The Plague Rag
Faith, and its practice, is an ongoing struggle for Christians. To live in the world and to live as a Christian has been an ongoing struggle since the start of the Church.
At the time of Jesus’s death, the Jewish faith was quite broad, and centred on the Temple worship. But some forty years after Our Lord’s death the Temple was destroyed by the Romans during the revolt of Judea, and it lost its centre as the heart of Jewish worship. Henceforth synagogues would become increasingly the place of what defined a Jew, and as a result, the broadness of Jewish belief narrowed as the Jewish religious leaders struggled to preserve their faith.
Consider the problem for a Christian who was also a practising Jew. You have been regular in going to the synagogue, kept the commandments, and yet also believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the fulfilment of the Jewish hope. The belief in Christ is not a conflict, but a joyful fulfilment of the Jewish hope. But now you have to make choices: you cannot be a practising Jew and a practising Christian – what do you choose?
Then you are expelled from the synagogue, and also from your community, the people with whom you have shared a lifetime in faith. Your old ways of worship are now impossible, you can no longer worship in the temple or in the community of the synagogue. Instead you have to struggle to adapt the life of the synagogue into new ways and a new community, following the call of the Messiah, Jesus, who gave his life in the service of all.
Well, the Church evolved in the pagan world and developed a richness of life that has fulfilled Christians for centuries. Around Judea we think many Jewish Christians continued in a synagogue life and followed the Jewish Law while at the same time holding to their Christian beliefs, but as time passed, they increasingly became a minority.
It was this background that caused so many of the problems that St Paul deals with in his letters. These letters have remained useful to Christians, as there is always a struggle between the way faith has been expressed in the world, with competing demands.
We are now also living with one of those struggles. For the past months the churches have been closed, a situation unique in our Western history. We have lived through many plagues and pandemics, in the past we have had to resort to outside services, but never have we closed our churches for such a prolonged period. In the times of plagues in centuries past the Church would be there giving the last rites and comforting the sick, or leading processions pleading for God’s mercy on the sick. Not anymore. Our churches are closed. Some bishops have even forbidden the clergy to use their churches for private prayer. We struggle with these restrictions.
This raises the question: what are we here for? Does the Church have a role in this world?
I have watched a few streaming services over the last few weeks. Some have been excellently done with good resources – many of you have mentioned the ones done by Christ Church St Lawrence in Sydney in particular. I have also seen some awful ones done by a priest with a handheld camera: I commend the intent but deplore the result. It also strikes me as odd to see people preaching to an empty space, as if it does not matter that no one is there, that the hidden viewers from online streaming are the equivalent of a living congregation. Have our congregations become so passive it does not matter if they are physically or electronically present? Is this our role now, electronic streaming to a passive market?
So why come to Church?
If we come to church just for the social event, then we lack the spiritual depth the Church offers. But our tradition holds that we come to take part in the eternal sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and receive from this inclusion in his very body and blood.
That is why we have mass at St George’s not just on Sunday, but every day we can. That is why the mass has continued throughout this crisis. Our church here at Goodwood is not shuttered and silent. Every morning the mass is said, and we intercede for the needs of the world and the parish: for healing, comfort and the salvation of each and every soul.
The Church is there to touch and tend the wounds of the world. For the first time in our history this has not been possible, physically. We cannot sit and pray by the side of the dying. We cannot even leave our churches open for prayer. But we can know that our church, here at Goodwood, continues Our Lord’s command to take and eat this in memory of he who died and rose again for us.
I have been touched by the attendance at our daily witness at our outside shrine of Our Lady every day at noon. It is a service designed to allow minimal contact and minimal time to allow our public witness to continue. I know that for many of you it has not been possible because of distance or health issues. But others have been able, and thank you for your witness.
Here at St George’s we lost an old friend on Friday morning – the kurrajong tree at the front of the church blew over in the rain and wind. One of the former students of the school here remembered it being planted in the 1930s, so it’s given 90 years of pleasure to us.
Now for a good and rousing hymn, to finish in true Anglican style. On our last Sunday that we had a public mass we used St Patrick’s breastplate. It derives from a prayer that St Patrick is meant to have used to ask for protection against his enemies, hence the invocations in it. The great Mrs Alexander, a wife of an Irish Anglican bishop, set it to the prose we know now in 1889. She also wrote All Things bright and Beautiful and Once in Royal David’s City. The music to the hymn was originally set in 1902 by the noted composer Charles Villiers Stanford for chorus and organ, using two traditional Irish tunes. It is unusual in that the tunes change during the hymn. Here is a version by Keble College, Oxford, that great College founded in memory of John Keble, one of the leaders of the Catholic Renewal whom we commemorate every year on Catholic Renewal Sunday, the anniversary of his great sermon. There are different versions of the hymn, here is one. The English Hymnal has a longer version, which I am rather fond of as well.
1 I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three.
2 I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
his baptism in the Jordan river,
his death on cross for my salvation,
his bursting from the spiced tomb,
his riding up the heavenly way,
his coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.
3 I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea
around the old eternal rocks.
4 I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay,
God’s ear to hearken to my need,
the wisdom of my God to teach,
God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to ward,
the word of God to give me speech,
God’s heavenly host to be my guard.
5 Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
6 I bind unto myself the name,
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three,
of whom all nature has creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
salvation is of Christ the Lord!
Hello! Here are two quick links to start the day with:
- Bishop Philip North offers a short but valuable meditation on the ‘new normal’ and life after Covid 19 – it is full of hope: https://youtu.be/xY6_fCoYJFQ.
- Following our recent links on the liturgical arts, here is another site – this time for the Orthodox. It includes articles on structural engineering, acoustics and the like for the technically minded. https://orthodoxartsjournal.org
Several years ago, three of us were stranded in Mt Hagen, awaiting a scheduled flight to either Simbai or Madang. After several days Bishop Nathan Ingan, an old friend of St George’s, found seats for us on plane ferrying aid personnel down to the coast. As the other passengers clambered into the back of the five-seat aircraft, I took the seat next to the pilot. Showing considerably ingenuity, he unfolded his Australian Army ordnance maps from the early seventies, cut through the first pass into the adjoining valley, then checked the weather and the map before choosing the next pass and so on until we made it down to Madang. The total descent was over 1,600M and the peaks in the Hagen Range – which we flew between, not over – reach 3,000M.
Since that day I’ve been an avid fan of Mission Aviation Fellowship – https://maf.org.au. MAF Australia’s fleet of small aircraft and highly capable aircrew can take-off and land on rough, crude airstrips that commercial aviation can’t even contemplate, and to access parts of the world that can’t be reached by road due to either geographic isolation or natural disaster. Please take a look at their introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joGNDqr8COA&feature=youtu.be.
In Northern Australia, PNG and East Africa MAF support over two thousand organisations such as World Vision, Habitat for Humanity and UNICEF by providing reliable and timely delivery of emergency supplies and personnel. Food arrives in time to alleviate hunger, medicines and emergency medical evacuations save lives, and goods and supplies improve living conditions.
As this short list of agencies illustrates, MAF does support secular aid organisations. Its specifically Christian mission is through supporting missionaries, local evangelists, indigenous church workers and church capacity building.
In case you miss it, MAF has a great story on women and flying – a problem right up to the present day. https://maf.org.au/miles-for-mothers-day/.
If you’re having any difficulty accessing these resources, please contact Tim Hender at email@example.com.