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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

All Saints Day- 1 November

All Saints Day is one of the great feasts or celebrations of the Church. Although it was not established as a universal feast in the Western Church until the 800's, it reflects a long development from the early years of Christian history. From the days of Christ's earthly life and the time of the Apostles, there was a strong sense of community and communion among believers. Christians shared with one another, interceded for one another, gave thanks for one another and honored the witness and example of those who had gone before. They had the sense of being surrounded by a great "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1); they also knew that they must continue to "contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). So All Saints Day is a celebration of the continuity of the Christian faith from Biblical times to the present and beyond.

Of course, Christians from many different institutional backgrounds observe this feast in some way, and as an Anglican, one can respect this common heritage among churches. However, it seems to me that the Anglican perspective on this celebration and on the general theme of the saints is special. Although we have had some differing opinions and emphases among us, Anglicans have a sense of continuity with the best from the Church of all ages. We incorporate the witness of the saints of the past through the calendar, the liturgy, the historic creeds and the apostolic ministry. At the same time, Anglicans have deliberately avoided the excesses of the medieval cult of the saints, especially some ideas associated with theories about a treasury of merits from the saints and popular practices about relics. So on the theme of the saints, it seems that Anglicanism does represent a reasonable and pious middle way, via media, that retains the best of the Christian heritage of all ages.

The Collect
O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trinity XXII

The Gospel for this Sunday (St. Matthew 18:21-35) consists of two sections on forgiveness. In the first brief part (18:21-22), added to the lectionary selection by the Anglican reformers, St. Peter wants to know the limits of his responsibility to forgive. There was a tradition that forgiving three times was sufficient. So Peter is being generous when he suggests that seven times, a nice biblical number of completeness, could be enough. Jesus, however, tells Peter that it should be "seventy times seven." Of course, it would be impractical and generally impossible to keep a mental count of 490 incidents. Thus, in other words, our Lord is telling Peter and us that we are not to keep count of how often we forgive.

The second part of today's Gospel (St. Matthew 18:23-35) has been called the parable of the unjust or unmerciful servant. In it, a servant owes his king an enormous debt, a billionaire's debt. He and his family are about to be sold into slavery. The man begs for an extended payment plan, and the king writes off the whole debt. Rather than being humble, grateful and kind, the servant goes out and ruthlessly tries to get every penny from a fellow servant who owes him a comparatively minuscule debt. When the king hears of this lack of mercy, he revokes his previous decision and punishes the unjust servant to the full extent of the law.
Then our Lord adds the key conclusion: So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also to you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every man his brother their trespasses.

All the debts that human beings owe each other are minuscule in comparison to what we owe our heavenly King. We can never repay God for what He has given and forgiven us. Our trespasses are enormous offences against divine goodness, and we are dependent upon divine mercy. So we must show mercy by forgiving others. As we pray repeatedly, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles- 28 October

We know very little about these two apostles except their names, which were very common Jewish names of the time. Both of them (especially Jude) may have also been known by other names. It is also possible that from an earthly point of view they were relatives of Christ- half-brothers or cousins. If so, Jude may have been the author of the general epistle by that name. There is an Eastern Church tradition that both of them worked and were martyred in Persia.


Knowing so little about these two apostles gives us occasion to think about the nature of the apostolic ministry. Even for those apostles about whom we have more information (such as Saint Peter and Saint Paul), the important point is not their personal biographies and accomplishments. The important point is always their faithful witness to and service for Jesus Christ and His Church. It is enough to recall that Simon and Jude believed, followed and served Christ. And that is what all bishops, priests, deacons and lay persons are called to do from the first century till the end of the age.


COLLECT
O ALMIGHTY God, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the head corner-stone; Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable unto thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Trinity XXI

The Gospel from St. John 4:46-54 is somewhat similar to a passage from St. Matthew 8 assigned for Epiphany IV in the 1928 BCP. In St. John, there are some differences in detail and the overall message. The person who approaches Jesus is a nobleman or official (Greek basilikos). The sick person is this man's son. The emphasis is upon the faith of the father, the power of Jesus and the miracle as a sign of Jesus' nature, identity and mission.

