We’re in a quiet couple weeks right now, but let’s take a look at the “red-letter days” that are coming up toward toward the end of the month. Because none of these are on Sundays, and therefore are not likely to directly impact the life of most congregations (as the sad reality is that our culture rarely considers going to church on weekdays), it is all the more helpful and important to take note of these dates beforehand as they approach, so we can be prepared to give due consideration to these commemorations when they arrive.
July 22nd is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. The Gospel at the Communion service is a little Easter flash-back, and the special Gospel lesson at Morning Prayer is the story of the the women who washed Jesus’ feet, whom for much of church history was identified as Mary Magdalene. She sinned much, was forgiven much, and therefore loved much, devoutly anointing the feet of her dear Lord and scrubbing them with her own hair. Modern exegesis doesn’t seem to share this assumption that she’s the same person, but it’s certainly in keeping with her physically-expressive character in John 20.
July 25th is not Christmas in July, but actually St. James’ Day. As you’ll read in the beginning of Acts 12, which takes the part of the Epistle at the Communion that day, James was the first of the apostles die, martyred for the faith.
There are also some optional commemorations at the end of the month whose days this Customary would especially point out as worthy of celebration.
- The Parents of the Virgin Mary, traditionally given the names Joachim (or Heli for short) and Anne, are commemorated on July 26th. Depending on the flavor of the spirituality of different cultures, they are sometimes known instead as the grandparents of Jesus. In either case, they are people we know nothing about from the Bible, yet must have had a tremendous impact on our Lord’s early life.
- Lazarus, Mary, and Martha of Bethany are commemorated on July 29th. They are prominent characters in the Gospel books, particularly that of St. John, and are known as beloved friends of Jesus. Some people in history have even identified Mary of this family with Mary Magdalene, though again this is an assumption widely disregarded today. The similarity of their affections for our Lord, however, is noteworthy.
- St. Joseph of Arimathea is commemorated on August 1st. He is the rich Jewish elder who donated his tomb for Jesus’ body on the day of the crucifixion, rather than let him be tossed into a mass grave for common criminals. This showed great (even risky) devotion on his part, substantial reverence for our Lord, and made the proof of the resurrection all the more clear, as a common mass grave would have been harder to guard, and the accusation of the disciples stealing the body harder to refute.
August 6th, finally, is the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. The modern calendar does kind of double it at the end of the Epiphany season, but if you take the time to compare the Collects and lessons for that day and this, you’ll notice a marked difference in emphasis. The former sets out the transfiguration as a precursor to the passion and death of Christ; this feast day simply revels in the divine glory of Jesus. Eastern Orthodox custom calls for a 40-day fast beginning at Transfiguration Day, which we don’t have in our tradition, obviously, but can give us pause for thought concerning our spiritual devotions at that time of year.