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, May 29, 2010

Trinity Sunday

NOTE:Because of the pressures of the school year, my brain is seared and ready to vegetate, but I didn't want to leave this important Sunday without a comment. Just don't expect the profundity that it deserves.

Trinity Sunday is unique on the Church calendar in several ways. Historically, its origins are late. It seems to have been observed first in the early 900's in what became Belgium and to have spread rapidly in northwestern Europe, including England. The observance was not added to the Roman calendar until the 1300's. Another distinction of Trinity Sunday is that, unlike other major holy days, it focuses on a doctrine rather than an event. Finally, there is the liturgically mixed origin of the traditional BCP propers for the day. The collect focuses on the doctrine of the Trinity while the English epistle and gospel selections go back to an earlier emphasis upon Pentecost and the work of the Spirit.

Yet, observing Trinity Sunday on the Sunday after Pentecost is certainly appropriate because the powerful coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples is a completion of the Trinitarian revelation. In a sense, talk about the Trinity is not merely theology about the nature of God; it is a teaching which summarizes the whole Biblical message. This doctrine is indeed a mystery that transcends the limits of the human intellect. At the same time, the doctrine of the Trinity has a practical application to the devotional life of every Christian. Whenever worldly philosophies attack this particular doctrine, there is often more involved than some intellectual issue. Behind the issues of mystery and semantics, disputes about the Trinity have tended to reflect differences in views of the human condition and the divine work for human salvation.

Long ago as a seminarian, I came to realize two important points about the doctrine of the Trinity. 1) It is indeed rooted in Scripture. One may not find it explained in one key verse or passage, but this doctrine permeates the whole Christian canon. A person can not reject this doctrine without discarding many Scripture passages, especially in the New Testament. 2) The doctrine of the Trinity is an essential part of a Christian perspective. It provides the structure of creedal summaries about God's work to save us from our sins. The doctrine of the Trinity is also present whenever Christians pray. Regardless of which divine person we invoke at a particular moment, Christians are always calling upon the Triune God. We look to God as our heavenly Father through the mediation of His Son Jesus Christ prompted by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost....

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ember Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in Whitsun Week

For a brief comment on Ember Days, see my posting from Lent- February 23, 2010. If you click the link, it shows up below the present entry.

Postulants, Seminarians, Candidates for Ordination and Clergy always need our prayers, but it is good to remember them in special ways on Ember Days. In addition, I bid your prayers for the Diocese of the Eastern U.S., Anglican Province of America (APA) which meets in June to elect a suffragan bishop.

Collect for the Ember Days:
O ALMIGHTY God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer for a Church Convention/Synod:
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who by thy Holy Spirit didst preside in the Council of the blessed Apostles, and hast promised, through thy Son Jesus Christ, to be with thy Church to the end of the world; We beseech thee to be with the Council of thy Church about to be assembled in thy Name and Presence. Save them from all error, ignorance, pride, and prejudice; and of thy great mercy vouchsafe, we beseech thee, so to direct, sanctify, and govern them in their work, by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, that the comfortable Gospel of Christ may be truly preached, truly received, and truly followed, in all places, to the breaking down the kingdom of sin, Satan, and death; till at length the whole of thy dispersed sheep, being gathered into one fold, shall become partakers of everlasting life; through the merits and death of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen

Monday and Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Collect for Monday:

SEND, we beseech thee, Almighty God, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, that he may direct and rule us according to thy will, comfort us in all our afflictions, defend us from all error, and lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

Collect for Tuesday:

GRANT, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy Church, being gathered together in unity by thy Holy Spirit, may manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pentecost, commonly called Whitsunday

Pentecost is one of the great feasts of the Church based on Scriptural accounts of the descent of the Holy Spirit. The name comes from the Greek word "fifty." This title was applied to the Jewish "Feast of Weeks" which is the fiftieth day after Passover. Later, the Church assigned the commemoration to the fiftieth day after Easter. The other name, meaning "White Sunday," comes from the northern European custom of administering Baptism to white-robed candidates on this feast.

The Gospel for Pentecost (St. John 14: 15-31) continues the recent series from Christ's Farewell Discourses. For me, a key verse in the selection is this: But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsover I have said unto you (St. John 14: 26). In view of all the strange things that some Christians have attributed to the Spirit over the centuries, this verse provides important guidance. 1) The Holy Ghost comes from the Father in Christ's name: His work is inseparable from the saving work of the Father and the Son. 2) The work of the Spirit is not primarily emotional; the Spirit mainly comes to teach Christ's disciples. 3) As the Spirit teaches, there is not a distinct new revelation. Rather the Spirit brings to remembrance what has already been revealed in the words of Jesus. Thus, if Christians "feel" that the Holy Spirit is leading them in a certain direction, they need to examine their feelings in light of the truth of the whole Biblical revelation, especially in light of Christ's words in the Gospels.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sunday after Ascension Day

The Gospel for the Sunday after Ascension Day (St. John 15:26-16:4a) like those of the last few Sundays comes from the Farewell Discourses of our Lord recorded by St. John. It anticipates Pentecost by continuing to point to the Comforter (Parakletos), the Spirit of truth. The Spirit will continue to guide the disciples into Christ's truth, but they are also warned to expect difficulty and rejection in the world.

