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Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

An Episcopal Church in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition Where All Are Welcome

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare)
March 14, 2021

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which giveth life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

2 Chronicles 36:14-23
Ephesians 2:4-10
John 6:4-15

One of my favourite pieces of English choral music is C. H. H. Parry’s setting of Psalm 122, “I was glad when they said unto me.” It was written in 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII and edited by Parry into the version we know today for the coronation of George V in 1911. I first sang it when I was a chorister at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut on a non-royal occasion and, therefore, without the interpolated “Vivats,” which are only appropriate for the entrance of the monarch.

The music and words together truly captured my imagination. As a twenty year-old enthusiast, I felt that it showed forth the glory of God, the majesty of God. I felt that it captured the sense of excitement worshippers feel as they approach the altar and, truly expressed the soaring beauty of worship. And while I have come to like other modern English composers better than Parry, I do still love it.

Parry’s version was designed to be an introit, the music for an entrance, in this case the entrance of a British monarch on the occasion of his coronation. As the bishops and clergy, together with the one who would be crowned, approached the altar, this psalm of pilgrimage is sung. Today on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, we sing in Gregorian chant this same text as our introit, Laetare Jerusalem, and we hear those words as the thurifer and I entered and as the smoke and incense rise over our altar. Indeed, the psalm is laced throughout this morning’s liturgy.

While we will not hear Parry’s English anthem today, we do hear these words, we do get the force of the psalmist’s joyful longing to make his pilgrimage to the City of God, to the altar of God, to the Temple of God.

I was glad when they said unto to me, * We will go into the house of the Lord.
Our feet are standing within thy gates, * O Jerusalem.

We feel the expectation and longing as we are on the verge of entering the Holy City:

Jerusalem is built as a city * that is at unity with itself;
For thither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord, * to testify unto Israel to give thanks unto the Name of the Lord.
For there is the seat of judgement, * even the seat of the house of David.

The psalmist’s literary pilgrimage to the Holy City leads us to the Temple, at the very heart of the City, set apart and blessed, to give thanks to God, the God who made us, who loves us, and who calls us into relationship with God and each other. And as we arrive we say:

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: * they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls * and plenteousness within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sake, * I will wish thee prosperity.
Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God, * I will seek to do thee good.

It is a prayer for peace in the Holy City, peace in the City of God. It is a prayer for those who love God. It is a prayer for prosperity, but not in the crass sense so many contemporary preachers hear. The promise that “they shall prosper that love thee” will not manifest itself in the amassing of riches. Rather, they will prosper in love, in the plenteousness of relationship, in connection with God, in deepening their understanding of the life to which we are called. The consequence of such prosperity is not retirement in luxury, but engagement with the work of ministry: “Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do thee good.” Because of the majesty of the temple and because of the worship that takes place there, we the pilgrims who have journeyed there from all the corners of the earth, are now called to action, called to “do thee good.” Yes, it is a call to more and deeper worship, but, as Matthew’s Gospel teaches us, it is also a call to love our neighbour for in loving our neighbours, we are doing good to God.

As we read in John’s gospel last week, this is the same Temple to which Jesus journeyed at the time of Passover early on in his ministry. Jesus would have shared the expectations and hopes of all the pilgrims to Jerusalem. Ringing in his well educated ears would have been the words of today’s psalm, “I was glad when they said unto me, we will go to the House of the Lord.” When he arrived, however, he found a sight that he did not expect. Jesus found the money changers and merchants seeking that other kind of prosperity and, consumed by “Zeal for thy house,” he drove them from the Temple. For Jesus, the Temple is “his father’s house.” It is the place where incense rises from the altar, from the “throne of judgement,” from “the seat of David” up in praise and honour to God. And in John’s, gospel it is the place where Jesus’ ministry really begins, where his priorities are made plain.

Here in our temple, our house of prayer in the midst of the City and to which we had been used to make our pilgrimage, our purposes is not only to give thanks to God, offer songs of praise, offer the sweet smell of incense, but also, and especially, to be nourished with the bread of life before we embark upon our ministry. Yet, for the last year, pretty much to the day, most of you, our congregation has (with the exception of eight or so weeks last fall) been separated from participating in person in the worship of our temple. As I hope you are aware, we are about to open our doors and once again and your feet shall stand within its gates, you shall once again be nourished by Jesus himself, the temple of whose body God will raise-up after three days. From the altar of this temple, you shall be nourished with the same bread that Jesus took, blessed, and distributed to the five thousand we heard about in today’s Gospel. This is the supply of bread that is never depleted. This is the meal that makes us one with God and one with each other, all because this is the bread that Jesus identifies with himself: “the living bread which came down from heaven; [and] if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). This is the true prosperity for which the psalmist prayed, for which we pray when we say this psalm. This prosperity is nothing less than life, real life lived in relationship with God in Christ.

Today in the midst of Lent, we come to worship virtually in this temple as pilgrims seeking God’s presence in the world, seeking God’s presence in the midst of the City, in the midst of a pandemic, seeking life. Two weeks from today on Palm Sunday, when Jesus himself will make his triumphal entry into that Jerusalem for the peace of which we pray, we shall come to the temple once again as pilgrims looking to discern where God is calling us. We shall return to the temple and be fed with the bread of life. We shall come to this temple and be sent back into the world ready to engage in our work, ready to be God’s ministers, ready to be Christ’s Body at work in the world:

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem: * they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls * and plenteousness within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sake, * I will wish thee prosperity.
Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God, * I will seek to do thee good.

Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
13 March 2021

© 2021 Andrew Charles Blume