Filling in the Blanks: 2 Esdras

It’s time for another fill-in-the-blank entry.  Our Supplementary Midday Prayer Lectionary is beginning the book of 2 Esdras tomorrow, and this is one of those books that are not typically well known.  So let’s take a look at this, one of the most obscure of the Ecclesiastical Books.

The book of 2 Esdras is vastly different from 1 Esdras.  Whereas the latter is largely a historical document with potential legendary material, this book details some very lengthy visions attributed to Ezra, later in his life.  Much of it is apocalyptic, even referencing some of the prophecies of Daniel and noting their advancement in the past few decades.  Many scholars today assert that parts of this book are so new that they were actually written by Christians.  Whatever the case, the weaving together of Old Testament apocalyptic prophetic writing with some very Christ-centered imagery makes it a unique offering among the Ecclesiastical Books.  Both this book and 1 Esdras, however, suffer from a number of hiccups in their historical accuracy and chronology, betraying the immense likelihood that neither were written by same Ezra, but more likely just in his name.

In particular, the visions of 2 Esdras delve into the “four empires” imagery that pops up throughout the book of Daniel, even consciously referencing Daniel at one point.  The angel guiding “Ezra” in this book indicates that the fourth empire is already upon them, and the Savior therefore is coming very soon.  Normal Christian interpretation of the four-empire scheme typically posits the Greeks as the third and the Romans as the fourth.  This indicates that either Ezra’s angel got it drastically wrong (because he was around before even the Greeks invaded) or this vision involves someone different from the Ezra known in the Hebrew scriptures.  The latter is the only reasonable solution.

Despite these problems of historical accuracy and setting, the spiritual content of these visions are interesting and useful.  Perhaps not so useful for theology and doctrine as such, but then again, that exactly what the Ecclesiastical Books are not received for in our church anyway!  Instead, the insights here into an anticipation-of-Christ mentality provide us with a beautiful picture of longing and hope for the providence and victory of God.  And, on top of that, it contributes to the rich world of apocalyptic imagery that went into the writing and style of the book of Revelation, so this book is helpful background in the course of getting accustomed to this most elusive of writing styles.

You may also find my video introduction to the Ecclesiastical Books useful, if only briefly dealing with this particular book.

Why Baruch now?

For those of you who follow the Midday Lectionary promulgated by this page, you may be puzzled to find that the continuous reading through 1 Esdras is interrupted today and for the next couple days to make space for the first three chapters of Baruch.  This is in anticipation of the regular Daily Office Lectionary’s inclusion of Baruch 4 & 5 in Evening Prayer on February 23rd and 24th.

Okay, that makes sense I guess.  But why are we reading from Baruch between Jeremiah and Lamentations at Evening Prayer?

The bigger question is why are we not reading all of Baruch at that point!  In the Greek Old Testament, Baruch is connected to Jeremiah and Lamentations because of the authorship attribution.  The books of Jeremiah and Lamentations are ascribed to Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch, and thus the book of Baruch simply belongs with them.  What the 2019 book’s lectionary does (strangely, given historical precedent) is only appoint chapters 4 & 5 of Baruch, and omit the first three.

Chapters 1 & 2 in particular are poignant “answers” to the instructions left by Jeremiah in Jer. 29.  Perhaps that renders them redundant in the eyes of the suspicious-of-the-books-called-apocrypha editors?  Instead, Evening Prayer appoints chapters 4 & 5, which contain the tail end of a wisdom discourse and an extensive section of hope.  This is, again, in accord with the writings of Jeremiah, but both historically and thematically it is reasonable to follow up the dour ending of Jeremiah’s book the hopeful ending of Baruch’s little book.

Still, it’s best to read the whole thing if you can, which is why I created this Midday Prayer lectionary in the first place!

The Daily Office is a pastoral work!

