Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Above the Assigned Measure

Ash Wednesday
17 February 2021
Sung Eucharist

Revd Nicholas Mercer

As a result of this pandemic, we are all more than familiar with the word Quarantine

People with underlying health conditions have been required to stay at home and quarantine

Those like myself who have been caught by track and trace have had to quarantine at home for ten days

And now people flying in from certain parts of the world have to stay in a Quarantine hotel

We have never used the word so much

Many of us will be unfamiliar with the origin of the word

The practice of quarantine, began during the 14th century in an attempt to protect coastal cities from the plague

Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing.  

This practice, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days.

There is therefore a peculiar resonance with the season of Lent which we begin today

Christ is in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights –

If you like, a sort of spiritual quarantine

St Benedict said in his Rule for Monastic Life that a monk’s life “ought at all seasons to bear a Lenten character”

I fully endorse his comments and I believe that all clergy lives should have a Lenten character too

However, the extraordinary thing about our lives, for the past twelve months is that we have all been experiencing a sort of Lent ourselves

The fact that we have been locked down for much of the year means that we all have reduced our consumption

Most of us have eaten and drunk less

In many cases we have reduced our spending

All of us have reduced our company with others

And some of us have experienced solitude too

The news today is that there is more to come as we begin our journey of Lent in the Church with our service for Ash Wednesday

But the question remains, as how we should conduct ourselves in Lent as opposed to the rest of the year

St Benedict, in his Rule for Monastic living, said of the Lenten season

During these days, add to the usual measure of service…by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit. In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.

Although we have been experiencing some of the privations mentioned, I believe that St Benedict provides some further valuable guidance

The first is to add to the usual measure of service by way of private prayer

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have recently asked the whole nation to pray each day for the victims of COVID-19

They have provided us with a prayer and I have put the prayer on our weekly sheet

Their request is that we say this prayer at 6pm every day

It would be wonderful if we could, as a parish, join in this prayer between now and Holy Week

The second is the request to “have something above the assigned measure to offer God

Last year we had the “hair raising” fund where you were invited to donate the cost of your haircut or a trip to the hairdressers to the Priory

It was wonderfully supported and we raised over £5000 pounds

I wonder if you could do the same this year?

Donating what you might ordinarily have put in the collection plate during lock-down and anything extra you were able to give?

We are struggling – and could do with all the help we can get to recover

The third thing which we can all do, without any further effort, is to “look forward to Easter with joy and spiritual longing”

I have been amazed and heartened by the number of people who have joined us in worship each week on-line, and, in particular, the service of Holy Communion

The figures have exceeded the number of parishioners

There is a clear spiritual longing amongst us

And we all look forward to celebrating Easter “with a joy and spiritual longing” like never before

And if it is not Easter, perhaps it will be Trinity Sunday instead, the crowning glory of the year?

But the last thing I wish to mention is the preparatory nature of Lent

Jesus is sent into the wilderness immediately after he has been baptised – and it is the Holy Spirit

who led him to that place

The penitential life that he led for the next forty days was not just a spiritual test but a preparation for his subsequent ministry

We have all partaken of this Lenten season whether we want to or not

However, might this be a way, or at least an opportunity, to prepare ourselves for what comes next for us as a parish?

Having spent almost a year in lockdown, almost a year in near perpetual Lent, we need to ask ourselves “what next?”

What is our ministry in the life of the Church?

What is our ministry to the generations of Christians who will come after us at Bolton Priory?

I feel very strongly that we need to think very carefully about our succession to future generations

How will ensure the survival of the Priory and how will we equip those who come after us to continue God’s work

We could leave it to chance and hope for the best

Alternatively, we could take the opportunity of our period of quarantine, our enforced national Lent to ready ourselves for our work that lies ahead.