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.

Monday, December 24, 2012


The Feast of Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ commemorates an event and also proclaims a key theological concept- the Incarnation. "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (St. John 1:14). Of course, we celebrate the birth of a great person in human history, but as Christians, we celebrate much more; we celebrate the transcendent and eternal God coming in human flesh. If we can focus on that reality, then we will raise the level of our own observances beyond a simple birthday party.We will move into the realm of mystery, awe and thanksgiving .And if we appreciate the mystery of the Incarnation,  maybe we will become better witnesses to a world in desperate need of God in Christ.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Advent

This year on the Fourth Sunday in Advent, we are almost to Christmas, and it is hard for us to hold back with all the secular festivities that surround us. However, the Gospel for the day puts a brake on our rush to celebration. We are called back to the theme of preparation. In St. John 1:19 ff, John the Baptist reminds us that the way for the Christ must be prepared. The one who is to come is greater than even the greatest human prophet. So let us use the last hours of Advent for spiritual preparations.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

St. Thomas the Apostle- December 21

Note: Because of computer issues, posts will be very brief for the foreseeable future.

The traditional feast of St. Thomas the Apostle has been 21 December. Although we tend to associate St. Thomas with the Resurrection, he is also an appropriate example for contemplating Christ's Incarnation. After doubting the Resurrection, in St. John 20:28, Thomas affirms his faith that Jesus the Christ is "my Lord and my God." As Advent draws toward a close, let us focus on such faith in the incarnate Lord.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Third Sunday in Advent and Ember Days

In the Epistle from I Corinthians 4:1ff, St. Paul speaks of his ministry, and the Gospel from St. Matthew 11:2ff speaks of the ministry of St. John the Baptist. Both of these passages are far removed from the secular holiday cheer that surrounds us. Advent is a serious season meant to focus on spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ, and one of the themes of the preparation is the Christian ministry. We see this theme in the Collect for the day:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ's first coming by calling people to repentance. Likewise the Christian ministry must continue to call people to repentance. We can not appreciate the meaning of Christmas if we do not first acknowledge that we are sinners who need the Savior. And even more seriously, we can not be ready for Christ's coming in final judgment if we do not turn from our disobedience.

These themes will also be continued on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of this week which are the winter Ember Days.
For more on the Epistle for Advent III, see
For more on the Gospel, see

For more on Advent Ember Days, see

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Second Sunday in Advent

The Second Sunday in Advent has often been called "Bible Sunday," and the Collect, Epistle and Gospel for this Sunday all stress the importance of Holy Scripture. There is much to be said on this subject, but in this post I would like to focus on one theme: the Church and Holy Scripture. As Anglicans, we should always remember that God’s revelation in Scripture is closely connected to His work in the Church. Church and Scripture have always been intertwined. Scripture guides and corrects the Church, but the Church has been God’s instrument to preserve and interpret Scripture. Although individual opinions and applications can be valuable, it is the corporate understanding of Scripture that is central. As 2 Peter 1:20 warns, “no prophecy of scripture is of a private interpretation.” Understanding Scripture depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit in the universal Church. Many great thinkers and even saints have made mistakes about biblical ideas and details of fact. Even large Christian organizations and denominations have. At times in history, the majority of Christians have accepted poor explanations on some points of faith or morals.

Yet, Christ’s promise remains: the gates of hell shall not prevail against His universal Church (St. Matt. 16:18). So we look to the understanding of Scripture that has survived in the Church through the centuries. We look to the catholic or universal faith of the ancient Church, “what has been believed everywhere, always, by all” (St. Vincent of Lerins). These are the beliefs reflected in the church fathers. These beliefs are summarized in the ancient creeds and in our Catechism. They are also expressed in the historic liturgies. There may be differences about interpreting some details, but the core of Scripture is clear. And that core of Scripture centered on Christ the eternal Word of God demands our faithful response. May Advent be a time for us to renew our commitment to an orthodox understanding of Scripture.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Saint Nicholas of Myra

Of course, today, December 6, is the real feast of St. Nicholas, fouth-century bishop from Asia Minor (or modern Turkey). It is a good time to remind ourselves and others about the true Christian significance of this saint and of gift-giving. St. Nicholas focused on faith in Christ, not on commercialism. Let us do likewise in our Advent preparations.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

First Sunday in Advent

Since I have had to borrow a computer today, my post is simply to refer readers to previous posts:

May your Advent preparation be blessed!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Four Last Things

As the church year ends and we look forward to the themes of  the Advent season, one sometimes hears mention made of the "Four Last Things": Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. These four themes are a traditional summary of Christian eschatology and are found throughout the Scriptures (a nice collection of passages is found at the site ).

Every person must face the reality of death despite our human reticence to do so. If we are Christians, we know that death has a unique spiritual meaning because it will be followed by the particular judgment of each individual soul and the general judgment of all creation. Although there are some differences of belief as to details and what transpires in the meantime, orthodox Christians agree that ultimately each soul faces either heaven or hell. The four last things tend to be neglected by the worldly Christians of our time, but we need to meditate on them in order to develop a deeper commitment and understanding of Christian spirituality. In the Christian view, our present journey on earth cannot be separated from our final destination.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Having technical difficulties.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Armistice, Remembrance or Veterans' Day- November 11

Of course, 11 November 1918 was the day of the armistice that ended the Great War or World War I. Because of the massive and senseless carnage of that war, the date of the armistice was set aside in a number of countries as a day of remembrance for veterans and victims of that war and of all wars. In current U.S. practice, the focus is on military veterans.It is certainly appropriate that we have special prayers as we honor the sacrifices of military personnel.

From the 1928 American BCP, here is a prayer for the army modified to include all military service:
O Lord God of Hosts, stretch forth, we pray thee, thine almighty arm to strengthen and protect the [military] of our country. Support them in the day of battle, and in the time of peace keep them safe from all evil; endue them with courage and loyalty; and grant that in all things they may serve without reproach; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect for Independence Day also seems appropriate:
O Eternal God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From the 1962 Canadian BCP, there is a prayer for those who serve in the Queen's Forces: O Lord of hosts, stretch forth, we pray thee, thine almighty arm to strengthen and protect the Queen's forces in every peril of sea, and land, and air; shelter them in the day of battle, and ever keep them safe from all evil; endue them with loyalty and courage; and grant that in all things they may serve as seeing thee who art invisible; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Also any prayers of thanksgiving for the examples of the departed would be appropriate.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity

In light of the American elections, there is a certain mysterious and ironic appropriateness of the Prayer Book Epistle and Gospel for this Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity. The Gospel from St. Matthew tells us to render to God what is God's and to Caesar what is Caesar's.  For more on this Gospel, see the post from two years ago (

This week, I would focus on the Epistle from Philippians 3:17-21:

Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed unto the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things unto himself.

