Sunday, 20 December 2015

O clavis David

As there was no Communion service this morning in the churches of this rural grouping, we drove to riverside town of Woodbridge for the Parish Eucharist at the church of St Mary, a fine 15th century building with a very tall tower, no doubt used to keep a look out over the comings and goings in the estuary in past troubled times. The town is ancient, and there was a church on this spot a century before the Domesday book records it.

Clare came to church here with Ann on her last visit, and remarked on how well attended it was. Even more so today, with a couple of hundred of adults and thirty children. We arrived just as the service was about to start. The Vicar was making an appeal to support an ancient village church near Carlisle, whose decades of restoration work have been undone by the recent floods, as an act of solidarity. His brief exhortation was met by quiet murmurs of approval some members of the congregation seated near to us. In place of a sermon, the children presented a nativity tableau, spiced with humorous moments. It was a refreshing change, being part of a big congregation, and not on duty. And it was great to return to a family Sunday lunch already prepared, with Ann, plus Anneke and Stefan who arrived last night.

This evening, we walked to Kirton Parish Church for their service of Nine Lessons and Carols by candlelight. I was honoured on behalf of the family to read the third lesson, in place of Eddie, my dear departed brother-in-law, who often read lessons at church services, and helped clean up the mess afterwards and get ready for the next festive service. The church was full. An adult choir and a group of children from the local primary school each sang carols. Readings from the King James version of the Bible were beautifully delivered with understanding and relish by parishioners, a pleasure to listen to. Afterwards there was mulled wine and mince pies in the church hall where six weeks ago we gathered for the reception after Eddie's funeral. The moon and stars were visible on our walk home in the dark, as they were when we walked home on that sad evening. So much can happen in between our annual celebrations of great feasts. Somehow they enable us to carry on despite the burdens to be borne.

O Key of David and Sceptre of the House of Israel, who opens and no one can shut, who shuts and no one can open. Come and bring the prisoners forth from the prison cell, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

To carry out their role, those in positions of great power must delegate functions of government to others. Anyone with charge of the keys of any establishment or domain is a trusted person, responsible for giving access to places or people. The sceptre is a symbol of the administrator of justice who is, or is meant to be guarantor of equal treatment in the eyes of the law. There can be conflicts of interest when the priorities and values of office holders differ. Justice can all too easily be exercised unequally in favour of the privileged, who can influence to ensure their causes are legitimised.

The Messiah sent by God the ultimate sovereign, as saviour and judge of all, is described as one who combines both these trusted roles in himself, and thus holds ultimate power over human destinies. The longing of all who pray for His coming is that he will liberate and restore victims of injustice, trapped, dis-empowered, robbed of life. It's an appeal echoing the text Jesus declared fulfilled, when he read these words of Isaiah 61:1 in the Nazareth synagogue.

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has anointed me to tell the good news to the poor. He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set oppressed people free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."

God's surprise begins, however, not with the appearance of a full grown man of power, but with this child born for us in obscurity and poverty. The exercise of equity and justice is to be measured by how people treat each other in their weakness and vulnerablity, rather than their capability and strength.

'And a little child shall lead them.' (Isaiah 11:6b)

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