When the official first approaches, our Lord rebukes the Galilean crowd for their superficial faith based on impressive externals ("Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe"-4:48). However, the official, possibly a Gentile serving Herod Antipas, is different. He loves his son, and he truly believes in Jesus. So our Lord addresses him differently ("Go thy way; thy son liveth"-4:50). In a unique way, Christ's power reaches out at that very moment to heal the man's son who is miles away. For the man and his household, this miracle is a sign. They move from belief in Jesus as a great healer to a more general faith in Him as the Christ.

John calls this miracle a sign, the second sign performed in Cana (the first was the water into wine). As important as the physical healing of a sick family member is, this sign means even more. It points to Jesus as the Christ, the divine Redeemer. In John's Gospel, this sign is a prelude to what follows over the next few chapters where it becomes more and more evident that Jesus is much more than a prophet and faith-healer. He is the unique Son, sent from the heavenly Father. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

St. Luke- 18 October

Saint Luke is mentioned as an associate of Saint Paul in the epistles (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11). He is described as a physician and seems to have have been a Greek-speaking Gentile. Since the second century, there has been a church tradition that he was the writer of the Gospel according to Saint Luke and of the Acts of the Apostles. The general style of those works seems consistent with a person of such a background, and certain "we" passages in Acts (in chapters 16, 20, 21, 27, 28) may indicate that the writer was Paul's traveling companion. There is also an ancient tradition that Luke was martyred in his old age.

Personally, I find these early Christian traditions regarding Luke interesting and reasonable. In any case, today we give thanks for the mission of the early Church in the Gentile world and for the divine inspiration which gave us the Gospel according to St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.

COLLECTS:

1662

ALMIGHTY God, who calledst Luke the Physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to be an Evangelist and Physician of the soul: May it please thee, that by the wholesome medecines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed; through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1928

ALMIGHTY God, who didst inspire thy servant Saint Luke the Physician, to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of thy Son; Manifest in thy Church the like power and love, to the healing of our bodies and our souls; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Trinity XX

The propers for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity give us many themes for reflection. The Epistle from Ephesians 5:15-21 reminds us of one of the roles of Christians in this world: See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise redeeming the time, because the days are evil (5:15). In the terminology of St. Paul, these words seem to be saying the same thing as those verses of the Gospels which tell us to be salt and light in the world. Certainly Christians want to glorify God and accept Christ's redemption for themselves. Yet, beyond those goals, there is another. Christians are called to live as witnesses to divine truth, and by doing so, we bring a little redemption into a world filled with evil.

In the Gospel from St. Matthew 22:1-14, Christ compares the kingdom of God to a wedding feast. Speaking of redemption as a great feast or heavenly banquet was a common Jewish image of the Messianic age, and there is a similar parable recorded in St. Luke 14 (read at the Eucharist on Trinity II). In today's selection from St. Matthew 22, the imagery is a bit more extended. People are invited to the king's wedding celebration for his son. They give all sorts of excuses, and some even attack the messengers. The king punishes those evil people but is still determined to have a feast. So his servants go out into the streets to find new guests. Among the new guests, there is one who does not come properly attired; he does not respect the greatness of the occasion. The king has him cast out to be punished. The conclusion is realistic and somber: For many are called, but few are chosen (St. Matt. 22:14).

Although the imagery and dynamics of the parable are different from the epistle, the reality and application end up being rather similar. The reality is that much of the world is not interested in God's offers to redeem human life. People are too caught up in their materialistic pursuits to value the divine king's spiritual feast. Some are preoccupied or indifferent; some are downright hostile. Despite such reponses, God is not deterred. The feast will take place, and new guests from a variety of backgrounds continue to be sought. Nevertheless, regardless of their previous backgrounds, even these new guests must come in the right way. They must respect the host enough put on righteousness, and if they do not, they too will be cast out to punishment.