In the 1662 Prayer Book, it is stipulated that “all the priests and deacons shall be bound to say daily” the Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.  Sadly, this instruction was not preserved in the American Prayer Book tradition, and so we have the situation today where we have many clergymen who pray the Offices only sparsely at best.  A challenge and correction to this mentality can be found in the writings of John Cosin, one of the “Caroline Divines”, who survived the Puritan Interregnum and was then Bishop of Durham from 1660 until his death in 1672.  Commenting on this rubric he wrote:

So that we are also bound, as all priests are in the Church of Rome, daily to repeat and say the public prayers of the Church.  And it is a precept the most useful and necessary, of any other that belong to the ministers of God, and such as have cure of other men’s souls, would men regard it, and practise it a little more than they do among us.

We are all for preaching now; and for attending the service and prayers appointed by the Church for God’s worship, and the good of all men, we think that too mean an office for us; and therefore, as if it were not worth our labour, we commonly hire others under us to do it, more to satisfy the law, than to be answerable to our duties.  Here it is a command that binds us every day to say the morning and evening prayer; how many are the men that are noted to do it?  It is well they have a back door for an excuse to come out at here: for, good men ! they are so belaboured with studying of divinity, and preaching the word, that they have no leisure to read these same common prayers; as if this were not the chief part of their office and charge committed unto them.

Certainly, the people whose souls they have care of, reap as great benefit, and more too, by these prayers, which their pastors are daily to make unto God for them, either privately or publicly, as they can do by their preaching: for God is more respective to the prayers which they make for the people, than ever the people are to the sermons which which they make to them.

… Therefore Samuel [the Prophet] professes it openly, to the shame of all others, that he should sin no less in neglecting to pray for the people, than he should in leaving off to teach them the right way of God’s commandments; both which are needful, but to them that are already converted, prayer is more necessary than preaching.  However we are to remember, that we which are priests are called “angeli Domini“* and it is the angel’s office, not only to descend to the people and teach them God’s will, but to ascend also to the presence of God to make intercession for the people, and to carry up the daily prayers of the Church in their behalf, as here they are bound to do.

* see Malachi 2:7, Revelation 2:1, 2:8, 2:12, etc.

This is from John Cosin’s “Notes and Collections” in an interleaved Book of Common Prayer.  The bold is mine for emphasis.

For some this may be a revolutionary way of looking at the Daily Office.  For others this may just be an excellent reminder and encouragement of the gravity of the duty of a priest or deacon.

So if you’re a priest or a deacon, especially if you’re a rector or vicar, or especially especially if you’re a bishop, see that you battle to overcome the apathy of our age and the quiet scorn that we cast at the Church and her Prayer Book every time we choose our own prayers in place of that which has been set forth by authority.  The people need our prayers!  And the prayers that we have are, indeed a divine office.

Planning Prayers & Readings Review 2/3

On Monday, most weeks these days, we’re looking at the liturgical schedule to highlight the propers, prayers and scripture readings, that we’re holding in common according to the 2019 Prayer Book.

The Propers

Yesterday was the feast of the Presentation, so it’d be a good idea (assuming you celebrated that holy day) to make a point of observing Epiphany 4 on a weekday Communion service if you have one this week.

Among the three optional commemorations this week, I would particularly highlight Cornelius the Centurion as worthy of observance (on Tuesday the 4th), as he is a New Testament character.  Although the generic “For a Saint” propers should be used, it may be a good idea to substitute out the Epistle lesson for Acts 10, in which Cornelius actually appears.

Even if you celebrated the Presentation on Sunday, the Collect for Epiphany IV is the Collect of the Day throughout this week in Morning & Evening Prayer.

