To watch a video of the Evensong, click the photograph below:
In mid-March of 2020, the Bishop of New York asked us to close our churches. We did so, and remained closed for public worship until July, when we opened as fast as we were able. Especially during those first few months of the lockdown, when NYC was filled with the sound of ambulances, we checked in on each other.
I asked my friend if she needed anything, and she explained how she and her neighbors were managing and doing all right. After a few seconds of silence, she said, “But all shall be well.”
Coming from another person, that phrase might have sounded trite or artificial. But I knew that my friend meant it and believed it. I also knew that my friend was footnoting an Anglican saint, Julian of Norwich.
That little phrase, “All shall be well” (especially in Episcopal and other Anglican churches) is a kind of hyperlink to the life, faith, and words of a medieval holy woman named Julian of Norwich. Scholars think that Julian probably lost her son and her husband in a plague, and so she committed her life to service in the Church of St. Julian in Norwich. She began a life of prayer and before long, people began to come to her for advice and wisdom. She became a kind of spiritual guide.
She received a vision from God and she wrote down two versions of that vision—a vision a little like our scriptures today—a vision in which God assures Julian that love prevails. Love wins. Love is never defeated.
Julian of Norwich takes to God her deepest question: Why is there sin? And more specifically, why has there been sin in my life? Why did I do that, say that, think that, go down that road, etc, etc, etc. Julian writes about this and says,
… Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved. (Showings, Long Text, Chp. 27)
Through her prayers, by taking to God her deepest questions and worries, Julian didn’t necessarily find the answers to her questions, but she found a loving presence who could sit with her in her questioning.
It could not have been easy for Julian, she was living through times of plague, times of religious unrest—opponents of the ruling religious party were being burned at the stake, and that would have been just down the street from Julian’s window in Norwich. She, herself, faced problems of being misunderstood, doubted, or slandered. But she kept her faith and continued being of counsel to anyone who came to her window to speak.
Ann Lewin is a British writer and poet who reflects on those words of Julian,
“All shall be well….”
She must have said that
sometimes through gritted teeth.
Surely she knew the moments
when fear gnaws at trust,
the future loses shape,
The courage that says
all shall be well
doesn’t mean feeling no fear,
but facing it, trusting
God will not let go.
All shall be well
doesn’t deny present experience
but roots it deep
in the faithfulness of God,
whose will and gift is life”.
Many of the questions and heartaches of the past year go unanswered for us and for too many.
But we have a loving God who invites our questions, our fears, our worries, our anger, our rejoicing, our hopes.
The vision from the Revelation to John reminds us of God’s movement towards us:
To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
Even as we express outrage, sadness, anger, grief… whatever emotions we may feel today, let us be still and allow God’s loving presence to come close, to hold us, and whisper in our ears, “All shall be well.”