Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Saturday, February 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.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Quinquagesima or the Sunday next before Lent

The collect and lessons for this Sunday before the beginning of Lent were chosen to direct our attention toward Lenten self-examination, repentance and acts of mercy. Christians always need to do such things. We need to put forth greater spiritual and moral effort. We need renewal and greater devotion. We need to shake ourselves out of religious sloth and lassitude.

However, we must be careful in our approach. There is a human tendency toward self-centeredness even when we are trying to accomplish high goals. We focus on OURSELVES; we emphasize what WE think, feel and do. It is true that we are moral agents whose choices and efforts are necessary, but we must not be human-centered. Rather, we always need to be God-centered.

The collect for the day makes this point. It says, O Lord, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee. Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

As I Corinthians 13 teaches us, Christ-like love or charity is the indispensable element; it is the highest spiritual gift which gives all virtues meaning and power. At the same time, we must remember that this love itself is a spiritual gift. It is not a creation of our human wills, even at our best. True love is a gift from God that must be poured into our fallen, corrupt hearts through the working of God the Holy Spirit. In other words, whatever good we may think and do is not to become a cause for self-congratulation. On the contrary, any true goodness comes from God working in our lives. He must always remain our beginning and our end, and whatever we do should be directed to His praise and glory.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Freedom of Religion And Right to Life

Although I generally avoid being "political," there are times when politics impinges upon faith. The recent Obama administration announcements regarding health coverage are a case in point. One of the best statements that I have seen is from Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod President Harrison. The text can be found at the following link:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sexagesima or the Second Sunday before Lent

The Gospel for this Sunday from St. Luke 8:4-15 is the Parable of the Sower. Although this is a very familiar parable that is recorded and explained in three Gospels, its power always strikes me anew when I listen to it carefully. And its message seems to be so appropriate in our contemporary context.
As we look around the world, there are so many forces at work that are contrary to Christianity. Radicals from other religious traditions attack Christians on a regular basis. Secular governments, even in places such as the U.K. and the U.S., sometimes show little tolerance for traditional Christian practice. And although there are still many dedicated Christians in Western societies, there are many people who react negatively to traditional Christian values. In our times, these negative reactions go beyond ordinary opposition which has always been present; nowadays there is often a deeper and more militant hostility to Christianity.

In such a "post-Christian" age, one can easily be discouraged. However, the Parable of the Sower provides a strong and realistic encouragement. Our hope is not and never should be in ourselves or our abilities. Our hope is not and should not be in some supposed goodness of human beings. On the contrary, today's Parable shows us that true hope is focused elsewhere. True hope is dependent upon the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This message from God is alive and creative. It is like good seed which always try to grow. Of course, it will not grow well in every surrounding or context. Often the soil will not be suitable. Sometimes, evil will attack it. Nevertheless, the Gospel message will find places where it can grow and produce abundantly. That was true in the first century, and it still is. As Christian believers, we must not be overwhelmed by worldly problems. We are called to remain faithful and to keep sowing the good seed. God will give the increase where and when He chooses.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Blog Title

Some readers might have noted a recent modification in the blog title. I have gone back to the original title "A BCP Anglican" which is also in the URL. I retain my appreciation for traditional Books of Common Prayer such as 1662, 1928 U.S. and 1962 Canada. However, there were several considerations in the title change: 1) simplicity of title, 2) occasional confusion by some readers of my blog with the Traditional Anglican Communion which is not my jurisdiction and does not always reflect my theology, and 3) my view that Anglicanism has more to do with biblical theology than with the exclusive use of "thous and thees."

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Septuagesima and Pre-Lent

Today is Septuagesima, the first of the Pre-Lent Sundays in traditional Books of Common Prayer. For background, see the post from two years ago-

For a brief comment on the Epistle and Gospel, see last year's post-

Although the Scriptures always have something valuable to say, and although the historical-linguistic background of the "Gesima" Sundays is interesting, I must honestly say that Pre-Lent is one of my least favorite parts of the traditional church year. The great feasts have a clear purpose, and so do Advent and Lent. Even the Trinity season, although very long and sometimes quite ordinary, has a clear character. But Pre-Lent seems a kind of liturgical limbo- almost penitential but not quite (and so I can understand why revised calendars removed this season). Nevertheless, one can benefit from Pre-Lent: it can remind us to plan for a serious and devotionally worthwhile Lent.