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Monday, 21 November 2016

Discover & explore: Security

Today's Discover & explore service at St Stephen Walbrook was on the theme of Security and featured music from the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields including: O nata lux - Tallis; Psalm 121 - Rose; The Beatitudes - Pärt; and Ubi Caritas - Duruflé.

In my reflection I said:

‘Are there safe havens in these troubled times?’ ‘Our belief in education must survive these troubled times.’ ‘In troubled times, shopping became the new patriotism.’ ‘In troubled times, Europe needs Nato more than ever.’ ‘EU Labour Migration in Troubled Times.’ ‘Making ends meet in troubled times.’ These are all recent headlines reflecting our current state of insecurity. Where can safety and security be found in these troubled times?

In my last parish we commissioned a mosaic which hung on the outside of the East wall of the church facing the street. The mosaic was simply the word ‘Love’ created in grafitti-style. One Christmas, in high winds, it was blown down from its position on the East wall; quite literally a case of love come down at Christmas. Christina Rossetti’s wonderful carol, from which that phrase comes, reminds us that the incarnation, God become human, is as much a sign of love for us as is Christ’s crucifixion.

But how does this work? A prayer by David Adam provides an answer:

Escalator prayer

As I ascend this stair
I pray for all who are in despair
All who have been betrayed
All who are dismayed
All who are distressed
All who feel depressed
All ill and in pain
All who are driven insane
All whose hope has flown
All who are alone
All homeless on the street
All who with danger meet

Lord, who came down to share our plight
Lift them into your love and light

(David Adam, PowerLines: Celtic Prayers about Work, Triangle, 1992)

This prayer uses the imagery of descending and ascending an escalator to pray that those at the bottom of the descent will be understood and ministered to before being then raised up themselves. The prayer is based on the understanding that, through his incarnation and nativity, Christ comes into the messiness of human life, as a human being, to experience, for himself, all that we experience. The betrayals, dismay, distress, depression, illness, pain, insanity, loss of hope, loneliness, homelessness, danger and despair that many of us experience at periods in our lives and which some experience as their everyday life. Christ comes to understand all this and to bear it on his shoulders to God, through his death on the cross, in order that, like him, we too can rise to new life and ascend to the life of God himself. “Lord, who came down to share our plight / Lift them into your love and light.” This is the hope held out to us through the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem; that he was born into poverty, exile, danger, stigma for our sake, in order to be one with us in our lives.

Jesus was born to be Emmanuel – God with us. That is what the incarnation, “the union of the human and the divine in the life of a humble Jewish carpenter,” is all about. As John 1. 14 says, in the contemporary translation of the Bible called The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.” This is what Rossetti means by that marvellous phrase “Love came down at Christmas”.

Because God, through Christ’s birth, has entered our world and moved into our neighbourhood, he has identified himself with us. He became a human being experiencing the whole trajectory of human existence from conception through birth, puberty, adulthood to death including all that we experience along the way in terms of relationships, experiences, emotions and temptations. He has been made like us, his brothers and sisters, in every way, tempted in every way just as we are and able to sympathize with our weaknesses. As Hebrews 4. 16 say: “He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all — all but the sin.”

This means that we never walk alone. As we have heard, in Isaiah, God promises that:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.”

As a result, we have a reason to sing:

“Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone”

God is with us in all of our experiences. He leads us beside the still waters and walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He can do this because in Jesus he has experienced human life for himself. God understands and will be alongside us in all our experiences. By being with us he is able to lead us through times of darkness until we come to live with him in the light forever. God’s promise is that he will be with us as we walk the path of life and that is where true security is to be found.

The next series of Discover & explore services of musical discovery will explore significant figures in the history of St Stephen Walbrook. Services will be led by the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields with input from Revds Jonathan Evens, Alastair McKay and Sally Muggeridge.

All Discover & explore services begin at 1.10pm:

· 9 January – John Dunstable (Music)
· 16 January - Sir Christopher Wren (Architecture)
· 23 January – Thomas Watson (Preaching)
· 30 January – Sir John Vanbrugh (Drama)
· 6 February - Thomas Wilson (Patronage)
· 13 February – Half Term break
· 20 February – George Croly (Poetry)
· 27 February – George Griffin Stonestreet (Insurance)
· 6 March – Robert S. de Courcey Laffan (Sport)
· 13 March – Chad Varah (Charity)
· 20 March – Henry Moore (Sculpture)
· 27 March – Lanning Roper (Gardening)
· 3 April - Patrick Heron (Art)
· 10 April – Peter Delaney (Internet)

Discover & explore services have been described as “perfect services of peace in our busy lives” and explore their themes through a thoughtful mix of music, prayers, readings and reflections.

Discover & explore service series are supported by The Worshipful Company of Grocers, for whose generous support we are most grateful.


John Dunstable - Veni Creator Spiritus.

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