Hallo again to all.
It's Epiphanytide — and will be for a startlingly long time. It often seems that Epiphany flies by in little more than a fortnight and a bit more. Blink, and it's nearly gone and we're into Lent. Not so this year. We've nearly eight weeks to transition from the joys of Christmastide to the gate of Lent. This year no one should be unready.
Often we tend to associate the short season Epiphany with a sort of fast forward of our Lord's early life: His baptism, His teaching in the temple, His appearance at the wedding at Cana. And then — it's Lent. This year we've more time to spend with Jesus as He begins his ministry, preaching, healing, gathering followers. You could almost think of this Epiphanytide as a little unLent. The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, as the feast of Epiphany is formally called, might be a time to consider our own lives as manifestations — or not — of the Gospel.
In what seems a dour state of the world and a fractious time in the Anglican Communion, it's easy to be grumpy and simple to be snarky, in our lives and in our blogs. Violence, poverty, and war accompany every season, even one symbolized by a star. It's difficult to acknowledge the toughness of the world, not grow bitter and despairing, and carry on still with hope and trust. But we must, even if some days it seems more like slogging on the way than singing on the way. Occasionally we find a strange sort of comfort in long moans from the past and one that we've been dipping into recenty is called (omitting the Greek and Latin titles and cutting right to the English subtitle):
The Tears, Sighs, and Complaints and Prayers of the Church of England, Setting Forth Her former Constitution, compared with Her present Condition; ALSO The Visible Causes, and probable Cures, of Her Distempers.
Published in 1659, the author, the Reverend John Gauden, lived during the most tumultuous century in English history. A graduate of Saint John's College, Cambridge and high-church in his leanings, after the execution of Charles I, he made some sort of uneasy peace with the reign of Cromwell, coming out the other side at the Restoration as a chaplain to Charles II, then Bishop of Exeter, and, for a few weeks before dying, Bishop of Worcester. In 1659, when he published his Tears, Sighs, and Complaints, he was deeply unhappy at the demoralised state of the church. And he takes 700 small folio pages to make sure you understand his points. Here he is, in two typical paragraphs (original spelling kept intact):
It is the infinite grief of all good Patriots and truest Protestants, to see this sometime so famous and flourishing Church of England in danger to be eaten up, not by a Sea-monster, like Andromeda, or by that over-grown leviathan of Rome, which takes his pastime in great waters, and rules over many Nations, People and Languages, but by small vermine, by a company (for the most part) of creeping and corroding Sectaries, home-bred and home-fed, like that tame Lizard or Dragon (as Suetonius calls it) which Tiberius Nero kept at Caprea, which was eaten up with ants, to the Emperor's great astonishment.
If nothing else, yet the very itching & scratching of Christians' eyes, the scrupulous doubtings, the vexatious disputings and endlesse janglings about Religion in England, both as Christian and as Reformed, already hath, and daily will, bring down such a Rheume and blood-shottenesse into men's eyes that (unless some sovereign eye-salve be timely applied) most people will in a few years be onely fit to play at blind-man-buff in Religion, taking what heresie or fancy comes next to hand, and changing it the next day; rather groping at all adventure in the dark than clearly discerning and conscientiously chusing the weighty matters of Religion, which are hardly discovered when the blind lead the blind; and as hardly either embraced, when once practicing is turned into prating, and the power of godlinesse into pragmatick pomp or popular contempt.
Now imagine 700 pages of that.
There is no doubt that Gauden felt deeply for the parlous state of the church. And indeed the Ecclesia Anglicana had been suppressed, crushed, and nearly fatally wounded under the Protectorate. But even given 17th-century patience for long-winded prose, we suspect most readers tired of Gauden's monumental catalogue of grievous wrongs and likely cures. Just spending an hour or so with him has us energized and eager to take on the challenges of the church in our day without whingeing.
So this Epiphany, when we're tempted to become morose about the Covenant, or Bishop ______, or the PCC, or the general difficulty of labouring to advance the Kingdom of Heaven in this year of Grace, we'll dip into Tears, Sighs, and Complaints and put an end to our time in the slough of despond.
See you next week, in Epiphanytide.
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