The Apostle Paul exhorts believers to follow his example centered on the Cross of Christ. Apparently even at that time, there were nominal Christians who were enemies of the crucified Christ and who worshipped their bellies. That is to say, there were supposed Christians whose primary concern was their material well-being and physical comfort. They were willing to compromise the way of the cross in order to pursue an easier earthly existence.
The same problem exists among Christians in our time, especially in western countries. Just look at the recent exit polls on the primary motivation of many supposed Christians voters. Whatever their choice of candidates, the primary motivation is not some high principle but base materialism and freedom for self-gratification, in other words, the god of the belly. Such an approach not only endangers their own souls but also the very nation and society they claim to love.
True Christians must focus on higher values. One of the many meanings of the cross is that loyalty to divine principles is more important than earthly well-being. Like our Lord, Christians must be willing to sacrifice the benefits of earthly life for heavenly purposes. As St. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20, "For our citizenship is in heaven."  Although we love our earthly homelands and respect public order, our ultimate loyalty as Christians is to God and His heavenly kingdom. That is where we look for our ultimate values and highest blessings. May we follow our Lord, His Apostles and all true believers in that loyalty.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Election Eve for Americans

On the eve of elections which could have great impact upon religious freedom, marriage and the right to life of the unborn and the aging, as well as more mundane matters, Christians should be very much in prayer. For Anglicans, the Litany seems especially appropriate. For those going about their daily tasks, repeating the Kyrie or the Jesus Prayer is an option. In addition, we might say the following prayers.

For Our Country (1928 BCP):
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Guidance (1928 BCP):
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly; Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

At the Time of an Election (A Manual for Priests):
O Lord, we beg thee to govern the minds of all who are called at this time to choose faithful persons to serve in the government of this land: that they may exercise their choice as in thy sight, for the welfare of all our people, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer for Expectant Mothers and Babes in the Womb (adapted from several sources):
Almighty God, by whose Providence new life is conceived, look with mercy upon all thy handmaidens who are with child and upon the babes within their wombs. Strengthen them during the months of waiting and growth, and bring them in safety through the time of birth. And grant that each child may increase in wisdom and stature, and grow in thy love and service, until he or she come to thy eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Since Trinity XXII this year falls within the octave of All Saints, it is appropriate to continue thinking about that important feast. The following link provides some simple comments- . For a comment on the Gospel for Trinity XXII from St. Matthew 18, see the post from two years ago- .

This year my focus is on the Epistle from Philippians 1:3-11:  I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace. For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

This is a very personal introduction to the letter to the Church at Philippi. St. Paul expresses his personal affection and hope for that church. Yet, it also contains references to several important theological themes-continual prayer, Christian fellowship, growth in good works and understanding, perseverance and others. In particular, I am struck by the final words of the selection- being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. Although the Apostle has great personal affection for these Christians, he keeps his focus on God. Christian growth in goodness is not just for the individual's benefit or even for the Church; the fruits of righteousness are primarily for the glory and praise of God. Through the grace of Jesus Christ, the entire life of every believer is meant to become a hymn of praise to the Almighty.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity & St. Simon and St. Jude

In 2012, the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity is also the Feast of St. Simon and Saint Jude. In the traditional Prayer Book, the feasts of Apostles take precedence over Sundays after Trinity .On the significance of this feast, see my brief post from two years ago (

On the Epistle from Ephesians for TrinityXXI, see last year's post (  On the Gospel from St. John, see the post from two years ago (

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Twentieth Sunday after Trinity

In  last year's post, there is a comment on the Epistle. This time, let us focus on the Gospel from St. Matthew 22: 1-14. This is one of several passages that compares God's kingdom to a feast, in this case a wedding feast for the king's son. This re-telling of the story is more elaborate than a similar story in St. Luke's Gospel. Noteworthy is the addition of the related story of the unprepared guest in St. Matthew 22: 11-14:  And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.

The whole account is about people who do not respond properly to divine grace.This final story is about a person who claims to respond but does so in an unappreciative way. He accepts the King's invitation and arrives to dine, but he does not bother to make appropriate preparations. He seems to take the King's gracious offer as an indication that He has no standards or expectations. Such is not the case; the King expects His guests to show respect, to be grateful and to get ready. And anyone who does not respond in such a way is not allowed to remain in the King's presence; he cast out into the darkness. In a sense, this unworthy guest is expecting cheap grace, but God does not work that way.

Human beings make this mistake repeatedly. People like to think about divine grace, but they often forget that although grace is free, accepting grace means that they also accept certain responsibilities in their subsequent reactions. God's standards continue, and He expects our human reactions to show our appreciation of His holy nature. We must show respect, gratitude and preparation as we come to benefit from His great gifts. People are called by God in many contexts and in many ways, but whether we are truly chosen is indicated by the ways in which we respond.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Last year and the year before, I commented on the Epistle from Ephesians 4 and the Gospel from St. Matthew 9  ( and This year, my attention has been drawn to the collect of the day:  O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The basic content of this brief collect is ancient and reflects the Christian awareness of the need for divine grace. We can never even begin to please God without His help. We depend upon prevenient or preceding grace. The 1662 revisers specified that divine help comes through the working of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit reaches out into this world and into our hearts and minds. Thus, by God's power directing and ruling our inner selves and overcoming our sin and frailty, we are empowered to do at least some of the things that please Him. With this thought in the background, we can approach the high standards found in texts such as the Epistle with hope and confidence. On our own, we can't please Him, but with His help, our lives can grow toward holiness.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel for this Sunday (St. Matthew 22:34-46) combines two of Jesus' encounters with the Pharisees. First, He answers the question about the heart of the Law by citing the two great commandments. Secondly, He asks them a question about the Messiah which points to the divinity of the Messiah. These two simple encounters point out that Jesus' message is both similar to other rabbis and totally unique. His message continues that of the Judaic Law, but it introduces a completely new emphasis upon His own identity as the Christ and divine Son of God.

Human beings must still face this contrast. Yes, the message of Jesus Christ continues to present some basic religious and moral teachings common to other religious systems. However, Jesus' claims about Himself and Christian affirmations about Him are unique. He is not just one more teacher or prophet; He is God the Son, and thus, He is THE way, THE truth and THE life. The world, the flesh and the devil oppose this claim of His unique identity and meaning, but true Christian believers must not hesitate to proclaim this message.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

For this Sunday, I have decided to focus on the Gospel from St. Luke 14:1-11 (for a comment on the Epistle from Ephesians 4, see last year's post). In St. Luke 14, we see some common themes in Christ's teaching concerning the Pharisaic approach to religion.
First, we have the case of the man sick with dropsy or fluid retention. Even though it is the sabbath and some types of medical care were considered work which was unlawful on the sabbath., Jesus does not hesitate to heal the man. He then points out His reason: human beings are certainly more important than beasts of burden, and the Law of Moses honored by the Pharisees allowed acts of mercy on the sabbath even for beasts.

Secondly, Jesus notices how His table companions are concerned about getting the most honored seats. He relates this petty behavior to a common symbol of the Messianic age, the wedding feast. In social situations, real honor is bestowed by the host, not acquired by some brazen self-assertion. Likewise in spiritual matters, the faithful are dependent upon God's grace instead of  pride and self-promotion.

