The Holy Innocents

Fr Gerard braved -2c to film his reflection at Horsell Common
The Massacre of the Innocents by Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594), Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice

The Holy Innocents are the children who were slaughtered at the orders of King Herod, in the hope that by killing every boy born in Bethlehem at the same time as Jesus, he would succeed in killing the new-born King of the Jews.

There was nothing about those baby boys that made them deserve death. Look at any one of them, and you can see that he had no chance to do anything, or be anyone, or become anyone. He had done nothing. He had done nothing bad, he had done nothing good. He was born, and then he died, and that was all there was to him. So passive are these babies that some people find it hard to understand how they can share the title of “martyr” with people like St Stephen (the day before yesterday), who insisted on preaching the truth until his hearers stoned him for it, or St Thomas Becket (tomorrow), who insisted on living the truth until his king had him killed because of it. These children did not insist on anything except their mothers’ milk; and unlike Stephen and Thomas, there was no voluntary act of theirs that we can see as making the difference between being martyred and not being martyred.

So in our rational human terms these children are a puzzle, and that is one reason why God has inspired the Church to celebrate this very feast – to show us how inadequate our seemingly rational, worldly-wise thoughts are. As he reminds us again and again throughout salvation history, his thoughts are not our thoughts. Babies may not rank high on the scale as far as our human calculus is concerned; but then neither do sparrows, and yet God has told us that God sees and counts every one of those.

The Holy Innocents can stand, therefore, for the “unimportant” and “unnecessary” pawns, child and adult alike, that permeate the whole of human history, the ones who can be sacrificed for some greater cause because they “don’t really matter”; the eggs that were broken to make an omelette… or even broken to make nothing at all. There are plenty of them, one way or another. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that in God’s eyes (that is, according to the true value of things), no-one is unimportant, no-one is unnecessary, no-one “doesn’t really matter.” However meaningless their lives and deaths may seem to us, they shine glorious in heaven.

On a more personal level, the honour given to the Holy Innocents reminds us that if we suffer or even die for God’s sake, it has value even if we have little or no say in it ourselves. Honouring them effectively honours also the martyrdom of the people these children could have become, and their children’s children as well; and at the same time we can remember the contemporary and continuing massacre of those who die before


Refugee (Malcolm Guite)

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,

Or cosy in a crib beside the font,

But he is with a million displaced people

On the long road of weariness and want.

For even as we sing our final carol

His family is up and on that road,

Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,

Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower

Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled,

The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power,

And death squads spread their curse across the world.

But every Herod dies, and comes alone

To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.

Abraham and Isaac

Fr. Gerard explores our relationship with God through Abraham and Isaac

Genesis 22: After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’ Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

Sacrifice of Isaac (Caravaggio)

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.  But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’  He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’  And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven,  and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’ So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.


“In our flesh they glory veiling, all on earth, in ruin failing, thou didst save by might prevailing, bringing joy to all our race.”

Salus eterna


Jacob wrestles with the Angel (Malcolm Guite)

I dare not face my brother in the morning,

I dare not look upon the things I’ve done,

Dare not ignore a nightmare’s dreadful warning,

Dare not endure the rising of the sun.

My family, my goods, are sent before me,

I cannot sleep on this strange river shore,

I have betrayed the son of one who bore me,

And my own soul rejects me to the core.

But in the desert darkness one has found me,

Embracing me, He will not let me go,

Nor will I let Him go, whose arms surround me,

Until he tells me all I need to know,

And blesses me where daybreak stakes it’s claim,

With love that wounds and heals; and with His name.

Malcolm Guite

Fill this house with splendour

As we enter the second week of Advent 2020, so we begin to think about the message of the prophets found in the Hebrew (Old Testament) scriptures. Haggai was one of those prophets who is a bit of a stirrer as he metaphorically gets out his prophetic wooden spoon and challenges the nation to rebuild their faith in the face of opposition and apathy. He is not only concerned with the re-build of the great Temple in Jerusalem, but the building of people’s heart for God, who longs to dwell once more among the faithful. 

Haggai 2: 4-7 NRSV

“And I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.”

Four times Haggai presents God’s message to the people, but they don’t seem to be listening; perhaps they have their priorities wrong, or their sights set on other more worldly things, rather than the things of God. But the prophet persists with God’s message for them, and today with three weeks or preparation left this Advent, we too have a message from the Lord, that he is coming again. But will he find our priorities, our hearts are ordered in the right way?

