Msgr Elliott’s book: “Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite” is also essential reading. If these three texts are our common liturgical literature they will help us to celebrate in a standard way when we are together again, God willing, one day.
Working on the Liturgy of the Hours it occurred to me to put together the imprecatory or cursing verses that are omitted from the psalter of the Divine Office / Breviary/ LOTH in a little booklet which is available below. It could be used to add them back in or just to reflect on. I often talk of teaching the beginning of Psalm 93/94 to children and of one young man leaving a police station having been stopped and searched and whispering its opening verse to me as we left: “O Lord, avenging God, avenging God appear.”
We need to be able to express our anger when we feel we have been treated unjustly. It is human.
May the praying of the liturgy bring you deep consolation and the the experience of your soul in communion with God:
Abyssus abyssum invocat. (Psalm 41:8)
With my love, as always, in the Two Hearts,and every possible blessing for a joyful and consoling Advent,
Richard

Nada, nihil, nothing: Sermon for Christ the King

Choral Eucharist

Christ the King

22 / 11/ 20

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford

Father Richard Peers SMMS

During the first lockdown I took rather a lot of funerals. Many of the clergy around where we lived were elderly or had health conditions and were shielding. It is always a privilege to be the officiant at a funeral. To seek to pay attention to family and friends, and to the person who died. To weave together a liturgy that reflects that person, that is true to them, that is true to our uncertainties and doubts, our existential questions.

At every funeral that I led in those weeks I was asked to pray one particular text. What interested me was that as I visited the various crematoria where the funerals were held there were a lot of civil celebrants offering not so much humanist or secular funerals but just non-church funerals. the same text that I was using at every funeral, they were using as well. Psalm 23.

When everything else is peeled away this beautiful psalm remains part of our culture, our heritage. It speaks to people. It is a very appropriate psalm for funerals. The image of passing through the valley of the shadow of death speaks profoundly of the need for lament in the face of death and destruction but also offers hope. Death too is a passing over, a journey to something else.

It is also a very suitable psalm for today’s feast of Christ the King when it is set as the psalm for the Eucharist although for Covid reasons we are not having a psalm in our liturgy at the moment. Suitable at the end of this month of November when we have been praying and remembering as we do every year in November, those who have already passed through death’s dark valley. 

It is a psalm that I pray daily as part of my thanksgiving after I have celebrated the Eucharist. It is a deeply sacramental psalm. The Eucharist is itself foretold in the banquet that is laid and the cup that overflows; but other sacraments are also present: the still waters of baptism in which we have been incorporated into Jesus, the anointing of confirmation in which we acknowledge the gifts of the spirit, and the anointing of ordination for those of us ordained to ministerial priesthood.

It is of course, a suitable psalm for the feast of Christ the King because it shows us what sort of King Jesus is. Like his ancestor David he is a shepherd-king.  A king leading his flock.  A shepherd, as Ezekiel tells us in today’s first reading who will rescue his sheep from all the places to which they have been scattered.

And just as the sacramental journey of each Christian rehearses the ministry of Jesus so this psalm shows us Jesus baptised, anointed, gifting us himself in the Eucharist and passing through the dark valley of the shadow of death.

Psalm 23 is a profoundly Jesus psalm. In it we walk the path of redemption, the salvation he has won, the basic doctrines of the christian faith, the thing he has done for us.

As I have prayed this psalm over the years. At funerals, in the daily Office, after Mass there is one line that constantly calls to me. It’s a line that doesn’t normally attract much attention, certainly doesn’t conjure romantic images of fields and ponds and placid sheep idly grazing.

It’s the second line that speak: ‘there is nothing I shall want.’

The hebrew is two simple words: lo ech-sar.

I know how far I am from wanting nothing. My Amazon wish list currently has 62 books on it. I want the house to be warm, good food on the table. I want to be able to go to France again soon. To visit friends in New Zealand. Well, you get the picture. I am a bundle of wants. Like so many prayers I can only pray this line hoping that one day I might be able to mean it just a little bit.