Both these cases show the narrowness of some people's religion (not just first century Pharisees). First, although having some rules is necessary, there is a human tendency to get too caught up in picky details and forget the underlying purpose. Good rules, especially God's basic commands like observing a day of rest and prayer, are designed to improve the quality of life. People tend to forget that truth in opposing ways. Some are lawless and ignore all restrictions while others keep the details and ignore the higher purpose. Secondly, along withavoiding legalism, we must avoid pride and egotism. We must not focus on our own importance. Rather we must humbly look to God's gracious invitation to have fellowship with Him.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this Sunday is from Ephesians 3:13-21. This is a passage rich in many topics, but this time, I would focus on verses 16 and 17a: "that he [God the Father]would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith...." Here we see the interaction of the Holy Trinity for our salvation and sanctification. The Father works in a transcendent way as He sends the Holy Spirit to work upon our inner selves, and this work of the Spirit enables Christ to dwell in the hearts of those who have faith. Remaining aware of both the outward and inner working of God often seems difficult for human beings. There is an external objective work of God in the universe and upon human beings which we must not ignore. Yet, this external work also needs to be accompanied by an internal and personal or subjective influence in believers. If we neglect either aspect, we do not benefit from the full biblical concept of divine action.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

From the Epistle to the Galatians, let us highlight a key verse. Galatians 6:14 says, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." The Apostle Paul had a great religious heritage and a great intellect. He worked extremely hard and endured much for the cause of Christ. Yet, despite such great advantages, he saw that he had no personal reason to glory. For the Christian believer, there is ultimately only one reason for glory: the cross of Christ. Through what Christ accomplished on the cross, those who have faith and are joined to Him in Baptism die to worldly life in order to share in eternal life. In the long run, that is source of any glory in the Christian life.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle for this Sunday is from 2 Corinthians 3:4-9 and includes some of the Apostle Paul's insights about ministry. Of course, he has his own apostolic ministry in mind, but much of what he says can apply to the service rendered Christ and His Church by any Christian, from the saintliest bishop to the simplest struggling layperson. In particular, let us notice verse 5: "...not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God...." Regardless of any natural gifts or lack of them, our service of the Gospel must not be focused upon ourselves; rather we must focus upon God's grace that can empower us to do what is needed.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

The traditional Epistle for this Sunday is 1 Corinthians 15: 1ff.  In these verses, St. Paul focuses on the core of the Gospel that he and other apostles preach. The key words are these:
Brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved.... For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: and that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once.... After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am... Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

According to Paul, the core of the Christian proclamation is that Christ died for our sins and rose again. In this perspective, all the other Christian teachings get their meaning from Christ's death and resurrection.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle is 1 Corinthians 10: 1ff.  Here the Apostle refers to the Hebrew wilderness journey as a type or foreshadowing of Christian experience. The Israelites were "baptized" in the sea and partakers of holy food and drink but many rebelled against God and died. The Apostle warns the Corinthian Christians that the same can happen to them. Temptations are bound to come, but God provides grace to continue the journey of faith. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Holy Matrimony

With all the debates about marriage taking place in western societies, it seems useful to think of the traditional Christian perspective, especially Anglican views. Although Anglican teachings about marriage can be found many places, a short and beautiful summary is found in the minister's charge at the start of the marriage rite in the 1927/28 proposed English Book of Common Prayer. Here we have "the causes for which matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the increase of mankind according to the will of God, and that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy name.

Secondly, It was ordained in order that the natural instincts and affections, implanted by God, should be hallowed and directed aright; that those who are not called of God to remain unmarried, but by him are led to this holy estate, should continue therein in pureness of living.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity."

This summary of marriage is rooted in theological language. Notice phrases such as "according to the will of God," "natural instincts and affections," "implanted by God," and "called of God."  Marriage is not viewed as a mere social institution; it is a basic arrangement from creation rooted in the divine plan for human life.
The first basic purpose of marriage involves child-bearing and child-rearing. For a variety of reasons, every marriage may not fulfill this purpose, but it is involved in the majority of marriages.
The second purpose of marriage is expression of sexuality. Given human nature and history, any adult knows that sex often takes place outside marriage, but the ideal context for sexual expression both for the individual and for society is in a stable marriage.
Thirdly, marriage provides a special human social relationship. Many marriages obviously do not provide much help and comfort, and many people find degrees of help and comfort in other relationships with family or friends. Nevertheless, such supportive companionship is a goal for every marriage.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Because of computer issues, I was unable to work on a post before Sunday. My intention was to comment on the traditional Epistle from Romans 6: 19- 23:
I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This selection continues the theme of Christian freedom through the work and grace of our Lord. A key verse is Romans 6:23- "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Although a famous verse, it does not seem to be cited very often these days. It runs counter to the permissiveness of the age. Many contemporaries do not believe that the cost of sin is eternal spiritual death. They have distorted divine mercy and forgiveness into an acceptance of sin. The Scriptures, including all those beautiful passages about grace and reconciliation, do not contradict God's holiness, righteousness and justice. Sin is serious, and it has destructive consequences in every human life. If we fail to face that reality and teach others to do the same, we not not being honest or merciful.
Instead, we must face the biblical truth about sin in order to appreciate the remedy that God has provided in His only Son Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of Christ, there is hope for deliverance from slavery to sin. This deliverance rooted in divine grace begins in this world as we are united with Christ through repentance, baptismal grace, and faith. We are freed from the domination of sin and given the grace to bear fruits of holiness. We remain weak and imperfect sinners in this world, but we can start to change and produce good fruit. This is a gift of God, and it points us to another gift of God- eternal life through Christ. Eternal life is not the same as immortality of the soul. In a sense, the soul remains immortal even in eternal death and separation from God. Rather, eternal life is life lived in fellowship with God through the grace of His Son. Eternal life begins in this world with a faithful response to grace, and it reaches its fullness in the world to come.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sixth Sunday after Trinity

The traditional Epistle for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity is from Romans 6:3-11 . It says, Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is a wonderfully rich passage from a chapter that emphasizes Christian freedom. There are Christological, sacramental, mystical, spiritual and moral implications. Since there are many themes in the passage, there are many possible approaches, but this time, I would focus on three points: Baptism, spirituality and morality.

1)  Christians acknowledge that the Apostle talks about the importance of Baptism, but many have failed to notice the emphasis upon the objective divine grace operative in Christian Baptism. There is more than mere symbolism in the Sacrament; there is divine power made available to those who accept it and respond to it. The Sacrament is a spiritual dying and rising again with Christ. It has a certain once in a lifetime character even though it may be renewed throughout life. Indeed, since even the just remain sinners in this life, Baptism must be renewed constantly through reflection, repentance, confession, re-commitment and re-affirmation of faith.

2) This spiritual dying and rising is made possible through divine grace, and divine grace can change lives- either immediately or over a period of time. Dying and rising with Christ starts as an interior or spiritual change. Ignoring this spiritual aspect of grace is a great danger, and it affects many practical-minded people. Those who are baptized are united with Christ. They are freed from the bondage to sin which characterizes all human beings. New spiritual life is implanted in their souls, and although sin remains, it no longer reigns. Even in moments of weakness when Christians fall away from baptismal grace, that grace is not totally extinguished. As long as there is life, there is hope that every baptized Christian will turn and allow God's grace in Christ to be revived to transform first their inner life and then their outer behavior.

3) This brings us to the issue of morality. As important as baptismal grace is in itself and as important as a spiritual transformation is, neither should be separated from moral fruits. In theory, the progression should be easy and natural, but in practice, the remnants of sin in believers and the fallenness of the surrounding world demand a conscious awareness and a deliberate response. All too often in the history of the Church and in the lives of individual believers, this need for moral effort has been ignored or abused. Some people seem to think that bearing fruit just happens without self-discipline while others have down-played the necessity of divine grace and spirituality. Romans 6:4  makes the connection clear. Because of what God has done in Christ and because we have been united with Christ in Baptism, "even so we also should walk in newness of life." The new life filled with moral fruits is not some hollow moralism; it is rooted in the Death and Resurrection of Christ and our spiritual union with Him. Only in such a spiritual context can morality have power and meaning. Through Christ's work and our union with Him, we have been set free for true life and goodness.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Personal note: Still taking some family time.

