Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Over the last few years, I have posted numerous times during Advent. There have been general posts on the background of the season and on particular days and scriptural passages. This time, I would like to focus on the general purpose of the season in Christian devotion.

Advent is above all a season of spiritual preparation as we contemplate the ways that Christ has come, keeps coming, and will finally come among His people. We should use Advent wisely to think about spiritual subjects such as sin, judgment, forgiveness, prophecies and  promises of redemption, and grace coming in the person of the Christ, the Anointed One of God.

As Christians, we need to be awake, watchful, and prayerful at all times. We should not allow moral failings, earthly worries, or spiritual lethargy to draw us away from spiritual readiness. Yet, given our fallen human nature, we do tend to become forgetful and lazy. So the Church has incorporated reminders in our worship. In general and personal confession, in corporate prayers, in sermons, in the Eucharist, and in private devotions, we are repeatedly called to wake up and persevere. And in two major seasons of the church year- Advent and Lent-, we have reminders to wake up, watch, and prepare for new encounters with God in Christ.

So Advent is intended to be a spiritual wake up call. It is not quite as somber as Lent, but neither is it a time for much premature celebration. As we meditate upon the Scriptures, we should not rush ahead to the Nativity stories. We should consider a variety of Old Testament passages about the fallen human condition and the need for redemption., about the longings and hopes of Israel, and about God's promises to save all penitent and faithful people. We should also consider the many passages in the New Testament which exhort us to be ready for Christ to come among us anew. During Advent as always, we are to await Him with vigilance and constant prayer. May we all think on such things in this season and be open to new manifestations of divine grace in our lives.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Two Aspects of Being Anglican

Recently as I was thinking about what being Anglican entails, it struck me that there are really two aspects of being Anglican- cultural and theological. This is not an original insight, and to some extent, the same could be said about every religious tradition. Yet, this dual aspect is especially true of Anglicanism. It is rooted in the very name Anglican which is from Ecclesia anglicana, "English Church."

Historically, Anglican identity starts in England, and reflects developments there during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern times. Although Anglicanism has become multilingual in the last two hundred years or so, it is closely associated with the English language, especially with English liturgical and biblical translations.Regardless of an individual Anglican's political philosophy, ethnic background, native language, or theological perspective, most Anglicans seem to be at least somewhat anglophile.

Nevertheless, there is more to being Anglican than simply being a Christian anglophile. While Anglicanism has been influenced by and expressed through differing theologies, there has been the common theological theme of "reformed catholicity." Regardless of churchmanship, Anglicans have thought that fifteenth- and sixteenth-century European Christianity needed some degree of reformation.The vast majority of Anglicans have agreed that popular European (including English) Christianity of the late medieval period added many superstitious details to the ancient faith. There has also been agreement that the papacy has claimed and still claims too much authority for itself.

At the same time, the majority of Anglicans have also maintained great respect for ancient catholic faith and tradition. The ancient creeds, the sacraments, the historic liturgy, and the apostolic ministry of  bishops, presbyters, and deacons have been maintained, honored, and propagated. Although Calvinist rejection of parts of catholic tradition has been strong among some Anglicans, it has not overwhelmed or destroyed the catholic aspect of Anglicanism. In every century since Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I liberated the English Church from papal hegemony, there have been Anglican laity, clerics, and thinkers who have stressed continuity with the ancient catholic tradition. This emphasis on catholic continuity was particularly true among the Caroline divines and the supporters of the Oxford movement.

Such catholic continuity has also been believed and promoted among traditional Anglicans in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Although there has been scandalous fragmentation, the continuing Anglican movement has maintained the structures and content of a Christianity that is appropriately reformed and truly catholic. While much of the Canterbury Communion has abandoned or at least diluted the ancient Faith, truly catholic Anglicanism survives and even flourishes in many places. While being a cultural anglophile has its appeal, the essential aspect of being Anglican is the continuation of the ancient and universal faith of Christ's Church.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

All Saints Day- 1 November

Ever since I started recovering from youthful scepticism and liberalism in my mid-twenties, All Saints Day has been very important to me. It is a time to emphasize the Christian heritage passed down through the centuries. This blog began at All Saints Day six years ago, and in previous posts, I have mentioned some points of general importance. During this week, we think of all those Christ would call "blessed"; we think of all those made saints or "holy ones" through the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism, all those who are part of the holy catholic Church.

Although it is not an official lection for All Saints Day, I always recall the third and fourth verses of the brief Epistle of Jude- " Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."

