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, February 26, 2011

Sexagesima, or the Second Sunday before Lent

Both the Epistle and the Gospel for this second Sunday of Pre-Lent are rich and well-known passages. Since I commented on the Gospel from St. Luke 8 in last year's post, the Epistle from II Corinthians 11:19-31 receives the attention this time. In this passage, St. Paul responds to those Corinthians who do not appreciate his message and mission. They seem to be looking for some leader who is wise or strong in worldly terms. Rather than engage in a debate about his strengths, the apostle Paul ironically glories in his weaknesses. By doing so, he does two things. 1) He actually does point out some of the important ways in which he has served the Gospel. 2) He emphasizes the glory and grace of God. The Apostle teaches that believers are called to serve the Lord in, through and despite their weaknesses, and then leave the rest to God.

As we look toward the Lenten season, we should think of humble ways to serve. Although we should always seek to use our human strengths in divine service, we are also called to dedicate our humiliations, infirmities and short-comings to the goals of the Gospel. Whatever we face in life- natural disasters, human opposition, economic hardships, physical discomfort or illness, difficulties in the church and so on, we are to depend upon God's call to service and upon the power of His divine grace to work through our human weakness.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

St. Matthias- 24 February

As noted last year, all that we really know about St. Matthias is in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. After the death of the traitor Judas Iscariot, the remaining eleven apostles led by St. Peter decided that they should continue by choosing a twelfth apostle. The number twelve was symbolic of completeness and of being the new Israel. So they selected two men, Joseph Justus and Matthias, as qualified candidates. They were both men who had followed Jesus since the early days of His earthly ministry and who had seen the risen Lord. The lot fell to Matthias. That is all that we are told. He was probably faithful unto death because tradition would have likely noted any dramatic falling away.

Observing the feast of this relatively unknown apostle does two things. First, it points out the basics of discipleship. Matthias is an example of one who faithfully followed Jesus and believed in His Resurrection. Even though the circumstances that called for his service were not glorious, Matthias was a believer willing to serve His Lord and the Church without seeking personal fame. He became an example for all Christians as to how we must be willing to serve quietly and steadfastly when needed.

Secondly, the very fact that the eleven apostles decided to seek a twelfth points us to the importance of religious symbolism. Twelve was an important number to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and pointed to the Church as the new Israel. Modern people often de-emphasize the importance of symbolic actions or objects. While it is true that symbolism can be empty spectacle, it is also true that symbolism helps to define and to show our true identity. For example, a representation of the cross alone does not make a Christian. Yet, one who is a Christian must surely respect what the symbol means. Hopefully, contemporary believers will maintain both the basic symbolism and the inner faith of the apostles.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Septuagesima, or the Third Sunday before Lent

This Sunday is the beginning of the Pre-Lent season on the traditional calendar of the Western Church. For comments on the background, see the post from last year- http://bcpanglican.blogspot.com/2010/01/sunday-called-septuagesima.html .

In looking over the BCP Epistle and Gospel for this day, I was struck by a certain antithesis. The Epistle from I Corinthians 9:24-27 stresses the need for self-discipline and moral effort; the Gospel from St. Matthew 20:1-16 stresses divine choice and free grace. There is certain ironic reversal here since many commentators over the centuries have viewed self-discipline and moral effort as themes of the Synoptic Gospels while attributing the themes of divine choice and free grace to the epistles of St. Paul. Of course, the reality is that the Scriptures as a whole teach both self-discipline and free grace.

In I Corinthians 9, St. Paul makes an athletic comparison from ancient Greco-Roman culture that is certainly still appropriate. If people are willing to expend do so much effort for physical training, they should not expect less effort in spiritual training. After all, the goal of spiritual training is much higher; it is worth incomparably more than any athletic prize. Pre-Lent is a reminder that our great Christian season of training, Lent, is close at hand. We should do all we can to keep our lower natures under control and to strive for higher spiritual goals.

Nevertheless, in the Gospel from St. Matthew 20, our Lord also warns us that the kingdom of heaven is not centered on our human efforts or accomplishments. One does not have to be a Calvinist to see that Almighty God is sovereign, exalted above human understanding, free to do as He chooses and gracious beyond measure. Any reward from Him is really a gift that is not earned, and He is free to bestow His gifts as He pleases. He does not owe us anything, not even an accounting of what He gives us or our fellow laborers.
Thus, as we enter into the seasons Pre-Lent and then Lent, we are called to be in spiritual training. We are asked to strive and work harder in divine service. Yet, even while we work, we must keep in mind that we can not really merit anything from God. Rather, we must always accept whatever He graciously offers in thankful humility.

