O that today you would listen to his voice! (Psalm 95: 7b)
For some people dark mornings in winter are very difficult, especially for those who go to work in the dark, then work underground or in windowless spaces, and come out at the end of the day into darkness. For a little while I worked amongst such people and I know how hard the winter months were to them.
I am blessed in that, living at Launde, I am made aware of the gifts and delights of each season in my short walk from home to work, and I love walking to work in the dark, hearing the call of the first birds, the rustle of wind in the trees, the sense sometimes of dampness in the air, and all around the quiet that comes from a world still at rest.
But I am even more blessed on a Sunday.
Each Sunday at 7.45am, before the Eucharist at 8am, we go through a little ritual called the Blessing of the Water and the Renewal of Baptism Vows. The chapel is in darkness at this time of year and the preparation becomes part of the worship. The water from the bowl in the font is carried out of the back door of the chapel, the one that gives on to the little burial site, and poured onto the land (never down the drain: this water has been blessed). The bowl is filled with fresh tap water and placed in the font and the Pascal Candle, which stands by the font is lit. This is the only light in the chapel apart from the one on the stairs. The one candle lit, we then sit and wait in the darkness that wraps us around like a warm blanket, until it is time for the Blessing of the Water and the Renewal of Baptism Vows. Sometimes, depending on the time of year, grey light may begin to steal in through the windows as the dawn comes but in the depths of winter we remain in darkness.
When it is time we gather around the font. We hear the words of the blessing of the water.
God our Father, your gift of water brings light and freshness to the earth. It washes away sins and brings eternal life. Bless and hallow this water. Renew the living spring of your life within usÂ .
We are reminded of God the Creator, of the extraordinary gift of life and that water is a prerequisite to life and a sustainer of it. We may remember those who do not have enough water. As we are reminded of ChristÂs resurrection and renew our baptism vows, we stand again at the beginning of our Christian journey and hear again the call to a holy life. The short service over (no more than five minutes) we light the candles underneath the icons and on the altar from the Pascal candle Â just as we do at dawn on Easter Day, and then sit again in the candlelit chapel until it is time for the Eucharist to begin.
I had never come across this little service until I came to Launde Abbey but I am so glad to have discovered it. Every Sunday, for a Christian, is supposed to be a celebration of the resurrection of our Lord and the Eucharist gathers up the story of ChristÂs life, passion and resurrection. But each Sunday is also the first day of the week, a moment when we go back to the beginning, so to speak. The world is made fresh and we start again Â and where do we start? With a reminder that out of darkness God brought light at the beginning of time; that water brings life and freshness to the earth; that at the darkest hour the Light of the World broke forth from the tomb of death and that, in baptism we received his Light to guide us, his Spirit to encourage us and our call to follow him, however dark it might sometimes be.