Readings Review

Last week: Genesis 25-31, John 13-16, Jeremiah 25-31, 1 Corinthians 10-15:34
This week: Genesis 32-38, John 17-20, Jeremiah 32-38, 1 Cor. 15-16, 2 Cor.1-6

Let me remind you of this lovely resource to highlight the readings coming up: https://ctrnorthshore.org/the-daily-office-vlog-week-of-2-2/

As this week unfolds we reach the ‘historical narrative’ chapters of the book of Jeremiah.  You may recall in the case of Isaiah that his book also has some stories about half-way through, separating some earlier from later writings that tend to take on different tones and emphases.  Unfortunately that is not really the case with Jeremiah, or at least, it’s not quite so clear-cut.  As we will read in chapter 36, Jeremiah’s earliest prophetic writings were destroyed by King Jehoiakim, necessitating a rewrite by Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch.  That incident is probably the beginning of the confused and confusing manuscript history of the book of Jeremiah – you can read more about the book here and here.  It’s also important to note that the Greek and Hebrew versions of Jeremiah are unusually different: entire chapters are relocated, and sometimes added or subtracted, when you compare the two manuscript traditions.

Meanwhile in Genesis we are wrapping up the Jacob stories and heading into the last major “Genesis Story” of the book: Joseph and the rest of the twelve tribes of Israel.  But before we get there, we find three little “interruptions”:

  1. the story of Dinah (ch. 34)
  2. the Genesis of Esau/Edom (ch. 36)
  3. the story of Tamar (ch. 38)

Dinah is the only named daughter of Jacob, and she is unpleasantly married off to the local gentiles, much to her brothers’ chagrin.  The enmity that springs up between Jacob’s clan and the local tribes is but the beginning of strife that continues to this day, really.

Esau is named here the ancestor of Edom, one of the neighboring kingdoms that would be a thorn in Israel’s side for centuries to come.  They’re even identified (and cursed) for their cheering on the Babylonians when Jerusalem was finally sacked in 586 BC.  But their ancient ancestry is named and honored here because they are a ‘brother nation’ to Israel, and thus they foreshadow the redemption of the Gentiles that the prophets would eventually proclaim, and the Church would finally realize in her own growth and ministry.

Tamar, finally, is the wife of Judah’s firstborn, Er; but Er is struck down by the Lord for his wickedness, so the expectation was that Tamar should be married to Judah’s next son.  This foreshadows the levirate marriage laws that would be enshrined in the Law of Moses, and would go on to be a central point to the story of Ruth.  Judah, however, fails to get Tamar a new husband, so she disguises herself and has a child by Judah herself.  Judah accepts his guilt when he is later called out for this act, and Tamar is vindicated.

These are “interruptions” to the larger stories of Isaac & Jacob and Joseph, but they’re also important entries in their own right.  Not only do two of these stories bring important women to the spotlight (which is relatively unusual in ancient writing) but they also give us deeper insight into the moral shortcomings and failings of God’s people.  This may be the chosen family, the line of promise, but they are still as fallible as any other.  Their elect status is not due to their own works or earnings or deservings, but entirely to God’s grace.  Let that be an important reminder to us, too, who rejoice in our calling unto salvation – God called pulled us out of the mire, not rewarded us for our prior righteousness!

Filling in the blank: 1 Esdras

One of the interesting features of Anglican liturgical tradition is that one of our foundational documents (the 39 Articles of Religion) lists the canonical books of the Bible along with “the other books which the church doth read…” yet some of those other books are not actually covered in our lectionaries.  One such book is 1 Esdras.

You can learn more about this modest little book in some previous posts here, and even a video: The Least-read book of the Bible?

I bring it up now because in this Customary’s Supplemental Midday Prayer Lectionary we are starting in on 1 Esdras today.  If you’ve never read this book before and want to catch up on what you’ve been missing, now’s your chance to read a long, bit by bit, during Midday Prayer.  It’s only 9 chapters long, but several of them are quite lengthy so it’s spread out through 3 weeks so you don’t have to get drowned in too many long readings.

Though, if you’re already familiar with 2 Chronicles and Ezra, then you’ll already be familiar with the majority of this book!

Planning Prayers & Readings Review 1/27

On Monday, most weeks these days, we’re looking at the liturgical schedule to highlight the propers, prayers and scripture readings, that we’re holding in common according to the 2019 Prayer Book.

