Praying for the Nation - Choral Evensong
The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Exodus 1.1-14; Hebrews 7.11-end
Last week Boris Johnson, looking for another way to talk about his beloved Brexit, picked up the Bible and turned to the Old Testament
Where better to find some exciting Johnsonian imagery? And he turned to the book that we begin reading this evening, the book that’ll take us to Holy Week and to Easter, the Book of Exodus, that great and heroic story of the escape from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.
‘The Prime Minister must say to the "Pharaoh in Brussels - let my people go".’ Boris wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
That opened the floodgates to those who’ve twigged what Exodus is all about, to have a swing back at Boris. The Bishop in Europe weighed in, not somebody known for lots of high profile interventions, with his Tweet
‘Britons are not slaves, the EU is not Pharaoh and Mrs May is not Moses.’
It’s been yet another example of the rough and tumble of the past almost three years since we voted in the referendum, since some false promises were made and a date set for our departure, since the unrest that we’ve seen in this country, since the divisions and the potential destruction of good social order, were unleashed upon us. Those with more malign intent than our mainstream politicians have grabbed this chaos as the opportunity to say what they’ve always wanted to say about those who are our neighbours, many of whom have been here for generations but who, for some, represent the unwanted other.
Bishop Christopher held a supper a few weeks ago for those clergy in the diocese who are caught up in all of this in a very personal way because they or their partners are EU nationals. Some of them have been the recipients of enormous abuse in recent months. A priest ordained in this Cathedral, a resident over here for 30 years, a Dutch national has been asked why she is still here when the vote has been taken.
The only part of this that does feel like the genuine Exodus story is that it appears as if we’re wandering in some kind of threatening wilderness, a place without signposts, in which the route and the destination seem to be a long way apart and we feel exhausted and hungry. Try to draw on a map the wanderings of the Israelites over the 40 years of their journey and you end up with what looks like the trail of a demented bee. These past two years, drawn on a political map, look no different. It feels as though we’re lost in a wilderness.
Because, of course, today was the day when it had been promised we would be released into the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey and trade deals for the picking! Or we would have at least looked, like Moses, at the Promised Land, in the distance, a place that needed a final push to get to. Because the sting in the story is that Moses never arrived there, never led the people across the Jordan, never put a foot onto the Promised Land – he could only look at it from afar – a cruel irony.
So we planned to have this Brexit Evensong and when it became clear that there was an extension and that we wouldn’t be Brexiting today we decided that we still needed to gather and pray, for our nation. So here we are and there they have been, our elected representatives, in Parliament, voting again on the Prime Minister’s deal and we now wait to see what will happen next!
So, what on earth are we praying for?
In the Second Lesson, from the Letter to the Hebrews, setting out, as it does what the new covenant and the new priesthood looks like, there were these words
‘there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope.’
The writer of the letter is very clever. All the way through it they tantalize us with ideas, dangle little carrots before us, dropping a word or two in and then saying nothing more until a few chapters later. And what we’re given here is this concept of ‘a better hope’. Later on we’ll be told what this ‘better’ is and that it is about Jesus and that it is about the reconciliation that Jesus brings.
What are we praying for this evening? We are praying for this ‘better hope’ for our nation. This is a great nation and I say that not in some jingoistic way but recognising what good things we can represent at our very best. The reason that people around the world are so disheartened by what they are seeing in Britain at the moment is not just about frustration at the process or lack of it, not just about the terrible leadership we’ve been given and not just by the Prime Minister, but it is about us not being the people that we need to be for the sake of the world, a people who’ve learnt from their past mistakes and their past successes to become an integrated and tolerant, welcoming and warm society, which recognises at our deepest levels the importance of faith and which holds on to high ideals for all, a nation with a vision which, for me, membership of the EU continues to represent, that together we are stronger than apart. This is a nation of which I am proud to be a citizen and that is why our present plight grieves my heart. I need a better hope.
None of us knows where we’ll be over the next days. The wandering may continue for a lot longer. What we do need though is to hold on to that ‘better hope’ that we find in Jesus and find it in each other. Only that will see us through.