25 March 2012

Poems for Lent (30): ‘Fifth Sunday In Lent’ by John Keble

The University Church of Saint Mary, Oxford, where John Keble preached his Assize Sermon in 1833 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Until the reform of the Roman liturgy in the 1960s, this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, was known as Passion Sunday. This Sunday remains Passion Sunday in many member Churches of the Anglican Communion, and while the name is not used in the calendar or directory of the Church of Ireland, both The Book of Common Prayer in the Church of Ireland and Common Worship in the Church of England describe these last two weeks in Lent as Passiontide.

In those Anglican Churches that follow the Sarum Use, crimson vestments, altar frontals and hangings come into use on the Fifth Sunday in Lent – replacing the Lenten array of unbleached muslin cloth. Vestments are crimson until, and including, Holy Saturday. Reflecting the recent playing down of Passiontide, the liturgical resources in the Church of England’s Common Worship now suggest red for Holy Week only, with the exception of white for the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday.

I hope to say a little more about Passion and Passiontide in my sermon at the Choral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, later this morning at 11 a.m..

The priest-poet John Keble (1792-1866), who died on 29 March 1866, is commemorated in the Calendar of the Episcopal Church of Scotland later this is week on Thursday (29 March) – although the Church of England remembers him on 14 July – is regarded as the founder of the Oxford Movement because of his Assize Sermon, preached in Great Saint Mary’s, Oxford, on 14 July 1833.

Some years earlier, in The Christian Year (1827), Keble sought to provide a poem for each Sunday and major feast day or festival in the Church of England. This led to his appointment as Professor of Poetry in Oxford University in 1831.

I am preaching at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral later this morning. But my Poem for Lent this morning, ‘Fifth Sunday In Lent,’ comes from Keble’s collection The Christian Year.

Fifth Sunday In Lent, by John Keble

And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. – Exodus 3: 3.

The historic Muse, from age to age,
Through many a waste heart-sickening page
Hath traced the works of Man:
But a celestial call to-day
Stays her, like Moses, on her way,
The works of God to scan.

Far seen across the sandy wild,
Where, like a solitary child,
He thoughtless roamed and free,
One towering thorn was wrapt in flame –
Bright without blaze it went and came:
Who would not turn and see?

Along the mountain ledges green
The scattered sheep at will may glean
The Desert's spicy stores:
The while, with undivided heart,
The shepherd talks with God apart,
And, as he talks, adores.

Ye too, who tend Christ’s wildering flock,
Well may ye gather round the rock
That once was Sion’s hill:
To watch the fire upon the mount
Still blazing, like the solar fount,
Yet unconsuming still.

Caught from that blaze by wrath Divine,
Lost branches of the once-loved vine,
Now withered, spent, and sere,
See Israel’s sons, like glowing brands,
Tossed wildly o’er a thousand lands
For twice a thousand year.

God will not quench nor slay them quite,
But lifts them like a beacon-light
The apostate Church to scare;
Or like pale ghosts that darkling roam,
Hovering around their ancient home,
But find no refuge there.

Ye blessed Angels! if of you
There be, who love the ways to view
Of Kings and Kingdoms here;
(And sure, ’tis worth an Angel’s gaze,
To see, throughout that dreary maze,
God teaching love and fear:)

Oh say, in all the bleak expanse
Is there a spot to win your glance,
So bright, so dark as this?
A hopeless faith, a homeless race,
Yet seeking the most holy place,
And owning the true bliss!

Salted with fire they seem, to show
How spirits lost in endless woe
May undecaying live.
Oh, sickening thought! yet hold it fast
Long as this glittering world shall last,
Or sin at heart survive.

And hark! amid the flashing fire,
Mingling with tones of fear and ire,
Soft Mercy’s undersong –
’Tis Abraham's God who speaks so loud,
His people’s cries have pierced the cloud,
He sees, He sees their wrong;

He is come down to break their chain;
Though nevermore on Sion’s fane
His visible ensign wave;
’Tis Sion, wheresoe’er they dwell,
Who, with His own true Israel,
Shall own Him strong to save.

He shall redeem them one by one,
Where’er the world-encircling sun
Shall see them meekly kneel:
All that He asks on Israel's part,
Is only that the captive heart
Its woe and burthen feel.
Gentiles! with fixed yet awful eye
Turn ye this page of mystery,
Nor slight the warning sound:
"Put off thy shoes from off thy feet -
The place where man his God shall meet,
Be sure, is holy ground."


Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross,
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of hope,
in this eucharist we have tasted
the promise of your heavenly banquet
and the richness of eternal life.
May we who bear witness to the death of your Son,
also proclaim the glory of his resurrection,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

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