Jesus Loves Me / Solid Rock

It’s one of the classic “little kid” Christian songs that cradle Christians in many traditions learn…

Jesus loves me, this I know
for the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong;
they are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!  Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.

Complete with a cute little melody, it’s the perfect song for young kids to learn, enjoy, and promptly grow out of and cast aside in favor more exciting music.

Obvious repetition aside, this Hymn for Children is worth a fresh look.  First of all, it has more verses that a lot of us never heard as children.  In the new hymnal Magnify the Lord, or Common Praise 2017, it is #431, and has four verses.  Here are verses 2-4.

Jesus loves me – this I know – As he loved so long ago,
Taking children on his knee, Saying “Let them come to me.”

Yes, Jesus loves me… etc.

Jesus loves me – loves me still, Even when I’m weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high, Comes to watch me where I lie.
Yes, Jesus loves me… etc.

Jesus loves me!  He who died Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin, Let his little child come in.

Yes, Jesus loves me… etc.

What this hymn is doing, quite simply, is setting out a theological truth in verse 1 and then exploring the biblical evidence in the next three which verse 1 claims.  So verse 2 looks back to the ministry of Jesus, during which he directly welcomed children; verse 3 brings that biblical love back into the present and highlights his continual care and watching-over; and verse 4 points us into the future, towards our death in the following of Christ’s death.

Hopefully this gives you a newfound respect for ye olde Jesus Loves Me.  But if you still think it’s silly, consider the song printed right before it (#430) in the same hymnal:

My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

This classic hymn, only 25 years older than Jesus Loves Me, is remarkably similar.  It, too, has a repetitive refrain with a message that is only one small step away: from “Jesus loves me” to “On Christ… I stand.”  This first verse is conceptually just as simple as Jesus Loves Me, and its melody is equally basic.  If all you ever heard of this hymn was its first verse, it probably wouldn’t be quite so beloved among adults as it is today.

Even more interesting, when you look at how the lyrics unfold, Solid Rock follows the same structure as Jesus Loves Me:

  1. Basic theological premise
  2. Looking back to Jesus’ example to back up or explain the premise
  3. Applying Jesus’ example to the present
  4. Pointing to the future – death and resurrection

With that in mind, now read verses 2-4.

When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace;
In ev’ry high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand… etc.

His oath, his covenant, his blood, Support me  in the ‘whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand… etc.

When he shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in him be found,
Dressed in his righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand… etc.

The same pattern is found in both hymns.  Yes, the first was written especially for (and about) children, and the second is clearly more “grown-up” in its word choice, language, and range of biblical allusion and reference, but both hymns are solid expositions of the Christian faith.

An Exegesis of the Invitatory

The Venite, Psalm 95, is the historic standard “invitatory”, or call to worship, and even a cursory glance through its text reveals its aptness for the role.  The opening words “O come,” are followed by three “let us” statements, each giving different angles toward defining worship: singing, rejoicing, thankfulness and gladness, approaching God, and particularly using psalms.  The next verses provide reasons for worshiping God: his greatness and kingship, his ownership of all creation by virtue of being its Creator.  The result is a return to the opening verse: “O come, let us worship and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker.”  The emphasis on physical posture and gesture is not only symbolic of the disposition of the true worshiper’s heart but also instructive for the postures of right worship; indeed, one of the biblical terms for worship literally means “fall down before” or “prostrate.”

The tone of the second half of Psalm 95 turns suddenly to a dire warning against ignoring God’s voice and hardening against him.  The Exodus generation is invoked as an example of those who so spurned the Lord and received punishment for their rebellion.  These verses point back specifically to Exodus 17, and are in turn picked up for further explication in Hebrews 4 & 5.  The worshiper is reminded of the obligations of worship: praise is empty when not accompanied with (or followed by) obedience to the One who is praised.  Many Old Testament Prophets had strong condemnations for those who participated in divine worship but practiced unrighteousness, and Psalm 95 is our most prominent reminder within the liturgy of the Church that we, too, must practice in our lives the same faith we profess in the congregation.

