Historical Accuracy in the Bible

This evening we reach Matthew 26, including the Last Supper.  This is a very familiar part of the Gospel for many readers, and yet it can also be one of the most frustrating stories to get straight.

When it comes to identifying the betrayer, according to St. Matthew, the disciples ask “is it I?” and Jesus answers to Judas “yes.”  According to St. Mark, the disciples ask “is it I?” and Jesus says it’s someone who’s eating bread from the dish like he is.  St. Luke doesn’t specify Jesus’ answer to the question.  According to St. John, John and Peter ask who the traitor is, Jesus indicates by giving a piece of bread to Judas, who then leaves, but the other disciples don’t know why.  How do you reconcile this? It’s pretty complicated.

There are several places in the Bible where the level of detail and precision leave the modernist’s desire for strict chronology not a little frustrated.  The underlying reality is that, even when a part of the Bible is labeled “historical”, its purpose is not to relate history, but to reveal God, specifically the person of Jesus Christ, to us.  We preach the Gospel, not history lessons; the unfailing authority of the Bible is not based upon what it has to say about science or about history, but about God and mankind.  Some people get overly hung up over this sort of issue, and we have to assure them that even in those little corners where the Scriptures don’t seem to add up historically or archaeologically or whatever, there is no cause for alarm.

If you want to share a whole video on the subject, feel free:

Imagery in Zechariah 14

If Evening Prayer has been tough to get through lately, I understand; Zechariah is not an easy book for a lot of people to read.  It is one of the most apocalyptic texts in the Old Testament (after Daniel), which really just takes the challenges of prophetic literature and dials them up to 11.

It goes beyond the purpose and scope of this blog to provide a Bible Study, not to mention the time availability of this chronically-fatigued stay-at-home-dad, but there are definitely a few features of the last chapter of Zechariah, that we’ll be reading tonight, which I can point out.

Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst.  For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle…

The chapter begins with a “Day of the Lord” reference.  Like “D-Day” when talking about the second world war, the Day of the Lord is a title for the time of a great invasion, a the decisive turning point in the great spiritual war.  We understand this in two parts: first, the Cross, and second, the return of Christ.  There are many moments in history that serve as pictures for these moments of ultimate spiritual importance, such as the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the desecration of the Temple by the Greeks, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans… yet all these serve merely as pictures of the greater judgment that takes place when Christ was crucified and when Christ will return again.

It is an error of certain Protestant sects to mis-read Old Testament prophetic literature, especially the apocalyptic writings, without Christ in mind.  What follows in this chapter, to finish the book, is not a visual prediction of future events, but a prototype or foreshadowing of judgment day when Christ returns to Earth to consumate his kingdom forever.  Don’t try to figure out what’s going to happen to the geography of Palestinian mountains and valleys in verses 4 & 5, but rather, focus on the fact that “the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him” at the end of the age.

There shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light,” (14:6), because Christ himself is the light of the world.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem,” (14:7) just as Jesus promised of the Holy Spirit in John 4:14 and especially 7:37-39.

And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance.” (14:14) Think of texts like Isaiah 60, which also depict the nations bringing their wealth to Jerusalem to honor the Lord.  These are pictures, not of earthly nations paying homage to the earthly nation of Israel, but of gentile believers turning to worship the God of Israel – Jesus.  So don’t get carried away with the images of wars and horrible plagues and panics; those are exactly what sin is.  Only the victory of the returning Christ will bring all the terrors of sin to an end in this world; the epic apocalyptic style just makes spiritual reality more vivid.

Similarly, we aren’t literally going to go to Jerusalem “year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths” (14:16), for that holy day has been and subsumed under the New Pentecost – the gift of the Holy Spirit.  No longer must we celebrate the days of the Exodus when our forefathers dwelt in booths (or tents) and received the Word of God on tablets of stone; rather we now celebrate the greater present reality that we ourselves are dwellings of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  That’s why in Revelation, the end-times city image doesn’t have a temple building at all (Revelation 12:2).

Thanks be to God!

