Posts by Mark

On Community: An Easter Reflection

As we seek ways to discover and meet the needs of Christian orphans for belonging and community, I am reminded of the two times shared by Jesus with His disciples that form a part of Holy Week – events that form “bookends” for our understanding of Easter.

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus used the Passover meal to institute the sacrament of Communion:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29)

On the evening of Easter Day, Jesus appeared to his disciples gathered in the locked room – perhaps the same upper room in which they had met three evenings before:

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:36-43)

From these two events I believe that we can draw several conclusions

  1. Jesus identifies himself with his disciples. As their Lord, he is a full participant in their fellowship. This isn’t just a matter of his physical presence. It is an ongoing reality. Shortly before his Ascension Jesus told them: “…And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 2. 20)
  2. Jesus’ participation is expressed in his loving care for his disciples. He provides them with spiritual nourishment and blessing. He calms their fears and offers them reassurance.

Establishing a virtual fellowship in the 21st Century can seem like a very long way from that upper room. Yet is it realty so different? In the presence of the Holy Spirit – Jesus’ own Spirit – we experience fellowship with one another. As we meet together, we also receive his reassurance. He is our Lord and a full participant in our community.

We do not know where this will lead any more than those original disciples could foresee the events that they would follow. The circumstances and the technology are very different, but we are on the same path with the same commitment from him and with the same call to worship and to obey.

We join with those original disciples in affirming: The Lord is Risen. HE IS RISEN INDEED!

Mark Larratt-Smith
Easter 2014

Repent, For The Kingdom Of Heaven Is At Hand: A Meditation for Advent

While sitting handcuffed in a Berlin prison cell, shortly before his execution by the Nazi regime, Father Alfred Delp S.J. wrote an Advent meditation about figures “who personify and live the Advent message and the Advent blessing” in times of distress and suffering. One of these figures is John the Baptist whose message  was a call to repentance in a time of uncertainty and upheaval. For Delp, it signified  a call to an “Advent of the heart” – a time for spiritual renewal amidst the horror and suffering of war.

Repentance is not a comfortable subject at any time. No wonder Herod had John arrested. Yet Matthew’s Gospel makes a very striking point. In Chapter 4 he tells us “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee …  From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus not only continued the theme of his fore-runner, he made repentance the foundation for his gospel.

Many Christians  prefer to regard Advent as a period of anticipation rather than as a time to dwell on past failures. Yet repentance, while it requires us to face the reality of our sins,  is not just about the past. It involves a change of direction for the future. In that sense, repentance is a time of hope. It involves a challenge and an opportunity. In Delp’s words, repentance involves an Advent of the heart.

During Advent Some years ago ,  I went through a period of unemployment with profound uncertainty about the future and about my ability to support my family.  I experienced it as tremendous external spiritual pressure to give in to an image of myself as a piece of “used Kleenex” – of no use to anyone – and to embrace despair. In fact, I did eventually give in, but, over the following few weeks, through the support and prayers of my family and of our home church fellowship, I was gradually hauled back out of the quicksand.

In the process of my recovery, I came to understand that much of my vulnerability had been the result of doubting God’s sustaining love and care for me  – and that this in turn was a consequence of failing to “keep short accounts” with Him. Though I had been brought up to understand the necessity for regular confession and repentance, I realized that I had strayed out of His path and out of hearing His voice. I needed to turn back to the shelter of His protection. In other words, I needed to repent.

My first step was  to turn to  the familiar words of the general confession on page 77 of the Book of Common Prayer.   But as my recovery continued, I felt a need for a more personalized prayer, still a “general” confession, but one that would help me to gain insight and a measure of protection from the recurring patterns of sin and failure in my own life. I needed a prayer that would express my contrition within the context of my faith and with a focus on turning anew to the path of obedience. I called this prayer my “bar of soap” prayer because that is its purpose –  regular cleansing.

Over the succeeding years I have edited and updated  my bar of soap prayer many times as I have learned more about the patterns of my failures. It is my lifeline to My Lord.

Why am I writing about this as part of an Advent blog? I believe that repentance is the key to experiencing the “Advent of the heart” that Alfred Delp wrote about in his prison cell. It is our essential preparation for participating in the joy of Christmas. Repentance can be sought in any number of ways: in formal or informal prayers, in meditation, in the Anglo-Catholic practice of confession in the presence of a priest, or even with the assistance of a trusted friend. The main thing is to do it as your preparation for the coming of our Lord.