I have been reading the Rule of Saint Augustine over the last few weeks, and I invited you as a cathedral community to join me in doing so. I’ve been commenting on the daily portions on our cathedral blog.

Augustine understands our wanting, our desiring. He might easily be called (dare I suggest in the presence of Canon Harrison) the theologian of desire. Augustine recognises that desire is what leads us to God. Without desire we would not be searchers. But he also understands that we are at our most vulnerable when we follow our desires. God alone can satisfy our desire, our longing. Everything else will leave us desiring more, wanting more needing more. We are like addicts seeking the next fix. 

Even if I were to buy every one of those 62 books, do you, do I, think I would be satisfied …?

Today’s gospel paints the inverse picture. The things we don’t want. We don’t want to be hungry, to thirst, to be strangers, without clothing,  sick or in prison. Being a Christian is always about facing the truth of these things we don’t want, leaning into them and not running away from them.

And this leads me to another way that helps me understand the second line of the psalm: There is nothing I shall want. How do we lean into the nothing. Not to embrace some fatalist nihilism (the Latin version of this line is, after all nihil mihi deerit) but to find the freedom that is the goal of the Christian life. 

John of the Cross the sixteenth century Spanish master of prayer drew a picture of a mountain to illustrate the spiritual life. At the top he repeats the Spanish nada, nothing, over and over again:

“Nada, nada, nada, nada, nada, nada, and even on the mountain, nada.”

The spiritual life has nothing, nada, as its goal.

John writes:

“To reach satisfaction in everything, 

desire satisfaction in nothing.

To come to possession of everything, 

desire the possession of nothing.

To arrive at being all, 

desire to be nothing.

To come to the knowledge of everything, 

desire the knowledge of nothing.”

Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book One, Chapter 13

This is what Jesus shows us on the cross. Giving up his God-ness, his divinity, was not enough, becoming human was not enough, even death was not enough, it had to be a shameful death, ‘even death on a cross’.

And in his dying he too discovered that God is nada: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”

All my desires, all my wants are for some-thing. But God is not a thing, he is literally no-thing.

Quite often when people speak to me about prayer they say how hard it is, how they struggle with prayer. 

As long as we continue our wanting in our prayer, our desiring this or that spiritual experience, we are wanting a thing. When we let go, when we stop struggling, when we embrace the no-thing we will have found nada. God. And that nothing is to be totally free, it is as Augustine knew total grace, total gift.

In your praying today, in your praying this week my prayer for each of us is that we find the true freedom of nada, we find no-thing, we find God.

Singing the Daily Office: Common Worship or The Divine Office

This is a repost from my old blog. I am still working on version with corrections and improvements but this is what is available so far:

NOTE: I will do a separate blog post about my current use which has more material for an Office of Vigils than in this ‘edition’.

Here is the latest set of music I’ve put together for singing the Office, either Common Worship: Daily Prayer or The Divine Office. It is now a pretty complete collection of music enabling the singing of the whole Office on every day of the liturgical year, allowing for, usually, just three antiphons/refrains for specific days to be used morning and evening and four sets of antiphons for Ordinary time weekdays and Sundays. Apart from the Invitatory, Te Deum and a generic tone for the responsories no provision is made for the Office of Readings. A simple set of antiphons is provided for Prayer During the Day, a complete setting of Compline is given (Worth Abbey except the hymns), the English Anthems to the BVM and many office hymns are by Brother Aelred Seton-Shanley Obl. OSB Cam.

The music mainly comes from:

Worth Abbey, Dom Philip Gaisford

Belmont Abbey, Abbot Alan Rees

Conception Abbey

Laurence Bevénot, in the form provided for the Canonesses Regular of the Holy Sepulchre

With smaller contributions from the Office of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God at Crawley Down, by Fr Colin, and the Society of Saint Francis, by Brother Reginald Box.

There may be other elements I have collected over the years but can’t remember where.

Mostly I have been given permission for strictly private duplication/use so if you want to do more than that please let me know which parts and I will send you contact details.

Many of the CWDP texts are set by me, and, therefore, not as good as the other material! I have set all the short refrains to the psalms from CW but to be honest I think the set in the Mayhew publication Sunday Psalms and edited by Andrew Moore is better, although the texts are not the very short ones in the final version of CWDP. Setting extremely short texts is actually quite difficult, Fr Mark Hartley OCSO of Mount Saint Bernard Abbey produced an excellent set for his community to use as responsorial psalms at Mass. One day – when I retire from full time work – I would like to do more work on this.

There are still more errors than I would like and I hope to do some more work on this in the future but it seems to work.

Some additional texts for the Office are provided for the Sodality of Mary, Mother of Priests.

Do let me know if you use this material and find it helpful and also, of course, if you spot errors/typos/areas for improvement. I am grateful to all those who have proofread this material and particularly Fr Colin CSWG for very helpful comments on earlier editions, I only wish my knowledge and skill with the plainsong modes had made more progress.

In Word format (you will need to install the St Meinrad fonts, which are available for free here): DP 300716

There are likely to be formatting issues  if you use the Word format.

As a PDF: DP 300716

The Company of Voices Resources site will continue to be updated and may be found here.

Advent: Jim Cotter’s ‘O antiphons’ for every day

The ‘O’ Antiphons from the 17th to the 23rd December for the Magnificat are rightly famous. With their haunting mode ii melody they are a distillation of the longing that is characteristic of Advent. In the Book of Common Prayer calendar they remain as the names of the day even if not in their text.

I really recommend that you make the effort to sing the texts to their original chant. Brother Reginald of the Society of Saint Francis has provided an English version available here. Once you get the melody in your head they are not difficult to sing.

Fr Alan Griffiths a Roman Catholic priest of the diocese of Portsmouth is the compiler of the superb three volume set Celebrating the Christian Year. I highly recommend them. In the Advent – Epiphany volume he provides metrical versions of the traditional texts to be sung to the well known hymn tune “O come, O come, Emmanuel”.  He also suggests a tone to sing the verses of the Magnificat to and the singing of the chorus between the verses (see below).

Anglican priest and liturgist the late Jim Cotter, produced a beautiful set of Advent verses that can be sung to the same tune, one for each day from 1st – 24th December. The book form was stunning:

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They were also printed as separate cards. Sadly I have sent all my copies as postcards.

I have created a document with all these verses in and the texts of the Benedictus and Magnificat in the Common Worship and BCP (Fr Alan’s suggestion):  Cotter O Antiphons.

They are also shown below.

I suggest singing Jim Cotter’s version at Matins with the Benedictus throughout Advent and the traditional forms or Fr Alan’s version from 17 – 23rd December at the Magnificat.

These are profound texts that warrant prayer and reflection.


Expectant: verses for Advent

Jim Cotter

Cairns Publications 2002

‘O Antiphons’ for all the days of December

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1

O come, O come, thou living word,

and pierce our hearts with healing sword,

from God’s own mouth proceeding far

to lance the festering wounds of war.

Rejoice! Rejoice! To mend our strife

shall come in flesh the God of Life.

2

O come, O come, thou wisdom strange

from deep within God’s womb to range

the earth at midnight’s hour of fears

to make us wise beyond our years.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Our God shall leap

with light that rouses us from sleep.

3

O come, O come, Adonai

in burning bush on Sinai,

the flame that holds us still in awe,

to etch in flesh the living law.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The marks of pain

shall show the law of love most plain.

4

O come, O come, thou Jesse’s tree,

a lifted sign for all to see,

where words of worldly force shall fail,

and earthly glory’s faces pale.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The power of love,

through death shall shine in flesh and blood.

5

O come, O come, thou David’ key,

unlock the gates and set us free.

Descendant of the king of old,

release us from oppression’s hold.

Rejoice! Rejoice! In words that sing

true liberty shall soon take wing.