Readings Review & Planning Propers 9/30

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 1 Kings 12-14, 2 Chronicles 12-15, Hebrews 11-13, James 1-2, Zechariah 2-8, Matthew 16-20

Next week: 1 Chronicles 16, 1 Kings 15-19, James 3-5, 1 Peter 1-4:6, Zechariah 9-15, Malachi 1, Matthew 21-24

The “crazy visions” of Zechariah are drawing to a close and we’re getting to the second half of the book, populated by oracles – messages from God to various contemporaries of Zechariah.  The visions of chapters 1-6 in particular were apocalyptic in nature, functioning on one level to encourage the then-leaders of Jerusalem to continue rebuilding the Temple (much like Haggai did in the previous book), and on another level providing pictures of judgment that would only find their proper fulfillment in the ministry of Christ Jesus.  The oracles of Zechariah, primarily in chapters 9-4, speak against the oppressive regimes of foreign powers such as Persia, foretell the coming Christ (or Messiah), and look forward to when God’s people will be perfectly cleansed and united under their Good Shepherd.

Appropriately, our readings from the Gospel of St. Matthew are also reaching an apocalyptic section as the coming week unfolds: our Lord’s parables after his triumphal entry in Jerusalem become increasingly focused on the Kingdom of God and the day of judgment.  At the end of the week we’ll read through chapter 24’s famous discourse about the destruction of the Temple (which was fulfilled about 35 years later).

The Old Testament lessons in Morning Prayer, meanwhile, continue through the much more mundane writing style of Israelite history.  As the kings of Israel and Judah get increasingly apostate from the true worship of the Lord, the narrative spends less time with them and more time with the prophets, especially Elijah, who were faithful to Him.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 21 (or 15th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 9/30 = St. Jerome or Votive *
  • Tuesday 10/1 = St. Remigius or Votive
  • Wednesday 10/2 = Votive
  • Thursday 10/3 = Votive
  • Friday 10/4 = St. Francis of Assisi or Votive
  • Saturday 10/5 = Votive

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019).  The traditional appointments are Holy Trinity on Sunday, Holy Spirit on Monday, Holy Angels on Tuesday, of the Incarnation on Wednesdays, of the Holy Eucharist on Thursdays, the Holy Cross on Fridays, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturdays.

Happy Michaelmas!

On this special occasion of celebrating the feast of St. Michael and All Angels with the whole congregation on a Sunday morning, I thought it would be fun to share our liturgy here.  The Communion rite we’re using is the Anglican Standard Text, as usual.

OPENING HYMN: Christ the fair glory of the holy angels

ACCLAMATION: Worthy is the Lord our God: / To receive glory and honor and power.

COLLECT FOR PURITY, SUMMARY OF THE LAW, KYRIE,

GLORIA IN EXCELSIS sung to the setting #784 in the Book of Common Praise 2017

CHILDREN’S MINISTRY MOMENT

  • Revelation 12:7-12, followed by a 1-minute Children’s sermon
  • explanation: my church has two children, ages 2 and 4, so they spend most of the liturgy playing in a separate room.  I’m a big believer in including young children in the liturgy, but sometimes they need space to move around, and our context is so small that it wouldn’t work so well at the moment.  Soon the older will be able to sit/draw/play/read quietly in the worship space with the adults, and this addition to the liturgy will be removed.
    Normally, this ministry moment includes a few-verse Bible reading followed by a one-minute teaching, but on this occasion the short reading is actually the same as the Epistle Lesson, so it’s just being moved up here wholesale.  Yes it’s a strange way to tinker with the liturgy, and no I’m not crazy about it, but I’ve got to minister to everyone I can with the very limited resources and manpower available.

HYMN: Ye holy angels bright

COLLECT OF THE DAY, OLD TESTAMENT LESSON: Genesis 28:10-17

PSALM: 103, SEQUENCE HYMN: Life and strength of all thy servants

GOSPEL LESSON: John 1:47-51

THE SERMON, THE NICENE CREED, THE PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

THE CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION OF SIN, THE PEACE

OFFERTORY HYMN: Bread of heav’n on thee we feed

THE SURSUM CORDA, leading to the Preface for Trinity Sunday

THE SANCTUS, THE PRAYER OF CONSECRATION, THE LORD’S PRAYER

THE FRACTION, THE PRAYER OF HUMBLE ACCESS, THE AGNUS DEI

THE MINISTRATION OF COMMUNION

POST-COMMUNION CANTICLE: #6 Dignus es (from page 84)

THE POST-COMMUNION PRAYER, THE BLESSING

CLOSING HYMN: Ye watchers and ye holy ones

THE DISMISSAL

Singing Psalm 121

We all know that the Psalms were originally meant to be sung.  There is, wonderfully, a new movement these days, mostly grassroots, to put music to the Psalms and put them into the hands of the congregations.  I’ve jumped on that bandwagon a little, providing an explanation of Simplified Anglican Chant, and I know others others on YouTube and even in the ACNA have made resources to encourage and enable to chant the psalms.