For those of you who may be interested in developing their own bar of soap prayer, I attach mine as an example.

A Personal Confession

Almighty God, Author of Truth and Justice, Judge of all creation, I confess before You that I have sinned in thought and word and deed. I have sinned in what I have done and in what I have left undone. You have given me the gift of Yourself: of knowing You, by scripture, by faith, in the fellowship of other believers and, most wonderfully, in the loving companionship of Jesus – yet I have fallen away. I have forgotten You, though You never forget me. I have failed to trust You. I have relied upon my own strength. I have taken the blessings that You shower upon me and pretended myself to be their author. I have been impatient and discontented and self-absorbed. I have been selfish and insensitive in my dealings with others. I have been self-indulgent. I have embraced temptations that press in upon me. I have harboured resentments and engaged in self-justification before You and before those around me. In all of these things, I have usurped Your rightful place on the throne of my heart. Though the external appearance of my sins may not be great, yet I know how deeply they corrupt me. There is no health in me as long as I harbour them. I know that, in my weakness, I cannot even act to lay my sins before You, except through the mediation of Your Son and by the empowerment of Your Holy Spirit.

Forgive me my sins, O God, both those I remember and those which, through my dullness and perversity, I have either forgotten, or never recognized. I ask this in the name of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, who has broken forever the power of sin and death. I confess Him to be my Saviour and my dearest Lord. Heavenly Father, of Your great Mercy, accept Jesus’ death on the cross as the atonement for all my sins, that they may be utterly washed away in His precious blood. Cover my nakedness with His righteousness. Restore me, in Him, to the shelter of Your love and give me Your grace, that my weaknesses may become Your strength and that I may have the courage to stand firm against all temptation. By the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, set fire to my spirit and grant me Your power of love toward my neighbour that I may abide in your Kingdom, serving You in this world and walking with confidence daily into the doorway of everlasting life. Father, strengthen my hope and give me singleness of heart that I may see Your face and dwell in adoration before You, worshipping and glorifying You forever. I humbly ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thank You Father for the confidence that You have given me that You do love me and that You have forgiven all of my sins, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord” 2: A Meditation for Advent

Advent is a season of waiting. We participate in the vigil of the faithful remnant of Israel – people like Simeon and the prophetess Anna – as they awaited the coming Messiah. But Advent is not just about the remembrance of that First Coming. It is also anticipation of Our Lord’s return. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns us that “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. Yet, within our anticipation of that Second Coming, Advent waiting has also a third and more personal dimension: none of us know the hour of our own departure.

In the Book of Revelation, John recounts a vision in which Jesus Christ  gives him messages for the seven churches of Asia. The final message, to the church in Laodicea, includes a vivid image of an unexpected knock on the door that will announce the arrival  of the Lord of the Church: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20). Several years ago, this image led me to write an Advent meditation which I offer to you for your own Advent reflection and preparation as we await the coming of the King of Kings.

THE HOVEL OF MY HEART

A Meditation

Sketch: "Cabin, Shady Lane"

The hovel of my heart

Inside each of us at the very core of our being is a safe place – a refuge – that protects the essence of who we are – the house of our soul. In your imagination, come visit with me in my house.

My soul’s house is not a fancy place, but I find it comfortable and secure. It has a strong oak door with iron hinges and a big lock. Basically, it is a one room dwelling with low ceilings and very dim lighting which leaves the corners of the room in deep shadow.

I spend most of my time in the middle of the room. There isn’t much furniture – just an old painted wooden chair that is a bit rickety when I sit on it. It is not a very comfortable chair, but it is my own – it is the place where I can sit and feel safe as I survey my life within the dim privacy of my own self. I call that chair the throne of my heart.

I live most of my life outside in the surrounding world, but I always come back here. It is my secret place, where I feel safe. Yet not entirely safe: secret and private though it is, there is always a fear that someone will find me here – someone will come knocking on my door.

If I were not a Christian, a knock on my door could only come from one person – Death. Even though I am a Christian, I know that sooner or later Death will knock on my door – and Death has the key to the lock.

But since I am a Christian, I also know the story of Jesus knocking on my door. If there is a knock, it may be Him! When I am being especially diligent about my faith, I try to anticipate His coming, like the wise maidens waiting for the bridegroom in the parable. Then I will invite Him in to my home and somehow I will be safe.

