FRESH EXPRESSION (dated 1662)

THERE ARE MOMENTS OF PURE JOY in parish life. What better gift, what better way to celebrate the first of our Parish Centenary events across 2010 than a Sunday Candlemas – the Feast of The Presentation of Christ in The Temple. Better begin (in these days of Growth Action Planning and “He’s turning the world upside down”) with a “fresh expression”. So we did. With (1662) Prayer Book Choral Evensong, a mixed choir of thirty, robed and unrobed, ‘traditional’ and ‘music group’, and the nave filled row after row. And it’s one of the seven deadliest sins, I know, but of all of them tonight, of all of us, of the entire parish family here, I’m proud as Punch! We’ve been helping each other along the road to glory for years and years and years …

A blind man recognises a beloved face by barely touching it with seeing fingers, and tears of joy, the true joy of recognition, will fall from his eyes after a long separation.

Osip Mandelstam, The Word and Culture

Subtitled text from Haggai 2 announced reflection on The Future Glory of the Temple. And Romans 12 exhorted us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”.

What then is to be “The Future Glory of this Temple?” I wondered aloud in the pulpit. “What is the name of the song, the psalm, the canticle of praise that we would sing a hundred years from now?”

In Lent this year some of us will take up Terry Hershey’s “The Power of Pause”. It holds some clues as to the whereabouts of the Temple “not made by human hands”:

“… when I am present I am grateful. And gratitude is always a type of prayer.

… the entire region is bathed in sunshine. Now, at dusk, the cloud cover is scattered like tattered pieces of cloth … the sky is spring blue, baby boy blue … the water is ice blue and the mountains are blanketed with snow. In the clear winter air the mountains stand stalwart – enduring, comforting, and settling. they are bigger than any of my pettiness. And their beauty slows my breathing and eases my mind (page 27)

The well known priest and author, the late Henri Nouwen once wrote:

Too often I looked at being relevant, popular and powerful as ingredients of an effective ministry. Jesus sends us out to be shepherds and Jesus promises a life in which we increasingly have to stretch out our hand and be led to places where we think we’d rather not go. He asks us to move from a concern for relevance … to a life of prayer; from worries about popularity … to communal and mutual ministry. What is new is that we have moved from the many things, to the Kingdom of God.

Henri Nouwen, In The Name of Jesus.

Ah! To the Kingdom of God. Look, my friends. Look beyond our little Evensong. Look hard. Can you see him there, with Anna? They’ve been dreaming about mountains and hills, and valleys and plains, and rising up like eagles, and blue sky and a blue lake, and a Kingdom promised from the beginning of time. And whilst they’re waking from their slumbers, as though in direct response to the prayers of their patient waiting, one of the most beautiful women that ever walked upon the face of the earth came near. A young woman most pure, still seeking purification.

Simeon stumbled forward, barely able to see through tears of recognition. He touched Mary’s beautiful face, and she placed a small white bundle into the trembling arms of this old man of the Temple.

And a rainbow stretched out over Mount Zion. The elderly Anna gasped and knelt down at Mary’s feet and the old man said, a little croakily:

Nunc Dimittis

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.

For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation;

Which thou hast prepared :

before the face of all people;

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

Luke 2.29-32

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end.  Amen.

Never was fresher expression uttered. All that we ever longed for has been made available to us. All that we ever feared about death, or life, has been put to flight. Though hearts may sometimes be seared by sword, yet may we hold the Saviour. Yet we may hold, in an infant then and in every infant littleness now, a Song, a Psalm, a Canticle of Praise that we would sing a hundred years from now, and that with heartfelt gratitude and awe:

Nunc Dimittis. Now I may die in peace. I’ve longed for a fresh expression.

So I came. Present. Really there. And I opened the Church’s ancient Prayer Book, and found the reason it was written. God be praised.