As Christians, we can fit into the parable in two distinct ways. 1) We are the king's servants who are sent to invite others to the feast. We are to bear witness to God's gracious offer. And even if doing so exposes us to worldly hostility, we are to keep looking for more guests. 2) We are also guests who have been invited to the spiritual feast with God. We come from a variety of backgrounds, but as we come to the feast, we must show respect for the invitation by putting on the appropriate garments of righteousness. The divine host does not cast us out for what we have been in the past, but He may have us cast out for not appreciating His offer.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Trinity XIX

The Gospel for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (St. Matthew 9:1-8) is another example of the confrontations between Jesus and the religious leaders of His time. The friends of a paralyzed man bring him to Jesus to be healed. Our Lord sees their faith and heals the sick man. Instead of starting the easy way and simply telling the man to get up and walk, Christ tells the man that his sins are forgiven. Although Christ does not always view illness as caused by personal sin (see for example St. John 9:3), in this particular case, sin is an issue that has to be remedied. The religious scholars are scandalized because in their tradition only God can forgive sins. Even the Aaronic priesthood would not make such a direct declaration of forgiveness.

This ability to pronounce forgiveness is precisely the point that Jesus wishes to make. The Messianic Son of man is God's earthly representative (actually of course, He is God incarnate) and has the power to forgive sins. This is a new power at work in Christ's ministry. The Gospel brings forgiveness, and Christ's power to declare forgiveness is shared with His apostles, and through them with the whole Church, especially with bishops and presbyters. From the earthly ministry of Christ till the end of the age, God's forgiveness is at work in the world in a powerful new way that cannot be found apart from Christ.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Trinity XVIII

The Gospel for this Sunday (St. Matthew 22:34-46) has two distinct and important sections. In the first section, St. Matthew 22:34-40 , the Pharisees are testing Jesus about His interpretation of the Jewish Law. He answers them well even by their own standards. As the first and greatest commandment, our Lord answers by citing the Shema, "Hear, O Israel," from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. This passage from the Law had already become a central affirmation in synagogue worship. Loving the Lord God, devoting oneself to Him, was seen as the chief duty of man. To this, Jesus adds the second commandment about loving one's neighbor, citing Leviticus 19:18 . This stress upon the human dimension of the Law was also well known. So Jesus combines two well-known passages to summarize the Law, and He adds that the whole Hebrew Scripture (now the Christian Old Testament) depends upon these two key commandments. The Pharisees can not challenge Him on this summary because it reflects their own supposed principles.

In the second section of today's Gospel, St. Matthew 22: 41-46, Jesus turns the tables by asking the Pharisees about the interpretation of Psalm 110. They accepted this Psalm as a Davidic Psalm and believed that it pointed to the Messiah. However, Jesus brings up a question on the text that they do not want to face. How is it possible for the great king David to call the Messiah, who would be his descendant, "my Lord"? Such a situation has a significant implication: that the Messiah is greater than David and more than his mere human descendant. In other words, the Psalm points to the divinity of the Christ, and the Pharisees are not going to acknowledge such an interpretation.

Each of the sections of our Gospel from St. Matthew 22 is rich in itself. Each section can tell us much about Christian belief and its implications for Christian living. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of these two sections can point us to even broader truth: Christian discipleship is rooted in the Jewish tradition, but it also makes affirmations about Christ that go beyond the Jewish tradition. Jesus makes dramatic claims about Himself. He is the Davidic Messiah, but He is also much more.
Like the Pharisees, many contemporary Christians want to avoid this issue. Many self-professed Christians want to reduce Jesus to a bland religious teacher who just says to honor God and be nice to everybody. However, such a bland view of Jesus ignores claims that Jesus makes about Himself in the Gospels. He presents Himself as more than a teacher, more than even the greatest king of Israel; He is divine Lord who shares the heavenly Father's nature. And to be true disciples, we must believe this about Him.