The wonderful thing about chant is that it provides you with some very simple music that you can then apply to any set of lyrics.  You don’t have to “learn a whole song”, just memorize a few notes and get a feel for where in each half-verse to move from note to note, and you’re good to go.  What makes Anglican Chant different from historic Plainchant is that 1, the chant tunes are written in more recent times and are rarely “tied down” to any particular Psalm or Canticle, and 2, ours come with classical four-part harmonies allowing a choir (or at least a keyboardist) to beautify the music.

What I thought would be fun to try today is providing a set of examples of how one short Psalm can be done in different styles of chant.  This will, I think, help clarify how the more “complicated” forms of chant work, by working our way up to them through some simpler forms.

Here’s the text as used:

1 I will lift up my eyes un|to the | hills; *
from | whence | comes my | help?
2 My help comes | from the | Lord, *
who | has made | heaven and | earth.
3 He will not let your | foot be | moved, *
and he who | keeps you | will not | sleep.
4 Behold, he who keeps | Israel *
shall | neither | slumber nor | sleep.
5 The Lord himself | is your | keeper; *
The Lord is your defense | upon | your right | hand,
6 So that the sun shall not burn |you by | day, *
nei|ther the | moon by | night.
7 The Lord shall preserve you| from all | evil; *
indeed, it is he | who shall | keep your | soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your | coming | in, *
from this time | forth for|ever|more.

– Sample 1 –

Omitting the usual Gloria Patri at the end of the Psalm, here it simply read aloud with the musical rhythm of the ending of each verse in mind.  Always make sure you can read the Psalm comfortably before you sing or chant it!

 

– Sample 2 –

Now let’s use Fr. Ben Jeffries’ Simplified Plainchant.

 

– Sample 3 –

Next let’s move up to Simplified Anglican Chant. This and the following images are from the hymnal, Book of Common Praise 2017.

simplifiedchant740

 

– Sample 4 –

Now we’re ready for a fully-fledged Anglican Chant.  First let’s go for a Single Chant, which means each verse gets the same tune.

singlechant653

 

– Sample 5 –

Last of all, here’s a Double Chant, meaning the repeated tune spans two verses.

doublechant660

Praying Amidst an Impeachment Inquiry

I am not one known for being particularly #woke.  Following the news is (for me) a low-priority necessary evil.  There’s a lot of distraction out there, far too much commentary posing as facts, and let’s not even talk about the Comment Sections on news-related websites and social media.  Except this blog; comments here are pretty sparse and polite… thanks for that!  For the politeness I mean, I wouldn’t mind if they were less sparse.  Not that I’m begging.

Anyway, it did not escape my notice that a formal call to investigate the President of the United States of America and his conduct regarding foreign relations and electoral procedures, with an eye toward an impeachment inquiry, has been issued.  I had a few emotional knee-jerk reactions deep down inside, and I’m sure lots of people are going to have much stronger, and more public, reactions to this news also.  So I thought this would be a good thing to address in the realm of liturgy and prayer.

To a large extent, liturgical intercessory prayer is a matter of fill-in-the-blank.  We have a standard collection of prayers that we offer for the state, for society, and for leaders in particular.  On that level, our prayers for the nation do not change just because the word “impeachment” is officially on the table in Washington D.C.  We must not, on the one hand, devolve into that silly “sports fan” scenario of prayer, pray that we crush the Angry Orange Man of Doom.  Nor must we, on the other hand, devolve into that nationalism-over-faith sort of idolatry that we’ve seen from certain health-wealth and pentecostal extremes lately, and pray The Lord’s Anointed will be protected from such a demonic assault.  No, the President is still the President, and the inquiry is a perfectly legal procedure, whatever our personal opinions may be about either.  And so on one level we must continue to pray as we always pray:

We pray that you will lead the nations of the world in the way of righteousness; and so guide and direct their leaders, especially Donald Trump, our President, that your people may enjoy the blessings of freedom and peace.  Grant that our leaders may impartially administer justice, uphold integrity and truth, restrain wickedness and vice, and protect true religion and virtue.

