Today is the first of winter Ember Days and this year it is aligned to the lesser festival of St Ambrose of Milan. And we observe this in the company of the Prophets, in the second week in Advent, living the life of a Prophetic Community.
Ember day refers to three days set apart for fasting, abstinence, and prayer during each of the four seasons of the year. The purpose is to thank God for the bounteous gifts of nature, to teach us to use of them responsibly and to assist the needy.
The Collect today is: God of hosts, who called Ambrose from the governor's throne to be a bishop in your Church and an intrepid champion of your faithful people: mercifully grant that, as he did not fear to rebuke rulers, so we, with like courage, may contend for the faith we have received; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
This is a lethal theological, liturgical and spiritual fusion that the heart leaps for joy, the soul rejoices in the company of the prophets and Saint Ambrose and the spirit prays saying, Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus.
To make things more interesting, a Hindu friend from India set a quote today from John Macarthur’s book ‘Anxious for Nothing’. The quote says, ‘The church does well as a whole when the shepherds and sheep bond together to correct the wayward, encourage the worried, hold up the weak, be patient with the wearisome, and repay the wicked with love. That is the Bigger Picture on attacking anxiety.’
What is the point of all this in a ‘Peace Maker’ blog, you may wonder? As we walk through Advent into the darkness of the mystery of God’s love, the flicker of Christ light is beginning to appear. The heart longs to see it glow with power and love, beauty and grace, and yet, in the darkness of this mystery we see the forces of evil within and without the church threatening to extinguish this light in human soul. It is the call of the prophet, the care of the shepherd and the cry (prayer) of the saint to ‘rebuke’ the rulers with courage and contend for the faith we have received.
This week the media reported that Christianity is a ‘minority religion’ in Britain. I am ambivalent about this news, because on the one hand the privileges of the church in the society will be limited but on the other, we are in the rightful place of serving God from the margins as our Lord did. But the sad and painful reality is the church behaving as if it is the centre of the universe and that it can lord it over.
Leading a flock in these difficult days are both a challenge and a privilege. The challenge is to resist the temptation to retreat into our safe old ways of ‘command and control’. And the privilege is to be open to God’s love through enabling the People of God into Intimacy and Empowerment. Our time in the Upper Room gave us the opportunity to explore these. It was in the Upper Room our Lord instituted the ‘Intimacy’ of the Sacrament of the Altar. It was in the Upper Room that the Holy Spirit blessed the Disciples with ‘Empowerment.’ Nurturing the People of God into ‘Intimacy and Empowerment’ of God through the precious Liturgy we have inherited and offer in great splendour is the greatest privilege. This is the work of a Peace Maker. Blessed are the Peace Makers for they shall be called the Children of God.