screwtape letters - ch. 2
lifting up the lowly
A few random thoughts for these random times:
As I got off the train at Newtown, I noticed a young man, a member of staff, wiping down one of the benches on the platform, and it made me think about who are the really important people in our society, at the moment. Doctors, nurses, teachers. Yes all of those. But what about cleaners? The shelf-fillers? The girl at the checkout? The bus drivers? Normally we don’t give them a second glance, if we even gave them a first. Some bad people might suggest that a few of our politicians could go into self-isolation without being noticed. But if the supermarket shelves are not filled things will not be good. The lowly have been lifted up!
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was to have a son. So, I thought that I might just say a little about the Angelus, which is based on that event
The Angelus is a form of prayer traditionally said three times a day – morning, noon and evening – and is accompanied by the ringing of a bell. The devotion consists of the saying of three pieces of scripture, each followed by a ‘Hail Mary’, and a final collect. (See below for the whole thing). The bell rings three times for each Hail Mary and nine times for the collect. (At the end is a short video which you can listen to).
So, that’s the bare outline, but what is it all about? The idea of it is that it provides a brief pause every so often during a busy day to remember the fact that God became a human – the greatest event in history. As the bell rings, our minds turn to God, who tends to get overlooked at times. We also join with Mary in her obedience to the fearful but great task God gave her and announced to her by the angel.
The Angel of the Lord brought tidings to Mary,
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
Be it done to me according to your Word.
Hail Mary, full of grace...
And the Word was made flesh,
And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, full of grace...
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray:
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by his cross and passion, be brought, to the glory of his resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today is the Feast day of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, Martyr.
He was born in 1917 in a small village in San Salvador, and became a priest, noted for being quiet and unassuming. By the 1970's, the country was in turmoil, both political and social, and he was chosen as Archbishop because of his neutral position on most things. But, as Archbishop, he started speaking out, very vocally, against poverty and injustice and continued to do so even after death threats. On March 24th, 1980, he was shot while giving out communion in the cathedral.
I always think that these modern day saints are so much more 'realistic' than some of the older ones, in that we can understand their world and through them we can see how it is possible to live as a christian in the modern world.
Below is a passage from a sermon he gave six weeks before his death. I great thing to read, especially for those who believe that 'faith and politics should be kept apart'!
'I shall not try to talk, and you cannot expect me to talk, as would an expert in politics. Nor will I even speculate, as someone might who was an expert, on the theoretical relationship between faith and politics. No, I'm going to speak to you simply as a pastor, as one who, together with his people, has been learning the beautiful but harsh truth that the Christian faith does not cut us off from the world but immerses us in it, that the Church is not a fortress set apart from the city. The Church follows Jesus who lived, worked, battled and died in the midst of the city, in the polis. It is in this sense that I should like to talk about the political dimension of the Christian faith: in the precise sense of the repercussions of the faith on the world, and also of the repercussions that being in the world has on the faith.
We ought to be clear from the start that the Christian faith and the activity of the Church have always had socio-political repercussions. By commission or omission, by associating themselves with one or another social group, Christians have always had an influence upon the socio-political makeup of the world in which they live. The problem is about the ‘how’ of this influence in the socio-political world, whether or not it is in accordance with the faith.
The essence of the Church lies in its mission of service to the world, in its mission to save the world in its totality, and of saving it in history, here and now. The Church exist to act in solidarity with the hopes and joys, the anxieties and sorrows, of men and women. Like Jesus, the Church was sent ‘to bring good news to the poor, heal the contract of heart, to seek and save what was lost.’ To put it in one word – in a word that sums it all up and makes it concrete – the world that the Church ought to serve is, for us, the world of the poor.
Our Salvadoran world is no abstraction. It is not another example of what is understood by ‘world’ in developed countries. It is a world made up mostly of people who are poor and oppressed. What we say of that world of the poor is that it is the key to understanding the Christian faith, to understanding the activity of the Church, and the political dimension of that faith and that ecclesial activity. It is to the poor who tell us what the polis is, what the city is, and what it means for the Church really to live in that world.'