Take time to think this Advent about your own priorities in life. Do you make time for Jesus, for prayer, for study of God’s word to us, the bible? When you make decisions, do you consider your faith as part of that process? The prophet Haggai may have been speaking of the re-build of Solomon’s great Temple, but no doubt God’s message is also direct at people’s lives and priorities, that which really matters, not buildings but faith.

And if you are finding this challenging, then don’t panic. It takes time to change our priorities and re-order our hearts to make the room needed for God’s dwelling presence which transforms lives. You have three more weeks to pray, “come Lord Jesus into my heart, my life.” And I promise this, that like the great prophets, when we hear the call of God upon our lives and give ourselves to Jesus, the transformation is just incredible. It simply takes our willingness to have a go, to trust the Lord of life who loves us. 

Lord Jesus, think on me, and purge away my sin;

from earth-born passions set me free and make me pure within.

Lord Jesus, think on me, with care and woe oppressed,

let me Thy loving servant be and taste Thy promised rest.

Lord Jesus, think on me, nor let me go astray;

through darkness and perplexity, point Thou the heav’nly way.

Lord Jesus, think on me, that, when the flood is past,

I may eternal brightness see and share Thy joy at last.

Translator: Allen William ChatfieldAuthor: Synesius of Cyrene, Bishop of Ptolemais

Prayer

Lord of transformation, we thank you for your prophets who brought your message of hope and salvation to your people. Help us to day to look for the signs of your kingdom and to open our hearts to the new life you long to pour into our lives. Amen. 

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

O come thou Root of Jesse

Today we are considering the Root of Jesse from the prophecy of Isaiah.

One of the past-times I’ve taken up this year has been researching my family tree. I admit that I thought it would be fairly straight-forward given modern technology but it really isn’t. Sometimes you’re making educated guesses about ancestors and undertaking research to see if you’re right. And I’m finding the more I research people that more I empathise and feel connected to them. In my family so far we have peasant farmers, railway workers, professional musicians, social climbers, teachers, soldiers and factory workers. Part of the family lived in the same villages in the borders of Scotland for centuries; others were moved in the Highland Clearances and ended up in Edinburgh.

There’s great contentment in knowing more about my roots.

Root of Jesse

The Root of Jesse is depicted in orthodox and Western Christian art as a way for us to understand Christ and his origins. We know how important it was to Matthew and Luke, the Gospel writers, that the genealogy of Jesus was illustrated for the communities they were writing for. They needed to know that Jesus was from the Davidic line. Jesse, father of King David being a direct ancestor of Jesus, Immanuel.

Our reading for today establishes that genealogy. Jesus fulfils that prophecy.

A couple of years ago, Jane Williams explored Advent in a series of articles for the Church Times. She says of the Root of Jesse: “The tree that looks dead, looks as though its story is at an end, will blossom again, and with it the new age will dawn.”

She continues:

“Isaiah describes the coming one as wise, strong, and just. Nothing deceives God’s Messiah, because he does not judge by human standards but by divine, and so the world can at last be at peace. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11.6-7).”

A little child. A child that we know will establish our relationship with God, creating a new covenant with the Creator.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Thank you to Br Paul-Vincent and the monks of St John’s Abbey, Minnesota for giving us permission to use this recording.

Malcolm Guite reflects on the Root of Jesse:

O Radix

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,

Rose from a root invisible to all.

We knew the virtues once of every weed,

But, severed from the roots of ritual,

We surf the surface of a wide-screen world

And find no virtue in the virtual.

We shrivel on the edges of a wood

Whose heart we once inhabited in love,

Now we have need of you, forgotten Root

The stock and stem of every living thing

Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,

For now is winter, now is withering

Unless we let you root us deep within,

Under the ground of being, graft us in.

Malcolm Guite

We are grateful to Malcolm Guite for giving us permission to publish the poem here.

The Sheep and the Goats

Matthew 25:31-46

31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”

45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’


Reflection

Mother Jo Winn-Smith

Jesus’s parables were often set in a context familiar to his listeners. This story of the sheep and the goats would have been easily understood by the crowd gathered round him.

A couple of years ago I was on holiday in Morocco. We’d been on a camel ride and were relaxing after in a Bedouin tent, drinking mint tea.

The big tent opened out onto a courtyard, and whilst we were there, as it was starting to be late afternoon, a loud, noisy mixed herd of sheep and goats flooded into the homestead.

They were all jumbled up together, having been out on the savannah. But as they came in, without direction or order, they automatically and naturally separated off into two groups: one of sheep and one of goats. Each creature knew which was its trough and water, and split off, without exception to their respective sides.

