Tag Archives: angels

Exsultet

Exult: exult angel-thronged skies, God-filled mysteries , Messengers and servants of God now blow your loudest trumpets. Such a king and such a victory. Rejoice earth, pure glory has flooded your corners and gloom picked up its skirts and fled.

Oh yes, Mother church rejoices, robed in lightning, and this hall resounds with the deafening cries of the peoples.

It is a just and worthy thing to acclaim with all the loving service of heart and mind and voice the invisible and all powerful Father and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For these are the true paschal feasts, in which that real Lamb was slain, whose blood marks out the doorposts of the faithful.

This is the night, in which our mothers’ mothers and our fathers’ fathers, the children of Israel, were led out of Egypt and you crafted it so that they passed through the waters, and not even their feet were wet.

This is the night on which a pillar of fire purged the shadows of sins.

This is the night, this is the very moment, when grace comes back to those who believe in Christ wherever they are, and unites them with the saints.

This is the night when, having shattered the chains of death, Christ rose as victor from the underworld. For what would birth bring us, if he had not rescued us?  O marvel at your loving care enfolding us! O the immeasurable delight of your love: that, to redeem your servant, you handed over your Son! O necessary sin of Adam, expunged by the death of Christ.

O happy fault, which won so towering a Redeemer. O truly blessed night, for only night saw the moment and the hour when Christ rose from the dead. This is the night, of which it was written: And night will shine like day: night will light up my sweet joys.

O truly blessed night, in which heaven is joined to earth, the sacred to the human!

This night you are all grace and graces, fatherly God.

Receive all this: this candle, the solemn gift woven of our praise freely given, and of our work, and of the flowing gift of the mother honey bees.

This is one fire made many, yet never made less by its giving.

Fire and flame and a pillar in your temple, a precious torch which grows by dividing as it is fed by the mother bee’s melting offering.

We pray to you, o Lord, that this wax, dedicated in your name, may endure undimmed to destroy the shadow of this night. Receive it as a pleasing scent and let it join with the stars. May the morning star, the light-bringer, find its flames, that Light-Bringer who never sets. Christ your son, who, returned from the dead, shines serene upon the human race, and lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Amen.

(Sophie Agrell and Rosemary Hannah)

A clergy friend of ours asked if we could manage a free translation, shortened, of the Latin Exsultet, the great hymn of the church sung in the night when we look to the resurrection, which marks the lighting of Pascal candle. What you see above is what we came up with.

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Founding father

Abraham’s stories are the first in the Bible which are presented as belonging specifically to the journey of faith of the people of Israel. Muslims and Christians also claim him as their founding father.
His story is essentially very simple, although one can see the swirls and eddies of different versions of it in the texts we now have. Yahweh promised him that if he left Tehran and settled in the land promised to him, more-or-less in modern Israel/Palestine, he would be made the father of a great nation. He was a nomad already, and he set off. He adored his wife, but she had no children. Instead, she gave her slave Hagar to Abraham, and with her he became the father of Ishmael. You don’t think that relationship is likely to work out, do you?
Sarah was past the menopause when mysterious strangers arrive in the wilderness and tell Abraham that Sarah will have a child. Sequestered like a good wife, Sarah hears them, and laughs. Nine months later her only child, her son Isaac (Laughter) is born.
Sarah cannot keep Hagar properly in her place, and Ishmael stands to inherit alongside Isaac. It is in fact when she sees the children playing as equals that Sarah snaps, and demands that Hagar is driven into the desert to care for her son with just a jar of water. When, water exhausted, Hagar sits down far enough away from her son that she does not have to watch his death, an angel comes to her, and shows her an oasis. She and Ishmael are saved. Muslims trace their descent from Ishmael, and I rather wish Christians could, too. There is no doubt the Biblical writers see just how far beyond the pale Sarah’s jealousy is.
The next story is, to me anyhow, just about the nastiest in the Bible. But I think it deserves a blog of its own.

Choir

I looked down at the shepherds. Transfixed; they had never heard anything so terrible or so wonderful. There had never been a sound like this on the earth before and each of us was privileged to bear our part, each specially chosen. I saw the flames of the Holy Spirit flicker over and around them, as she opened their minds to see us.

Well, yes, I do think in Hebrew, usually, although I can speak every tongue which is spoken anywhere in Time. I alone of the angels meet each mortal thing. That night, that astonishing night, we were all singing in Aramaic. I heard my voice, true and perfect and tuned up for human ears, sing the soprano line: ‘Glory, glory, glory. In the highest, in the highest.’ And my heart was breaking. Each one of us there that night had our significant part to play in his story. Rafael was over to the right, booming out in an impressive base: ‘His favour, his favour. His favour rests, rests, rests.’ Gabriel caught my eye. His own were filled with tears, though the tenor never quavered. He was thinking of the Annunciation, of the fragile courageous child even now nursing her own child.

