“Flash evensong” and the crunchiness of God’s word

The Telegraph has a fun video of today’s “Flash Evensong” outside St Paul’s Cathedral, in which I was privileged to take part as one of the basses in the scratch choir put together for the occasion by Kathryn Rose (I’m in the second row, wearing an open-necked blue shirt). The liturgist and (excellent) preacher, James Ogley, has a post describing the event.

The music for the event was as follows:

Introit hymn: Christ is made the sure foundation
Responses: Ayleward
Psalm: 119:145-160
Gradual hymn: Guide me, O thou great Redeemer
First Lesson: 2 Kings 9:1-16
Canticles: Parish Psalter set A
Second Lesson: Acts 27:1-16
Hymn: O God, our help in ages past
Anthem: If ye love me (Tallis)
Hymn: Be thou my vision

The musical discovery for me in all this was the Ayleward responses (a performance of which can be heard here and here), which somehow had passed me by until now.

What really struck me about the service, though, was this: the service was nothing more than the Church of England’s standard evening prayer for tonight, with the psalms and lessons taken from the lectionary, and the hymns and anthem being pretty standard fodder as well. And yet large portions of what was said, sung and prayed seemed to speak very directly to the context in which the service took place. Here’s some examples.

The distress and anger at exploitation and greed:

It grieveth me when I see the transgressors : because they keep not thy law. … Thy word is true from everlasting : all the judgements of thy righteousness endure for evermore. (Psalm 119:158,160)

Prophetic confrontation of rulers (and yes, “him that pisseth against the wall” did raise a giggle!):

And he arose, and went into the house; and he poured the oil on his head, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I have anointed thee king over the people of the LORD, even over Israel. And thou shalt smite the house of Ahab thy master, that I may avenge the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the LORD, at the hand of Jezebel. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish: and I will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel: And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah: And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the portion of Jezreel, and there shall be none to bury her.

The need to attend equally to the witness and instruction of the apostles – but equally the message of hope and “good cheer” that they bring:

But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship.

The Magnificat, of course:

He hath showed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.

The yearning for peace:

Priest. Give peace in our time, O Lord.
Answer. Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God.

The subordination of earthly rulers to the just, merciful and loving authority of God:

O Lord, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty, King of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee with thy favour to behold our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth…

Not to mention the need of the whole church, clergy and people, for the “healthful Spirit of thy grace” (and the acknowledgement that for the church to actually get anything right is a “great marvel”!):

Almighty and everlasting God, who alone workest great marvels; Send down upon our Bishops, and Curates, and all Congregations committed to their charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace…

Now, I’ll grant you: with some of these, maybe you had to be there. But it does show how there is a “crunchiness” even to a service that could seem as cosy and comfortable as a prayer book evensong, especially when put into the context of protest and confrontation. I think it is that “crunchiness” of the word of God that turned an exercise that may have had an element of whimsy to it – or at least could have been seen as nothing more than a bunch of mostly white, mostly middle-class, mostly Anglican people being “well-meaning” – into something transcendent. As I put it after the service:

As Rev Ogley pointed out in his sermon, there were people taking part today who support the protests, people who oppose the protests, and no doubt people who are largely indifferent either way. Were we to express our opinions in our own words, we’d have been just more voices added to the existing cacophony. Singing and speaking the words of the prayer book, so much of which is simply God’s word rearranged as liturgy, added another, oblique voice with something fresh to say to those on both sides of the confrontation.

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7 thoughts on ““Flash evensong” and the crunchiness of God’s word

  1. ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive – but to be young was very heaven!’. I so wish I could have joined in what was obviously an exhilarating experience for all of you – unfortunately my old bones couldn’t get me there this time.
    Your last paragraph says it all.

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