Communion Propers

Yesterday was the 3rd Sunday of Epiphany, so the first traditional prayer book option for a weekday Eucharist is to repeat yesterday’s Collect and Lessons.  Another good option would be to use the traditional Collect and Lessons for Epiphany 3, which deal with the healing of a leper and an epileptic.  Because of the missional tone that the modern lectionary brings to the fore in this season, good second choice for a weekday Eucharist is For the Mission of the Church, noted on page 733, using the propers for World Mission Sunday.

On Thursday the 30th, one of our commemorations is for King Charles I, who was martyred in 1649.  The 1662 Prayer Book actually had a special set of liturgical material for his commemoration initially – I’m not sure when it was removed.  In line with that particular honor, it is the recommendation of the Saint Aelfric Customary to treat his commemoration as a de facto holy day.  Read a Collect for his day as the Collect of the Day at the Offices, and if there’s a eucharist service that, observe his commemoration!

Apart from that, some other commemorations to consider are Sts. Lydia, Dorcas, and Phoebe on Monday the 27th, St. Thomas Aquinas on Tuesday, and St. Brigid of Kildare on Saturday.

And make sure ready ready for the feast of The Presentation on Sunday!

Readings Review

Last week: Genesis 19-24, John 9-13, Jeremiah 18-24, 1 Corinthians 3-9
This week: Genesis 25-31, John 13-16, Jeremiah 25-31, 1 Corinthians 10-15:34

The chapters we’re reading from John’s Gospel this week are the “Upper Room Discourse” – the final teachings of our Lord before his crucifixion.  Much of it is about the then-future gift of the Holy Spirit, earning these chapters a prominent role as the Gospel readings at the Sunday Communion services in the later weeks of Eastertide as Pentecost approaches.  But also keep in mind the signs/glory demarcation of this book.  Last week finished up the first “half” of the book focusing on the signs that point to the glory of Christ, and now we’re in the half of the book that focuses on the glory of Christ being revealed.  These teachings from the upper room are among the most theologically significant statements we have from our Lord – much of what we know and say about the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the relationship between the Father and the Son, the person of the Holy Spirit, come from chapters 14-17.  So while reading these chapters leading up to Pentecost and Trinity Sunday give us one level of emphasis and help uncover one stratum of meaning, there is plenty more to pick up here outside of that context, such as now.

Singing of St. Paul’s Conversion

January 25th is one of the holy days in the Church year, and a momentous event in the early years of Christianity: the conversion of St. Paul.

Last year I wrote a note about the Collect of the Day which you’re welcome to peruse.

Today I thought I’d highlight a hymn verse appropriate for today, from Horatio Nelson’s 1864 fill-in-the-blank hymn, From all thy saints in warfare.

Praise for the light from heaven,
Praise for the voice of awe,
Praise for the glorious vision
the persecutor saw.
Thee, Lord, for his conversion,
we glorify today;
So lighten all our darkness
With thy true Spirit’s ray.

What we have here is such wonderful Epiphany language – the star the Magi followed, the light to lighten the Gentiles, the light from heaven that blinded St. Paul before his conversion and until his baptism.  The light of the Gospel lightens our darkness, it made St. Paul (and us) truly see.

Think on that today; what has the Light of the World done unto you?

A Collect for Guidance

Among the prayers in the Daily Office, the tradition is that we pray three Collects after the Lord’s Prayer and Suffrages.  The Collect of the Day is first.  After that, traditionally, follow two specific collects, but in the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books those two set collects have been surrounded by a larger list of daily collects.  Although the list of collects is the same in both books, our new Prayer Book (2019) identifies the traditional two, so that those who prefer to stick to the simpler original tradition can do so easily.  And for those who do want to utilize the longer list, an italicized day of the week is added to each Collect’s name.

For Thursday the recommendation is the Collect for Guidance.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This is a fine prayer on its own, and is particularly appropriate for the morning as it implies a day ahead in which we need to remember God amidst all the busy distractions.  On the meta level, this is kinda neat because part of the whole point of the Daily Office (and other hours-based offices like Midday and Compline) is to help us remember God throughout the day.