And me? I was thinking back nine months too. I was thinking of that place where I, who can no longer enter Eternity, stood with the other three. A place outside Time and Eternity. The Spirit wrapped round us all. The Son was already emptying himself, and folding up, hiding from himself much that he was. He had already resigned his omniscience. His courage never faltered, but it was courage with fear. He could no longer remember forwards to see the whole course of the new life, though he still knew how it must end. ‘You will come for me?’ he queried, begged, ‘You will come for me in the end, when I need you. I know it cannot be when I want you, but you will make it when I have to have you? You will not let fear or reverence stand in your way?’

I was weeping. Later, Gabriel told me they had all wept, when he left, when he sprang off his Thrones. The Thrones, said Gabriel, had spilt great fiery tears, but he had gone joyously. I had given up Eternity to Become, to enter truly to myself. I knew that what he was doing now, hard as it was, was in a sense Becoming too. That he was most truly himself, here and now, as he begged me for assurance. ‘I will come,’ I promised, ‘I will come the first moment I can. I will help in every way I can.’ None of the four of us said: ‘Whatever it costs’ because we all knew it would cost everything we could, possibly, give.
I could hear his Thrones now, more instrumental than voice. Pride purred, yet somewhere you heard the longing. Each one of us, here tonight, had sacrificed for this moment, and that was why we sang as we did. It was the most glorious sound that Earth ever has or ever can know. These were the finest sounds of Eternity translated into time, and we sang out of our loss and longing. It was our gift, made to honour his gift.

I sang knowing one day I would come to his broken body and take his life. I have resigned Eternity to bring all moral things to Eternity. I have done that because my Master has need of me. My name is Azrael. You know me as Death.

Meeting the judge

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I were pondering the Sunday gospel reading, Luke 18-1-8. A widow besieges an unjust judge, who finally caves in. In the conventional reading, it is about keeping on asking for justice, which God will grant. Only two things wrong with it. Firstly, he usually doesn’t. Secondly, in the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, it is usually God demanding justice. Then I found a good article supposing that perhaps God is the widow. Shocking, in the kind of way Jesus tends to like. So, what follows below is my retelling of this parable in that way. I think the power of the story and the easy with which it works, makes this ‘reading’ of it more probably. No actual judges were harmed in the making of this story.

The Judge.

And there she was, in my face again. I was having a quiet chat with Jim, and she was there shouting at me again. It was a dispute over a field, and frankly she was not being realistic. That of course is the trouble with these people. Nothing to offer, no place in the scheme of things. They don’t accept reality. Which was that Jud needed a bigger plot to make the development he had on worthwhile, and her field got in the way. That is how it is. I was the judge and she needed to accept that.
But she didn’t accept it, and there she was, in my face at every turn. I was furious. Jim was laughing of course. ‘It’s not like she can DO anything, is it?’ he said. The trouble was that to ignore her was one thing, but to take action against her would cause the wrong kind of talk.
First, she caught me at the gates, where I sat with the other elders. She stood there crying out about the Law – and what it said about widows, and fields, and justice. And I made a joke of it. I turned to Jim and said: ‘She got a right good education, didn’t she?’ and that turned it off.
Then I was in the market place and it was the prophets. I got Amos, and his comments on selling the needy for a pair of shoes. I got Micah, and the Lord requiring justice and mercy. I raged inside. But I said: ‘I’ll prophesy then, that you will lose your voice if you keep on blabbering like that, hen.’ And that again made a joke of it, and John thought it quite funny.
I mean, I wasn’t selling her into slavery was I? Or beating her up? All I was doing was ensuring that a much-needed development went through, and that those who ought to benefit from enterprise did.
And then in an alley way. I was alone, except for the nonentities around me. And I looked right into her face. For the first time I saw the anger. Her eyes held mine, and time and place swung away. Her face, the sexless ageless face of a woman past child bearing, was now crowned with gold, and light and fire played in the gold. She grew, and now she was three, four times my size, and she moved back, and I saw robes flowing around her, embroidered, coloured. I was no longer sure if she was man or woman. This regal figure stood on the warm fiery backs of two immense creatures, like female sphinxes, whose wings bore the monarch aloft. Around the figure were others. Those who looked as I expected angels to be. Then there were wheels on fire, dragons, a monstrous bull, an eagle. There were dark figures which filled me with fear, and bright ones even more terrible.
Then I saw, around this throne, the figures of men and women. They were dressed in rags, and robes, and clothes I cannot describe. They all turned to the throne, which now filled the whole of the sky and they cried out, ‘How long, Oh Lord, how long? We hunger and thirst to see right prevail. Fill the hungry with good things!’ I could not count them, and I could never describe the longing and the anger of their voices.
The figure on the throne turned to me, and still with the face and the voice of the widow thundered: ‘Grant me justice!’
I wet myself.
I was suddenly standing in a dark alley, and I stumbled home and the slaves got me to bed.
The next morning, I went to the gate. Jud was there. I sat down. The widow came forward. She did not say anything. She looked at me. I gave her justice. I heard the disgusted comments of Jud, Jim, John. I cared. Oh, yes, I still cared. But caring or not, I had set off in a different direction.
It is an easy thing to say you do not care for God or humankind, isn’t it? It is different when you meet them.