2019 BCP, page 110

What does change is the context of our prayers, rather than the content.  With this new inquiry in mind, we must be sure we heartily pray for:

  1. impartially administer[ed] justice” – that these proceedings will go forward wisely, without assumption of guilt without evidence, and without scorn of evidence without analysis;
  2. uphold[ing] integrity and truth” – that all involved will proceed with due dignity and gravity of the task before them, without bombast or frivolity, and earnestly seeking the truth of the matter;
  3. restrain[ment of] wickedness and vice” – if the President is guilty of crimes that he will be held accountable for them; that the proceedings will not be sullied by ad hominem tactics, and our observation will not be an occasion for sin;
  4. and the “protect[ion of] true religion and virtue” – referencing James 1:27 as well as the general plea for clear heads and pure hearts to prevail.

These are four of the major purposes of earthly governments, as we understand the teaching in the Scriptures, and we ought to keep these in mind as we pray.  Whether you want to see Trump out of the White House for good, or whether you want him to remain there, in prayer we learn to set our political preferences aside and come before the Father with a more pure request: to fulfill his Word, to mete out judgement in his own time and on his own terms, and to deliver each of us from temptation and evil in the midst of all this.

We’ve also got Occasional Prayers #29, 30, 33, 37, 38, and 39 on pages 654-7 to help spell this out further.  Resist the temptation to go on internet rampages; take it to the Lord in prayer.

An Ember Day Hymn

If you’re following this Customary’s plan for Daily Hymnody from The Book of Common Praise 2017, then you’ll find that the hymn appointed for this Ember Day is “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire.”  In the 2017 hymnal this is set to the Sarum Plainsong tune VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS, which is a bummer for me because I’m used to it being sung to COME HOLY GHOST.  And the way the lyrics are matched to the notes in the 2017 hymnal is different from how it’s done in the 1940 hymnal, so that’s just confusing to me as a musician who has paid attention to that in the past.

Tune-related issues, aside, the text of this hymn is very significant.  It is appointed in the Ordinal to be sung or said at the ordination of a priest and bishop!  This is true for the 1662 as well as the 2019 book, so it’s pretty standard Anglican fare.  And it’s a 9th century text, so it’s a piece of our Western/Latin heritage as well! Let’s take a look at these words.

COME, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire.
Thou the anointing Spirit art,
Who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.
Thy blessed unction from above,
Is comfort, life, and fire of love.

Prayers addressed to the Holy Spirit are rare in the liturgical tradition.  Confirmations and Ordinations are among the few times we actually do this.  The seven-fold gift of the Spirit is a long-standing image in Church literature, stemming from the New Testament itself, and includes an Old Testament precedent that is not often in favor with Protestant interpretation.  You can read more about that here if this is unfamiliar to you.

Enable with perpetual light
The dulness of our blinded sight.
Anoint and cheer our soiled face
With the abundance of thy grace.
Keep far our foes, give peace at home;
Where thou art guide, no ill can come.

These are the primary specific petitions of this hymn.  Open our eyes, cheer us, grant us peace… if you think back to one of the titles our Lord gave for the Holy Spirit – The Comforter – these all make perfect sense.  Christ has won the victory, Christ has redeemed us; it falls to the Holy Spirit to apply these truths to our hearts and minds, to point us back to Jesus.  Such sight, cheering, and peace are all thereby ministries of comfort and help.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And thee, of both, to be but One;
That, through the ages all along,
This may be our endless song:
Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Finally our plea is that we would know God the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that in this knowledge we would be able to worship and praise him forever.  Knowledge and worship, doctrine and doxology, teaching and liturgy, these are pairs that should never be separated.

Interesting that this hymn doesn’t actually mention anyone getting ordained, huh?  Yes, its function in the ordination liturgy makes it into a prayer especially for the candidate for ordination, but but textually it need not be so limited.  By all means, sing this and pray for your clergy.  But you can pray this for yourself, for all the Church, just as easily and honestly.  In the context of ordination, it makes sense that we should pray for clarity, for sight, for knowledge – not just for the candidate but for the whole congregation.  Calling a new minister of the Gospel, in any Order, is a “big deal” – one that will impact many lives for many years to come.  The Church needs to be in her right mind when placing the collar of recognizable authority upon another servant.

So on these Ember Days, be sure to pray for your Bishop and his clergymen, as well as for those individuals considering or seeking Holy Orders and the congregations in discernment with them.  The process is useless if the aspirant is surrounded by “Yes Men” whose eagerness to support blinds them from asking any hard questions about his true calling.  So pray this hymn with them and for them.

Long Psalm 89

Evening Prayer today, the 17th day of the month, is occupied in its psalmody solely with Psalm 89.  This psalm is quite lengthy, and one of the big challenges with long psalms is keeping the attention span alive, and the comprehension alive, all the way through.

