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, April 30, 2011

First Sunday after Easter

On this Sunday, sometimes called "Low Sunday" in English church tradition, we complete the Easter octave. The Gospel from St. John 20:19-23 tells of a manifestation of the risen Lord to the disciples on the evening of Easter Sunday. He commissions them to continue His work of forgiveness (for more on the Gospel see last year's post).

This time, let us think a little more on the Epistle from 1 St. John 5: 4-12. In this passage, we can see some of the great themes of the Easter message. One of the great themes of Easter is victory. By His death and resurrection, Christ has won the great and everlasting victory over sin, evil and death. We rejoice and celebrate His great victory during this season. And His victory is applied to every believer through faith: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (I John 5:4b-5) Here "world" is used in the Johannine sense to refer to the fallen creation that opposes God. As Christ overcame this world, so may all who are joined to Him in faith.

Another theme of Easter is God the Father's approval of Christ's work. At various points in the Gospel accounts (such as at Christ's Baptism and Transfiguration), there are indications of such approval, but the Resurrection is the great witness of heavenly acceptance of Jesus' earthly ministry: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.(5:9b) Easter is the great evidence that Christ's Incarnation, Ministry, Passion and Death were part of a great and glorious divine plan. His Resurrection is the greatest proclamation that Jesus is indeed God's beloved Son. It is a call for us to accept the risen Christ in faith.

A third theme of Easter is eternal life, not just the eternal life of Christ but also the eternal life which He shares with His followers. ...God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 5:11-12) The victory which we celebrate at Easter, the divine approval of Christ's work, applies to us as believers. Although we are still in this world and subject to the natural processes including temptation, pain and death, through Christ we have already been given eternal life. This eternal life in Christ is not some natural human immortality; it is a gracious gift of the Son of God. It is life that is deeper and higher, life that can survive through all the vicissitudes of earthly existence. Eternal life is dependent upon what Jesus has accomplished for us and dependent upon our continued unity with Him. He is risen and living, and He makes us truly alive.

Maybe this Sunday is a "lower" Sunday in terms of external celebrations. Usually it is a "lower" Sunday in terms of attendance. However, with the messages of both the Gospel and the Epistle, it is a very high day. Christ has overcome the world, the heavenly Father has shown approval of the Son's work, and we are offered eternal life. "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday

For Monday and Tuesday of Easter week, the Books of Common Prayer since 1549 have continued to provide epistles from Acts and gospels from St. Luke 24. Both gospel selections show the risen Christ eating with His disciples. There are several points to this eating. First, eating with His followers is one of the characteristic things that our Lord did during His earthly ministry. In this act, His followers recognize Him. Secondly, by eating Christ shows His followers that His Resurrection has a bodily nature; He is not an apparition or disembodied spirit. Although He has been transformed, He still has flesh and bones. Thirdly, Christ's eating with His followers has Eucharistic overtones. Although the Eucharist will always recall His sacrificial death, it also points to His risen and living presence.

The 1928 American BCP added collects for these two days that are related to the gospel readings. The one for Monday expresses the Eucharistic theme. It says:

O GOD, whose blessed Son did manifest himself to his disciples in the breaking of bread; Open, we pray thee, the eyes of our faith, that we may behold thee in all thy works; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Day, the Feast of the Resurrection

He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! (St. Mark 16:6; St. Luke 24:34)

With these scriptural words or similar phrases, Christians have greeted one another for almost two millennia. The greatest Christian celebration has finally arrived after the long Lenten preparation. The primary Gospel in the Book of Common Prayer is St. John 20:1- 10. This passage makes clear how surprising and important Christ's Resurrection was to the first disciples, women and men. Believing in the empty tomb and bodily resurrection are essential and undeniable aspects of being a faithful Christian disciple. (For a little more on this passage, see last year's post, http://bcpanglican.blogspot.com/2010/04/easter-day-he-is-risen.html.)

The Epistle from Colossians 3. 1-4 applies the reality of Christ's Resurrection.

IF ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

In these words, St. Paul affirms the historical reality of the Resurrection and moves on to apply its meaning to the lives of believers. First, Christians have been incorporated into Christ's Resurrection. This has taken place through Baptism; believers have died to their old sinful ways in order to rise to new life in the Lord. (as explained by the Apostle in Romans 6). Secondly, being raised with Christ means that Christians seek "those things which are above." Believers are to look heavenward because Christ is now at the Father's right hand. A corollary is that Christians do not set their affection on earthly things. They live in a new and different way anticipating the return of Christ to lead His followers into glorious realms.

So Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection, is multi-dimensional for those of us who have faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, there is a unique and glorious event at the basis of the church's celebration. Jesus of Nazareth conquered death and arose to life in bodily form. He showed us His true nature as divine Savior. He is the crucified Christ who is not destroyed by the powers of death and evil. That is the central affirmation of the Christian faith.
However, as important as this central Christian affirmation is, the Apostle Paul reminds us that there is still more. Christ's Death and Resurrection have been applied to every Christian through Baptism. We have been offered new life through faith in Him. And this new life is continually renewed in us. We look to a higher level; we seek things that are above. Although we still look to the time when Christ will return in glory, we are already called to new life. For believers in Christ, the risen life begins on earth as we look beyond earthly ways of thinking and acting.

Easter Even, the Great Sabbath or Holy Saturday

This seventh day of Holy Week has often seemed liturgically confusing to Christians. In the early church, it was clearly a quiet day of fasting, reflection and preparation, especially for those about to be baptized. Before nightfall, there were only simple forms of prayer, and in the evening, there was a true vigil of readings and prayers. The new fire was not kindled until midnight or afterwards, and then the first Eucharist of the Resurrection began. Such simplicity seems not to have endured very long before the human tendency to hurry great celebrations manifested itself. In some places, parts of the vigil soon started earlier and earlier, and the flow of observances seemed to be more disjointed.

At the time of the Reformation, our Anglican forebears tried to remedy medieval confusion by pursuing a stark simplification. The rites for new fire, paschal candle, prophecies and solemn baptism disappeared. Morning and Evening Prayer and propers for Ante-Communion or the Liturgy of the Word survived. On occasion, there would also be a baptism. During recent decades, more and more Anglicans have tried to restore some kind of Easter Vigil. There is much that is appealing in such practices, but it seems that we should also be aware of dangers. We must not rush the celebration of the Resurrection. Let us keep Easter Even or Holy Saturday as quiet and reflective as possible, and if there is an evening vigil, make it as late as pastorally feasible. Contemporary society already rushes Christmas, but overwhelming the reality of Christ's Passion and Death is a more serious issue.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

This day which in English we call Good Friday, or in some other languages "Holy Friday," is one of the greatest days on the Christian calendar. Although we think about Christ's Passion a lot during Lent, especially on Palm Sunday and during Holy Week, Good Friday is a climax. With Easter, it forms the focal point of the Christian calendar.

Over the centuries, the church has used many forms of Scripture readings, prayers and other devotions. A key element in Good Friday worship, especially in the Anglican tradition, has been the Passion Gospel from St. John 18-19. The American Book of Common Prayer has divided the two chapters, assigning chapter 18 to Morning Prayer and chapter 19, verses 1-37 to the Ante-Communion or Liturgy of the Word.

The passage from St. John 19 is relatively short for a passion gospel, and its basic points are clear. Yet, along with the facts, it is full of ideas and symbols. We see the cruelty, brutality and political posturing of the Jewish priestly elite and of the Roman authorities. There are various allusions to the prophecies of the Old Testament: the King of the Jews, the seamless garment of a priest, the day of Sabbath preparation, the unbroken bones, the water and blood from the pierced side. Throughout it all, there is the theme of fulfillment and completion. This theme is explicit in Christ's final words recorded by John: It is finished (19:30). Although His followers would only understand after the Resurrection, on Good Friday our Lord finished His earthly ministry and accomplished His act of deliverance from sin.

The Cross is the key to understanding Jesus and the Christian Gospel. Jesus Christ is more than a prophet or teacher, and Christ's message is more than generic monotheism. His message is more than a wise and honorable moral code. His message is more than an affirmation that there is an immortal or eternal dimension of the human experience. While the Gospel does proclaim all these things-monotheism, morality and eternal life, it does so in a unique way connected to the person of Jesus and to His sacrificial death on the Cross. Jesus is the great prophet, priest and king who is also God the Son. And thus, His death is unique, powerful and transforming. On an external level, human and spiritual evil may seem to triumph on Good Friday, but in the end, they only contribute to the completion of Christ's work for salvation. Thus, the Cross itself is transformed; it becomes the basic symbol of our faith in Christ and His saving work.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday before Easter, commonly called Maundy Thursday

Although this day has had many associations, the central point is the institution of the Eucharist. The Epistle from I Corinthians 11 highlights the basic acts and meaning. By sharing in this Holy Sacrament, we show forth the Lord's death till He comes again and share in His body and His blood.