 The Jubilate, Psalm 100, is a functional substitute for Psalm 95 but does not contain all the same elements.  A few similar phrases are found – 100:2 and 95:7 are almost identical – and the same invitation to worship the Lord is extended, but Psalm 100 lacks the “warning” verses, providing instead only the briefest hint in the words “it is he that has made us, and not we ourselves.”

The Pascha Nostrum, as indicated in its Scripture reference text, is an amalgamation of three New Testament texts strung together, the word Alleluia (or “praise the Lord”) interspersed as an antiphon (a repeated word or phrase) between each section of the canticle.  Like the invitatory psalms the Pascha Nostrum invites people to worship – “let us keep the feast” – but instead of grounding the reason for this invitation in God’s kingship or ownership of the world as its Creator, it instead points to the new creation inaugurated in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  The “warning” text of Psalm 95 is similarly transposed here: rather than dwelling on the danger of apostasy this canticle draws the Gospel connection between Christ’s death and the Christian’s death to sin.  This warning is not the cold hammer of the Law, but the healing embrace of the Gospel.

Filling in the Blanks: Judges

Unlike its predecessor Joshua, the book of Judges gets almost full coverage in the 2019 Prayer Book’s Daily Office Lectionary.  Only the last five chapters are omitted.  If you want to “fill in the blanks” and read those skipped chapters, this Customary’s Midday Prayer Lectionary starts in on that material today.

So let’s take a look at what’s going on here.

The book of Judges is, mostly, a history of twelve judges (six major, six minor) who ruled the tribes of Israel in the period of history before the rise of the monarchy under Saul and David.  The last five chapters, however, are kind of like two appendixes, stuck on as additional stories that take place somewhere in line with the centuries outlined in the majority of the book.

Chapters 17 & 18 tell the story of Micah and his Levite priest, providing a sort of origin story for the rife idolatry that took hold over the tribe of Dan from early times.

Chapters 19-21 tell the story of a Levite and his concubine (legally, his actual wife, but called a concubine because Levites don’t have tribal land allotments to pass down or inherit) and of a holy war against Benjamin that results when she is brutally raped and killed.

Why are these chapters omitted from our lectionary (apart from the generic reason that you’ve got to squeeze the Bible into one year somehow)?  This time we don’t have an easy out: the original Prayer Book lectionary of the 16th-18th centuries included the entire book of Judges, so ours is a reduction of coverage, not an expansion, as is usually the case.  Ours is an improvement over what’s in the 1928 and 1979 lectionaries, but it’s not a full restoration back to the 1662 standard.  Why?

Without insight from the Liturgy Task Force, I can only guess.

The story of Micah & his Levite “priest” is a wicked story, telling of the descent of a whole tribe toward notorious apostasy.  It is a “bad example” story, with very little good in it for a Christian to seek to imitate.  Perhaps it was thought that there are enough examples of sin in the biblical literature already, that this episode was ruled expendable to make room for more immediately edifying readings elsewhere.

The story of the Levite and his concubine, the crimes against her, the resulting war and subsequent insanely sinful plans to rescue the tribe of Benjamin from extinction, is also quite low in “good examples.”  It’s a brutal story, perhaps the most vivid account of rape in the Bible – it may be that the current cultural climate would benefit from careful study of a story like this, rather than public reading.  There are also a number of concepts and events in this story that are difficult to understand without particular instruction and explanation: what it means for the Levite to have a concubine, why he chopped her dead body into twelves pieces and mailed them around the country, why genocide seemed like a good idea, and why more rape and abduction seemed like a good solution to prevent the genocide.

There may be something I’m missing here; terrible as they are, these are stories I would not have chosen to drop from the daily lectionary.  Still, every Bible-in-a-year plan or daily lectionary is going to have its shortcomings somewhere; I’m not going to say this one’s absolutely perfect.  So if you want to read those skipped stories, consider picking them up in Midday Prayer over the coming week or so.