This week the traditional Epistle, like the one two weeks ago, is from 1 St. Peter. In 1 Peter 3:8-15a, there is an exhortation to embody Christian virtue amid the diffuculties and sufferings of earthly life. Trusting in God's grace enables believers to live in love, restraint, patience, peace, etc. with those inside and outside the church. A deep and true happiness based on faith is possible for believers even when they are suffering for the sake of righteousness.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Personal note: I am not likely to be online for around 10 days because of family time.

Although from a different letter by a different apostle, this week's traditional Epistle from Romans 8:18-23 continues the themes of last week's selection from 1 Peter 5. The point is that earthly sufferings are not truly comparable to the glorious hope which awaits those who have been united with Christ in baptism and faith. There have been and still are problems in this world, but believers must always be people of faith and hope. Our faith and hope is not in a fallen creation, not in some imagined goodness of fallen humanity and not in ourselves. Our faith and hope as Christians must always remain centered on the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Third Sunday after Trinity

Personal Note: I just survived another school year and may not write much for the next few weeks.

Although this Sunday is also the Feast of St. John the Baptist (see last year's brief post for this feast-, my attention has been drawn to the Epistle for the Third Sunday after Trinity: 1 St. Peter 5:5-11. In this passage, believers are urged to be humble. As surprising as it may be to some people, humility is the best way to withstand the devil. Of course, pride is Satan's great flaw. So pride puts us in a vulnerable position while humility means that we are less likely to pursue evil. Humility means that we recognize our proper place in the universe and acknowledge our dependence upon what God has done for us in Christ. We do not depend upon our own feeble efforts to defeat evil; we depend upon divine grace. Through grace, believers pass through the sufferings and afflictions of this world, and we look in faith and hope to our eternal future with Christ.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Second Sunday after Trinity

This week, my attention was drawn to a verse from the Epistle. In I St. John 3:14, we read: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.Here we have a basic point about divine creation and human existence. Love is the source of true life, and without love, human beings are spiritually dead. This general truth finds its clearest expression in Jesus Christ. He is the way, and the truth, and the life because He is divine love incarnate. Because He first loves us, He ennables us to love and to pass from death into true life. Apart from such Christ-based love, we can not love fully, and therefore, apart from the love of Christ, we cannot live fully. But because He has loved us even to the point of dying for us, His grace can give us new life and help us to grow in love toward fellow believers and toward all God's creatures.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

First Sunday after Trinity

The traditional Epistle for this Sunday is from 1 St. John 4:7-21 and says:
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

Here we have a reminder of the core of the Gospel followed by an exhortation to apply this core to our lives. We may summarize this passage in three points. 1) God's love comes first (v.7).  2) His love has been most clearly and powerfully revealed in His Son Jesus Christ who died to save us from sin (vv.9-10).  3) "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (v.11). St. John reiterates these three key points by expressing them in more than one way in our verses, but the reality is so simple- and yet so hard to practice consistently. Indeed, from a merely human view, it is impossible to love God and our brothers and sisters. Only because God's grace and love in Christ reach out to touch us through the Spirit can we begin to love one another as we should. His love is the only true source of our love for Him and for others.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Trinity Sunday

It is appropriate that we focus on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity one week after celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. The liturgical significance of this day is summarized well in the collect for the day. The collect says,
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity; We beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us stedfast in this faith, and evermore defend us from all adversities, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.

Perceiving and confessing the doctrine of the Trinity is not a natural ability but a gift of divine grace. Although we can use metaphors from nature and employ reason to talk about the Triune God, a personal appreciation of this uniquely Christian teaching can only come as the Holy Spirit pours divine grace into our hearts and minds. We can cite certain New Testament texts (such as Matthew 3:16-17, John 3: 5-16, Ephesians 2:18, 2 Corinthians 13: 14, 1 Peter 1:2) which express a Trinitarian understanding of God's self-disclosure to humanity. But the doctrine is subtle, and its expression developed gradually among Christians. Notably, it was expressed structurally in the ancient baptismal questions about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit which became the basis for the Apostles' Creed. As misunderstandings arose, the doctrine was more deliberately expressed in many Christian texts including the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed (Quicunque vult) and hymns such as the Gloria Patri, the Gloria in excelsis and the Te Deum.

As we think about the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity, we do not all have to be philosophical theologians who delight in discussing abstractions. However, Christians do affirm or confess this basic doctrine. The doctrine of the Trinity is a central and biblically based Christian belief that is deeply rooted in the experience of redemption and in Christian prayer and worship. At various moments, we focus upon one or the other divine Person, but there is a constant interaction of the three Persons as we consider revelation, justification, sanctification and salvation. "Praise God from whom all blessings flow,... Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pentecost Octave or Whitsun Week

For me, one of the strengths of the traditional Books of Common Prayer is that the week after Pentecost receives more emphasis than in newer liturgies. The 1549 and 1662 Prayer Books provide propers for Monday and Tuesday and designate Wednesday, Friday and Saturday as the early summer Ember days. The 1928 American and the 1962 Canadian Books of Common Prayer also include instructions about including the Collect for Pentecost and the Proper Preface during the octave. Indeed, although Trinity Sunday is theologically important on its own, its ancient liturgical importance was as the end of the Pentecost octave. The BCP emphasis on Pentecost week is fitting as we continue to observe the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pentecost, commonly called Whitsunday

Of course, Pentecost is rooted in a Jewish festival which also has come to be known as "the birthday of the Church." It is one of the oldest and most widely observed Christian celebrations.
The traditional collect for Pentecost is as follows:
O God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

This Collect is to be said daily throughout Whitsun Week.
The 1928 American BCP included a second collect for use at an early service. It says,
Almighty and most merciful God, grant, we beseech thee, that by the indwelling of thy Holy Spirit, we may be enlightened and strengthened for thy service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

There is a comment on the traditional Gospel from St. John 14:15ff in my post from 2010-

There is a comment on the traditional Epistle from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11 in my post from 2011-

The 1928 American BCP also added a second Epistle, 1 Corinthians 12: 4-14.  This reading has also been included in other recent lectionaries. It is a famous and rich passage about the working of the Holy Spirit in Christ's Church. It reads,
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.

May each of us be open to the gifts and operations of the Spirit and use them for the benefit of the whole body of Christ.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sunday after Ascension Day

The last Sunday of the Easter season is also the only Sunday of the Ascension season. This is a time between great festivals; it looks back to Resurrection and Ascension and forward to the Descent of the Holy Spirit. So there is the theme of waiting. This theme is expressed in Cranmer's collect for the day:
O God, the King of glory, who hast exalted thine only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph unto thy kingdom in heaven; We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless; but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle- 1 St. Peter 4: 7-11          The Gospel - St. John 15:26-16:2

The Epistle from 1 Peter, like those of the past several Sundays, continues to speak about how Christians are to live in this world, and it is applies to the theme of waiting. These words from 1 Peter 4:7-8 are especially appropriate: "be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."
Most human beings do not like to wait, especially in this age of instant gratification. We tend to be impatient to move on, and we often view time spent waiting as wasted time. Yet waiting is a basic part of  human experience. Christian life in particular involves much waiting. In the church year, we have seasons of waiting for Christmas and Easter, and these days after the Ascension are days of waiting for Pentecost. At a deeper level, the whole Christian experience in this world is a time of waiting for the final coming of God's glorious kingdom. Although we already have a foretaste of redemption, we await its final consummation.

