13 December 2018

Advent devotions and prayers
by Samuel Johnson in Lichfield

Samuel Johnson in the winter darkness and with the Christmas lights in the Market Square in Lichfield last month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

We are in the second week of Advent. Today [13 December], the Calendar in Common Worship in the Church of England today also recalls Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer.

In his Dictionary, first published in 1755, Samuel Johnson offers a definition of Advent in these words: ‘The name of one of the holy seasons, signifying the coming; that is, the coming of our Saviour: which is made the subject of our devotion during the four weeks before Christmas.’

Johnson was a devout Anglican and a compassionate man whose works are permeated with his morality. His faith did not prejudice him against others, and he respected members of other churches who demonstrated a commitment to the teachings of Christ. He admired John Milton’s poetry but could not tolerate his Puritan and Republican beliefs. He was a Tory, yet he opposed slavery and once proposed a toast to the ‘next rebellion of the negroes in the West Indies.’

He would write on moral topics with such authority and in such a trusting manner that one biographer could say: ‘No other moralist in history excels or even begins to rival him.’

Shortly before his death, Johnson composed an inscription for a floor slab in the centre of the nave in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield, to commemorate his father, Michael Johnson (died 1731), his mother, Sarah Johnson (died 1759), and his brother, Nathaniel Johnson (died 1737), who were all buried in the church.

The original stone was removed when Saint Michael’s was repaved in the late 1790s, but it was replaced with the same inscription in 1884 to mark the centenary of Samuel Johnson’s death.

On his last visit to church, the walk strained Johnson. However, while there he wrote a prayer for his friends, the Thrale family: ‘To thy fatherly protection, O Lord, I commend this family. Bless, guide, and defend them, that they may pass through this world, as finally to enjoy in thy presence everlasting happiness, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.’

In his last prayer, on 5 December 1784, before receiving Holy Communion and eight days before he died, Samuel Johnson prayed:

Almighty and most merciful Father, I am now, as to human eyes it seems, about to commemorate, for the last time, the death of thy Son Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer. Grant, O Lord, that my whole hope and confidence may be in his merits, and his mercy; enforce and accept my imperfect repentance; make this commemoration available to the confirmation of my faith, the establishment of my hope, and the enlargement of my charity; and make the death of thy Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption. Have mercy on me, and pardon the multitude of my offences. Bless my friends; have mercy upon all men. Support me, by the grace of thy Holy Spirit, in the days of weakness, and at the hour of death; and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

As he lay dying, Samuel Johnson’s final words were: ‘Iam Moriturus’ (‘I who am about to die’). He fell into a coma and died at 7 p.m. on 13 December 1784. He was buried in Westminster Abbey a week later.

John Myatt’s mural on a wall in Bird Street, Lichfield, commemorating Samuel Johnson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(13): 13 December 2018

The shrine of Santa Lucia di Siracusa or Saint Lucy in the Church of San Geremia in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Today the calendar of the Church remembers Saint Lucy [13 December], who was martyred in Syracuse in Sicily during the Diocletian Persecution, ca 283. Her relics are kept in a shrine in the Church of San Geremia in Venice. In the Church of England, Common Worship also remembers the Lichfield-born lexicographer Samuel Johnson on this day.

Later this evening, I am taking part in the Tarbert Community Carol Service at 7 p.m. in Saint Brendan's Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

The USPG Prayer Diary began this week with an article by Paulo Ueti, a Bible scholar and theologian in the Anglican Church of Brazil.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Thursday 13 December 2018:

Pray that all men and women might learn to question traditional values that devalue women.

‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist’ (Matthew 11: 11) … an icon of Saint John the Baptist in a small chapel in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Today the calendar of the Church remembers both Saint Lucy and in the Church of England the Lichfield-born lexicographer Samuel Johnson.

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today’s suggested reading is Matthew 11: 11-15.

The reflection for today suggests:

As Christmas cards arrive pray for their senders. Give thanks for the affection they bring. Resolve to send some happiness.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Isaiah 41: 13-20; Psalm 145: 1, 8-13; Matthew 11: 11-15.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘As Christmas cards arrive pray for their senders’ … a Christmas card with Saint Mary and Saint George Church, Comberford, between Lichfield and Tamworth, in the Diocese of Lichfield a watercolour by Freda Morgan, 2008

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.