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Valentine

The 1662 Black Letter Days include Valentine, Bishop and martyr. Nothing credible is known about St. Valentine except that there was one martyr (or more martyrs) by this name near Rome around the year 270. So this feast may properly serve as a reminder of all those unknown or little known believers who gave their lives for the Christian Faith.

The association of the day with romantic love seems to date from 14th century England. It may be related to a popular superstition that birds paired off for the spring on this day. Of course, this secular observance has become a marketing tool for all sorts of products. It would be appropriate for Christians to remember on this day that any worthwhile romance must include an element of the Christian faith and charity manifested by martyrs such as St. Valentine

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Epiphany VI

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany is the last possible Sunday for the season on the traditional calendar. Next Sunday is the start of the Pre-Lenten season. Depending upon the date of Easter, the collect and lessons for this Sunday may also be used in certain years for the Twenty-fifth or for the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity.

Since 1662, the Gospel for the day has been St. Matthew 24:23-31. This passage deals with the last great epiphany or manifestation of Christ, His Second Coming in glory to save the faithful and judge the nations. In these words of our Lord delivered before His Passion and Death, we are assured of His return. This is a basic article of faith, and here believers are reminded of several points about our affirmation that "He shall come to judge the quick and the dead."

First, we must not be misled by people who claim some special religious knowledge (St. Matthew 24:23-26). There are deceivers who can be quite convincing, but Christ's coming will really be very fast and obvious (24:27-29). This point does not seem to fit very well with the newly invented interpretations of some dispensationalists over the last century. Secondly, at Christ's coming, most of humanity will not be happy(24:30). Their world will be ending, and they will only have a fear of judgment. Thirdly, the Lord will send His angels to gather true believers from all parts of creation (24:31). For Christ's faithful followers, earthly tribulation will be accompanied by divine aid and comfort.
So giving heed to this passage can help Christians guard against two common mistaken extremes. We are neither to fall victim to fanatical speculations about Christ's return nor are we to fall victim to sceptical denials that Christ will really return. We are to hold fast to the Scriptural and creedal hope that our Lord will return at the end of history to set things right and to gather the faithful.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Epiphany V

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany does not occur every year in the traditional western calendar. (In fact, the propers for this Sunday are as likely to be used near the end of the Trinity season.) This part of the church year depends upon the date of Easter which not only determines the dates of Lent but also of the Pre-Lenten season. This year, Easter is late, and there are six Sundays after Epiphany before Pre-Lent (the "Gesimas").

The Gospel for today (St. Matthew 13:24-30) is the familiar parable of the tares or weeds. One theme of Epiphany is the spread of goodness and light, but this story then reminds us that the spread of goodness is not always upward and onward. There are also problems. As goodness is growing, there is also evil growing beside it. The church in the world is God's field, but all is not as it should be. God's spiritual enemy has scattered bad seed in the field. By the parable of the tares, our Lord reminds us that life in the world, including life in the earthly church, is a mixture. Of course, there is a need for individual and community discipline. There are times when certain obvious sinners should be excluded from the church. Yet, although we may long for perfection, it is not attainable in this world. Until the final harvest, there will be weeds growing beside the good grain in God's field. We should recognize that reality, and then we should accept divine grace to grow in goodness ourselves and to encourage its growth around us.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Presentation of Christ- 2 February

For a general comment on the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, commonly called the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin, see last year's post (http://bcpanglican.blogspot.com/2010/02/presentation-of-christ-and-purification.html).
This feast which began in the late fourth century tends to be neglected although the story is sometimes included in pageants or movies at Christmas. Yet, the story is full of beauty and meaning about the Holy Family and about the meaning of the Incarnation.

On re-reading the story this time, one thing that really strikes me is the Song of Simeon or Nunc Dimittis from St. Luke 2: 29-32.

LORD, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, * according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen * thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared * before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, * and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

This beautiful Gospel canticle reflects the ancient holy man's peace, joy and sense of fulfillment upon seeing the Christ Child. It has been a part of Christian evening worship since at least the fourth century. In the Book of Common Prayer, it comes after the New Testament lesson in Evening Prayer as a reminder of how we respond to the Christian message. Daily we can go to our evening rest in peace because in Christ we have seen the divine work for our salvation.