So whether we wait or not is not an option. The question is how Christian believers wait, and our verses from 1 Peter give us instructions. Christian waiting is not to be a waste of time. It is to be spiritually creative. We are called to be controlled, sober-minded or thoughtful. We are not secular rationalists, but we are to be reasonable people because we live in harmony with divine reason. And prayer is an expression of a sober-minded life. We do not merely say our prayers, as important as that is; we live in a constant state of prayer by turning our thoughts to God, His grace and His will for our lives. Such a prayerful life empowers us to exercise true charity or love in our relationships with others, especially within the household of faith. Such love is rooted in divine love which has forgiven our sins in Christ and helps us forgive the sins of those around us.

In sum, this Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost is a reminder that the life of Christians in this world is a time of waiting for ultimate fulfilment. And 1 Peter 4 tells us how we should wait: sober-minded, prayerful, loving, forgiven and forgiving.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ascension Day

This Thursday is the fortieth day after Easter, Ascension Day. It is somewhat understandable that in our secular societies few people make it to a church service. It is not so excusable when believers, especially those from liturgical churches, do not even know what day it is. Clergy and teachers need to do a better job of instruction. Christ's Ascension is a basic New Testament teaching and a central affirmation of the ecumenical creeds. Contemplating the Ascension of Christ to the Father's right hand helps us better appreciate the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of our Lord.

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.
     [This Collect is to be said daily throughout the Octave.]

The Epistle- Acts 1:1- 11
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: and, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so came in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

The Gospel- St. Luke 24: 49-53
Jesus said, Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother's Day

On the secular calendar, the second Sunday in May has come to be observed in many countries as a day to honor mothers, motherhood and family values. Within Christian tradition, there have also been other days to honor mothers, such as feasts associated with the Virgin Mary and in England, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. The observance of the second Sunday in May is of modern American origin and is very commercialized. Even its founder, Anna Jarvis, lamented what it was becoming in the 1920's. So this secular observance should not overwhelm the appropriate liturgical commemorations in our churches. Nevertheless, it is appropriate that we include prayers of intercession and thanksgiving for mothers and that, in this era when there are so many challenges to families, we pray for all families.

The 1928 American Book of Common Prayer includes this prayer:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families; We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vain-glory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh; turn the heart of the fathers[parents] to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers[parents]; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we be evermore kindly affectioned with brotherly love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fifth Sunday after Easter, commonly called Rogation Sunday

The Fifth Sunday after Easter and the following three days have traditionally been set aside for "rogation" or prayers of supplication, especially prayers for fruitful agriculture. On the topic of rogation, see my post from last year-

The 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer also provides a lovely alternative collect for rogation called THE FRUITS OF THE EARTH AND THE LABOURS OF MEN (p. 198f). It says, Almighty and merciful God, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift: Bless, we beseech thee, the labours of thy people, and cause the earth to bring forth her fruits abundantly in their season, that we may with grateful hearts give thanks to thee for the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.. Amen.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Fourth Sunday after Easter

The Collect:
O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle: St. James 1: 17-21. The Gospel: St. John 16: 5-15.

I posted comments on the Gospel the last two years; this time, I decided to focus on the Epistle from St. James 1:17- 21.  The passage reads: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls."

The Epistle of James seems to me to be one of the most under-appreciated books of the New Testament. Some commentators down-play this book's importance because they find higher theology elsewhere; other commentators like the book but only see practical moral advice. In fact, there are important themes of theology interwoven with the ethical exhortation. In today's selection from James 1, the apostolic writer begins with the theme of thanksgiving for God's gifts. This should characterize every day of the Christian's life and applies in a particular way in the Easter season as we give thanks for Christ's Resurrection. Then we move to the theme of  "the word of truth."

What is "the word of truth"? Ultimately, our Lord Jesus Christ is the word of truth, the eternal and incarnate Word of God. Jesus Himself is "the way, the truth, and the life" (St. John 14:6), and He repeatedly asserts in the Gospels  "I tell you the truth" and "verily/truly I say unto you." Secondly, Christ's message is the word of truth. The truth of His person is expressed through the good news of divine grace which saves sinners. Thirdly, the word of truth is Holy Scripture which expresses the eternal Word from creation through the life of Israel to the person of Christ and into the apostolic church.

According to James, this word of truth has come to beget us or to give us life as creatures of God. Believers receive or accept this word; they allow it to be "engrafted" or implanted into the core of their being. And allowing Christ and His word to rule in our very souls is what saves us. Through God's gracious gift, the word of truth saves us for a better life here as we seek to live in a holier manner, and it saves us for the best life hereafter when we will dwell constantly blessed by and aware of the divine presence.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Third Sunday after Easter

The Collect and the Epistle for the Third Sunday after Easter highlight the theme of living up to our Christian profession. 1 St. Peter 2:11-17 says:
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

This apostolic advice is two-sided. First, Christians are strangers and pilgrims in this world. We must not allow ourselves to be caught up in worldly desires. Our hearts and minds are to be directed heavenward, and we are not to worry about many of the issues that concern non-believers. Secondly, however, Christians are called to witness to the world by doing good. This witness can lead others to glorify God. So we are to behave well for the Lord's sake. Although freed from many concerns of the world, as servants of God, we are to use our freedom to be of service to the common good as much as conscience allows. We must respect all people, even those with whom we disagree for the sake of our faith.

In our time, as Western societies draw further from their Christian roots, these words of Peter are becoming more striking. Many Christians have a new sense of just how much we are exiles in this world. As a recent song says, we are "not home yet." We can no longer expect many of our neighbors and leaders to acknowledge the value of our beliefs. And we should be courageous in our resistance to evil. We should not acquiesce to the false values of  materialism and hedonism. Yet, we are still called to witness to secular people by doing good and by respecting those whom we consider wrong about certain issues. Such a strong but respectful witness is more than simply trying to be "nice"; it is part of our service  to God.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Second Sunday after Easter

The popular name for this Sunday is "Good Shepherd Sunday." This name is primarily based on the Gospel from St. John 10 (see my posts for 2010 and 2011). There is also a reference to Christ as the Shepherd of our souls in the Epistle. I Peter 2:19-25 says, "This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."

