A READING FROM A COMMENTARY ON PSALM 118 BY ST AMBROSE
How abundant is the grace of the Church, how great the rewards of a living faith! Since these invite us, let us forestall the rising sun to greet Christ, the Sun of justice, before he can say: See, here I am. He both wants and expects us to be there before him.
You can hear Christ’s desire and expectation expressed in his words to the angel of the church of Pergamum: Repent, or I will soon come to you, and to the angel of Laodicea: Be zealous and repent. See, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him. He will have no difficulty in entering; no barrier of closed doors was able to shut out his body after he had risen from the dead. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he was present in the room where the Apostles were gathered. He had already tested the Apostles; he wants now to test your zeal and devotion. In time of persecution he may take the initiative; where all is tranquil, he wants you to be ready and waiting for him.
Be on the watch before the sun is visible in the sky. Awake, sleeper, and rise from the dead, so that Christ may shine on you. If you are vigilant you will receive Christ’s light before sunrise. Before daybreak he will shine into the depth of your heart. Even as you say: My spirit watches for you in the night, Christ will make the light of morning illuminate your nocturnal meditation on the word of God. As you meditate, light will dawn. Seeing the light - not of the day but of grace - you will exclaim: Your commandments are my light! When day finds you meditating on God’s word and the pleasant task of prayer and psalmody delights your mind, you will once more say to the Lord Jesus: You fill both morning and evening with joy.
In obedience to their master Moses, the Jewish people have the sacred Scripture recited continuously, night and day, by elders appointed for this purpose. Ask an elder about anything else and you will find this is his only skill: to recite the Scriptures in sequence. With the Jewish elders there is no worldly conversation: Scripture alone is their occupation; voice follows voice in turn so that the holy sound of God’s commandments knows no holiday. How then can you, a Christian, with Christ as your master, take your sleep without fear of having it said to you: This people does not even honour me with its lips. The Jewish people do so, but you do not. What a length of time you are sunk in sleep, in secular affairs, in the cares of this life, in things of earth! At least divide your time between God and the world. When you cannot carry out the business of this world in public and are hindered from pursuing it by the darkness of night, give time to God, give yourself to prayer. To keep yourself from dropping off to sleep, recite a psalm, cheat sleep with holy guile. In the morning hurry off to church, offer the first fruits of your prayers, and after that, if the world and its needs call you, you will be able to say: My eyes are watchful in the morning, to meditate on your words. Then you can attend to your affairs with a serene mind.
St Ambrose, Sermo 19, 30-32 (CSEL 63, 437-439), from Word in Season 1