the penultimate WORD

Series 2008 - September
Compassed us about...


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican





Jacob Epstein's - Michael's victory over the devil - Coventry Cathedral and Comfort for the Grieving Memorial






Who in the multitude of thy Saints has compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses...

Book of Common Prayer, p. 81




Like strings of lavender pearls they line the route.  In thick clouds they bask in the sunlight, warmed by the sun’s fall rays and cooled by the autumn air.  Other occupants have been supplanted for a season and the wild asters gather in strength along the highways throughout the diocese.  Michaelmas approaches and the daisies bearing the Archangel’s name heralds his triumphant arrival.

The flowers surround churchyards and cemeteries along rural roads that tie our fellowship together.  The asters compass us about as the Communion of Saints, with so great a cloud of witnesses that we are encouraged simply by their presence – and their steadfastness.

Shortening days and the shortening of lives find us frequenting places of visitation often neglected.  Surveying the landscape most familiar to us, many of us will see the quiet army of Michael’s militia standing guard at the perimeter.  This is lost on most of our urban locations.  Manicured lawns abhor the wild aster that grows naturally in such abundance.  Sophisticated parishes have lost the simple image that recalls the character of our fellowship.  But once we head out of town we cannot help but notice that Michael and his angelic host begin to guide our travels.

Who in the multitude of thy Saints has compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses...

I have noticed the ubiquitous daisy along the Broad Road.  I travel to Saint John twice each month and the seasons pass with each timely bloom giving way to its successor.  Dandelions yielded to daisies – the unscented chamomile – which in turn gave way to the Michaelmas daisies that now run, patiently along the highway.

The asters provide a degree of quiet comfort and encouragement.  We might miss it; it’s a fleeting witness.  Unlike the chamomile, cut Michaelmas daisies quickly wilt and darken.  Left on their own, vigilant blossoms assure us of the embrace of a Catholic fellowship that knows no boundary.  We are all gently embraced, regardless of whatever artificial distinctions we might erect.  No aster prevents my passage, and each aster greets me without prejudice – as each one greets you, dear reader.  They number in such profusion that we might think them a cloud, or perhaps a fog that gently envelopes us!  Moistened in the fog of faith we are reminded of our baptism and our incorporation into a fellowship.  Some know that fellowship as the Body of Christ.  For those who find creedal expression helpful, the Communion of Saints provides a sense of clarity.

But beyond the comfort is the encouragement.

Quietly – perhaps silently – these purple-vested angels follow us throughout the race that is set before us.  I remember taking that route as I raced toward a procedure at the Saint John Regional Hospital.  Following my heart attack when I was 58, I was scheduled for an angioplasty.  That race was in the winter when snow banked the highway and I looked out the back window of the ambulance that transports patients daily from the DECH.  But I recalled the Michaelmas daisies and was heartened by their cheering me on in this race.

Who in the multitude of thy Saints has compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses...

Others run other races, also filled with anticipation and anxiety.  Some trips find us more preoccupied than others as we follow asphalt paths that tie us to our roots.  But whatever the concern, the tenacious presence of the asters gives a sense of courage that helps us in our resolve. 

Rejoicing in their fellowship, we run the race with patience.

The harvest is not in the short-lived bouquets of cut Michaelmas daisies.  Vases need not be sought to confine the brave autumn blooms.  The reward we seek is not in the capture of these plants, clutched in hand but in the crown of glory that fadeth not away.  It is a new trophy, contrary to the competitive spirit of our age.  This is not a trophy slung around a neck with laurels framing the brow of the victor. This is a trophy that we yearn to share with Others, who run with us a marathon of life.

The sentiment is expressed in the Proper Preface appointed for the occasion.  While the words are fleeting and quickly forgotten, we do well to look about us and see what a wonderful witness continues to compass us about along our path.

Who in the multitude of thy Saints has compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses...


Copyright © 2008 James T. Irvine

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St Michael the Archangel


Father Forgive

an anthem set by Pat Brush of

St Michael and All Angels, Ottawa

Come and Follow Me


St. Michael and All Angels | Coventry Litany

 Series 2008

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton

On Thursday, the 14th November 1940, much of the City of Coventry was reduced to rubble by German bombs. The Cathedral, at the heart of the city, burned with it. In the terrible aftermath that followed, Provost Howard wrote the words Father forgive on the smoke-blackened wall of the sanctuary. Two of the charred beams which had fallen in the shape of a cross were set on the altar and three of the medieval nails were bound into the shape of a cross.

Photos: St Michael's Cathedral at Coventry,

Comfort for the Grieving Memorial
in the bombed out Cathedral Ruins

and Armistice Day Service in the Chancel
of the bombed Cathedral

Background Midi: Coventry Carol

Background: Michaelmas Daisy