This epistle reading reflects the realism of the New Testament Scriptures. Although the first Christians are filled with great joy about the redemptive power of God in the risen Christ, they know that the Cross is always close at hand. In this passage, St. Peter addresses this reality of suffering. The issue is not whether human beings suffer; the issue is how and for what purpose people suffer. There are times when we all suffer for our faults- sometimes for actual sins, sometimes for misjudgments or folly. There are times when we suffer because of the general human condition in the fallen world, either physically or socially or mentally. There is no great glory in such suffering; it just happens, although our reactions to it can reflect our faith and character.
Yet, as St. Peter points out, there are also times when Christians suffer for doing well. Such suffering can cover a broad range- from obvious persecution, to social pressures because of loyalty to religious principles, to simple lack of appreciation from someone we try to help. When we suffer in such contexts and accept the suffering in love, we are following the example of Christ. Our small crosses do not approach the importance of His suffering for us, but they can help us draw closer to Him and appreciate better what He has done for us. Our difficulties in this life can help us die to our worldly sins and live to righteousness. Worldly difficulties can help us, straying sheep that we remain, return to Christ, the good Shepherd of our souls.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

First Sunday after Easter

The First Sunday after Easter has long had the nickname of "Low Sunday" among Anglicans. But the Scriptures traditionally assigned for the day are, as always, of very high importance. In reading over the passages, my attention was drawn to the Epistle from 1 St. John 5: 4-12. In particular, the verse I John 5:8 impressed itself upon my mind: For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

This verse is beautiful, but over the years interpreters have disagreed about its exact meaning. The general context is fairly clear. Here the apostolic writer is addressing people who are distorting the Christian message by ignoring the historical reality of Jesus Christ. Such proto-Docetists or proto-Gnostics liked to claim that they were "spiritual"; yet they overlooked the concrete events of Christ's life. For such people, the work of the Holy Spirit was central but vague. St. John, on the contrary, stressed that the true work of the Spirit was closely related to particular events and actions. Thus, the mention of "the water" and "the blood". They are concrete expressions referring to the realities of Christ's earthly ministry.

Biblical interpreters have tended to agree thus far, but divergences arise on the details. Some see "the water and the blood" together as a reference to the to St. John's Passion account. In St. John 19:34, one of the Roman soldiers plunges a spear into Jesus' side to make sure that He is dead. Other interpreters have understood "the water" as a reference to Christ's baptism which marked the beginning of His public ministry. These interpreters see "the blood" as a reference to the end of His public ministry through His real and sacrificial death on the cross. Still other interpreters have followed this idea but have gone on to add that there is a continuing witness of "the water" and "the blood" in Christian Baptism and the Eucharist. As St. Paul indicates in I Corinthians 11:26, "For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do proclaim the Lord's death till he come."

Personally, I see no need to choose among these differing interpretations because all three are variations on the same theme: Jesus the Christ was the most "spiritual" person in history, but He was very much a real man who was incarnate and ministered at a particular time and place through the real events of His life, ministry and death. He has truly truly died, truly risen from the dead and ascended bodily into heaven. And He will come again unto His followers. In the meantime, Christ's followers live in the world and continue to sense His presence through the Sacraments He established.

Unfortunately, some people in both ancient and modern times have denied or distorted the realities of Jesus Christ's incarnation. They have talked of the Spirit but ignored "the water and the blood." However, Christians must affirm these points. The Holy Spirit continues to bear witness to Jesus Christ. True spirituality is not some nebulous feeling or insight; rather true Christian spirituality in rooted in the historical events of Christ's ministry, death and resurrection. If we are to be faithful to the real risen Lord Jesus, we should acknowledge the unified witness of the Spirit, the water and the blood. Christ's Resurrection should not become some vague spiritual affirmation; it is a concrete, if mysterious event, connected to His whole ministry on earth. The risen Lord and the crucified Lord are one and the same.

For other approaches to the lessons of this Sunday, see the posts for 2010 and 2011:

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Easter Day, the Feast of the Resurrection

The great day has arrived. Christians rightly rejoice on this day because it commemorates the great triumph of Jesus Christ which is at the heart of our faith. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Yet, if we look back at the Gospel accounts, we see that the joy of the Resurrection only came slowly to the first disciples. The alternate Gospel selection from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and American Prayer Books since 1892 is from St. Mark 16:1-8. There is an emphasis here that when the women first discovered the empty tomb, they were "affrighted." So fear, not joy, was the first reaction.

Why fear? For several reasons. The disciples were afraid of the Romans and the Jerusalem priesthood who might track down followers of an executed Messiah. They were afraid that the authorities might have desecrated the tomb of their beloved rabbi. They were also afraid because one did not expect to run into angels every day. And if truth be told, they were afraid as they considered the real possibility of Christ's Resurrection. This was a great and unique manifestation of divine power, and throughout the Scriptures, a normal human reaction to divine power is a holy fear. God is holy, His power exceeds human understanding, and weak and sinful human creatures should stand in awe.

Our perspective is a little different from that of those women on the first Easter. We are not afraid of Romans or Temple guards, and we are not afraid that someone has stolen His body. If we are really Christians, we believe in Christ's true bodily Resurrection. In the New Testament, the initial fears of Christ's followers were soon overcome by joy, and we have the historical perspective to see that.

Nevertheless, we would do well to have a bit of holy fear as we think of the Resurrection. For Christ's Resurrection is the greatest manifestation of divine power yet seen in human history. God's new act through Jesus Christ His only Son is truly awe-inspiring. Since Christ's Resurrection was long ago and since we have heard the story many times, we must be careful not to take it for granted. Early that Sunday, a power greater than any natural forces we know broke into human history; divine energy transformed the dead body of a defeated Jewish leader into the glorious body of the Lord of all creation. This is the great mystery at the heart of Christian faith, and it fills our hearts with awe as well as with joy.

Easter Even or Holy Saturday

Traditional Books of Common Prayer call this Saturday "Easter Even", and following the ancient Church, they keep the day very low key. There is no celebration of the Eucharist during this day (if there is an Easter Vigil Eucharist, it is technically for Easter Day and the consecration was traditionally after midnight). There are, of course, readings for Morning and Evening Prayer, and there are propers for Ante-Communion or the Liturgy of the Word. The Epistle from First Peter 3: 17-22 has two main themes: 1) the importance of Christ's death for our salvation, and 2) a relationship between Christ's death and Christian Baptism. This is a good time for us to give thanks quietly and to contemplate both the reality of Christ's death for us and the way that Baptism unites us to His Death and Resurrection.

The Collect for the Day ties these themes together in a poetic way:
Grant, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Good Friday

Good Friday is one of the most important observances of the Christian year. Over the centuries, Christians have developed a variety of devotions appropriate for the day. There is still a wealth of material in traditional Books of Common Prayer: Morning Prayer, Litany, Ante-Communion (also called the Service of the Word) and Evening Prayer. In addition, for this Good Friday, I decided that having a timeline for the day might be a useful way to guide my meditations throughout the day. There are a number of such timelines around. Most try to draw together the different Passion accounts, but I have chosen to use St. John chapters 18 and 19 assigned in the traditional BCP readings.

Friday morning just after midnight - Confrontation in Garden and Jesus' Arrest (John 18:1-12)

Friday early morning hours– Jesus is taken to the house of Annas, former High Priest; Peter's first denial; Jesus receives initial physical abuse (John 18:13-23);
Jesus sent to the High Priest Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin Court –Peter's second and third denials; Jesus bloodied by abuse (John 18:24-27).

Friday 6:00a.m.-8:30 a.m. - Hearing before Roman governor Pilate; Pilate tries to release Jesus but the Judean mob objects and prefers the release of Barabas (John 18:28-40).
Pilate has Jesus beaten.- Pilate's Roman soldiers take Jesus into the court ("Praetorium") and engage in mockery and torture, including a brutal crown of thorns (John 19:1-3) .
Pilate hesitates but the mob still cries out against Jesus (John 19:4-15).

Friday 9:00a.m.-12:00 noon - Pilate hands Jesus over for crucifixion. Weakened by interrogations, sleep deprivation and beatings, Jesus is forced to carry his own cross to the place of execution; then He is crucified under the charge of being "King of the Jews" (John 19:16-22).
The soldiers cast lots for His garments (John 19:23-24).

