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.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Saint Peter the Apostle- 29 June

29 June is one of the oldest saints' days on the Christian calendar. In 258 A.D. , the Church at Rome set aside this day to honor Saint Peter and Saint Paul. In the Middle Ages, the two saints were honored separately on several different days. At the time of the English Reformation, the Book of Common Prayer simplified the calendar; it kept 29 June to honor St. Peter and 25 January to honor St. Paul.

Throughout the New Testament, we are reminded of the importance of Simon Peter. Although he has obvious human weaknesses, he is a leader who often speaks for the whole band of apostles. Such is the case in today's Gospel from St. Matthew 16:13-19. The most important thing about St. Peter is not some personality trait or human accomplishment. In the New Testament, he is never some authoritarian human ruler of Christ's Church. He is most important because of his witness to the common faith which unites all faithful disciples. The authority that he is granted comes from his confession in St. Matthew 16:16, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Such is the faith that all of us, no matter what our roles in the Church, must profess and live. Like Peter, we all have our human foibles and our moments of weakness. Like him, we are also called to have faith in Jesus as the Christ and follow Him wherever it leads us.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

First Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this Sunday from St. Luke 16:19-31 is the interesting parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. The rich man (in some church traditions called "Dives" from the Latin word for "wealthy") indulged himself, ignored the misery of the beggar at his gate and assumed that all was well until he ended up dead and in torment. The poor beggar lived humbly and ended up in paradise. The rich man wanted relief and also hoped that the beggar could go back to warn his brothers. However, he was told that this was impossible, and that his brothers would have to heed the guidance already present through the Moses and the prophets.

This parable is a stern warning to all those who refuse to be spiritually and morally sensitive. God's expectations about how to live are clear for any who pay attention. There have been many great prophets and teachers through the centuries who have proclaimed divine standards. If human beings do not close their eyes and harden their hearts, they have some general awareness about how to live and how to treat their neighbors. People are responsible for the ways they respond to the moral and spiritual standards that are generally available. And if they refuse to be sensitive in these matters, people are choosing their destinies.

Of course, the problem of our fallen human condition is that each of us has times when we are spiritually and morally insensitive. To some people in some situations, each of us fails to express divine love as we should. We constantly need to have our sensitivity renewed, and we constantly need greater wisdom in expressing the sensitivity we do have. May God's grace, which is always available in this world, open our hearts and help us to live as our Lord has shown us.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saint John Baptist-24 June

This saint's day has important historical associations for a number of locations in the Caribbean and North America. Hence we have San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Johns, Newfoundland and the provincial holiday of Quebec. And of course, this feast is six months before Christmas Eve, a deliberate development in the church calendar. The Gospel from St. Luke 1 is about the birth, name of John and Zacharias' hymn the Benedictus.

The meaning of the Gospel is nicely summarized in Cranmer's 1549 collect:

ALMIGHTY God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance; Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

On this day, we recall a great example of holiness, honesty and courage. Yet, there is more to the commemoration. It is more than a saint's day: it is also a reminder of the Gospel of Christ's Incarnation. John is impressive among men, but he is more important as the forerunner of Christ.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trinity Sunday

Among the great feast days of the Church, Trinity Sunday is rather new. As a general feast in the Western liturgy, it dates from a papal decree in 1334. The origins of the feast can be traced back to the 900's in what is now Belgium, and the observance became widespread in northwest Europe. As Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Thomas à Becket required the commemoration throughout England. In the medieval English liturgical traditions of Sarum (Salisbury), this Sunday was so important that it gave it's name to the remaining half of the church year. This Sarum practice is the origin of the naming of Sundays after Trinity in traditional Books of Common Prayer.

Certainly, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity goes back to many passages in the Scriptures and is expressed in the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. It is the first of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion:
I. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity. There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Anglicans have also affirmed the Trinity on a regular basis through the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. In traditional Books of Common Prayer, except the American, Anglicans also affirm the so-called Athanasian Creed or Quicunque vult:

Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.
Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods: but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords: but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord;
So are we forbidden by the Catholick Religion: to say there be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved: must thus think of the Trinity.
Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the right Faith is that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world;
Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood.
Who although he be God and Man: yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether, not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.
Who suffered for our salvation: descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty: from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies: and shall give account for their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

This is the Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

Such creedal affirmations are very important. They deserve more attention in our Christian instruction and devotion. They are safeguards against much of the shallow theology that tends to permeate contemporary religious bodies.

