Before the Ending of the Day

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Hymn Stories

Ambrose of Milan (340-397) is one of those greats of the church who makes you long for days of steadfastness, intellect and purpose. He was a defender of the faith, who spent many years battling those who denied the full divinity of Christ. When made bishop, he lived a life of simplicity and gave his money to the poor. He would advise Emperors, and even excommunicated Theodosius I after a massacre in Macedonia. He also had the benefit of a Godly mother, and is only one in a long line of saints who shared that particular privilege.

In April 387, Ambrose baptised a newly converted St Augustine and was a great influence on the future bishop of Hippo. In his Confessions Augustine prays: “To Milan I came, to Ambrose the Bishop... To him was I quietly led by You, that by him I might knowingly be led to Thee. That man of God received me as a father... .I hung on his words attentively”.

But what has this to do with hymns? Well, Ambrose was one who realised the importance of hymns for teaching doctrine. We tend to remember things we sing, and these hymns were written to be sung regularly. The fact that in some monasteries his hymns are still in use is a testament to their enduring nature, and they were written not only for the seasons of the Christian church but also the daily routines of the day. Today’s hymn was one written for those who were heading to bed, and still forms part of the ancient evening service of Compline.

The hymn, which takes the form of a prayer, asks for God’s protection through the night - a protection of both body and soul - before finishing with a verse calling upon the Trinity. Only twelve lines, but they encompass the practicalities of the Christian life as well as a rich statement of doctrine. Not a bad thing to have in your mind as you head sinks into your pillow.

Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray
That with thy wonted favour thou
Wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

From all ill dreams defend our eyes,
From nightly fears and fantasies;
Tread under foot our ghostly foe,
That no pollution we may know.

O Father, that we ask be done,
Through Jesus Christ, thine only Son;
Who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,
Doth live and reign eternally. Amen.

Holy Musing

“My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned…” (Psalm 39:3) - One of the great losses of our increasingly instant and distracted culture is the gift of musing. How many hours of musing have been sacrificed to scrolling on Facebook, or have been lost as the phone rings, the email pings and the doorbell tings? These days musing has had to become an art form, something which is repackaged and sold to us under the brand of Mindfulness. These days it seems that only men of a certain age lean on a gate and stare.

“And I Did Not Know It”

“Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16) - You are never beyond his gaze and his guiding hand. Your prayers are never so distant that they don’t reach the ears of God, his concern is not bounded by geography. Remember that the Lord is where you are right now. And let that be a comfort.

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