This juxtaposition of promise and warning has a perennial application to the Christian life. Easter, Ascension and Pentecost remind us of great and joyful aspects of Christian faith and life. God in Christ has given and continues to give us so much. However, Christian joy is not a simplistic denial of reality. The Scriptures do not proclaim some distorted message of worldly prosperity and happiness. Believers are still fallen creatures living in a fallen world. So our Lord wants us to be realistic; He wants us to be ready to worldly face difficulties without losing hope. May the Spirit of truth give us strength to keep such a joyful realism in our doctrine and in our daily lives.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ascension Day

This Thursday is the fortieth day after Easter and has been the observance of Christ's Ascension (Acts 1; St. Luke 24:49-53) since at least the fourth century. By the fifth century, St. Augustine of Hippo was speaking of it as a universal custom. According to an old English tradition, it was known as "Holy Thursday" (an appropriate title but nowadays associated with Maundy Thursday). The Ascension is a major feast commemorating a Scriptural reference to our Lord's earthly life and a doctrine taught in all three of the ancient Creeds of the Church.

Unfortunately, the schedules of contemporary life make it hard for many people to observe this day at a church. Nevertheless, let us keep the day in our devotions and meditate on its meaning. Christ, the eternal Word, God the Son, has returned to His heavenly home at the right hand of the Father. This is for the good of Christ's followers in two important ways. 1) Our Lord is in the place of greatest honor and power interceding for us. 2) His presence in heaven is related to the sending of the Holy Spirit to work among His people in new and powerful ways.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Fifth Sunday after Easter, commonly called Rogation Sunday

The Gospel appointed for this Sunday (St. John 16:23-33) is the third in the series from the Farewell Discourses, and it is appropriate for the Sunday before the Ascension. The theme is in the words, Whatever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you (16:33b). This is a bold claim and has often been misunderstood. Using Christ's name in Christian prayer is an ancient and laudable practice, but the real significance of the verse is deeper than a liturgical formula. We truly pray in Christ's name when we approach the Father in Christlike humility. Such prayer includes the attitude of Christ in Gethsemene: nevertheless not what I will but what thou wilt (St. Mark 14:36b). What the Father gives us is through our participation in Christ and in accordance with His great purposes of redemption. When we pray in that spirit, God is doing greater things for us than we in our human limitations can comprehend.

The common name for the the Fifth Sunday after Easter is Rogation Sunday, and the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week have also long been known as Rogation Days. The term "rogation" comes from the Latin verb rogo, rogare. This is one Latin term for praying and is used in the Latin version of St. John 16:26, that I will pray (rogabo). Rogation Days go back to the sixth century at Rome where Christian prayers for crops were appointed to replace certain pagan customs. Early processional litanies were associated with this observance, and other prayers of supplication were included during times of disaster.

At the time of the English Reformation, practices were simplified, but the Rogation Days continued as occasions for the Litany and prayers for agriculture. Although many modern people are far removed from the agricultural cycle of life, it is good for us to continue to be aware of and pray for the natural cycle that sustains earthly life. And as we approach the Ascension, it is also appropriate that we be more aware of Christ as our heavenly Intercessor in whose name and spirit we are to offer up all our prayers.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Fourth Sunday after Easter

The Gospel for this Sunday (St. John 16:5-15) continues the series from the "Farewell Discourses" -although in the text, the verses today actually precede the selection from last week. Our Lord is responding to the worries of the disciples that He will go away. He says, I tell you that it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you (16: 7). A little later, He adds, when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth... (16: 13)

Theologically, this is a rich passage which could be developed for pages; here is a capsule version. It was time for Christ's ordinary physical presence on earth to draw to a close, and the disciples were anxious about the change. Like those first disciples, we may still view the days of Christ's earthly ministry with a certain nostalgia. Nevertheless, those days had to draw to a close, and such a change was necessary and good for believers. A new chapter in Christ's work was soon to begin through a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. In this way, Christ would continue to work among His followers through the Spirit. The Spirit would be a guide into truth; not some new, secret or unheard of truth, but the truth already manifested in the person of Christ.

All too often, people have gone to extremes when talking about the Holy Spirit. St. Paul indicates as much in addressing the Corinthians. Throughout Christian history, this has been true. And in our time, all kinds of strange things are attributed to the Spirit- by extremists caught up in emotional sensations, by those affirming certain exaggerated doctrines about the infallibility of the church or by those justifying modernistic unbelief and immoral behavior. However, if we are to have a sound view of the working of the Spirit, we must test it by Scripture, especially by the central teachings of the Gospels. The truth into which the Spirit guides us must always be based on, be an application of, the truth already revealed in the life, teachings and redeeming work of Jesus Christ. As we look back to the Cross and Resurrection and look forward to Pentecost, we must keep the two connected. The basic work of redemption was a unique historical event; now the Spirit simply guides us into the continued application of that truth in each of our lives.