18 April 2022
Throughout Lent, the principal icons and images in the Church of Saint Mary and Giles in Stony Stratford have been covered in traditional Lenten colours.
So, at the Easter Eucharist in the parish church yesterday on Easter Day (17 April 2022), it was good to see for the first time the ‘Stony Stratford Cross’ or ‘Christ in Majesty’ by Anthony Weller, above the High Altar.
This Cross was specially commissioned by the parish when the church was being reordered and redecorated after a disastrous fire in 1968.
The cross was sculpted by Antony Weller (1927-1991), and it reminds me of similar works in Coventry, Cambridge and Lichfield.
This fibreglass crucifix is a 4.5 metre high cross with a resin figure of ‘Christ in Majesty’. It represents the Living Christ, who offers us all the New Life of the Resurrection.
Behind Christ is his cross. In his hands and his feet, he shows the wounds of his crucifixion, but not the nails. His face is very much alive. His body is not slumped but instead stands with arms outstretched to welcome all who are prepared to serve him.
A description nearby says, ‘He is a living force in the world today – not a dead hero from the past.’
Weller may have been inspired by the representation of the Risen Christ in Graham Sutherland’s great tapestry in Coventry Cathedral. Or perhaps Weller found inspiration in the Majestas Christi, the ‘Majesty of Christ’, sculpted in gilded wood by Alan Durst for Great Saint Mary’s Church, Cambridge, in 1959 and installed in 1960.
The imagery in Durst’s golden sculpture above the High Altar in Great Saint Mary’s draws on the Book of Revelation. Christ stands in front of the cross as the tree of life, his hands and feet are marked by the wounds of the crucifixion.
There is similar portrayal of the Risen Christ in John Piper’s later East Window in the Chapel in Saint John’s Hospital in Lichfield, depicting ‘Christ in Majesty’ (1984).
After yesterday’s Parish Eucharist in Stony Stratford, the Easter Garden in front of the High Altar was blessed, and there were Easter eggs too for all the children … and even for some of the adults.
During Lent this year, I was reflecting each morning on the Psalms. Then, during the two weeks of Passion Week and Holy Week, my morning reflections drew on the Stations of the Cross in the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard, Wexford, and the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford, Milton Keynes.
It was good to take part in the Easter celebrations in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford, yesterday (Easter Day, 17 April 2022). This morning (18 April 2022), I am returning to my morning reflections on the Psalms.
In the coming weeks, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:
1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;
2, reading the psalm or psalms;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Psalm 54 is attributed to David, and was written for one who finds oneself betrayed by a friend. In the slightly different numbering system used in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, this is Psalm 53.
Verses 1 and 2 in the Hebrew Bible correspond to the designation in English translations:
1, To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David,
2, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, ‘David is in hiding among us
Verses 1-7 in English translations correspond to verses 3-9 in the Hebrew text.
The Ziphites lived in the wilderness of Ziph, a district to the south-east of Hebron in the Judaean mountains.
The historical setting of this short Psalm is given in its title, almost a direct quotation from I Samuel 23: 19, a similar style of historical setting as found in Psalm 52.
This is considered one of the psalms containing prayers against false accusations, linked with an ordeal, the taking of an oath, or an appeal to the ‘higher court,’ as indicated in the following points:
The phrase ‘vindicate me’ (verse 1);
A royal perspective of opponents as ‘the insolent,’ ‘strangers’ or ‘the ruthless’ (verse 3), and ‘enemies (verse 5);
A prayer before battle appealing to God as personal saviour with a covenant ‘faithfulness’ (verse 5).
Psalm 54 can also be described as a lament, prayer, or complaint of an individual.
Verses 1-3 pray for help and answer.
Following an appeal (verses 1-2), the psalmist describes the danger facing him (verse 3), but maintains his confidence in God.
In the second half of the psalm (verses 4-7), the poet, in the certainty of being heard, rejoices in help, and makes a vow of thanksgiving. He promises to sacrifice a freewill offering to express ‘the voluntary gratitude of a thankful heart’ (verses 6-7, another example of the ‘certainty of hearing’).
Psalm 54 (NRSVA):
To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, ‘David is in hiding among us.’
1 Save me, O God, by your name,
and vindicate me by your might.
2 Hear my prayer, O God;
give ear to the words of my mouth.
3 For the insolent have risen against me,
the ruthless seek my life;
they do not set God before them.
4 But surely, God is my helper;
the Lord is the upholder of my life.
5 He will repay my enemies for their evil.
In your faithfulness, put an end to them.
6 With a freewill-offering I will sacrifice to you;
I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
7 For he has delivered me from every trouble,
and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘From Death to Resurrection,’ and was introduced yesterday by the Revd Dr Rachel Mash, Coordinator of the Environmental Network of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (18 April 2022) continues the Easter theme and invites us to pray:
We give thanks for opportunities to celebrate Easter with friends and family.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org