The 1928 Book of Common Prayer added a collect of the day based on phrases from other parts of the Prayer Book:

ALMIGHTY Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, did institute the Sacrament of his Body and Blood; Mercifully grant that we may thankfully receive the same in remembrance of him, who in these holy mysteries giveth us a pledge of life eternal; the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

This collect is both a succinct reminder of the important nature of Holy Communion and a prayerful request that we may approach and receive the Sacrament with appropriate giving of thanks. This central act of Christian worship is more than a dead memory of a night long ago. It is a living participation in the Body and Blood of Christ, and it is a foretaste of eternal life in His heavenly kingdom. And although we seek to appreciate the Sacrament with our best human understanding, we must always be aware that these are "holy mysteries" transcending our particular thoughts and expressions. The same Lord Jesus who gave Himself for us long ago still comes to us in these mysteries. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday before Easter

Once again the 1928 Book of Common Prayer provides a collect that helps focus our thoughts as Holy Week progresses and enters a deeper phase. Although relatively new in the Prayer Book, this short prayer is based upon one from the medieval Sarum or Salisbury liturgy.

ASSIST us mercifully with thy help, O Lord God of our salvation; that we may enter with joy upon the meditation of those mighty acts, whereby thou hast given unto us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The mighty acts upon which we mediate this week are obviously very serious and somber, but the collect dares speak of joy. There is a joyful aspect because through the mighty acts of the first Holy Week, God brings us salvation. As the Epistle from Hebrews emphasizes, Christ's work is both great and unique: "so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" (9:20). May we meditate prayerfully on Christ's one offering of Himself for us. Despite the horror and sadness of rejection, betrayal, torture and death, may we also sense the profound spiritual joy of Christ's acts of redemption.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday before Easter

For the Tuesday before Easter, the Book of Common Prayer provides a reading from Isaiah 50 as a liturgical epistle. This Suffering Servant passage continues the theme of the way of the cross and is taken up in the 1928 collect of the day:

O LORD God, whose blessed Son, our Saviour, gave his back to the smiters and hid not his face from shame; Grant us grace to take joyfully the sufferings of the present time, in full assurance of the glory that shall be revealed; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Holy Week is a special reminder that earthly life will always have its times of suffering. The issue is often not whether we human beings suffer but rather how we suffer. Do we simply try to avoid as much suffering as possible and complain loudly when we do suffer? Or do we seek grace to accept suffering as a way to draw closer to Jesus Christ? As we contemplate Christ's way of the cross, may we draw closer to Him and see all our human problems as opportunities to grow in grace.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday before Easter

On the Monday before Easter, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer provides the following wonderful collect:
ALMIGHTY God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified; Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The collect for the day is based on older phraseology from the Visitation of the Sick but was a new insertion in 1928. This short prayer is both beautiful sentiment and a powerful theological statement. All of Holy Week, indeed the whole Christian life on earth, is a "walking in the way of the cross."

These are serious penitential days as we think of our Lord's suffering and crucifixion. And yet, even these somber reflections are tied to joy, life and peace. Why? Because Jesus Christ suffered to save us. He died in order to bring us to God. He died to rise again. He suffered and died to transform suffering and death for us. He died that we might might follow Him in dying to sin and rising to new life. Little wonder then that the cross has become the great symbol of faith in Christ whose suffering led to glorification.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sunday next before Easter, commonly called Palm Sunday

The Gospel for the Liturgy of the Palms from St. Matthew 21:1-11 and the Passion Gospel from St. Matthew 27:1-54 have a very different feel. Commentators and preachers have often noted how dramatically the situation changed from Sunday till early Friday. On Sunday, the crowds were adoring; on Friday, the leaders conspired and a mob yelled "Crucify him."

Yet, as I was re-reading both Gospel selections, I was struck by a theme which permeates St. Matthew's account: Jesus as king. Matthew 21:5 cites the prophet Zecariah 9:9, "Behold thy king cometh unto thee." In Matthew 27 when Jesus is brought before Pilate, the first thing the governor wants to know is "art thou king of the Jews?" (27:11). Later in addressing the crowds, Pilate asks, "What shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?" (27:22). The brutal Roman guards dress Him as a king, crown Him with thorns and mockingly say, "Hail, King of the Jews!" (27:29). When the Romans bring Him to Calvary, they afix this accusation to the cross:"This is Jesus the King of the Jews" (27:37). Even the Jewish leaders who also hated Jesus for other reasons referred to His kingship: "If he be the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him" (27:42). At some point, even the thieves who were being crucified with Him repeated the same (27:44).