Some may be skeptical, however, about the Address at the beginning of this collect, in which we identify God as the one in whom we “live and move and have our being.”  That sounds a bit nebulous and wishy-washy, right?  If you’re down with your Greek philosophy you might even suspect this of being more of a Pagan notion of God – the generic divinity from which all spirit-life is derived.  In a round-about way, you would be right.  This is a quote from Epimenides of Crete, a Greek philosopher from several centuries B.C.

But it’s also a quote from Acts 17:28 – St. Paul quotes two ancient Greek poets in his address in Athens, using their statements about the divine to teach truths about the true God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.  If you’re sensitive to language style and use, you may recognize the Greek-ish-ness of this phrase, distinct from the Hebraisms that we’re used to in biblical turns of phrase.

Perhaps you never thought twice about this prayer; that’s fine too.  I honestly only know the Ancient Greek reference because the RSV Bible I read from for a few years in a row has a footnote that identifies the two poets whom St. Paul quotes.

Anyway, apart from the “cool fun fact” side, this is also a well-matched Address for the Petition that follows.  God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being – this is a continual reality, an affirmation of constant divine presence, or access.  And on that basis we pray for continual awareness of that reality: may the ever-present Spirit guide and govern us in such a way that we don’t succumb to the world’s distractions and end up living as practical atheists.  Traditional or not, this is a great prayer, and one that is only growing in relevance as this interconnected world invades more and more of our personal space and time.

Preparing for Candlemas

Coming up in a couple weeks is one of those lovely opportunities to celebrate one of the Holy Days, or “red letter days” with the whole church on a Sunday: the feast of the Presentation of our Lord, or, the Purification of Mary.  It’s on February 2nd, which is about two Sundays away now.

First of all, if you need to freshen up your memory on the meaning and significance of this holiday, click here for my introduction from a previous year.  There you’ll get a run-down of several scripture readings, a collect, and a canticle that are associated with this celebration.

For many 1979-prayer-book-users, it is a hard adjustment realizing that we are “allowed” to celebrate holy days like this on Sundays.  It cannot be emphasized enough that before 1979 it was universal practice to observe holy days that land on Sundays outside of Lent/Easter/Pentecost, and Advent.  Be glad to reclaim another piece of our heritage!  Plus, holy days like these also help “break up” the predictability of the Sundays of the year somewhat, providing moments of something different.

Although in the case of this feast day, it’s not really that much of an interruption, because the Presentation of Christ in the Temple has strong connections to Christmas and Epiphany.  February 2nd is “the 40th day of Christmas“, matching the timing of the historical presentation in the Temple; and one of the key lines in the Gospel story of this holiday identifies Jesus as “a light to lighten the gentiles”, playing perfectly into one of the themes of Epiphanytide.  So it would really be a crying shame not to observe this day a couple Sundays from now.

One of the “extra things” that make this holiday stand out is the tradition of blessing candles for the church and the congregation.  There is a brief rite for this in A Manual for Priests in the American Church which I have adapted to our contemporary-language prayer book style, below.  Note that this is from a book that assumes a high churchmanship which many of you who read this may not be prepared (or even desirous) to implement.  But the ceremonial can always be simplified for your context, should you choose to do something like this at the beginning of the liturgy.

The Blessing and Distribution of Candles on February 2

 This ancient blessing, symbolic of Christ the True Light of the world, should take place immediately before the principle Mass on the Feast of the Purification of Mary (Presentation of Christ).  In many places it is customary to bless the year’s supply of candles together with the candles which are to be given to the people at this service.

The candles to be blessed and distributed are usually placed at the Epistle side of the Sanctuary, near the Altar.  The Altar should be vested in white.  The Priest who is to celebrate, vested in amice, alb, girdle, white stole and cope (if no cope is available the chasuble may be worn), having arrived at the Altar, goes to the Epistle side.  Without turning to the people, he begins the office of blessing, singing or saying:

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, who as on this day did present your only-begotten Son in your holy temple to be received in the arms of blessed Simeon: We humbly entreat your mercy, that you would condescend to +bless, +hallow, and kindle with the light of your heavenly benediction these candles which we your servants desire to receive and to carry, lighted in honor of your holy Name.  By offering them to you, our Lord and God, may we be inflamed with the fire of your love, and made worthy to be presented in the holy temple of your glory; through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, world without end.  Amen.