6

O come, O come, thou living flame

of justice, calling out our name,

in fire our thoughts to clarify,

our wills to sear and purify.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The judge our sore

shall heal, our dignity restore.

7

O come, O come, thou lion brace,

and call the cowering from their cave,

course through our veins with thrilling roar,

inspire with courage, strength and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Together we

the lion, lamb, and child shall see.

8

O come, O come, thou swallow small,

responding to your infants’ call,

fly far and wide across the earth

and end with hope our winter’s dearth.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A tiny bird,

shall show a truth that seems absurd.

9

O come, O come, come, thou cornerstone,

and hold the tensions of your own,

thou keystone of community,

the bearer of humanity.

Rejoice! Rejoice! With arms and face,

the crucified shall all embrace.

10

O come, O come, thou wounded stag,

at home on rugged ridge and crag,

guide us who cut our feet on stone,

and bring us hope, whose bodies groan.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A tender cry

shall smooth our pain and lift us high.

11

O come, O come, thou salmon swift

to leap the ladder ‘gainst our drift,

to bear our sorrows to the source

and find in Love the one true force.

Rejoice! Rejoice! From purest spring

new life the loving one bring.

12

O come, O come, come, thou hidden king

with lightest touch our peace to bring,

with gentle power to reconcile,

and melt away our hate and guile.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The mountain dew

our common clay shall shape anew.

13

O come, O come, thou eagle’s eye,

who from an eyrie does espy

a people choking far below 

from heat and fumes of lava flow.

Rejoice! Rejoice! the wings shall gyre

to scoop the desp’rate from the fire.

14

O come, O come, thou haunting sound

that makes the silenced underground,

that gives the dungeoned words hard won

to claim their place beneath the sun.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The voice enfleshed

in word and deed shall free h’oppressed.

15

O come, O come, thou healing host

around whose table none can boast,

who welcomes home the stigmatised,

their rightful place now realised.

Rejoice! Rejoice! By touching hand

together all in God shall stand.

16

O come, O come, thou morning star,

a point of light so singular,

an unexpected hope so bright

that puts our grey despair to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The radiant dawn

shall soon console the hearts that mourn.

17

O come, O come, thou lover bold,

with warm embrace our flesh enfold;

to love our passion consecrate

that we with you may new create.

Rejoice! Rejoice! the chastener

shall pierce with truth yet melt our fear.

18

O come, O come, appointed one,

to be God’s love for everyone,

to speak on God’s behalf and show

as much of God as we need to know.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A fragrant oil

shall soon anoint for blessed toil.

19

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

God-with-us here and now to dwell,

at one with our humanity,

in whom we find our destiny.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The human face

of God with us shall interlace.

20

O come, O come, thou silent song,

the music of the spheres prolong,

that in our time soon disappears,

yet resonates in listening ears.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Through noises shrill

shall clearly sound a voice so still.

21

O come, O come, thou shaft of fire,

to lead us on through dark and more;

through desert bare thou moving cloud

protect and guide, fulfil what’s vowed.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Our God afresh

the covenant shall soon enflesh.

22

O come, O come, thou child of years,

with laughter to allay our fears,

sound the cosmos dancing light

to give the demons such a fright.

Rejoice! Rejoice! A girl, a boy,

shall leap into our hearts with joy.

23

O come, O come, thou calling child:

the creatures, those both tame and wild,

the weak and powerful, coax along

and change their trembling into song.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The vulnerable

shall make us all insep’rable.

23

O come, O come, thou unicorn,

appearing in our dreams, lovelorn,

expectant, quiv’ring, innocent,

wild messenger with God’s intent.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The Spirit shy

shall come this night with new-born cry.


Verses based on the traditional texts by Fr Alan Griffiths

17 December

Come, holy Wisdom, breath of God,

The Father’s all-fulfilling Word,

Creator Wisdom, strength and stay,

Teach us to walk thy royal way.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

18 December

O come, O come, O Adonai,

Who in a blaze of majesty

To Moses came and spoke the Law

On Sinai’s height in fear and awe.

