Blessed Virgin Mary
(Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)
Week Commencing 17th August 2014
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Blessed Virgin Mary
Today’s Gospel reading: John 19.25-27
We should acknowledge the very special and primordial role that women play in the ongoing history of humanity, with Mary being the foremost example. For me, the greatest human that has ever lived was a woman: Mary. Jesus Christ is God-man. He cannot be grouped into the category of "rank-and-file" human.
However, Mary was all human - body and soul. Thus, regardless of how our feelings may have been conditioned about Mary, Her role was and is essential to the redemption of humanity.
We cannot expect to reach the height of perfection of Jesus and Mary, but instead of becoming discouraged by it, we should look to the holy men and women of history as a reminder of the level of holiness that may be attained by striving to imitate Jesus and Mary. Jesus and Mary are Whom we should strive to imitate - the role models, so to speak, of humans - and not the holy men and women of history.
Music this Week
Born at Cambridge, December 1583; died at Canterbury, 5 June 1625. The short-lived Gibbons, who died of a stroke (not of, as was originally feared, the plague) while helping to prepare the music-making for the coronation of Charles I, operated entirely within a Protestant establishment. He wrote four dozen keyboard pieces, a slightly smaller number of works for viol consort, and various madrigals (much the most popular of which is The Silver Swan); but probably his best achievements are his works for the Anglican church, such as the Short Service, from which today’s Magnificat come.
Intended for Evensong, this music meets the prevailing church authorities’ requirements that the words be easily understood by all the congregation’s members – for much of the time Gibbons sticks to a straightforward chordal texture, with one syllable per note – but clever use of imitation makes the music sound more consistently contrapuntal than it actually is.
The Way of Christ is Peace
There is perhaps no greater empathy aroused in times of war and strife than when we see the intolerable suffering of children; the desperate eyes of the innocent; the tears of orphaned babies, frightened, hungry, sapped of all hope and devoid of love. Their little mangled bodies lie on crimson sheets, spliced by shrapnel, traumatised by nightmares, soaked in the stench of their own urine. These images leave a wound far deeper than any weapon of mass destruction.
Whilst away I was listening to the newly installed Bishop of Leeds the Rt Rev’d Nick Bains talking on ‘Thought For The Day’ on BBC Radio. He said that it was "written in the face of the horrors of Gaza, Syria, Ukraine and all the other bloody conflicts filling the news screens, and with a strict word limit". His subject was Psalm 137 - the well-known lament which begins "By the Rivers of Babylon". He writes:
Now, Psalm 137 is not a comfortable song; nor is it a song for the comfortable. It ends with a shrill cry of pain and hatred: “God, I wish you’d take the children of my enemies and smash their heads against the rocks.” But, it isn’t there to justify an ethic. It isn’t there to suggest it is right to think such awful things of other people’s children. It is there for two reasons: first, to confront us with the reality of how deep our own human hatred can go, and, secondly, to tell us not to lie to God (thinking he can’t handle that reality or the depths of human despair).
Christians tend to focus on the messianic blessings and sing about the glories of Zion: we love the psalms of thanksgiving, kingship and confidence, and meditate on those of remembrance and wisdom. About a third of the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are drawn from the Psalms, which highlights their theological significance and liturgical importance to the Early Church.
But the Psalter is also full of bitter curses which offend modern sensibilities. Curses against enemies abound, often in otherwise sublime settings of supreme sacrifice, humility and brokenness. The Christian will naturally feel that the spirit of anger and hatred reflected in these sections falls well below Jesus' teaching and moral standards: it's hardly an expression of love for one's enemies to pray that God would take their children and smash their heads against the rocks.
But the intense suffering of the Jews in exile naturally aroused the desire for such horror: we want to hate our enemies, and rather enjoy wishing upon them all manner of suffering and strife. The parents of Gaza are teaching their children that Jews are lower than pigs; the Jews of Israel are teaching their children that Palestinians are all terrorists; the Sunni 'Islamic State' in Iraq are beheading the cultic Shia and slaughtering infidel Christians; the Shia are fighting back where they can. The dismembered Christians might be forgiven as they pray in their bombed-out churches for their enemies to die and rot in hell.
But we must bear in mind the fact that for most of the psalmists there was no meaningful afterlife, and so no vindication of the righteous or judgment of the wicked. Rather like today, when notions of heaven and hell are routinely dismissed with the goblins and fairies of Neverland, we prefer judgment to be seen to be done in this world. The final lines of Psalm 137 cannot really be understood without considering that the psalmist was passionate about and impatient for justice:
Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said,
Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
Such laments take us to the depths of helplessness and forsakenness. They are cries of distress when there is nowhere to turn: God has abandoned us and our enemies mock and scorn - or terrorise, persecute and murder. Impulsively but genuinely we want their children to be fatherless and their wives to become widows (Psalm 109:8f). And we hope to God that their bastard offspring don't grow up to be another generation of murderous devils.
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19:14).
Those who are taught resentment and loathing will not easily find Jesus or enter the kingdom. Violence breeds violence and hate engenders hate. The way of Christ is peace. In our secular world this may seem like sheer folly. But it is a choice we make in the hope and anticipation that God's love will finally prevail through the way of the cross, despite our inability to see how this may be possible when warring hearts are filled with grievances and pain.
There is nothing at all to be gained from smashing the heads of babies against the rocks. No, that way lays a world wracked by revenge and ever more violence.
© Michael Fuller
St John’s Prayer List
Would you like to add someone who is sick, suffering, or who has died, to our prayer list? There are many ways to do this:
Fill out the prayer request form in the Narthex before the service.
Speak to Fr Michael or one of the wardens.
Contact the office by phone or email.
Garden Party in Tsawwassen
Saturday, September 6th, 3:00pm
Summer and I would like to invite everyone involved at SJS to our home for a potluck tea / early supper. Please talk to me after church on Sundays this summer, or leave a message for me with the office if I am away.
Karin Fulcher and Summer
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