Friday 12:00 noon - 3:00 p.m. - Jesus continues to suffer on the cross. His mother, other women followers and one male disciple (usually identified as John) remain with Him. Jesus commends His mother into the disciple's care (John 19:25-29).

Friday 3:00 p.m. - Death: Jesus says, "It is finished" and expires. The soldiers do not even bother to break His legs, but one pierces His side with a spear (John 19:30-37).

Friday before sunset - Burial: With the Sabbath approaching, Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus make arrangements for a quick but respectful burial in a nearby rock tomb (John 19:38-42).

Thursday before Easter, commonly called Maundy Thursday

The basic commemoration for this day is referred to by the Epistle from I Corinthians 11:23-26:
I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.

According to most scholars, St. Paul here gives the earliest recorded account of the Lord's Supper. Of course, these important words can be and have been discussed and theologized, but the central point is that their mere existence has inspired the worship of many different types of Christians for two millenia. On other days, there can be discussions of Eucharistic theory, but on this day, I just want to remember what Jesus did, follow His commands and sense His living presence even as we remember His suffering and death.

The Collect: 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.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sunday next before Easter, commonly called Palm Sunday

As I have tried to do much of this church year, for this Palm Sunday I am focusing on the Epistle. Philippians 2: 5 -11 reads: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This passage from Philippians summarizes many Christian themes in a beautiful way, and it has long been suggested that the Apostle is citing an early Christian creedal hymn. The words can be applied to many commemorations of the faith (such as their use on 1 January in the context of Christ's name). As we look at them today, the words are very appropriate at the beginning of Holy Week. Their devotional significance is to draw us closer to the "mind" or attitude of Christ (2:5). The divine and unique Son of God deserved praise as the King of Israel and the King of all creation. Yet, He accepted the limitations of the human condition in order to redeem human beings.

We see this acceptance from His birth and throughout His earthly ministry. It culminates in Holy Week and Good Friday: "He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (2:8). These words encapsulate all the details of the Passion Gospels. Christ could not be humiliated by mankind except for the fact that He first voluntarily humbled Himself. The Son became the servant in order to embody the ultimate obedience to holy principles, obedience unto death which had no rightful dominion over Him. Furthermore, the death He accepted was not just any death but death upon the cross. He accepted crucifixion, one of the most degrading and horrifying means of torture and execution devised by cruel men.

The Cross of Christ must always remain at the center of Christian preaching, doctrine and devotion. It is at the heart of Christ's earthly ministry, and it is a basic element in understanding the profound meaning of divine love. Indeed, the Cross is pivotal to understanding the whole meaning of God's universe. It is part of what C.S. Lewis called the "deep magic" which lies behind everything that exists. As believers, the Cross is our basic symbol. We need to appreciate it, love it and live it daily. And we need to find times such as Holy Week when we become more aware of the presence of the Cross in many New Testament passages.

Nevertheless, as central as the Cross is to our Christian faith and life, the words in Philippians 2:9-11 remind us that believers also look beyond the Cross. The Cross was and is necessary and central in our faith, but Jesus Christ transforms the Cross. He suffers as a human being, but He is also God the Son who will not be conquered in the end. Christ's heavenly Father accepts His perfect obedience and sacrifice, exalts Him and gives Him "a name which is above every name."

In other words, even when we focus upon the very real sufferings of our Lord and on our own relatively small ways of sharing His Cross, we still seek to have the mind of Christ. Like Christ, we need to have a sense of the Father's love lying behind those times of suffering when we have a sense of abandonment. As believers, we see the reality of the way of the Cross as the path toward Resurrection and true Life. So like our Lord, we walk the way of the Cross both figuratively and in the real trials of human existence because we trust that God uses the Cross to give us truer life.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Annunciation

Since the 25th of March fell on a Sunday in Lent this year, the feast of the Annunciation is transferred to Monday. The observance is based on the story of Gabriel's visit to the Virgin Mary in the Gospel from St. Luke 1:26ff. On this day, we are reminded of the connection between the Incarnation of Christ and His Passion and Resurrection. The complete story of Jesus Christ has a unified redemptive purpose, and the collect for the day sums up this unity in a beautiful way.

We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that, as we have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion we may be brought unto the glory of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Until liturgical revision of the 1970's, the Fifth Sunday in Lent was the one commonly called "Passion Sunday." One reason for this nickname was the traditional Epistle from Hebrews 9:11-15. The passage says, Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

These verses contain a figurative comparison between atonement under the old covenant and the new covenant. Under the Hebrew priestly system which had become centered at the Jerusalem temple, there were several sacrificial ways to be cleansed from sin and ritual contamination. Of course, the greatest of these was the annual Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). On that day, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the blood from animal sacrifice in atonement for the sins of the chosen people. Such sacrifices were limited. The victims were beasts of the field, and the sacrifices had to be repeated. Individual sin offerings had to be offered after each new transgression, and each year, the Day of Atonement for the whole people was not just a renewal but a new sacrifice.

Christ's self-sacrifice was at a far higher level. He Himself was temple, high priest and victim. His sacrifice was not temporary or repeatable; it was valid forever. It was applicable for all people for all time. As Article of Religion XXXI says, "The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone." In the Book of Common Prayer, the traditional Prayer of Consecration says that when Christ suffered death upon the Cross, He "made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world."

As Christians, we are people who believe in and accept this sacrifice on our behalf. We acknowledge and give thanks for Jesus Christ's "eternal redemption" (9:12). We "receive the promise of eternal inheritance" (9:15). We look to this unique moment in human history as the time when God in Christ reached out to reconcile us to Himself in the only way that could overcome our deeply ingrained sinfulness.

The importance of Christ's Passion, His eternal sacrifice for our salvation, should be in our thoughts and prayers every day. But as we enter the last two weeks of Lent, we seek a heightened awareness and appreciation. Even the most dedicated believers tend to have periods when they take the basics of the faith for granted or when they are distracted from higher truths by daily routine. So we need these times of renewal. Christ's eternal sacrifice never needs renewal, but our personal appreciation of His great work needs daily, weekly and seasonal renewal.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Last year, I commented on the Gospel for this Sunday, and the year before, I focused on some of the historical associations and popular names such as "Refreshment" and "Mothering" Sunday(see

This year, let us turn our attention to the Epistle from Galatians 4:21-31. Here the Apostle Paul uses the figurative interpretation of the Old Testament that was familiar in his day. Abraham's two wives, Hagar and Sarah, along with their sons, are seen as types or models of two different kinds of covenant relationship to God. Hagar and her son represent the covenant based on law; Sarah and her son Isaac represent the new covenant based on grace and promise in Christ. St. Paul is opposing those who wish to turn the Christian message into some sort of legalistic code. He calls on believers to realize that they serve under a new and higher covenant with God. While law has a purpose in exposing and controlling sin, a more spiritual relationship with God has been offered in Jesus Christ. Christians have been set free from legalism to serve God as true spiritual sons and daughters.

Christians continue to need this reminder about our relationship with God. On one hand, we live in an age characterized by moral and spiritual lawlessness. In such a social context, people do need to be reminded of the Law and Commandments. Sin should be pointed out; efforts do need to be made to limit its damages to society and to individuals. The Law has a purpose. It is useful.