19 December

O come, thou root of Jesse’s tree,

Who stand for all the world to see;

Let nations seek thy gentle sway,

O come to us without delay!

20 December

O key of royal David, come!

Unlock the doors of heaven’s home.

What thou hast opened, none shall close,

Safeguard for us that heavenward road.

21 December

O come, bright star of morning skies,

O Sun of justice, now arise!

Make radiant with thy holy light

The prisoners hid in death’s dark night.

22 December

O come, thou King of nations, show

Thy gentle rule on earth below;

O cornerstone of unity,

Renew us who, thou form’dst from clay.

23 December

O come, O come Emmanuel

And save thy people Israel,

Our Lord and King our Law and Light,

Come save us with great power and might.

© Alan Griffiths in Celebrating the Christian Year, volume III, Canterbury Press, 2005

“How’s the new job going?” – Sermon for All Saints Day at Christ Church Cathedral 2020

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford 1st November, 2020 Eucharist

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Revelation 7:14: 

These are they who have come through the great ordeal.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

How is the new job going?

The question I have been asked most often in the last 8 weeks.

So how is the new job going?

Well, there are a lot of rules, I say. 

There is the Blue Book, that is the lengthy document that sets out the rules for those of who live in here at Christ Church. 

Then there are the rules for our worship in the Cathedral.

As Sub Dean I read the second lesson at Matins when the Dean is not present, unless I am Canon in Residence in which case I read the first lesson, and the second only if the Dean is not present but I can give away the first lesson to someone else, which is usual, and when I am also Officiant I give away both lessons.

Well, you can see what I mean: there are a lot of rules.

Rules can seem stifling, imprisoning, trapping. It  can fee like they asphyxiate the Spirit, the very breath in us, the very breath of God.

I haven’t even mentioned the rules that the Pandemic has caused. Rules which we have struggled to keep up with. How many people are allowed in any house? How many in a bubble? How long should I wash my hands for? Where  and when do I need to wear a mask.

We can feel trapped, stifled. We are almost literally asphyxiated, our breathing hampered by these horrible bits of material on our faces. I yearn to tear mine off in church, to speak clearly, to hear clearly.

Rules, can, of course, be oppressive, tyrannical. They can be motivated by a desire to control, to dominate.

But I like rules. We need them, we can’t live without them. We need the rules of the game, of sports and board games to be fair, to enable the game to be played. To keep us safe. We needed the rules of Rugby yesterday when England won, but needed them just as much if we had lost. We need the rules of the American election to ensure a safe transfer of power if Biden wins.

We need rules.

I suppose, it will be no surprise to you that as a former Headteacher I like rules,  I enjoy the rules of this House, of this Cathedral. 

I am glad to be part of a team of wonderful people who are teaching me the rules.

I love receiving Mother Philippa’s Rubric copies of our worship booklets with the rules in Red. 

I loved being able to text her yesterday to remind me if I was doing the intercessions at Evensong and I loved getting her one word answer: Yes.

Rules keep us safe. They keep the chaos at bay. Sitting in the comforting stillness of my stall before Matins begins as my colleagues arrive and take their places I am not panicking, wondering what’s going to come, whether I need to read this lesson or that. Like a smooth, well-oiled mechanism the prayer flows and the Spirit is present.

It is that daily unfolding of prayer that is the real answer when I am asked how the new job is going. 

It has been the greatest of joy for me. 

The most exquisite experience of rightness, the joy of tumbling into this bubbling stream that has bubbled in this place since Frideswide lived here and which bubbles still. 

These eight weeks have been among the most prayerful of my life. This is the easiest building I have ever known to pray in. Kneeling in the Latin chapel I physically feel Frideswide’s presence tangibly next to me. 

Places like this are sometimes called thin places, Places where the barrier between the natural and the more than natural is barely there. Thin places is a good phrase. But this is also a place that is thick with the prayers of the centuries, thick with the memories of goodness, thick with the known and unknown, thick with those who will come after us, the centuries ahead when the pandemics of 2020 will be carved into monuments and stones and you and I are long gone.