Filling in the blanks: Ezekiel

I’m posting this a week later than I probably should have… maybe that was a mistake in my pre-planning.  Anyway, back on June 21st we read Ezekiel 47 at Evening Prayer, and then didn’t come back for its final chapter, 48.  Before that we’d skipped chapters 44-46, and 41-42, which I briefly explained and summarized in a video that Friday.  But there’s more: chapters 19-32 were skipped; that’s about 30% of the book gone right there.  Chapters 38 & 39 also were omitted.  Altogether, approximately 45% of Ezekiel is not in our daily lectionary.  The evangelical reader is probably annoyed right now.  “What gives?”

If historical precedent is any consolation….

  • less than 18 chapters (38%) appear in the 1979 Book’s daily lectionary
  • about 16 chapters (33%) appear in the 1928 lectionary
  • maybe 13 chapter (27%) appear in the 1922 lectionary in the 1662 Book
  • nearly 23 chapters (47%) are in the 19th century’s lectionary in the 1662 Book
  • only 12 chapters (25%) are read in the ORIGINAL Anglican daily lectionary

So with us reading 55% of the book, that’s a massive increase compared to every Prayer Book before ours.

But of course, someone who is not as optimistic about the wisdom of the Church and the value of the Prayer Book is still going to argue: what’s “wrong” with so much of Ezekiel?

I’m not going to analyze, explain, and defend the mentality of each prayer book in our history, other than to say that Ezekiel is one of the least-accessible Prophets to read fruitfully without a great deal of study, and so when it comes to the public daily reading in the churches it is more profitable to spend time on other portions of Scripture that are more readily understandable and clear to the people in the pews.  That said, let’s take a quick look at what the 2019 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary omits.

Chapters 19-32 are a series of oracles, prophecies of condemnation and judgment, against Jerusalem, Israel & Judah, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, and Egypt.  They vary in style and tone, and there are few “famous” images among these chapters, such as the Ohola & Oholiba parable for the unfaithfulness of Israel & Judah.  These aren’t “unimportant” chapters, as such, but they are “redundant” with a fair bit of the Prophetic Corpus of the Old Testament.

Chapters 38-39 form the prophecy against the mysterious Gog and his land, Magog.  This has been interpreted in many different ways, pointing to the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans, and even to a yet-future world power in the End Times.  When it comes down to it, this is not mere prophecy, but apocalyptic literature, which comes with its own special interpretive challenges.  I suppose that the restoration of the book of Revelation into the daily lectionary has mitigated the need to to rely on its even-more-puzzling Old Testament forebear.

Chapters 41-42 and 44-46 are basically a series of pictures in prose form.  Here we find the lengthy description of the New Temple, which I talked about in the video post linked at the beginning of this article.  Chapter 40, in the lectionary, is sufficient for giving the reader the “establishing shot”, to use a TV/movie term, and chapter 43 describes an event or scene there.  The rest, omitted, do provide additional prophetic insights of course (they are scripture), but the majority of that material is a slow slog through a lot of measurements and repetitive formulae.

Chapter 48, similarly, is an extension of the information in chapter 47; together they describe a map of new tribal allotments.  You can read more about that here if you like.  For the Christian, the important lesson is in the promise of God that he will bless his faithful people; the specific land boundaries are simply images that prefigure the perfection of the New Heaven & New Earth, so grinding through all the geographic descriptions is not strictly necessary for getting the point across.

That said, if you are a “completionist” when it comes to reading the Scriptures, you can always pick up this Customary’s Supplementary Midday Prayer lectionary to fill you in on the missed chapters of Ezekiel, scattered throughout the summer.

The Collect for St. John’s Nativity

Today we celebrate the birthday of Saint John the Baptist!
We’ve looked at this holy day in the Church Calendar before; here you will find three brief takes on the significance of this feast: Happy Birthday, John the Baptist!  You can also read a little about his life and of some lectionary history for his feast day here.