Suppose for a moment that He has knocked and that I have invited him in. Once He enters, it is funny how everything looks different. The light seems much brighter in the room. I can now see into the corners clearly. They are filled with clutter – garbage really. Looking around, the room itself is a very shabby place, with uneven floors, peeling paint, full of dust and trash. My home is really more of a hovel than a house. It makes me feel uncomfortable with my guest.

Where am I going to seat Him? There is only that one chair – that rickety kitchen chair – my chair – the one I sit in when I want to be alone and undisturbed. Now I have a guest. I know that it is an honour to entertain Him, but do I want Him sitting in my chair?

Now, if I make a great effort I think I can convince myself that His presence in my place is entirely welcome – not an imposition – not an interruption of my cozy solitude. Perhaps I will make a pot of tea to make Him feel welcome. Perhaps I will let Him sit on my chair. Perhaps I will even sit on the floor at His feet since there is no other place to sit. Perhaps He will appreciate my hospitality and come to visit me again. Perhaps, He won’t stay too long.

Then, almost by accident, I turn to look at Him. I can see His eyes looking into me. In those eyes I see the reflection of a man hanging on a cross, silhouetted on a hillside. Suddenly I realize that I have got it all wrong. This pathetic hovel of my soul is not my refuge, it is His house. Its only worth is the value He places on it. He is not my tolerated guest, He is the owner. The rickety chair is His throne, not mine.

I throw myself down on the floor at His feet: “Lord, welcome to Your house. Sit on Your throne. Never leave me. Without the light of Your presence here all my life is just dust and ashes”.

As I say these words, I know how hard it will be to live them. I am already coveting my own comfortable solitude. I already want to reclaim my own right to sit on the rickety throne of my heart. How can I ever have the courage to serve him properly? Just as I start to feel really sorry for myself, He speaks in a low soft voice: “Beloved, don’t be afraid. I have overcome death. I will give you the courage you need, for I am your heart’s desire.”

I still live in that house – the hovel of my heart. I still accumulate garbage in my life. I still want to sit in my chair almost all of the time. But I know that I am not alone. Whether I feel His presence or not, He is with me when I need him. I don’t know what will happen when Death comes, but I know He will be here too. He will give me the courage I need, for He is my heart’s desire.

Mark Larratt-Smith
March 6, 2007

“Prepare ye the Way of the Lord”: Resources for Observing Advent

Image of road through trees.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord…

 

I am a novice at blogging, as I am sure will quickly become apparent, but I want to try to help us celebrate together the coming of our Lord into His world. I say “together” recognizing that many of us are isolated to a greater or lesser extent: by geography; by  circumstances; and very often by disillusionment with the organized manifestations of our faith. My hope is to find ways of bridging that isolation by stimulating the sharing of resources and experiences that can help to restore a sense of community for those of us who have not lost our  faith in our Lord and Saviour, but are struggling with a sense of belonging, especially as Christmas can be a time of loneliness for many people.

The season of Advent is a wonderful time of preparation to address this loneliness. It is a period of waiting in the darkness while anticipating the Light . At the start of Jesus’ ministry, St. Matthew tells us: “the people dwelling in darkness  have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord, it is that light that we await.

I want to start this blog by sharing with you two main resources that I intend to draw upon this season in my own devotions.  The first is a book of Advent readings called Watch for the Light published by Plough Publishing House. It contains wonderful readings by a variety of Christian authors all the way from Thomas Aquinas to John Donne and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is a marvellous collection of daily passages that  challenge our thinking and stimulate meditation about all aspects of Advent.

The second resource that I use is a book titled Advent of the Heart, which contains sermons and writings of Father Alfred Delp, a young Jesuit priest during the Second World War. Like Bonhoeffer, Delp was accused of conspiracy against the Third Reich. He was imprisoned, tortured and eventually executed by the Nazis in February 1945. The book includes a number of his meditations on Advent which were smuggled out of prison before his death.

(If you are interested, both of these books should be available in a library with a  good Christian collection or to purchase online. The first is available through ChristianBooks.com, while Advent Of The Heart is available from Ignatius Press.)

I will write further about these two books over the weeks ahead, but I want to start by sharing with you my favourite hymn, “Hark What a Sound” which is surprisingly little known these days.  For those of you with a copy of the old blue hymn book of the Anglican Church of Canada, it is listed as number 69. (It did not make the cut in more recent Canadian Anglican hymn collections!)

