Presentation

On Thursday we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem. The baby was offered by Mary and Joseph, presented to God our Father. They were told by Simeon how this baby was destined the light of the nations, for “the rising and falling of many”. Ever since, his followers have heroic offerings of themselves for the good of others. Here is an inspiring example from just after midnight on Feb. 3, 1943, when an act of extraordinary unselfishness by a group of men became a legend of martyrdom and sacrifice.

When the US Army ship Dorchester was torpedoed by the Germans just south of Greenland that night, its passengers and crew had 25 minutes to get off the boat. As 902 people went for the life jackets, it quickly was discovered there weren’t near enough. Of the 13 lifeboats, only two functioned.

In the ship’s final minutes, Methodist senior chaplain George Lansing Fox, Rabbi Alexander Goode, Dutch Reformed minister Clark V. Poling and Fr John P. Washington, a Catholic priest, were helping passengers leave the vessel. Then four men appeared, all of them without life jackets. The chaplains quickly gave up their own vests – and went down with the ship, perishing in the freezing water. Survivors saw them, locked arm in arm, praying and singing the Navy hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” just before the ship sank beneath the waves.

It was a night as dramatic as the sinking of the Titanic – but without a blockbuster movie to record the drama. “The Four Immortal Chaplains,” as they became known, have been honoured many times, including on a stamp issued in their honour by the U.S. Postal Service. The first Sunday in February is known ” in some Christian denominations as “Four Chaplains Sunday.

These four presented and offered themselves completely for the wellbeing of others as Jesus was presented to God his Heavenly Father in the Temple of Jerusalem for the salvation of the world.

Fr Matthew

The touching place of God

The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity runs from January 18 to 25 each year. An order of service is produced by a different country every year, and this is the introductory prayer for 2023. It makes a thoughtful and inspiring reflection on who we are, and what is our calling.

How great is this place,
for it is the touching place of God.
In Christ, we are gathered from the edges
And woven into the dream.
Here we feel the hint of heaven,
Where justice, love and mercy meet.
Here we celebrate
The blessedness of unity in God.
We, who were once far off,
Are brought near.
And so we pray,
God, creator of all,
In your love, you have made each one of us
In your grace, you gather us together in your image
In your mercy, you make us restless until we find our rest in you. Disturb us in our contentment,
Distract us from our comforts
Deter us from our conflicts
Until your kingdom comes and your will is done.

Amen.

Fr Matthew

First impressions

The words of John the Baptist about Jesus in today’s Gospel “Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world”, are the first ones spoken about him in St John’s Gospel. They are, if you like, our first impression of Our Lord, at least according to St John. That made me think about first impressions, and find out what others have said on the subject…

J.K.Rowling said “A good first impression can work wonders”, while Will Rogers pointed out that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Elliott Abrams reminds us that “first impressions matter. Experts say we size up new people in somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes.” So first impressions are important. However, some people warn us of the dangers involved in trusting first impressions: “I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong.” (Daniel Handler). Famous author Franz Kafka went further: “First impressions are always unreliable.” One point made by Sherrilyn Kenyon is that “It is sometimes difficult to get rid of first impressions,” while Daniel Tosh issues a salutary warning: “You know who makes a great first impression? Liars.” We have been warned…

So there seem to be widely differing positions on the subject. Take two famous Russians. Back on positive grounds, Tolstoy advises “In difficult circumstances always act on first impressions.” But fellow Russian author Anton Chekhov warns: “Each of us is full of too many wheels, screws and valves to permit us to judge one another on a first impression or by two or three external signs.” Well, now I really don’t know what to make of it all.

Does this have anything to say to us church-type people? Oh yes! I leave the last word to someone called Nelson Searcy. We might all pay attention to what he has to say about arriving at a church… “Seven minutes is all you get to make a positive first impression. In the first seven minutes of contact with your church, your first-time guests will know whether or not they are coming back. That’s before a single worship song is sung and before a single word of the message is uttered.” Food for thought…

Fr Matthew