What did you think as you listened to the news reports on Wednesday?
Perhaps the Spending Review didn't seem to affect you too much at first – but as I listened I found myself visualising all sorts of people whom I know and love, or work with in the parishes, whose lives will be substantially harder when the cuts kick in.
There are members of the education department whose jobs with children excluded from school will simply cease to exist...Elderly parishioners who will no longer get the “social care” that has made such a difference to their ability to cope in their own homes.
I say this without, I hope, making a political judgement.
Times ARE hard – but Wednesday night seemed bitterly cold, however you look at it.
However, the sun rose on Thursday morning and a few of us gathered, as we do each week, to celebrate Holy Communion.
Actually, in my head what we did, and what we do, is to celebrate Mass. This isn't because I'm trying to haul you all by the scruff of your necks into the arms of Rome – that would be a non starter for all SORTS of reasons. But I do love the way referring to our service as Mass reminds us that what we're doing is not just about forging community together, as God's children gathered at God's table...(that, after all, is the root of Communion)...nor is it simply about being thankful, (as the word Eucharist reminds us)
No...This amazing sacrament in which we experience God week by week exists as an expression of God's ongoing Mission – and of our Mission - in the world. That's what the word “Mass” means – taking its name from the final words of the deacon, in Latin, “Ite, missa est” - Go, you are sent!
On Thursday, the small congregation was uncharacteristically late, so that I was afraid for a few minutes that the service wouldn't happen...and I minded. Hugely.
It seemed important to me, in the wake of all the upheaval and anxieties of the day before, that we should celebrate together...It seemed, and still seems, as if that short space of time around the altar should make a difference in important and material ways.
Let me try to explain.
When we gather for the Eucharist, we encounter God first of all in the Word. We engage with the story of God's people in the Hebrew Scriptures, and build bridges to our own situations, our own time.
We stand to hear the Gospel as a sign that we are ready at once to go and live out its commands...Later we encounter Christ embodied in bread and wine, receive God's own life and are sent out to live it...
That's the action of the Mass, week on week on week.
Today, of course, is Bible Sunday – which gives us an extra reason to consider the impact of our engagement with the word.
That process of hearing God speak and then living his word is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. As we read the Bible daily, as it is opened up to us during worship, we will find ourselves opened up in turn, shaped, gradually transformed by these ancient books to which we must still pay full attention today.
Sometimes this process takes months, even years.
Sometimes the impact of the word will be immediate and obvious.
That's clearly the process we heard about in our gospel reading.
We can imagine Jesus reading Isaiah's words, already centuries old, and realising as he did so that they were for him...that he was the embodiment of this mission.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel...”
The words take on a life of their own as he realises that this is what he is for..
We, in our turn, are blessed to have that interplay of written word – Scripture- and living Word – Christ himself, always before us.
We know what God's word looks like in action, for we have seen it in the life and ministry of Christ, and we are called to live it too.
If we read the Bible assiduously and do nothing then the words are empty and lifeless.
If we let them work on us, if we open our lives to them, then they can become our mission statement...and it is up to us to discern how best to live it in the months ahead.
Whatever your politics, you'll surely recognise that the coming days will be dark and difficult for all too many.
Paul exhorts us to steadfastness and to hope.
Already I am receiving invitations to involve our churches in social action as never before in my lifetime.
Let us, then, be truly people of the Book and live out Isaiah's mission, perfected in Christ.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind...to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”