GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Epistle Galatians 4.21-31
Gospel S. John 6.1-14
Our Church of England is thought to have certain features which resemble the Eastern Church, and not the Western, such that as of rising before the Gospel (ordered in our rubric) and of singing, ‘Glory be to Thee, O Lord’. It was pointed out to me in boyhood that this is not Anglo-Catholicism, but something retained by the Reformers. And numbering the Sundays in Lent as we do is an ancient Greek Church custom, not Western. How did our Church get Eastern customs? Was it perhaps through Irenaeus, a native of Athens, who was bishop of the terribly persecuted churches in the Rhone Valley in France? Our Church had many links with the Gallic Church.
The rationale for the service this Sunday lies in the Collect which acknowledges we deserve punishment, but asks to be ‘mercifully relieved’. The theme of the Epistle is Law and Grace, our Christian freedom and its obligations, We are not the children of the bondwoman but of the free, so are mercifully relieved from the Law. The Gospel is the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and its significance is best seen if we compare it with those of the last three Sundays. In them we had Christ’s conquest of evil; and now Christ by miracle sustains the life of the multitude, thus manifesting power, and suggesting he can supply the food, not only of the body, but also of the spirit. We are mercifully comforted. The word ‘comfort’ was used Cranmer’s time in a secondary sense to carry the idea of ‘strength’. For in the Latin Vulgate Bible 2 Tim. 2.1 is Comfortare in gratia, ‘Be strong in grace’. The theme of the Sunday is even clearer if one looks at the special lesson for today, which is the provision by Joseph, a type of Christ, for his father’s house, thus saving them from famine.
This Sunday was always known as Midlent, or Refreshment Sunday, probably from the Gospel feeding of the five thousand, and from the custom of feasting on rich cakes and spiced ale on the day. The special reading for the day may account for the other custom connected to it, ‘Mothering’. In different parts of the land this took the form either of visiting the Mother Church, or allowing apprentices and servant girls home for the day to their mothers, and taking them a present, often a ‘mothering cake’.
Is it superstitious to keep Lent? That depends, but it is never wrong for us to take time to meditate. What is meditation? It is to so give oneself to thinking about a subject as to stir up the soul to go after it, both in the will and the affections. That distinguishes it from what we call study. We do it by entering the presence of God, and so search our ways and beg his assistance to do the right according to Scripture. We humbly beg God to move on our minds and willpower that our meditation may glorify him and do our souls good.
How does this do us good? Is it not mere mooning and waste of time? The devil is sure to remind anyone of pressing minor duties who sets out to meditate on these things and give ones self wholly to them. Meditation does us good by taking, say the Gospel for today and turning it over in the mind, and what will inevitably follow is an acknowledgement that one has failed, and an abhorrence of self, and thanksgiving to God for undeserved grace and ascribing to him anything good we have done, resigning ourselves to God’s will.
What are the fruits of meditation? It may be thought that mere steam and hot air and frustration will result, and this notion keeps many Christians from meditation. But the Bible says ‘my meditation of Him shall be sweet’. Christ meditated upon, touches the whole life, quickens our spiritual pace, gives clarity of thought, stores the memory with Scripture, gives the voice of conscience freedom to claim our attention, and inspires prayer, reverence and earnestness. We become like what occupies our minds, and spiritual things make for spiritual beings. To be spiritually minded is life and peace.
No duty is so neglected amongst Christians. We pray, and to some extent read our Bibles, but the good of Bible reading is in meditating on the words, sucking honey out of the flinty rock. The most spiritual and used Christians I have seen, have all been meditators.
Meditation is no waste of time, if kept on Scripture, on Christ. Thomas a Kempis may have been a mystic, but he was wholly right when he said ‘I have no rest, but in a nook, with the Book.’