Then the Priest [after putting incense into the thurible and blessing it] will thrice sprinkle the candles with holy water, saying once only,

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

[Then he censes them thrice.]

If another Priest is present, he gives a candle to the celebrant, who does not kneel.

Other clergy and acolytes receive their candles kneeling at the footpace; the people kneel at the Altar Rail.

During the distribution it is customary to sing the Nunc Dimittis, in the following manner:

Antiphon: A light to lighten the Gentiles: and the glory of your people Israel.

Lord, now let your servant depart in peace * according to your word.

Antiphon.

For my eyes have seen * your salvation,

Antiphon.

Which you have prepared * before the face of all people;

Antiphon.

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles * and to be the glory of your people Israel.

Antiphon.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son * and to the Holy Spirit;

Antiphon.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be * world without end.

Antiphon.

When all have received their candles, and returned to their places, the candles which the people are carrying should be lighted.  The light may be given by acolytes or ushers.

 As soon as the anthem is finished, the Priest shall sing or say:  Let us pray.

We beseech you, O Lord, mercifully to hear the prayers of your people; and grant that by this service which year by year we offer to you, we may, in the light of your grace, attain to the hidden things of your glory; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Then the Procession is formed.  [And first the Priest puts incense in the censer and blesses it.]  Turning to the people, he sings,

Let us go forth in peace.
In the Name of Christ. Amen.

During the Procession, all carry lighted candles, and appropriate hymns and anthems should be sung.  The Procession ended, the Priest lays aside his cope, and puts on the chasuble for the Mass of the feast.  It is an ancient custom for all to hold lighted candles during the reading of the Gospel, and from the Consecration to the Communion.

Planning Prayers & Readings Review 1/20

On Monday, most weeks these days, we’re looking at the liturgical schedule to highlight the propers, prayers and scripture readings, that we’re holding in common according to the 2019 Prayer Book.

Communion Propers

Yesterday was the 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, so the first traditional prayer book option for a weekday Eucharist is to repeat yesterday’s Collect and Lessons.  Another good option would be to use the traditional Collect and Lessons for Epiphany 2, which deal with the wedding at Cana.  Because of the missional tone that the modern lectionary brings to the fore in this season, good second choice for a weekday Eucharist is For the Mission of the Church, noted on page 733, using the propers for World Mission Sunday.

And, of course, Saturday is a major feast day, so be sure to observe the Conversion of St. Paul – the Collect for that Day beginning at Evening Prayer on Friday, and carrying through Saturday evening.

Apart from that, some commemorations to consider are St. Fabian today (Monday the 20th), St. Agnes tomorrow, and St. Vincent of Saragossa on Wednesday the 22nd.

Readings Review

Last week: Genesis 12-18, John 6-8, Jeremiah 11-17, 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians 1-2
This week: Genesis 19-24, John 9-13, Jeremiah 18-24, 1 Corinthians 3-9

Special reading for the Conversion of St. Paul on Saturday morning: Acts 9:1-22.  This is not one of the lessons appointed for the Communion service that day, but it is similar – the reading in the place of the Epistle is Acts 26:9-21, which is one of St. Paul’s re-tellings of his conversion on the road to Damascus, whereas the morning’s reading from Acts 9 is the initial account of that event in this book.

Our readings from John’s Gospel complete the “Book of Signs”, or, the first half of the book.  For the most part this is a forward-looking section of the book, anticipating the “glorification” of Jesus which is to take place on the Cross.  If you search this book for the words glory and glorify and glorification you’ll find a massive concentration of them in chapter 12, where the book makes its turning point – “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified!”  The last supper follows, and does his final discourse before his arrest, trials, suffering, and death.  That is the “Book of Glory” where all the “signs” finally pay off.