Rules are important. After Frideswide’s community it was Augustinian canons who lived and prayed in this place; built our oldest buildings; the buildings that are the heart, the core of this place, this cathedral, the Chapter House and the Prior’s House. Preparing to move here and since I have been here I have been praying the Rule of Saint Augustine that was the rule of life of those canons who lived here. It is a beautiful document. Very short, I’ve arranged it so a short paragraph can be read each day over a month. Barely 3000 words in English. Just a hundred or so words a day.

Today we face new rules for the month ahead and perhaps even longer. Rules that are devastating to those of us who love to gather for worship. Rules the like of which we would never have imagined when this year began. Rules designed to keep us safe, to protect us.

Whatever those rules turn out to be in the next few days as bishops and lawyers send us, no doubt, many pages of guidance. Whatever those rules, the stream of prayer in this place will continue. Whether we can gather together in this building, or whether the saints will have to murmur the prayers in here for us while we pray in our homes. Whether it is online daily or weekly. Please in your own homes know that we, you, I, all of us, are praying together. The communion of all the saints is the water we swim in, the air we breathe.

When I meet with my sister and brother Chapter colleagues (on Zoom) in the next few days I am going to suggest to them that we commit to praying two texts in the weeks ahead.

Firstly the Rule of St Augustine. It is a document of its time, it has some wonderfully quirky sections. But it is very beautiful and simple. Please watch out on our website and elsewhere for posts about our praying this or some other text (they may not agree!) 

The other text I would like us to pray together is the key section of today’s Gospel, the Beatitudes.

It is one of the most profound and complex texts in the gospels, yet deceptively simple.

Most scholars believe that there were originally just the central eight invocations of the blessed, omitting the final one. It is these eight which form a perfect poem, a canticle to blessedness.

I’ve been praying the Beatitudes at mid-prayer each day for all my adult life.  I learnt the habit from the prayer book of the Taizé community in France which I first visited as a 17 year old.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, 

for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, 

for they shall be comforted!

Blessed are the meek, 

for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 

for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, 

for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, 

for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, 

for they shall be called children of God. 

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, 

for theirs is the kingdom of heav’n.

The Beatitudes are a wonderful rule of life. As we pray them together or at home as we dwell in them, we will be formed and shaped by them. They are a complex rule, they don’t tell us who is to read the second lesson, or how often to sanitise our hands. But they are a rule nevertheless. 

A rule can be a tool for measuring. They help us to judge our lives and ourselves.

 A rule keeps us accountable to each other and to God.

To what extent am I poor in spirit and meek? Am I really hungering, yearning or justice? Am I always merciful? Am I known as a peace-maker?

Is the kingdom of heaven the start and end of my life, of my day, as it is the start and end of this poem that is the Beatitudes?

Brother Roger who founded the Taizé Community distilled the Beatitudes into a simple statement:

‘Every day let your work and rest be quickened by the Word of God; keep inner silence in all things and you will dwell in Christ; be filled with the spirit of the beatitudes: joy, simplicity and mercy.’

So, this is my suggestion, that as the Christ Church community in the lockdown ahead we think about our common life by praying these texts every day. Whether you are a long standing member of the congregation, one of our wonderful sidespeople, guides, choristers, organists, employees or a member of Chapter. Whether you have just dropped in on YouTube or Twitter, whether you have been here for thirty years or like me just arrived

Dwelling in these words and allowing them to dwell in us.

The limpid simplicity of the Beatitudes, their complex depth, will help us bear the grief of these times, we will be those who mourn the many losses of lockdown and plague. Enduring this we will be those who have come through the great ordeal for Jesus is at the centre of the throne, he is our shepherd and he “leads us to springs of the water of life.”

In this pandemic may Jesus keep us all in the spirit of the Beatitudes, joyful, simple, merciful.

‘Amen! 

Blessing and glory and wisdom 

and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’