St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 11 June 2020
Led by Rev Led by Rev Professor Kenneth M Boyd
Welcome and opening Sentences
Welcome to today’s online devotion with St Giles’ Cathedral, today, the 11th of June in 2020.
‘By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willow in the midst thereof… How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’
These verses from Psalm 137 give voice to the grief and bewilderment of the Jewish people, exiled in far-away Babylon following the destruction of Jerusalem and of its temple, the familiar focus of their ancestral worship. “How shall”, how can, they ask “we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” Their question is one many singers today again are asking: for even if our churches and concert halls are slowly reopened, singing itself may remain a potential route of infection; and it will not be easy to find how once again to ‘sing unto the Lord, and make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation’. It will not be easy: but in the providence of God, not impossible either.
Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7, 10-12
These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
For thus says the LORD: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
Jeremiah’s letter was not welcome news to many prominent members of the exiled community who claimed that their exile would be brief and that they would soon return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. But Jeremiah was right: it was not until some seventy years later that a minority of the exiles returned and began rebuilding; and the majority who remained were ultimately to play a greater part in preserving their ancient faith. Although rebuilt by the returning exiles, and then again later by Herod the Great, the temple was finally destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD; and the future of Judaism would thereafter depend on traditions and institutions, of the family and synagogue, that developed in Babylon, and later in Egypt, and would endure wherever the Jewish people settled, to sing the Lord’s song in many strange lands.
Today, many Christians also are in exile from the familiar focus of our ancestral worship. We in St Giles’ are fortunate in being able to hear the recorded individual and historic voices of our choir and organ, but singing the Lord’s song online is not the same, and until science has more to tell us about the nature of and remedies for the pandemic, the future remains uncertain and clouded.
In these uncertain circumstances, Jeremiah’s message counsels patient trust in God, who promises ‘a future with hope’. In a world where God so often seems powerless to prevent bad things happening to good people, trust in a future with hope is difficult: but the deep mystery of Christ’s death and elusive resurrection suggests a response more profound in practice than in propositions. Part of this response can be to live in the spirit of Newman’s hymn: ‘Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see/ The distant scene, – one step enough for me’. Part also, in our time, may be to heed Jeremiah’s message: ‘seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’ The ‘city’ for us today is the place of lockdown, and, just perhaps, gradual, tentative easing; and it is in this place that we must seek the welfare of those we meet across the prescribed distance, and although our mouths may be masked, allow our eyes to smile to one another, praying in our hearts for one another and especially for those who suffer; and yet still as Christians, ‘who mourn and rejoice at once’, even in this strange land, in our souls singing the Lord’s joyful song. Amen
A prayer for the grace of cheerfulness:
God of all hopefulness and joy,
give us a cheerful sense of all our blessings.
Make us content with all that you provide for us.
Teach us that nothing can hurt us
since you hold us in your kind and loving hands.
Chase from our hearts all gloomy thoughts,
and make us glad with the brightness of hope;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
A prayer for our community, city and nation:
Lord of our life and God of our salvation,
Guide those who direct the affairs of this city and nation.
Sustain them in their work, support them in their anxieties
and strengthen them in their resolve to seek and pursue
the well-being of all the people.
And so work among us, by your good and kindly Spirit,
that our community may be renewed in beauty and order,
in happiness and peace: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen
And now may the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
bless, preserve and keep us all, in the joy, simplicity and compassion of the gospel. Amen
Jean Français Soeur Blanche (Suite Carmelite)