Advent includes this theme of judgement, as we are preparing not just for Christmas but Second Coming. This stark story, indicates it will be clear who followed Jesus, and who did not. I wonder, if like the sheep and goats I saw in Morocco, if we do not actually know, deep in our heart of hearts, which side we are on? We know if we follow Jesus, we know if we have accepted the truth, we know if we love God and seek to honour him in our lives.

This is not to say anyone is either 100% good, or 100% bad. There will be times we have helped others, and times we have not. We all need God’s grace and forgiveness. But I suspect we also know deep down, whether or not we have opened our hearts to that grace, whether we ask God to guide us to make those loving decisions, or if we actually don’t take it that seriously and haven’t let our lives be changed by knowing Jesus.

How can we know? How can we grow to be more loving and sharing of what we have? Opening our hearts and minds to God can start right here. Engaging this Advent in these Maranatha reflections, is exactly the sort of thing that is the kind of practice that if we develop it, shapes our souls and helps us to see with the eyes of love, the eyes of God.


Prayer

Lord Jesus,

Help us to know you, to be your sheep. Shape us, mould us, form our hearts to see as you do. Encourage us and inspire us to see how we can give of what we have, use our talents, use what is in our storehouses, to share with others and tend to those in need.

In your precious name we pray,

Amen.

“I believe that you are the son of God”

John 11: 24-27 Martha said to Jesus, “I know that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Martha says to Jesus in a wonderful declaration of her faith, “I believe that you are the messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” She says these words, speaking as it were through tears of grief, having just lost her dear brother Lazarus. She is willing, even in the face of her bereavement, to declare that Jesus is God’s Son and trust him with her future, her brother’s future, indeed the future of the whole world, past, present and yet to come.

At times of loss for us, physical or emotional, we too can turn to Jesus and trust that God has a plan for the world and that we are part of that, we can bring hope, faith and life to others.

In a few days’ time we will switch-on our church Christmas lights sadly with no ceremony this year due to Covid. I pray they will shine light into the darkness of this time bringing real hope, comfort and even faith.

May we, like Martha have the courage to shine a light onto the truth and help others to know that Jesus loves them too, that our Lord seeks to comfort them and offer them hope, to illumine their lives with faith.

Because Jesus who knows what it is to carry a heavy load, to suffer and to die, embraces us with love and brings us by his grace alone to the joy of God’s presence which is life everlasting, the kingdom of heaven.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,

Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,

Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,

Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;

Thy justice like mountains high soaring above

Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all life thou givest to both great and small;

In all life thou livest, the true life of all;

We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,

And wither and perish but nought changeth thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,

Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;

All laud we would render: O help us to see

‘Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.

Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908)

With Jesus, our perspective on life has a new gleaming horizon, a promised destination where the angles of the Most High adore. Martha, in those few words of hope to Jesus, demonstrates how she comprehends this hope. May we, with her, be willing to declare that Jesus is the Son of God, the one coming into the world.


Lord of light, as we prepare for Advent at a time when Christmas will feel very different to years gone by, help us to shine the light of faith into places of darkness, bereavement and challenge. Walk with us these coming days we pray, guide our steps and help us to place our trust in you alone, the one who offers faith and the hope of eternal life. Amen.  

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

Welcome to Maranatha in Thorpe

This series of short bible readings, reflections, poetry and prayers is an opportunity for us to journey together through the festive season and hear again God speaking to us, at a time of real challenge for many.

Fr. Damian Harrison-Miles, Vicar of St Mary’s, Thorpe

Christmas 2020 will be like none before, and I’m sorry if my saying that has come as a surprise – you have probably guessed that much already. For many in our community there is great uncertainty right now over work and employment, housing and bills, food and even if there will be a turkey to put on the table.

For our part at St Mary’s we are doing all we can to support our schools and the local food bank and to reach out with love to the elderly, housebound and vulnerable.

This will also be a time of change for the church as we re-work our Christmas services to maintain social distancing and come to terms with just 40 people physically present in the building and unable to sing.

These changes feel like a bereavement for many – but are nothing compared to the seismic loss that the death of loved one due to Covid, or such loss of anyone has upon our lives and by extension community and social networks.

So, we begin this series Maranatha, praying come Lord Jesus, come amid our fears and struggles to comfort and bring hope. Lord we seek your guidance and love, to renew our hearts, our lives and our faith.


You can follow all of Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus on this website.

We’ll try to post additional resources to complement each reflection, allowing you to deepen your faith.