Tuesday, 7 April 2020

‘To Thy care unsleeping
We commit our sleep’

The lion on the rectory door in Dundela that inspired CS Lewis … Aslan’s name is the Turkish word for lion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Tuesday in Holy Week

8 p.m., Late Evening Office, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

Readings: Psalm 71: 1-14; John 12: 20-36.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I had hoped that during Holy Week this year, as with last year, instead of preaching each evening I would read a poem to help our reflections during this Holy Week.

In the Gospel reading this evening (John 12: 20-36), it is Palm Sunday, and some Greeks are in Jerusalem for the festival of Passover. This year, Passover begins tomorrow evening [8 April 2019].

These visiting Greeks are trying to find Jesus. They approach Philip, whose Greek name indicates he may understand them, and they say to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’

Where do we see Jesus? Where do we find God?

My choice of a poem for Holy Week this evening is ‘Evensong’ by the Belfast-born writer, CS Lewis (1893-1963). He is known worldwide for his popular and scholarly works that include literary criticism, children’s literature, fantasy literature and, essays, as well as his works in theology and as a Christian apologist. His great works include Mere Christianity, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, The Four Loves, and Surprised by Joy.

Clive Staples Lewis, known to his friends as Jack, was born in Belfast on 29 November 1898, the son of Albert James Lewis (1863-1929), was a solicitor from Co Cork. He was baptised in Saint Mark’s Church, Dundela, by the rector, the Revd Thomas Hamilton, who was his maternal grandfather.

As a boy, he went to school at the Wynyard School in Watford, Campbell College in Belfast, and Malvern in Worcestershire, before being awarded a scholarship to University College, Oxford, in 1916.

In 1917, he volunteered for the British Army, and was commissioned in the Somerset Light Infantry. He was sent to the trenches in the Somme in France on his 19th birthday. On 15 April 1918, he was wounded in shellfire, and he suffered from depression and home-sickness during his convalescence. At the end of World War I, he returned to Oxford, gaining a First in Greek and Latin Literature in 1920, a First in Greats (Classics and Philosophy) in 1922, and a First in English in 1923.

When he first met WB Yeats at Oxford in 1921, he wrote: ‘I am often surprised to find how utterly ignored Yeats is among the men I have met: perhaps his appeal is purely Irish – if so, then thank the gods that I am Irish.’

Lewis was a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, for almost 30 years, from 1925 to 1954. His students included the poet John Betjeman, the critic Kenneth Tynan and the monk Bede Griffiths.

He first met JRR Tolkien at Oxford in 1926. They became lifelong friends, and both were members of the literary group known as the Inklings. Other members of this literary circle included Charles Williams, Nevill Coghill, Lord David Cecil and Owen Barfield.

At the age of 32, through the influence of Tolkien, Hugo Dyson and other friends, Lewis returned to the Anglicanism of his birth: ‘In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.’

The other influence on his return to Christianity, was The Everlasting Man by GK Chesterton. He became ‘a very ordinary layman of the Church of England.’ For the rest of his life, his faith exercised a lasting influence on his work.

He left Oxford in 1954 to become the first Professor of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge and a Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge.

In 1956, he married the American writer Joy Davidman Gresham, 17 years his junior, who died four years later of cancer at the age of 45. Lewis died three years after his wife, as the result of renal failure. His death on 22 November 1963 came a week before his 65th birthday – and on the same day that President John F Kennedy was assassinated. He is buried in the churchyard at Holy Trinity Church, Headington, Oxford. He is commemorated on 22 November in the calendars of the Church of England, the Episcopal Church and other Anglican churches, but not in the calendar of the Church of his birth, the Church of Ireland.

Although CS Lewis never published a book of verse during his lifetime, he wrote poetry from the age of 14. His poetic impulse is evident in much of his work, including his first prose piece, The Pilgrim’s Regress, which contains a number of short lyrics, and in his novel Till We Have Faces, which had its beginnings as a long poem.

The Eagle and Child in Saint Giles’, the pub in Oxford where CS Lewis and the Inklings met on Tuesday mornings in 1939 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Evensong, by CS Lewis

Now that night is creeping
O’er our travail’d senses,
To Thy care unsleeping
We commit our sleep.
Nature for a season
Conquers our defences,
But th’eternal Reason
Watch and ward will keep.

All the soul we render
Back to Thee completely,
Trusting Thou wilt tend her
Through the deathlike hours,
And all night remake her
To Thy likeness sweetly,
Then with dawn awake her
And give back her powers.

Slumber’s less uncertain
Brother soon will bind us
– Darker falls the curtain,
Stifling-close ’tis drawn:
But amidst that prison
Still Thy voice can find us,
And, as Thou hast risen,
Raise us in Thy dawn.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

John 12: 20-36 (NRSVA):

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 30 Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ 35 Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

Liturgical Colour: Red or Violet

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

O God,
who by the passion of your blessed Son made
an instrument of shameful death
to be for us the means of life:
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ,
that we may gladly suffer pain and loss
for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ’s blood; for he is our peace. (Ephesians 2: 17)

Blessing:

Christ draw you to himself
and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:

Hymns:

66, Before the ending of the day (CD 4)
218, And can it be that I should gain (CD 14)

The Communion vessels presented by CS Lewis’s father, Arthur Lewis, to Saint Mark’s Church, Dundela, the Belfast church where CS Lewis was baptised (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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