Pondering for Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Daily Office Readings or Tuesday after the 7th Sunday of Easter: Year 2

Psalm 97, 99, [100]; Psalm 94, [95] 1 Sam. 16:1-13a; Eph. 3:14-21; Matt. 8:18-27

I’m going to stray from our Daily Office Readings for today to reflect on a pivotal point in our Episcopal Church History.

Everything for today is taken from the “Great Cloud of Witnesses (GCW) for May 25, 26 and 27 and is about Venerable Bede, Augustine of Canterbury and Ethelbert and Bertha.

Bede wrote about himself  about his time the monastery in Jarrow near Durham, England, “spending all the remaining time of my life . . . I wholly applied myself to the study of Scripture, and amidst the observance of regular discipline, and the daily care of singing in the church, I always took delight in learning, teaching, and writing.”  “His most famous work, the Ecclesiastical History of England, written in Latin, remains the primary source for the period 597 to 731, when Anglo-Saxon culture developed and Christianity triumphed. In this work, Bede was clearly ahead of his time. He consulted many documents, carefully evaluated their reliability, and cited his sources. His interpretations were balanced and judicious. He also wrote The Lives of the Holy Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow, and a notable biography of Cuthbert, both in prose and verse.” (GCW May 25)

“Although Christianity had existed in Britain before the invasions of Angles and Saxons in the fifth century, Pope Gregory the Great decided in 596 to send a mission to the pagan Anglo-Saxons. He selected, from his own monastery on the Coelian hill in Rome, a group of monks, led by their prior, Augustine. They arrived in Kent in 597, carrying a silver cross and an image of Jesus Christ painted on a board, which thus became, so far as we know, “Canterbury’s first icon.” King Ethelbert tolerated their presence and allowed them the use of an old church built on the east side of Canterbury, dating from the Roman occupation of Britain. Here, says the Venerable Bede, they assembled “to sing the psalms, to pray, to say Mass, to preach, and to baptize.” This church of St. Martin is the earliest place of Christian worship in England still in use.  Probably in 601, Ethelbert was converted, thus becoming the first Christian king in England. About the same time, Augustine was ordained bishop somewhere in France and named “Archbishop of the English Nation.” Thus, the see of Canterbury and its Cathedral Church of Christ owe their establishment to Augustine’s mission, as does the nearby Abbey of SS. Peter and Paul, later re-named for Augustine.” (GCW May 26)

“Ethelbert succeeded his father as Saxon king of Kent in 560. He was, according to the Venerable Bede, a fair ruler and the first English king to promulgate a code of law. Brisk cross-channel trade with France exposed Ethelbert to Roman customs and luxuries. His admiration for the Frankish ways led him to marry a French Christian princess, Bertha. Although not a Christian himself, Ethelbert promised Bertha’s father that she could practice her faith.  Good to his word, he welcomed her chaplain and granted him an old Christian mausoleum to convert into the Church of St. Martin, which still stands today. In 597, the Roman mission to England under Augustine arrived. When he first heard the gospel, Ethelbert was cautious and unconvinced. However, his fair-mindedness and hospitality were evident in his welcome to Augustine: “The words and promises you bring are fair enough, but because they are new to us and doubtful, I cannot accept them and forsake those beliefs which I and the whole English race have held so long. But as you have come on a long pilgrimage and are anxious, I perceive, to share with us things which you believe are true and good, we do not wish to do you harm; on the contrary, we receive you hospitably and provide what is necessary for your support; nor do we forbid you to win all you can to your faith and religion by your preaching.”  The following Pentecost, Ethelbert was baptized, becoming the first Christian king in England. Though he helped the missionaries and founded cathedrals and churches throughout southeastern England, including Canterbury Cathedral, he never coerced his people, or even his children, into conversion. Bertha’s kind and charitable nature and Ethelbert’s respect for law and the dignity of individual conscience represent, to this day, some of the best of the English Christian spirit. (GCW May 27)

All of the above was taken from the Great Cloud of Witnesses for May 25, 26 and 27.

I can see the hand of God in the events that took place with Bede, Augustine of Canterbury and Ethelbert and Bertha. About a thousand years later the Church of England separates itself from the Roman Church and expands to the Colonies and after a bitter Revolution the Episcopal Church was formed from these beginnings.  Yes, I see God at work in all these acts.  But guess what?  God is not done yet!

Let us hear what the Spirit is saying to and through the saints of God and then ponder anew what the Almighty can do.  John

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