In short, Psalm 89 is a celebration and lament in a single package.  God has given a covenant to the house of David, promising the eternal kingship to his servants.  Yet God has allowed Israel, in their unfaithfulness, to fall into misfortune at the hands of their enemies.  Which mood wins out?  Let’s look at a little outline of its verses:

  • vv1-2 Introduction
  • vv3-4 Summary of the Davidic Covenant
  • v5-19 Hymn to God the Creator
  • 20-36 Celebrating the promise to David
  • 37-44 Lamentation for the fall of David
  • 45-50 Reproaches
  • v 51 Benediction

So there’s a logical, or even sort of chronological, order to the main body of the psalm: from verse 5 through 44 we have a movement from God’s lordship over creation, God’s covenant-making, and God’s withdrawal of the blessings of that covenant.  The “Reproaches” at the end are similar to the Lamentations, bewailing the loss Israel has suffered, beseeching God for mercy, and expressing glimmers of hope that His faithfulness will pull them through.

Plus, if you take the promises seriously in the celebratory part of the psalm, the language of “forever” is pretty strong – even if curse and calamity should befall God’s people, it must only be for a season – God’s covenant promises carry eternal weight.  This is especially true from the New Covenant perspective we have as Christians, since the Davidic Covenant is fulfilled in the kingship of Christ Jesus.  It is unsurprising, therefore, that Psalm 89 is featured on holy days like St. Joseph‘s and Christmas Day.  This reality transforms the lament and reproaches even more for us: now when we see the Church suffering on earth, we know all the more undeterred that our Lord and King stands firm, victorious even over death and the grave.

So, as usual, keep the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in mind as you’re praying through this long psalm.  Perhaps the verse groupings listed above can give you places to pause for breathe and recollect your attentions, too.

Readings Review & Planning Propers 9/16

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 1 Kings 1-5, 1 Chronicles 28, Ephesians 5:18-6, Hebrews 1-5, Micah 6-7, Nahum, Habakkuk 1-2, Matthew 8:18-12:21
This week: 1 Kings 6-11, Hebrews 5-10, Habakkuk 3, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah 1, Matthew 12:22-16:12
Special reading Saturday for St. Matthew’s Day: Matthew 9:9-13

The Old Testament lessons in Evening Prayer are still powering through the Minor Prophets (or slogging through, depending upon how you feel about them).  In the next few days we finish up the middle group of minor prophets, covering the “late kingdom era”, that is, the prophets who served at the royal court in the final century of Judah’s existence as a kingdom.  Later this week we’re starting into the last three (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) who wrote during the Second Temple Era, that is, during the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon was complete.  The short book of Haggai is one with which I’m particularly familiar, having preached through it a few years ago.  Click here to find eight articles and sermons about Haggai and his themes!

Meanwhile in Morning Prayer we started the Epistle to the Hebrews last week, and are now working our way through the thickest part of that book culminating in chapters 9 and 10.  The gist of Hebrews is basically “Jesus is better than __!” where the blank is just about anything important from the Old Testament religion.  The priesthood descended from Aaron is the particular focus of what Jesus fulfills and transforms in chapters 9 and 10, and have much to teach us about priestly sacrificial atonement.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 19 (or 13th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 9/16 = Votive (of the Holy Spirit) * or St. Ninian
  • Tuesday 9/17 = Votive (of the Holy Angels)
  • Wednesday 9/18 = Ember Day I
  • Thursday 9/19 = Votive (of the Holy Eucharist) or St. Theodore of Tarsus
  • Friday 9/20 = Ember Day II
  • Saturday 9/21 = SAINT MATTHEW

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019) and label in parentheses are simply a traditional suggestion.

Holy Cross Day Round-up

Today is the feast of the Holy Cross, a red-letter day newly introduced into the Prayer Book tradition in the 20th century.  Historically, this holiday commemorates the date that Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, found the True Cross in a rubbish heap outside of Jerusalem, thus beginning the veneration (not worship) of the instrument whereby Christ redeemed the world.  In modern Prayer Book context, this holiday focuses on the glory of Christ on the Cross, thus instead of the Gospel lesson being about the crucifixion, it’s from John 12 wherein our Lord declares that when he will be lifted up the whole world will be drawn to him.

Here’s a round-up of different sorts of writings to help explore different facets of the Cross and this holy day.  (In general the first three links are shorter reads and the latter three are longer, in case you need to budget your time.)