Fr. Tom’s column for the March Newsletter:
“Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy defend us from all dangers and perils of this night, for the love of your only Son.”
I write this column the day after the great ice storm that afflicted us on the evening of Ash Wednesday. The weight of the ice on the trees and power lines was greater than we had seen in sometime. At the start of the 7 p.m. Liturgy for Ashes, the lights in the whole church flickered once, twice, and then out. Only the soft glow of the torches remained. But because they remained, I, standing at the Eagle lectern, was able to continue the service. They no longer served an ornamental purpose, but a functional one.
After the candlelight communion and the small congregation were sent home with words of caution, I made the rounds of the church’s property to see what limbs had fallen. The sky was nearly black and swirling with fog, the tree tops made an eerie, crackling sound; every once in a while a loud pop would send another bough crashing. The windows of our neighbors were dark. It was frightening. I recalled to myself the above collect, penned for the first Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cramner. I prayed it out loud a few times as the crystals of ice falling around me would make me jump.
Many times, when using it in Evening Prayer, I find it quaint. What dangers can there be to nights in modern times? We have telephones, ambulances, street lights, 24/7 stores. Centuries ago, in Cramner’s day, the nights could be dangerous indeed. But we cannot, in the last analysis, rely on modern conveniences fully. They can fail. We can find ourselves alone to face the forces of nature. It is in these times that Cramner’s prayer, like the lectern candles, stop being ornamental, out of date, and serve an important function again. It is good that we retain the prayers of our forebears and learn them by heart – prayers like the Psalm 23 “though I go through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil,” so we can rely on their truth no matter the circumstances.