Advent Reflections, Part 2 – Putting Good Friday before Advent?

Theology Blog: Advent Reflections, Part 2 – Putting Good Friday before Advent?

The Revd Canon John Seymour – Advent 2013

I’ve spotted a sort of complication in the way Advent, (with Christmas, Epiphany and Lent in between) precedes Holy Week and Good Friday.  Actually it doesn’t – well, not always.  There is at least one sense in which Passiontide actually comes before Advent.  It looks as if we need a sort of liturgical u-turn or loop somewhere, to sort it all out!

This strange reflection is prompted by the Cathedral Eucharist on 3rd Sunday of Advent (15 December).  Once again it was the hymns that set me thinking.  Hymns are so important for the congregation, particularly in the Cathedral:  they are a way in which we can keep singing and use our own voices to share in the worship.  At the conclusion of the liturgy on this particular Sunday we sang with considerable gusto some strong theology put into verse by Charles Wesley:

‘Those dear tokens of his passion
Still his dazzling body bears…
…with what rapture…
Gaze we on those glorious scars.’

So, when the acclamation ‘Christ will come again’ is finally fulfilled, the Christ who comes again as judge will be the judge who bears in his own body the signs; the ‘glorious scars’; the ‘dear tokens of his passion’, which achieved our redemption.  As it used to say at the end of some Psalms: ‘Selah’ – ‘Wow! Think of that!’ ‘Rapture’ is not the sort of word we reserved Anglicans use too readily, but seems perfectly appropriate in this context.  Anyhow, it’s all another cause for worship and thanksgiving.

Of course, the Christian Year is a great asset which enormously enhances our worship and the teaching of the faith as the seasons follow each other in regular succession.  But there are limitations.  Every Sunday is a day of resurrection, not just Easter Day.  The presence of God’s Spirit may be known 24/7, not just on the Day of Pentecost.  And the coming of Jesus may not be in Advent, but possibly on Septuagesima Sunday (if you remember when that is or was).  Or on St Stephen’s Day?  (But, alas, that might be a bad day for finding the People of God awake and alert and ready, as Advent constantly reminds us!)

But there is more: the offertory hymn in the same service was entirely new to me.  Christopher Idle (b. 1938) has written some good hymns, and When the King shall come again looks like one of them.  The third verse celebrates the Signs of the Kingdom (as listed in the Isaiah 35 lesson and the Matthew 11 Gospel, both read at this same Eucharist):

‘Deaf ears hear the silent tongues
Sing away their weeping;
Blind eyes see the lifeless ones
Walking, running, leaping.’

My personal motto has been for quite a long time ‘keep singing’.  But the idea of ‘sing away weeping’ is seriously good.  Singing doesn’t solve all of our sorrows, but it can sometimes make them a lot more bearable.  The therapeutic effect of music and singing is widely accepted and is within my own experience.  So keep singing, and sing away weeping!

We sang these words to what I think is a truly wonderful Victorian tune (I just love it) named after St John Damascene, and often sung to a fine Easter hymn:  Come, ye faithful raise the strain.  Rightly so, for this same St John of Damascus, (c. 754) wrote the words.  However, next time we sing Christopher Idle’s hymn, (why not at next year’s Advent Carol Service?) it might be noted that it goes very well to Good King Wenceslas!  It would help us to worship with a smile. 

In a way it’s a pity that many folk at the Cathedral leave their Order of Service behind.  I know the staff are eager to recycle ‘used’ material.  But we can do the recycling at home, after we have re-read and thought about any part of the service which particularly spoke to us.  If you did take this particular booklet home with you (and not yet recycled it) you would still have the words of Michael Foster’s Advent hymn which the choir sang as an introit to music by Michael Fleming.  It would reward a second reading.  I’d love to hear it again, but I can’t yet find it on YouTube.  Sometimes the diet presented in the Cathedral is so rich and generous, we need time to digest it!

One last thing:  A Happy Christmas to all who may get round to reading this blog and have read it to the very end!

© Canon John Seymour