Late yesterday afternoon I received a phone call from son-in-law John. Debs’ contractions were such that they were on the way to maternity at Ormskirk hospital. Could I pick up some clothes for Kate and Tess who would be staying over with us?
En route I stopped to take a call on my mobile. It was from Liz Williams. Could I go to Southport hospital to pray with Laurie, her father was critically ill.
It struck me how often as vicar I find myself in two conflicting situations: here at the beginning and end of life. And at such key moments, to offer both events to God, for his blessing and protection.
Over the years I have developed a simply liturgy for those at the end of life, using familiar passages from scripture: Jesus the Good Shepherd from John 10, Psalm 23, the Lord’s prayer and finally the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:22.
Wonderfully Laurie was able to join in with each word. Such was his love of scripture that these familiar words were very much part of his life. At a time of need such passages from the Bible, accumulated over a lifetime of discipleship, were able to unlock spiritual resources.
I found myself deeply moved.
It struck me forcibly how important it is to inhabit scripture, especially through the regular use of liturgy, now very much out of fashion. We prefer the immediacy of an informal encounter with God, using our own words. Neither do we place much emphasis on reciting scripture. Our goal is simply to understand the meaning of Bible passages.
And yet each Friday at morning prayer, over the last 15 years when we have been using Common Worship, I have said along with others Psalm 95 (the Venite) and then Hosea 6:1-6 (the song of humility). Sometimes the words come alive, other times my thoughts are elsewhere. But the point is that as I say them out loud, they have become part of me.
So when Mary responds to the incredible message from the angel Gabriel, she bursts into song making and reworking much-loved passages from the Hebrew scriptures to make them her own. What we now call the Magnificat is a wonderful compilation of verses from the Old Testament seamlessly woven together to produce her own mighty song of praise.
Clearly she had an intimate knowledge of scripture derived from a pattern of worship at temple and synagogue.
It was Pope Paul VI who observed “Liturgy is like a strong tree whose beauty is derived from the continuous renewal of its leaves, but whose strength comes from the old trunk, with solid roots in the ground.” I know what he means.
So at about 10.00 last night, first a text from Liz to say that her father had just died very peacefully. So we pray for Claire, Liz and the whole family in their loss.
Laurie contributed so much to the life and ministry of Christ Church in so many capacities – as warden, as treasurer and particularly in the running of CONSIDER. It was Laurie who for many years oversaw the production and distribution of our parish magazine each month. He became an authority on photocopiers. We owe him so much.
Then just a few moments later, a phone call from John. Yes, a baby girl – Iris, weighing in at just under 9 lbs. Naturally, we are delighted.
And for both Laurie and Iris, the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face towards you
and give you peace.