Trinity 16 – Roman 13:8-14, Matthew 18.15-20
Link to Rev Alison Way video reflection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQGi0DQ7wwE
Link to Bishop Ruth’s video reflection: https://youtu.be/9FyYjdmfBUg
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
As we mark this year’s season of creation, I was reminded in our Romans reading about God creating day and night – In the first Genesis account of creation it says
3 Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
What triggered thinking about this was the phrase – The night is far gone, the day is near. Night follows day and day follows night. We live in a part of the world where the length of the day and night varies with the season and as we move into autumn the nights are drawing in as they say
That phrase the night is far gone and the day is near from our Romans passage is included in the traditional vestry prayer (more commonly for an 8am communion service). That goes like this
Abide with us, Lord Jesus, for the night is now past and the day is at hand. As the night watch looks for the morning, so do we look for you, O Christ. Come with the dawning of the day and make yourself known in the breaking of the bread. Amen
Embedded in there is that phrase from Romans for the night is now past and the day is at hand. It is a phrase asking us to be ready, willing. Asking us to be timely and prepared to follow God this day and every day. It is about not losing sight of the ball. Of not losing our focus and our heart through the trials and tribulations we can experience.
I have some fondness for the phrase ‘Life is not a rehearsal’ in this regard. Life is to be lived, moment by moment, day by day. Recent times have taught us this in new ways and peeled back the layers of our complicated 21st century lives.
What is promised in our relationship with God is the sense of readiness and in touchness with God we need to follow his way day by day.
The second way I was reminded of that phrase 12the night is far gone, the day is near is via the ancient office of Compline or night prayer. This is something we had planned to do in Holy week but Covid-19 put pay to that. I first encountered night prayer at Hilfield friary over 35 years ago… When I first went to the camp they hold for young people – (sadly this is the first year in 44 that camp has not happened)
I know some of us have been to Hilfield, and it is sad we cannot in the current circumstances do the usual parish quiet day there. For me it is a very special place – I would say a ‘thin place’ where heaven and earth meet.
Anyway back to night prayer, the opposite of our phrase comes up in their liturgy, which marks the beginning of their greater silence, This is probably one of the most ancient short worship services there is. They say it thoughtfully, quietly and prayerfully. It is powerful in its simplicity and its safety and sense of God with us. In this short service, it concludes with some kind of blessing responses– that goes like this:-
In peace we will lie down and sleep; for you alone, Lord, make us dwell in safety.
Abide with us, Lord Jesus, for the night is at hand and the day is now past.
As the night watch looks for the morning, so do we look for you, O Christ.
And on Sundays – they add – Come with the dawning of the day and make yourself known in the breaking of the bread
In there as well as its obvious relation to the vestry prayer is our phrase from Romans, but turned about – for the night is at hand and the day is now past. And it brings into sharp focus God’s protection and care for us as we sleep. It is important to reflect on God in everything and the untime bounded nature of our loving God. We may well be sleeping, but God is just as much with us in the hours of darkness as he is with those waking on the other side of our planet. A phrase from the evening hymn – the day thou gavest captures this well:-
The sun that bids us rest is waking our brethren ’neath the western sky, and hour by hour fresh lips are making thy wondrous doings heard on high.
Just because we are sleeping our God of the past, the present and the future is still active and loving. A human response to the love of God – in praise and prayer is consistently happening somewhere across our world even as we sleep. For some I also know recent times have brought sleeplessness in the wee small hours of the night, thinking about Jesus abiding with us and in us and through us can help.
Another phrase and another prayer struck me in the Romans passage, which follows directly on from the one I have been talking about. It is – Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. A couple of the prayers set for evening prayer have this phrase at the heart of them, but I am really thinking this time about the traditional collect for Advent Sunday – which goes
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen
That prayer is forth telling forthright and profound and right in the heart of it – is the casting away of works of darkness and putting on the armour of light. As we prepare in Advent for Jesus to come as the Christ child and as we prepare in life to meet Jesus is the life eternal (however that happens), our phrase casting away the works of darkness and putting on the armour of light could be shortened to putting down vices and picking up virtues. However that would lose its juxtaposition with our previous phrase about being ready for the day
A commentary I read suggested this was a metaphor about taking off our night clothes and preparing for the day by dressing and arming ourselves suitably. No-one spends the daytime by choice in their pyjamas (unless they are unwell or doing some charity thing). There are so many things in the day we want to do where pyjamas cannot be the attire of choice! Early on in lockdown – I saw the actor Martin Clunes doing a breakfast tv interview with his dogs on his lap (in his stripey pyjamas). All was well until the dogs wandered away and he had to be very careful!!!
The phrase contains a big clue to what is being put on The armour of light – Or in some versions of the Bible the weapons of light. Indicating this is fighting attire – for fighting the good fight – as another hymn writer would have it. This also suggests that being clad in the armour of light means the going will not always be easy – elements of battling day by day. Today is not the day for a discussion of the imagery of light and darkness, though that will need an airing in due course. I need to save myself something to say on Advent Sunday, but this phrase about the armour of light is linked to advent in our hearts is a very active one about the challenges of the Christian life.
In a sense the 2 phrases I have been reflecting around and how we have used them in our prayers (separated from each other) need as we have seen to be taken together to get the full force of the point. The point being about being prepared and ready to follow God. Day by day. Wherever he leads and to be prepared with our armour of light on for the going is not always to be easy.
I think on this day too – when those gathered in church share in communion together for the first time in a long and difficult time – Let’s also remember God abiding in us through Jesus and making himself known to our hearts and lives through the breaking of the bread. Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989
Prayers from Common Worship: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020
CCLI – Song words reproduced and streaming license under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul Church, Wincanton