I am at present making a bit of a study of the book of the prophet Jeremiah. It’s one of those books that I have not had to much contact with, outside the lectionary readings - which don’t happen that often - so when a unit was offered on it at Moore College, I took up the offer.
The story takes place during an interesting time in Judah’s history - the late 7th - early 6th Century B.C. By this time Judah, the southern kingdom, was the only one left. Israel, the northern kingdom, had been destroyed about 100 years before this time by the Assyrians and most of its people taken into captivity. But by the end of the 7th century, Assyria was in decline and Babylon was the new bad boy on the block. Anyway, in about the year 605, the Babylonians pop down south, capture Jerusalem, take a few people captive, put a puppet king on the throne, then go home.
After four years, the puppet king rebels, deciding to trust in Judah’s alliance with Egypt to help them against the Babylonians. The Babylonians head south again, this time angry. The Babylonians do not like subject nations rebelling.
So, Jeremiah (who, by the way, was probably not a bullfrog*) is doing his stuff in this period. Basically, his is a message of doom and gloom. He points out, as very, that Judah has turned from YHWH (a.k.a God) and has been doing unspeakable acts with Baals and other gods. So Jeremiah’s first point is that they should repent - always a good place to start. But he then goes goes on to say that they must not trust Egypt. They should surrender to the Babylonians, and then the city would survive and the people would survive. This is not a message the authorities want to hear, and Jeremiah becomes distinctly unpopular. He is jailed, beaten up, threatened with death, even thrown dow a well. (It is interesting that a lot of the book is taken up with Jeremiah whinging to God - why did you choose me? I don’t want to be a prophet! etc). It might have been some consolation when he was proved right. The Babylonians com, the Egyptians don’t; the Babylonians besiege Jerusalem, capture it, destroy the city and the temple, and take the people off into captivity in Babylon (‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ as Boney M put it). And just to show how miffed they were, they captured the rebel king and the last thing he saw was his children having their heads cut off before his eyes were poked out. Don’t mess with the Babylonians.
So, there’s the basic picture. Not happy. Nearly the whole book (and it is the longest book in the Bible) is doom-laden. Except one small section in the middle, known as the Book of Comfort.
In this part, the mood changes. In this, God announces that He will bring the nation back and not just Judah but Israel as well. And it is not just that the nation will be restored but will be renewed. There will be a new creation. What looks like a complete and utter disaster (the exile lasted for 70 years) would turn into something new and glorious, as there will be a new covenant. Just as in the Isaiah passage I quoted yesterday, God is in control and will do things His way. We just have to trust. Even when it seems ludicrous - like surrendering to the Babylonians - we must trust. A great thing to hear at the moment!
Don't be afraid
Today was the first time I celebrated the Eucharist with the doors closed. It was odd. For the first time we wanted nobody to com to church. That too was odd! In fact it was all a bit scary. Who would have thought a few weeks ago that we would be in this position? And fear does seem to be a major ingredient in the world of today. Just look at the way we stockpile toilet roll!
It is out of our control; that’s probably the worst thing. It seems to be happening a lot recently. Bush fires. Drought. And now this. We have learnt to rely on the stability of our first world culture - wealth, medicine, education, liberal values. And suddenly that culture gets hit by something that does not care how white middle-class you are; or whatever colour or class. It doesn’t care whether you have money or not; health insurance or not. It just IS and it is out of our control.
The great cry of the enlightenment, of secular humanism, is that we, as a species are progressing, and that we can mould our own destiny. We can control nature to serve us, and we know best how to do it.
Then our country burns. We have no water. We get sick. We realise that nature cannot be consoled. And we fear.
As ever, when these things come to mind, God seems to throw up a gentle reminder. ‘Don’t be afraid. I am in control.’
He does not say that he is going to remove the suffering. He is not saying that things will be easier for us. He just tells us not to be afraid, because fear is so limiting; fear stops us being.
So, as I was saying Morning Prayer this morning, thinking about that is going on, I got to the Old Testament reading, from Isaiah. It’s worth printing it in full because it really is a great reminder.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth--
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’
Do not be afraid.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.