The hymn is sung to a lovely tune (Highwood by Richard Runciman Terry). You can listen to it on YouTube (do a search for “Hark What A Sound”).  But  it is the lyrics that so captivate me.  They were written as part of a lengthy and very Victorian poem entitled ‘St. Paul’, by Frederic Myers (1843 – 1901). The verses of the hymn stand out like jewels in that setting. They express so perfectly the yearning of the human heart as we each approach the promise that Our Lord has not only come to redeem us, but that He will return. They make a wonderful Advent prayer and meditation. Here are those lyrics:

Hark what a sound, and too divine for hearing,
Stirs on the earth and trembles in the air!
Is it the thunder of the Lord’s appearing?
Is it the music of his people’s prayer?

Surely he cometh, and a thousand voices
Shout to the saints and to the deaf are dumb;
Surely he cometh, and the earth rejoices,
Glad in his coming who hath sworn, I come.

So even I, and with a pang more thrilling,
So even I, and with a hope more sweet,
Yearn for the sign, O Christ, of thy fulfilling,
Faint for the flaming of thine advent feet.

Yea, through life, death, through sorrow and through sinning
He shall suffice me, for he hath sufficed:
Christ is the end for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.

Amen, come quickly Lord Jesus!

A Bridge of Living Stones

A Bridge Of Living Stones

A Bridge Of Living Stones

In First Peter, Chapter 2, sojourners are described not as orphans but as a “people” –  “God’s people”. In the same Chapter, Peter uses the image of living stones being formed into an edifice for God’s own purpose. The obvious image for me was one of a building – a virtual church.  From my days at Little Trinity Church in Toronto, I clearly remember a wonderful pen and ink drawing that showed the gothic outline of the church building, but when you looked closely, it was made up entirely of human figures – the members of the church.

As we have prayed about the launch of the ASF website, one the issues we have faced has been to describe the nature of what we were creating. Is it to be an exotic creation of internet technology, or is it to be just another parish of ANiC operating by geographic necessity in the virtual world? I believe that God’s intention is not for either of those identities. The first runs the risk of coming to resemble a virtual reality gaming site. The second just seems to offer a pale imitation of real physical fellowship.

Another problem is the requirements for membership. The Fellowship is founded on the Jerusalem Declaration as a common confession of faith. But what else does this involve? Does one have to be or to become an Anglican? Does it require one to join ANiC? Will the ASF compete for members with existing ANiC parishes or inhibit church plants? In prayer, the answer is “none of the above”. Isaiah 43: 18-19 states: Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing;  now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

The essence of living as a sojourner is to be a stranger in a strange land. Peter calls us all “Exiles”. Change is our daily reality. We are all familiar with the upheaval in our own lives and those of our Christian friends and acquaintances.  Yet, this is a field for ministry which traditional churches can only partly address. How do you support those who are in transition, or who are moving from church to church trying to fill the hollow in their hearts? How do you reach out to the disillusioned Christian who has given up on church entirely? Who can do that if not those walking the same road?

I believe that God’s challenge for the ASF is not to provide an alternative church edifice. It is to be a new thing. Gradually over the last few months the image that has emerged is that the ASF is indeed in the business of assembling a new structure out of scattered living stones, but it is not a building: it is a bridge. The Keystone of its arch is Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to connect the pieces not to separate them. It must facilitate our journey together. To use other images, it’s role must be as connective tissue for the body of  Christ or a “Travel Outfitter” for our common journey.

If this is truly what Our Lord has in mind for us it is an enormous challenge! It is also your challenge. This is a boot-strap operation. It will not have a big budget for buildings or salaries. Its main expenses will relate to internet and communications services that will provide the mortar to hold the bridge together. But the Bridge itself will be formed of living stones, a sojourner community composed of individual disciples who join together to shape and accomplish its mission.

Our vision is to be a bridge of Living Stones, connecting the parts of the Church for sojourners on the road to Heaven.

Mark Larratt-Smith
Anglican Sojourner Fellowship Convenor

We invite your comments on this vision.

  • Do you have suggestions of ways that the Fellowship can “connect, support, and nurture” Christian disciples?
  • In what specific ways could the ASF help you in  the circumstances of your life?
  • What role might you see for yourself in this initiative?