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March 18, 2007

Lenten thoughts

Over the period of Lent we at the Abbey have a tradition of using the Office of Compline on Thursday evenings, preceded by a short address, as a way of preparing for our Easter celebration. Each week a different member of the ministry team leads it and gives the address and last week it was my turn.

The speakers who preceded me in this had spoken of the Coronation Oath and the implication of the crown imposed on Jesus before the crucifixion. This was followed by the Lord Abbot who spoke on the horrow of the crucifixion itself. He described for us the details of how the victim died by this means - and it could take several days. So my theme had to follow on from these. I chose to speak on the Kingship of the Suffering Servant and my short address is in the extended post below.

And now, I use the greeting from the Office of Compline itself.

The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.


My Brothers and sisters in Christ, be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist, steadfast in the faith.
But thou O Lord, have mercy upon us.

Thanks be to God.

The Almighty and merciful Lord,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,
Bless us and preserve us.

Compline Address
Tewkesbury Abbey
15th March 2007

Luke 4: 5 – The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.

In the last few weeks we have heard Father John speak on the Coronation of King’s and on the terrible travesty that was Christ’s crown of thorns. We have heard Father Paul speak of the horror of crucifixion – the death prescribed for slaves who rebelled and we spend Lent in contemplation of the events which will lead to both that crowning and the death on the cross, but we do so in the hope of the resurrection, not in the fear of death.

Luke tells us of the temptations in the wilderness during the forty days Christ spent preparing for his ministry. A ministry that would lead to his death. A ministry of service to those who accepted his teaching and a ministry which speaks very strongly of the calling to servitude rather than Kingship.

During his ministry Jesus several times shocked his audience by adopting the tasks of a servant, by performing acts associated with the underclass, the slave and the indentured servant rather than the expected role of the Davidic Messiah. This understanding is picked up by St Paul who several times in his writings describes himself as a “prisoner” of Christ and uses language and associations suggestive of a “bondage” or slave relationship rather than a freedom and free choice.

St Patrick, whose feast is on Saturday spent his youth as a slave in Ireland and then, when he returned, voluntarily adopted the tonsure of a slave to mark himself as the servant of Christ. As he wrote in his Confessio, “For I am very much God’s debtor, who gave me so great grace that many people were reborn in God.” It is clear from his writing that his mission in Ireland he regards as a new slavery – one in which he has willingly given himself to God. His original slavery he recognises as the slavery of sin, his new position is a willingness to serve his saviour.

St Paul called himself a “prisoner of Jesus", an image he uses in Ephesians, in the letter to Philemon and in his letters to Timothy. Nor is he alone, in using this description of his ministry, for other writers use it as well. Yet their understanding of the status they give themselves as slave or servant is a reflection of a different understanding of that term, an understanding of what it means to have given oneself wholly to the service of the greatest servant of all – our saviour Jesus Christ.

Like Paul, like Patrick, like Timothy and Philemon. Like Onesimus, we are all called to the service of our Lord and Lent is a time to remember that the World is His and yet he put it aside to become the suffering servant, to die upon a cross the death of a slave, to wear the crown of thorns in mockery of his own Kingship.

As we continue in our Lenten preparations can we, dare we, give ourselves to him as Paul, Timothy, Philemon, Onesimus and Patrick did, that forsaking our own desires, wishes and comforts we seek only to serve the Lord in all that we do and in all that we are.

He died for us as a slave would die; he washed the feet of his disciples as the lowliest household slave should have done. He showed himself to be the suffering servant rather than the triumphant King, yet, in that act of service, He showed us the true Kingship. That is the Kingship that we are also called to emulate, the Kingship of service to our Lord and in him to one another. As we walk forward towards Easter we can only echo the words of St Patrick in his Confessio:

Hence let me render unto him for all that he has done to me. But what can I say, or what can I promise to my Lord, as I can do nothing that he has not given me?

St Paul wrote, “In Christ there is no slave or free, no Greek or Roman, no male or female, for in Christ we are all free.” But it is a freedom that comes at the price of serving, of being the lowliest servant. Are we prepared to pay the price?

Posted by The Gray Monk at March 18, 2007 07:14 AM

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