At first glance, the Gospel from St. John 3:1-15 does not seem closely related to high theological reflections on the theme of the Trinity. There are other passages of Scripture that can provide a more obvious basis for theology, but meditation upon the theme of being born again does have Trinitarian associations. And for most Christians, a practical devotional approach to the doctrine of the Trinity is usually more meaningful than theological abstractions, no matter how true or profound.
So in St. John 3, we can see the mystery of the Trinity at work in the context of personal salvation. Those who of us are born again through Christian Baptism and Faith are adopted as children of God the heavenly Father. We look to Jesus the only begotten Son of God as the source of new and eternal life. And God the Holy Spirit grafts us into the Body of Christ, enables us to call God "Father" and continually gives us new life.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ember Days after Pentecost

The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in Whitsun or Pentecost Week are Ember Days. These days occurring four times a year are devoted to prayers for the increase of the church's ministry. After Pentecost, such prayers can have a special focus on the role of the Spirit in calling and equipping the ministry. The first Pentecost empowered the body of disciples, especially the Apostles, to proclaim Christ's Gospel to the world. Likewise, we continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will call and inspire candidates for the ordained ministry and continue to bless the work of those who are already ordained.

The Collect for the Ember Days from the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer is especially appropriate for this week:
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.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pentecost, commonly called Whitsunday

This Sunday is one of the oldest Christian celebrations. Indeed, it is rooted in the first-century Jewish calendar where the Greek word Pentecost (meaning "fifty") was applied to the Feast of Weeks. This feast, held seven weeks after Passover, had associations with the spring grain harvest and with the giving of the Law. This Jewish feast is the background for the Epistle from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11.

The disciples were gathered in Jerusalem for the feast as they awaited Christ's promised Comforter. In this Christian context, Pentecost received a new meaning when the Holy Spirit came down upon the early disciples in a new and powerful way. They proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ in various languages to Jews gathered from across the world. This key event has often been called "the birthday of the Church."

As we think about Acts 2, it provides a guide for our understanding of the coming of the Holy Ghost. While the divine Spirit does work in many and diverse ways, the emphasis in Acts is upon His work through the community of disciples led by the apostles; that is, the emphasis is upon the Spirit's work in the Church. The central gift of the Holy Spirit is to transform a group of ordinary, provincial and somewhat timid individuals into a bold community of faith with a mission to the whole world. Although they had witnessed and believed in Christ's Resurrection and Ascension, the disciples needed to receive the power of the Spirit from on high. And once that happened, they could no longer keep quiet about the Faith.

As Pentecost is a recurring feast, so is the work of the Holy Spirit on and through the Church. Our individual spiritual experiences can have their importance, but the central issue is the work of the Spirit in the whole Christian community. Christ's does not promise the Comforter just to make individual believers feel good; the Spirit comes primarily to strengthen the disciples as the Body of Christ who continue the proclamation of the Gospel in the world. As we seek spiritual blessings, let us renew our dedication to that mission of Christian proclamation and witness.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Sunday after Ascension

The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ is an important and much neglected Christian feast and a basic Scriptural and Creedal doctrine. Each time that I meditate upon it, I find some new way in which it relates to the broader Christian message. This time, I am struck by the opening words of this Sunday's Gospel from St. John 15:26-27a:
When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness...

Christ's Ascension prepares the way for Pentecost. The risen Lord's physical departure from ordinary earthly contact with His followers allows the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, to come in a new and more powerful way. Note the Trinitarian theme: the Spirit proceeds from God the Father and testifies of the Son. This is a beautiful summary of the Christian perspective on revelation and redemption.

Yet, this sublime truth is not all; the message of the Ascension is not just abstract and heavenly. There is also a specific implication about the way Christ's followers are to live in the world. Our Lord tells His disciples that they shall bear witness. If we who follow Christ know something of heavenly truth, we are not to hide it. We are to share it in word and deed. Yes, Christ's Resurrection, His Ascension and the Descent of the Holy Ghost are great events in salvation history. But we are not merely to bask in glorious reflection. We are called to active mission in the world.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Ascension Day

The Collect
GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen

I do not yet have a new comment for Ascension Day, but here is the link to the one from last year: