Wednesday, 24 January 2018

A sonnet for Candlemas

They came, as called, according to the Law.
Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,
They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,
For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle
They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,
Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,
Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas
And keep the day the prophecies came true
We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,
The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.

For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light
Against the dark, our Saviour’s face is bright.
Malcom Guite

Though the 12 days of Christmas end with Twelfth Night and Epiphany on 6 January, there is another sense in which this season, in which we reflect on the great mystery of God in Christ as an infant, continues until 2 February: the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

         This feast came to be called by the shorter and more beautiful name of Candlemas because the day it celebrates, recorded in Luke 2:22–40, is the day the old man Simeon took the baby in his arms and recognised him as ‘A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.’
It became the custom of the church to light a central candle and bring it to the altar to represent the Christ-light, and on the occasion of this feast to bless all the ‘lights’ or candles in the church, praying that all who saw that outward and visible light would remember also and be blessed by the inner light of Christ ‘who lightens everyone who comes into the world.’
      It had always been prophesied that God would one day come into the Temple that human beings had built for him, though Solomon, who built the first temple had said ‘even the Heavens are too small to hold you much less this temple I have built’. Candlemas is the day we realise that eternity can come into time and touch us in the form of a tiny child, that God appears at last in His Temple, not as a transcendent overlord, but as a vulnerable pilgrim, coming in His Love to walk the road of life alongside us. And what is more vulnerable than a new-born baby?

Praying a collect

A collect is a short (often general) prayer of a particular structure used in Christian liturgy. These prayers were grouped together, either according to subject matter or, later, following the sequence of the liturgical year. By the fifth century, the Church in Rome was referring to books of these prayers as collectio — ‘a collection’.
     Most of the collects in the Book of Common Prayer come from the Latin prayers for each Sunday of the year, and were translated into English by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (d. 1556).
     In more modern Anglican versions of the Communion service, such as Common Worship used in the Church of England, the Collect follows the Gloria and precedes readings from the Bible. It usually occurs after an invitation to prayer such as, ‘Let us pray.’
     The collect represents a dialogue between the people and God, and always has the same liturgical structure:
1. The address: Collects are addressed to a person of the Trinity, most commonly to God the Father.
2. An attribute or quality of God: this bit relates to the petition (below), such as ‘who is …’
3. The petition: this is the request part of the prayer and introduces the matter being asked about or requested.
4. The reason or result expected from the prayer.
5. A conclusion, such as ‘through Christ our Lord’ or another longer statement giving glory to God (a ‘doxology’). The most common Trinitarian conclusion is ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be for ever. Amen.
6. General affirmation ‘Amen.’

In some contemporary liturgical texts, this structure has been obscured by sentence constructions that depart from the Latin flowing style of a single sentence.
Look now at a real Collect — that for Bible Sunday. It includes each of the six elements above, and in the correct order, as indicated by square brackets:

[1] Blessed Lord,
[2] who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
[3] help us so to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
[4] that we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,
[5] who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
[6] Amen.

William Temple

William Temple was born in 1881 in Exeter, Devon. He was the second son of Frederick Temple (1821–1902), born just before his father became Archbishop of Canterbury.
       He graduated from Oxford with a superb degree then stayed in Oxford to teach. While still teaching, he was ordained in 1909.
       Between 1910 and 1914, Temple was Headmaster of Repton Public School after which he returned to ministry as a full-time cleric. After a short time in Parish life, Temple served first as Bishop of Manchester (1921–29), then Archbishop of York (1929–42) and finally as Archbishop of Canterbury (1942–44).
     Temple was a tireless teacher and preacher. He was also a prolific writer. Today, he is perhaps best known for his book Christianity and Social Order which he published in 1942 soon after becoming Archbishop of Canterbury. The book attempted to combine socialism and faith. By it, he wanted to create an Anglican social theology capable of promoting a just post-war society. He also used it to weld together his defence of the working-class movement with economic and social reforms. It sold prodigiously and made a huge impact which led directly to Clement Attlee’s post-war Government creating the welfare state.
     William Temple held a dizzying array of other offices, all of which were underpinned by his desire to improve Britain — the country, its people and its national Church. He was the first President (1908–1924) of the Workers’ Educational Association; he was chairman of an international and inter-denominational Conference on Christian Politics, Economics and Citizenship held in 1924; he participated widely in the ecumenical movement that sought to bring together the different Christian denominations. He was one of the Anglican delegates to the World Conference on Faith and Order held in Lausanne in 1927, and helped to prepare and chair the second World Conference Faith and Order in
Edinburgh 1937. He is also noted for being one of the founders of the Council of Christians and Jews in 1942.
     Temple worked tirelessly to bring together the various British Churches to support the Education Act of 1944. This same energy led him to form the British Council of Churches and help form the World Council of Churches.
     Temple died on 26 October 1944 and remains the last Archbishop of Canterbury to have died while in office.

The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.
William Temple

Remember me

The new year is well under way and Christmas seems no more than a distant memory. I recall its warmth and joy ... but only just; there seems a fog between even the recent past and today.
         If remembering events from a month ago is difficult, how can a modern person ‘remember’ Jesus and first-century Palestine? Yet that’s precisely what we say we do in the liturgy and in life?.
         The Jews of Jesus’ time often spoke of ‘remembering’ but it was never as a mere act of the mind. It was never an occasional act of “Oh yes, …” but an attempt to immerse self fully into the story or incident to be remembered. It required a good sense of imagination so, for example, to remember the story of Jesus in the wilderness required imagining self living alongside Jesus in his agonies of temptation. It required an active imagining of self looking at Jesus as he spoke with famished lips, and saw visions of angels or devils.
      A life spent remembering Jesus in this ancient sense will acquire an empathy with Jesus that cannot be gained elsewhere. It will seek to identify with Jesus and thence follow him. 

Friday, 1 December 2017


Epiphany is a Greek word meaning ‘manifestation or appearance’.
    Because an Epiphany is an experience of sudden and striking realisation, the term can be used to describe a scientific breakthrough, a religious or philosophical discovery, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realisation allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. For this reason, Epiphanies are studied by psychologists and other scholars, particularly those attempting to study the process of innovation.
In the Church, the word Epiphany describes experiences in which God Himself somehow speaks to us or which lead to God.
     The readings chosen for the month-long season of Epiphany explore the ways God makes Himself known. A constructive use of the readings will help create a mindset in which our meditations make is easier to understand when a revelation or discovery is indeed of God.
     The Church’s season of Epiphany ends on 2 February when we celebrate Candlemas—itself a moment of Epiphany, as we remember two old people (Simeon and Anna) who saw the baby Jesus and discerned in him the Messiah.