From the times of the Apostles onward, false teachers have crept into the Church, seeking to corrupt the Christian message in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes. This infiltration has been especially strong in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. So more than ever we should heed St. Jude's exhortation to "contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." Of course, faith is an attitude, but it also has specific content. The Faith has been revealed and passed on once for all. It is enduring and unchangeable in its basic essentials. Its doctrine is embodied in Scripture, clarified by the ancient Fathers, and summarized in the ancient catholic Creeds. The appropriate behavior that flows from this Faith is summarized in the Ten Commandments, the Two Great Commandments, in lists of the gifts of the Spirit, and the Cardinal and Theological Virtues. In worship, this Faith is expressed in historic liturgies, especially in Baptism and the Eucharist. A convenient brief summary of the Faith is found in the traditional Prayer Book Catechism.

On this All Saints Day, let us honor all the saints by following their lead and contending for the Faith that they have passed on. In a fallen world, especially in a corrupt age, there are many false teachers, and we need to make special efforts to retain and pass on our godly heritage.

Friday, October 23, 2015

St. James of Jerusalem- 23 October

On many Christian calendars including some Anglican calendars, October 23 is the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem. Of course, there are several men named James (Jacob in most ancient and modern languages) mentioned in the New Testament. Two of the Twelve had the name, but James of Jerusalem is another person. He is also known as James the Just and James the brother of our Lord. Exactly what "brother" means has been subject to debate. Perhaps James was an older son of St. Joseph, or perhaps in Semitic usage, brother was used to refer to a first cousin. In any case, from a human perspective, this James was considered a close relative of Christ.

During our Lord's earthly ministry, James was sceptical about Christ's ministry, but after the Resurrection, he saw the risen Lord and became an apostolic figure (somewhat like St. Paul later).
St. James seems to have been noted for his sincere obedience to the Jewish Law and his personal piety. He became a missionary among pious Jews, and as the other apostles dispersed from Jerusalem, he became Bishop of the local Christian community. In Acts 15, he presided over an apostolic council that considered the mission to the Gentiles, and in his concluding address, showed both a concern for Jewish sensitivities and an openness to God's work among non-Jews. James also wrote the Epistle with his name which stressed that sincere faith must produce fruit. Late in his life, extreme Jewish revolutionaries decided that James' Christianity was a threat to their agenda and murdered him in a mob action.

St. James exemplifies several important traits for us. He turns from his early scepticism and converts to the risen Christ. In this way, he discovers his new mission in life. James is an example of personal piety who embodies his Christian faith in a virtuous life. At the apostolic council, he also shows that it is possible to combine personal rigor with mercy toward those who serve Christ in a different way. Finally, St. James shows the courage and sincerity of faith by suffering martyrdom from those he wanted to bring to Christ.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

St. Luke- 18 October

This year the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist falls on a Sunday. Since this is a major feast on traditional prayer book calendars, it takes liturgical precedence over the 20th Sunday after Trinity.

Luke was a Gentile Christian, maybe from Antioch in Syria. He was a friend of St. Paul, and he was a physician (Colossians 4:14). In the Book of Acts, he was with Paul at Philippi in Macedonia, and a few years later went with Paul to Jerusalem. When Paul was arrested by the Romans, Luke staid near him in Palestine, and later went with him to Rome. He was a faithful companion who stayed with Paul when other friends went in different directions (2 Timothy 4:11).

Luke wrote a large portion of the New Testament, a two-volume work comprising the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He was  probably the only Gentile Christian among the New Testament writers. Luke seems to have been well-educated. He had a classic Greek style and seemed to be a reasonable thinker who made special effort to learn and organize historical truth.

The character of Luke may be reflected by some of the emphases of his Gospel. The Gospel according to St Luke has been called the Gospel of Mercy. Luke emphasizes Jesus' compassion and patience with sinners and the suffering. He shows concern for Samaritans, lepers, tax collectors, soldiers, public sinners, uneducated shepherds, and the poor. 

Today we remember and give thanks for St. Luke, and we hope to follow some of his good qualities. Like him, may we be characterized by dedication to truth, loyalty to Christian friends, and compassion for all- especially, the weak, the poor, and the sick.

Monday, September 21, 2015

St. Matthew- 21 September

Today is the feast of St. Matthew, Apostles and Evangelist. The Collect of the Day mentions his background and points to his example in leaving behind greed to follow Christ.

