Hymn for Lent

This is a retrieval of a text I’ve never quite been satisfied with. One day, I shall come back to it knowing what I’ve got to change. Nonetheless, I think it still usuable, given how few hymns for Lent there are. It is probably most appropriate for the first Sunday of Lent, with the gospel of the temptations in the desert.

I wrote this with the tune Picardy in my head. Since that draft, Kathryn Rose (@artsyhonker) wrote a tune for it, Harringey, which you can find here.

Here’s the current text. As with other hymns and prayers on this site, you can use it under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 Creative Commons Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).

From the Jordan to the desert,
from the crowd to barren place,
Spirit-driven, devil-tempted,
Lord, you sought the Father’s grace
show us now your pow’r, in weakness,
presence in the empty space.

Out of Egypt with God’s people,
freedom brings its testing stress:
what is right and what is truthful,
how the name of God confess?
Jesus, lead us on our journey,
guide us through the wilderness.

Lack of food for empty stomach,
offered only cold hard stone;
scripture used to tempt and strengthen;
easy route to grasp the throne:
Bread of life, and Word incarnate
help us worship God alone.

In the search for loving justice,
in the quest for truth and right,
Jesus walk beside, before us,
hold your Cross of love in sight;
keep us in your Father’s presence,
guide us to your risen light.

Pet hates: the running homily

This is the first of an occasional series. You’ve probably heard the joke: what’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist. (Other variations are available!) Like many people interested in liturgy, I have strong views about a number of things that make, or don’t make, for good worship. I will, from time to time, write a post on one or other of them.

Today I critique what I call the running homily or sermon. This is where the presider or leader feels compelled to introduce every item of the liturgy with some kind of explanation. Very often this will be an attempt to tie each item to a theme they have decided to give to the service.

The Alternative Service Book (ASB 1980 – RIP 2000) introduced themes to Anglican worship: each Sunday’s readings were linked in some way to a teaching theme. (I think that was where the rot set in.) And so those responsible for shaping and leading the liturgy felt compelled to tie everything to this theme: not only the homily, the prayers and the hymns, but virtually every item in the service by way of giving it an “introduction”. So the idea of a running homily developed and threaded its way through the whole service.

There are three reasons why this is a bad idea. The first is that the liturgy is primarily a vehicle for us to offer worship to God. The running homily turns it primarily into a vehicle for educating the congregation. It is counter to the purpose for which we gather.

The second is that it prevents the liturgy from flowing, leading people through its own rhythms of word, song and silence, of speaking and listening, of moving through preparation to word, from word to prayer, from prayer to table, from table to mission. At every point we stop to be instructed. Even assuming a higher standard of instruction than the vapid and vacuous “vain repetitions” I have sometimes experienced, the point still stands. The presider stops the liturgy working by constantly inserting themselves as explainer and instructor.

The third is that no congregation will be on the same page on the same day. Indeed, probably no individual within the congregation will be on the same page throughout the service. We have different needs and come from different contexts. Trying to shoehorn the diversity of individual needs into a monochromatic teaching theme inhibits people from bringing their real selves to the table. Good presiding facilitates the encounter between people’s real lives and God’s story and presence. That means the creation of space in which it can happen. Too much thematic teaching fills the available space with a single voice rather than making space for the diversity of voices people bring with them.

There is a reason Common Worship turned its back on themes. May each presider do the same. Reject the running homily.

Visions, vindication and victory: the strange world of the Apocalypse

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The Revelation to John, also known as the Apocalypse, contains seven letters, which make up the second and third chapters. However, it is not itself a letter, but the only New Testament book which as a whole is in the literary genre of apocalyptic. This is a type of literary description of visions that claim to unveil the meaning of history for those in the know.1 They often contain the metaphor of a journey through heavenly or spiritual realms with a guide. The vision at the heart of the Apocalypse is that the soft power of the Lamb’s self-sacrifice will be triumphant over the hard power of the mighty Roman empire. While readings from this book are used on a number of feast days,1 Revelation also provides the second reading for the Sundays of Easter in Year C. Its celebration of Christ’s triumph draws out a key aspect of the Easter gospel.

Readers are somewhat prone to introducing readings from this book wrongly. It is the Book of Revelation in the singular, not Revelations in the plural. The book itself claims to be the record of a single revelation, handed from God to Jesus and from Jesus via an angel to his servant John. There is only one secret to be unveiled: the triumph of God over evil through the cross of Christ.

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The material reality of love: the letters of John

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

Although there are three letters which bear John’s name, the second and third are very short, and perhaps show something of how the teaching of the longer letter is put into action in some specific relationships. Only the first letter is used in the lectionary. This letter in particular shares some significant thinking and vocabulary with the Fourth Gospel. Whether this means they come from the same person or simply the same theological circles is impossible to say. None of them give their author a name. Tradition has associated them with John the Apostle, but there is no way of knowing exactly what relationship, if any, he had with the circles from which these writings came.

Detail from a portrait of John the Apostle by Alonso Cano. John is often portrayed blessing a poisoned chalice. For more on this story, see the page for this picture at the Louvre.
Continue reading “The material reality of love: the letters of John”

On the periphery of the Bible: 2 Peter and Jude

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

Some books of the Bible are effectively marginalised. In today’s church, Second Peter and Jude are among those which are pushed out to the edge of the canon. Modern scholars’ doubts that 2 Peter was written by Peter are paralleled by the early church’s reluctance to accept the book as one for public reading. Jude was rather more popular in the earliest centuries. When it comes to our lectionaries, there are only two readings from second Peter, and none from Jude. One comes in Advent,1 and the other is one of those provided for the Feast of the Transfiguration.2

Today’s scholarship is overwhelmingly convinced that 2 Peter is not from Peter’s hand, but written to perpetuate the author’s view of Peter’s teaching. It seems something almost written in the genre of a testament or farewell speech (see 2 Pet 1:14-15). Quite oddly, Peter’s second chapter plagiarises the letter of Jude, which is a good reason for treating them together. Jude’s letter, like Peter’s second chapter, is rooted in traditions of Jewish interpretation and apocalyptic literature. Both are full of urgent and dire moral warning.

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The first papal encyclical? 1 Peter

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

My title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Historically, Rome seems not to have had a single monarchical bishop until well into the second century. Nonetheless, there is a sense that, in looking back to Peter as the first pope, church tradition reflects his calling to be first among the apostles, the rather wobbly rock on which Jesus chooses to start building his church, as well as his clear association with Rome, from where this letter appears to be written. More accurately, calling it an encyclical picks up the way in which it is written to a circle of churches rather than a single congregation.

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Keeping it in the family: James

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

Short selections of James are read mainly in the latter part of Year B.1 The letter, largely full of practical moral guidance in a largely traditional Jewish mode, sometimes has echoes of Jesus’ teaching. Tradition attributes it to James, the brother of Jesus, and nearly all its content fits with the picture we gain elsewhere of James, clearly a leader in the Jerusalem church in Paul’s day. In this prominence of Jesus’ brother in the community, the early Jesus movement is showing that traditional Jewish family and community values were maintained alongside the more radical prophetic note Jesus often sounded.

The strongest arguments against James’ authorship are the high quality of the Greek the letter is written in and perhaps the apparently settled and socially unequal nature of the Christian synagogue James is challenging about their behaviour. The question of who wrote the letter does not substantially affect its meaning.2

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