Angels, dancing

Over at Kelvin’s blog, somebody seeking to suggest that a view was rather unreal and precious enquired after the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin.

Bluntly, I thought the question more interesting than the rather heavy-going and literalistic discussion under way. (But then I make the radical assumption that Jesus was no fool at all, and a very good story-teller, and really rather sophisticated. This means I can allow him to make intelligent points.)

But I was interested in the question of the angels. They do not have physical bodies as we understand physics of course. So, for me the answer is:

Every angel in creation can, if it embraces all other angels, flowing into them, dance together on the head of a pin. Together embraced they are infinitely small.

Or, if you prefer, none. Any angel, being creature of such stature and magnitude, is so huge that no pin could support it.

The answer lies in which aspect of its reality the angel and angels would choose to show you.

And I am more interested in this than in the folly of supposing the Son of God was a pedestrian plodder.

Dragons, and other angels

I have been busy with practical business this summer. First the house, then my outfit for my son’s wedding. I have enjoyed all of it, but it has left a side of myself feeling a bit thwarted. You might thing one book still desperately seeking a publisher would be enough to make one give up, but it is not.

The first prompting was the creative hairdresser. The next was an excellent video clip of a graphic artist (hat tip Kimberly) which had me thinking of more allusive possible ways of illustrating a book, and of the need for books bridging the gap between child and adult. Books which work on several levels. A title for this possible book came to me. It is, Dragons, and other angels. Then the sermon this morning, which ended with a short extract from a bible story.

This should have had me rushing back to a formula which I know I can do, but it did not. The brass eagle, who I have made into an icon of John’s angel symbol, stared beadily at me, and I found myself thinking about angels.

The trouble is, I don’t know if I can do it – I do not know how to pitch the story, or how to tell it, so that children can follow it, and it has enough layers for adults. I would be wiser to go back to bible stories. But I don;t have a clear idea for a book there, and I do for the angels. And I hope angels will prove able to cast a wider net. We shall see.

and Principalities and Powers

There can be disadvantages to an over-fertile imagination, but just occasionally there are advantages. This evening to St Mary’s for evensong, and splendid readings, but what caught me was an anthem on Isaiah’s vision in the Temple. I have always liked this, but it waited until this evening to speak clearly to me.

I spent a lot of childhood hours in the British Museum. I would have been very young when I twigged that the achruve – the cherubs – that Isaiah saw were probably the cousins of the great six winged hybrid beasts from the Assyrian collection. In my imagination they have always been huge and powerful and not wholly human.

This evening however, they erupted into such a mass of colour and personality that I could hardly contain the excitement of it all. And evensong at St Mary’s might not be the place for ecstatic dance.

I have been thinking for some time of how angels ‘become’ – they are not born but created, but if the exasperating God who reassures Moses that he can know it will be all right because AFTER he has confronted Pharaoh he will find himself back in this very place again worshipping (er, how about some reassurance BEFORE Moses goes into action?) that same God is known for asking for input to go alongside his generous gifts.

The result was not the ordered massed ranks of a late mediaeval painting but a huge swirling excitement of individuality which undoubted owed much to the splendid murals by Gwyneth Leech at St Mary’s – thus does art nurture us.

In my own personal mythology, therefore, each angel must ‘become’. I think I have in mind ‘become what you are’ – each angel must discover what their essence is, although it is already there, and when they find it, they will change and become more like themselves.

This evening’s multi coloured and formed achruve filled my head so fully it was hard to focus on any one, although of course John the eagle and Michael the dragon were filling the ranks – they are an angel and an archangel, and not achruvime of course, but they were still there.

And I have not even considered what a Principality or a Power or a Throne might look like.