Thinking Anew – ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’
Photograph: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty Images
‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked will I return. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” These are the words of freedom which begin our online Zoom liturgy on Thursdays, “Evensong for Corona-tide”.
We can’t really remind ourselves often enough of the truth of these words. We are all going to die, and in the meantime any control we feel we have over our lives is an illusion. Those of us who are rich find it harder to accept this than those of us who are poor. Blessed are the poor! Blessed be the name of the Lord! God is all we have and all we need and our Christian lives consist in trying (often unsuccessfully) to live in the light of this.
So would anyone out there choose to have their faith put to the test?
Not me, thank you very much! My preference is to be comfortable, for my health to be good, my relationships affirming, my family far from danger. I love to be able to get into my bed at night and feel that I am safe. I love that we are free in this country to worship God “without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our lives”, as we pray in the Benedictus at every Morning Prayer.
All these blessings are God-given, part of the delight of being human.
Yet I also know that should any or all of the above gifts from God disappear, overnight, my status as his beloved child would not be diminished in the very slightest.
His love for me would be just as strong and faithful and ravishing and sufficient. I believe this and my hope is that I would continue to bless the name of the Lord whatever happens. Yet I find I shrink away from the prospect of this being tested.
Jesus understands this reluctance of course, which is why, in the prayer he taught us, one of the lines specifies “Deliver us from the time of trial”.
None of us knows how we will respond when the chips are down. Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemene found himself longing for his cup of testing to be averted.
Our gospel reading tomorrow from John 14 is the exquisitely comforting passage where Jesus assures us that in his Father’s dwelling there are many mansions.
He has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us. “My Father has room for all of us,” Jesus insists. “I wouldn’t tell you this if it weren’t true. And you know how to get there”.
True to form, Thomas anxiously seeks clarification. “Actually we do not know the way”, he explains to Jesus, “and will you also let us know where the road leads?”
The reply from Jesus concentrates and simplifies. Even as the mystery deepens, the directions are clarified: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and then, to Philip,”Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
So there we have it. Jesus himself is the two ends and the middle of it. The bonds of love and trust between him and his people are eternal, unchanging. To love Jesus is to love God.
The anthem we play each week at our Corona-tide Evensong is Charles Wood’s hushed, tender setting of St Francis Xavier’s famous prayer “My God, I love thee”.
It is my own prayer for this dystopian season. Intentionally it strips back to the bare bones our relationship with God.
Our love for God is not because of the hope of heaven or the fear of hell. It is, rather, a simple response to the love that has been shown to us, in Christ. Why wouldn’t we love him?
“So would I love thee, dearest Lord, and in thy praise will sing, solely because thou art my God and my most loving King.”
The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.