On the other hand, in terms of our covenant relationship to God, the Law is not supreme. And if we do not advance beyond law in our moral and religious lives, we are not free or spiritual. Only grace and promise received through faith in Jesus Christ can make us heirs of the higher and heavenly covenant. Law is only a general guide while the work of the Spirit frees us for true service as children of God.

This general truth has a special application to the season of Lent. During Lent, Christians focus on preparations and spiritual discipline. Historically, the Church has encouraged certain practices to promote self-denial and deeper devotion. On an individual level, many of us have chosen some rules of Lenten observance. We may have decided to give up certain things, to read more Scripture or to study a book, to engage in more personal or corporate devotions, to perform some new service for other people, etc. Such discipline and rules have a purpose, but there is also the danger of falling into legalism. We must remind ourselves that even good and useful practices do not make us holy. We can not earn our way into being God's children. The greater purpose of Lent and all our observances is to allow us to be more open to the promises of the Gospel and the workings of the Holy Spirit. May we always live as "children of promise", "children of the free" (Gal. 3:28, 31)!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Third Sunday in Lent

Both the traditional Gospel and the Epistle for this Sunday are rich passages that lend themselves to a variety of approaches. This year, I have chosen to focus on the Epistle from Ephesians 5:1-14. The Apostle starts this section with a positive exhortation to live in a godly manner and to love in a sacrificial way as Christ did in offering Himself for us. Such a positive exhortation also implies how Christians are not to live. In their environment, the Ephesians were surrounded by a drastically pagan culture. This culture had three main vices: sexual licence, covetousness or greed and idolatry. These vices were intertwined and posed a constant challenge for the Gentile believers at Ephesus. The Apostle reminds these believers to beware. Even something as simple as crude language can lead one away from the holiness that God desires. And those who pursue unrighteousness and darkness are exposing themselves to divine wrath. Therefore, believers must be dedicated in their commitment to walk in the light of Christ and produce the fruit of light.

Even sincere believers can easily be misled in thought, word and deed. And whenever we turn aside to the works of darkness, we expose ourselves to divine wrath. Yes, God is a loving, kind and gracious Father, but He is also pure and holy. He expects us to repent, walk in the light of Christ and bring forth the good fruits of light.
We need a daily awareness of these truths, but Lent is a special time to remind ourselves. There is much good in the world, but it is a fallen world. And our contemporary world is  filled with  much darkness that tempts each of us in different ways. So we need this special time of re-dedication to our Christian calling to embody Christ's light in our daily lives.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Second Sunday in Lent

Looking at the readings for the Second Sunday in Lent, I was led to revisit the traditional Book of Common Prayer Gospel from St. Matthew 15:21-28. This Gospel is unusual because it is one of the few cases where our Lord encounters a Gentile, in this case a Canaanite or Phoenician woman. Christ and His disciples have crossed into pagan territory north of Galilee, but this woman is not just any Gentile. She is a descendant of the detested ancient Canaanites, and the enmity between her people and the Jews is many centuries old. Yet, in her desperate concern for her daughter, the woman is determined to seek help even from a Jewish teacher.

There are several themes here. There is the great and mysterious power of our Lord; there is His universal appeal; there is also the insensitivity of His followers. But what strikes me most in this case is the attitude of the Phoenician woman. Despite all the external difficulties involved, she knows that she needs Jesus, and she comes as a humble supplicant. She puts aside her own cultural pride, she ignores the insensitivity of the disciples and she is not put off when the Lord tests her faith.

The woman's attitude is so contrary to our contemporary cultural tendencies. Politicians, psychologists, social workers and educational theorists remind us of our rights and entitlements. Yet, look at this story. In modern terms, a poor woman confronts a male power structure in the disciples. According to our secular culture, she should be protesting; she should be asserting that she is just as good as any Jew. If she lived in a modern secular society, she would be taught to say that if there is divine power, she and all pagans deserve equal access to divine healing.
However, although the woman is persistent, she does not have the modern secularist attitude or approach. The woman lays aside her pride. She does not defend herself or her people. She does not assert her rights or complain about Christ's less than perfect disciples. She simply comes in humility and in faith. She comes hoping and trusting that even if she is as unclean as a dog, she may receive a gracious response from Jesus. And such humility and determined faith are accepted by Christ.

For the second week of Lent, the Canaanite woman's attitude is an example for us as Christians seeking to draw closer to Christ. We too need to be persistent and determined in our Lenten devotions and prayers. But this kind of persistence is different from the self-assertiveness that is praised by our contemporary culture. Like the woman, we need to lay aside any personal or cultural pride. We should seek Christ's presence and His blessing in humility and faith. We must always (and especially during this season) come hoping and trusting that even though we are impure and sinful people, we can receive the grace of Jesus the Christ. Such humble faith opens us up to receive His blessing.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Ember Days in Lent

Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of this week are the Lenten Ember Days. Although I had not written a post, I have been remembering my fellow clergy and all who are considering this vocation. The clergy always need prayers for the continuing grace to uphold the standards of their high calling. To me, this seems especially true during Lent because whenever Christians strive to be more dedicated, the Tempter is at hand to distract and disrupt.

For historical background, see previous posts-

Saturday, February 25, 2012

First Sunday in Lent

This week, I was in a room with some young people who were discussing what they were giving up for Lent. One young wit sarcastically interjected, "I am giving up non-biblical observances; so I'm giving up Lent for Lent." A sincere young lady replied that the wit was wrong, that Lent was based on Scripture because somebody in the Bible fasted for forty days.
After a short debate, both turned to me for arbitration. I replied that both had a point. On one hand, having 40 days (not counting Sundays) of Lent is certainly not commanded in Scripture. And sincere Christians of certain persuasions have chosen not to observe Lent. On the other hand, most western Christian traditions (including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and some Methodists and Presbyterians) have chosen to observe Lent, and these Christians have seen good biblical reasons for having this season. There are various references in the Bible to forty, including the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness, the forty days Elijah fasted as he journeyed to Sinai (I Kings 19:8) and especially the forty days Jesus fasted in the wilderness (St. Matthew 4:1-11). I also pointed out that there is a human tendency to forget about the biblical discipline of prayer and fasting if there is not a time of emphasis such as Lent. The conversation ended amicably as we all went back to our official tasks.

This discussion reminded me of the importance of educating Christians about what our churches do. Many active churchman take observances such as Lent for granted and assume that all our people know what they are doing and why. We can not assume that in our society. There is need for repetition to instill basic beliefs, moral principles and devotional practices. The young lady in the discussion above was dedicated and sincere about observing Lent as a biblically based practice, but she was so weak on the details that she had some difficulty facing questions.

So for the First Sunday in Lent, I would emphasize that I find a strong biblical basis for this season of fasting, abstinence, repentance, prayer and special devotion. Lent is rooted in what Jesus did at the beginning of His public ministry. As the Gospel for the day from St. Matthew 4 shows, Jesus set aside a special time for prayer and fasting to consider His Father's will. This period included temptation, but by rejecting the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, the nature of Christ's vocation became clearer and stronger. In our limited human ways, we can all use the days of Lent to follow Christ's example, to be more open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to draw closer to our heavenly Father and His will for our lives.

This Lenten dynamic is beautifully presented in the collect for this Sunday:
O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

(For other approaches to the First Sunday in Lent, see the posts for the last two years.)