So throughout the first Holy Week, from adoring crowds, from Roman soldiers, from Roman and Jewish leaders, from condemned criminals, there is a recognition of a kingly claim about Jesus. He is the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews. However, He does not exercise His royal authority in the ways that His friends or His foes expect. The nature of His kingship transcends human political categories and expectations. For He is also, as the centurion affirmed, the Son of God (27:54).And as the Son of God, Jesus is king in a unique way. His kingdom is not worldly; it is moral and spiritual. It is a rule over human choices and deeds, over minds, hearts and souls.

As we progress through this Holy Week, let us meditate upon Jesus' kingship. Let us prayerfully consider what His rule means for our lives. Do we go beyond merely calling Him king? Do we truly allow Him to rule over our values, actions and thoughts? Are we ready and willing to continue growing in our understanding of and appreciation for His royal and divine authority over our very souls?

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Fifth Sunday in Lent, commonly called Passion Sunday

At various times since the Middle Ages, the Fifth Sunday in Lent has been called Passion Sunday. In nineteenth-century Anglicanism, it became common to view the last two weeks of Lent as Passiontide, a time to highlight Christ's sufferings. During the early twentieth century, Lent V was designated Passion Sunday in some revisions of the Book of Common Prayer, including the 1928 American version.

The traditional Gospel for Lent V is St. John 8:46-59. This passage is part of an extended discussion between Jesus and His Judean opponents on many issues, including the question of His identity. One way to approach the selection is to ask this question: What does it say about Jesus?

In looking at what this passage says about Jesus, one can see a rising tension, a dramatic increase in the claims about His identity. First, in St. John 8:46, there is an assertion of Christ's innocence as He asks who can convict Him of sin. Secondly, in John 8:51 Jesus asserts that those who follow Him will never see death. His opponents sense that the capacity to deliver from death makes Jesus greater than Abraham and the prophets. Finally, in St. John 8:58 Jesus says, "Before Abraham was, I am." This is the greatest claim possible because in the context of the Hebrew Scriptures "I AM" is a name of God. Christ's opponents are incensed at what they consider blasphemy, and so they want to stone Him. Although it is not yet His time, this is an anticipation of Jesus' suffering and death for human salvation.

So, how does this passage apply to those who wish to follow Jesus Christ? Throughout the discussion, people are called to believe on Him. He delivers believers from death and offers true life. He asks for an acknowledgment of His great claims. He does not leave His hearers the option of viewing Him simply as a nice guy or an interesting teacher. To believe in Him means recognizing that He is innocent and that He is greater than the greatest example of the preceding religious tradition. Indeed, true belief in Jesus Christ means accepting Him as the eternal God come to earth as a true man to save us from our sins.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Fourth Sunday in Lent

[For background on this Sunday, see last year's post:http://bcpanglican.blogspot.com/2010/03/lent-iv-refreshment-sunday.html.]

The Gospel for Lent IV from St. John 6:1-14 is one of the four accounts of the miraculous Feeding of Five Thousand found in the gospels. These accounts have several themes. First, there is the general truth that Christ has power over natural elements. Secondly, the story shows Christ's concern for human need, especially need among those who hear Him and hunger for righteousness. Thirdly, especially in St. John's presentation, there are Messianic references. Jesus goes to a mountain like Moses, He provides food in the wilderness as Moses did, and at the end, the people acknowledge Him as "that prophet that should come into the world" (John 6:14). Fourthly, there are also Eucharistic associations any time Christ breaks bread with His followers, and these associations become more explicit later in St. John 6.

In the context of Lent, we could tie all of these themes together. The One who rules over nature manifests His power by caring for the needs of His followers. He is the Messiah who is like but greater than Moses. He feeds His followers physically and spiritually. And His ministry to His people will lead to Jerusalem and the Cross. A central concern of our Lent must always be spiritual nourishment, fortifying our souls for the journey with Christ. In practical everyday application, we feed on Christ through Word and Sacrament. We read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Scriptures. We allow them to permeate our hearts, minds and souls- our prayers and our meditations. And we have the visible, tangible expression and presence of the living Word in the Eucharist. Christ is the One who can truly nourish us and refresh our souls.

[For a more poetic and theological approach, see the excellent post on Philorthodox:http://philorthodox.blogspot.com/2011/03/mid-lent-eucharist-as-refreshment.html ]