O Almighty God, who by thy blessed Son didst call Matthew from the receipt of custom to be an Apostle and Evangelist; Grant us grace to forsake all covetous desires, and inordinate love of riches, and to follow the same thy Son Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen. 
The Gospel from  St. Matthew 9: 9-13 gives the account of Matthew's call to follow Christ:
And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Matthew also seem to have been called Levi, and ancient tradition ascribes the authorship of the first Gospel to him. He may have also been a missionary among Jews and a martyr. Otherwise, our Gospel account contains most of what we know of Matthew. Although we are not fond of taxes, most modern Westerners have a hard time imagining the position of tax collectors in first century Palestine. First, for patriotic Jews, tax collectors were servants of hated oppressors. They were traitors to their own people. Secondly, tax collectors were religiously suspect. They dealt with money imprinted with idolatrous symbols, they were constantly in contact with people and things that were ritually unclean, and their lifestyle did not make it easy to participate in sacrifices and prayers. Thirdly, many tax collectors were morally reprehensible. The Romans contracted local tax collectors to gather a certain amount of money for the Empire, but the collectors were free to gather as much as they wanted by any means they wanted. Tax collecting was often similar to organized crime. Collectors could use the means that seemed convenient, included blackmail and extortion. And if a victim lacked cash, various goods and favors could be demanded.

So most tax collectors were indeed "sinners" that Pharisees and other respectable people avoided. Eating with tax collectors brought ritual uncleanness and at least a hint of moral taint. Yet, Jesus associated with such people and raised questions about His good judgment. The Pharisees put Jesus" disciples on the spot, and overhearing them, Jesus replied. He was the spiritual physician concerned about the sin-sick souls. He was calling tax-collectors like Matthew to repentance. Of course, the irony was that everyone, including the Pharisees was sin-sick and needed to be called to repentance.

On this feast of St. Matthew, may we see ourselves in the example of Matthew.  Like him, we are all sinners whom Christ calls to repent. And like him, we are sinners who can be called and healed by the gracious mercy of Christ. Like Matthew, we can turn from sin, follow Christ, and serve His Gospel.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ember Reflections upon the Ordained Ministry and the Church

I have written about the history and meaning of the seasonal Ember days a number of times. These days always lead me to reflect upon the meaning and purpose of the ordained ministry. This week, I have been thinking about the Anglican teachings on the ministry and their relationship to teaching about the Church. In recent months, encounters with Christians of other backgrounds have highlighted the special perspective of Anglicans (I started to write "unique perspective" but then mused that Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholics, and some Scandinavian Lutherans have shared a similar perspective).

From the early years of the Christianity onward, both the ordained ministry and the Church itself have been viewed from two directions: 1) from the bottom up, and 2) from the top down. The first perspective focuses upon individuals baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Baptized persons who respond to grace by faith are the Church militant. In a sense, the Church is present wherever there is a baptized believer and even more when two or three are gathered in Christ's name. From this body of baptized believers, the ordained ministry arises. Even the most hierarchical churches expect candidates for ministry to be related to a local congregation. Unfortunately, Christians have often distorted this side of the Church. Many, especially Protestants, have stressed the individual and the congregation so much that they ignore the larger Church. At the opposite extreme, Christians involved in larger structures have often ignored the individual or the local parish.

The second perspective on the Church focuses upon the Apostles and the continuation of their ministry through the historic ministry of bishops, presbyters/priests, and deacons. As best we can tell, the Apostles sent or appointed other men to continue their work in various places. And certainly, as the Apostles died off, the universal Church saw need for order and connections centered in the ministry of bishops. Through their oversight, preaching, teaching, and special sacramental functions, the Church carried out her mission. Individual believers and local congregations looked to bishops and other clergy as guardians of the faith and sacramental grace. Unfortunately, many Christians have also distorted this side of the Church. Some bishops and other clergy have over-emphasized the larger organization and forgotten that the Church also flows from all the baptized and local groups of the faithful. And higher prelates (archbishops, metropolitans, patriarchs, cardinals, popes) have ignored that local bishops are central and that the highest dignity of any prelate stems from the simple fact that he is a bishop. At the other extreme, many lower clergy and laity have rebelled against abuses by dismissing the importance of the historic ministry.

Anglicanism at its best keeps the two dimensions of the Church together. On the "micro" side, we know that baptized believers, individually and in local congregations are basic. In a sense, they are the Church throughout the world. Yet, they do not stand alone. On the "macro" side, the Church depends upon the historic episcopate with the assisting ministries of presbyters and deacons. Bishops are the universal ministers of the universal Church. They are supposed to be the guarantors of the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ. On Ember Days and always, let us pray for the Church from both perspectives, for the ministry of every baptized believer and for the ministry of all true bishops and other clergy.