Thinking Anglicans

O Rex Gentium

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

What now, late in 2009, might be the desire of the nations?

It should be possible to answer that question, surely. After all, only last week, the nations came together. Or, at least, their leaders did. From the super-powers and the almost-super-powers, and from the tiny island states, diplomats, negotiators, heads of government, all gathered over the last week or so in Copenhagen. Nations with contrasting, even competing, experiences and priorities; nations clinging to what the comforts they now enjoy, nations aspiring to more as they grow into affluence, nations desperately fearful of losing what little they have.

They came seeking a foundation — or to change the metaphor, a cornerstone, something which would hold them together in an accord, an agreed response to the threat of changes to the climate which may alter all our lives, diminish the earth’s abundance, and destroy those who already struggle for survival. If there is a cornerstone, if not entirely neglected, it is as yet scarcely in place. Over the last few days of the conference, reports moved from gloom to hope to gloom again. Since its conclusion, there has been some rewriting of the last grim summaries. At least the meeting took place. At least there were conversations. At least something was written down. At least we are at the beginning of a road. But it is the beginning, I suspect, of a very long road, and the journey may take too long. We are very, very far from being one, even in our fears, let alone in our hopes, or in converting hope into reality.

The old story, the story reflected in today’s antiphon, is that we were fashioned from clay, from the soil, the very earth from which we still draw what sustains our physical life. As we come towards the great festival of the Incarnation, we so often focus on the divine entry into the day-to-day, earthed, ordinariness of what it is to be human. Yet now, we are also aware, as perhaps never before, of a profound disharmony between the story of the earth and its well-being and the actions of the beings who have their life on it and from it. It is, it seems, the clay itself which is in need of salvation, in need of saving from what so many of us, in our particularly voracious way of living, are doing to the soil, the seas, the atmosphere.

‘Peace on the earth’, we will read, and sing, and pray, over the coming days. Perhaps we should be praying instead, ‘peace for the earth’, for the raw material of God’s creation.

Truly, an antiphon for our time.

Canon Jane Freeman is team vicar at East Ham with Upton Park in the diocese of Chelmsford.

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