This year, I’d like to look at the Collect for this Day.  Here it is in the 1662 Prayer Book:

ALMIGHTY God, by whose providence thy servant John Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour, by preaching of repentance; Make
us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching, and after his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the most part, this is the same as what we’ve got in the 2019 Prayer Book today.  The first half is virtually identical; only the word doctrine is now swapped out for teaching, which means the same thing, though the connotations have changed slightly.  Today the word doctrine more often is used to refer to a specific area or type of teaching, rather than biblical-theological teaching as a whole.  So that’s a subtle language update that helps preserve the original meaning of this prayer.

It’s also important to note that doctrine/teaching is paired with a holy life.  An unvirtuous teacher is not a good Christian example, neither is a virtuous man with sloppy theology.

The “purpose” section of the Collect, in the second half, is a bit more rearranged, however.  We pray that we may follow John’s doctrine and example so that…

that we may truly repent (2019)
that we may truly repent according to his preaching (1662)

Both versions start with this, and rightly so!  The call to repentance was the most obvious and prolific subject of his preaching that we find in the Gospels, most especially in Luke 3.  The phrase “according to his preaching” is not in our text of the prayer, probably dropped for its redundancy with the subject of his doctrine/teaching in the previous phrase.

boldly rebuke vice (both)

This is the second purpose for our following his teaching and life.  This, too, was a major part of his recorded preaching, as the identification of vice and sin is rather necessary for a genuine call to repentance.  The difference is that the modern prayer puts this second while the 1662 prayer puts this in the middle of the list.

patiently suffer for the sake of truth (2019)
patiently suffer for the truth’s sake (1662)

Third in the modern prayer and last in the old, suffering for the cause of God’s truth is part of St. John the Baptist’s example.  Being last in the 1662 form of the prayer, this has a place of subtle emphasis; it’s the last thing we hear, a sobering “last word on the matter”.  John was a martyr, after all, and many, many others would soon follow him.

and proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord (2019)

Absent from the traditional collect is the theme of proclaiming the advent of Jesus.  Some might read this to be pretentious: John the Baptist was a unique herald, The Forerunner, specially imbued by the Holy Spirit to “prepare the way of the Lord” and point people to his relative, Jesus, when his ministry began.  We are not called or qualified to anything on par with that!  But we do proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ our Lord, even though we don’t know the day or the hour of his return, nor even have a promise that he will return within our lifetimes.  The return of Christ is a reality that permeates the New Testament epistles, and has also characterized the liturgy (particularly that of Holy Communion) ever since as we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  So we follow in John’s footsteps in this ministry of proclamation, albeit on a different level of the scale.

 

Introducing the Creed of Saint Athanasius

One of the “Documentary Foundations”, on page 769 in the 2019 Prayer Book, is The Athanasian Creed.  It is offered there without comment, much like it is in the back of the 1979 Prayer Book, except this time in a normal font size so you don’t have to be especially young and spry in order to read it.

There is, however, a rubric in our Prayer Book that point to it.  On page 139, among the Additional Directions Concerning Holy Communion, we are told that the Athanasian Creed may be used in place of the Nicene Creed on Trinity Sunday and other occasions as appropriate.  This is probably the most widespread use of that Creed today.

In the classical Prayer Book tradition, however, it received a bit more use.  In the 1662 Prayer Book, for example, we find this rubric:

Upon these Feasts, Christmas-day, the Epiphany, St. Matthias, Easter-day, Ascension-day, Whitsunday, St. John Baptist, St. James, St. Bartholomew, St. Matthew, St. Simon and St.
Jude, St. Andrew, and upon Trinity-sunday, shall be sung or said at Morning Prayer, instead of the Apostles Creed, this Confession of our Christian Faith, commonly called the Creed of St. Athanasius, by the Minister and people standing.

That’s 13 times a year this Creed was ordered to be said.  If you’re curious about why those feasts were selected, and not others, the best I can offer is that the principle feasts of the year are covered (Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday), and beyond that one feast per month is chosen, such that this Creed would be heard about once a month, usually near the end:

  • January: Epiphany (6th)
  • February: St. Matthias (29th)
  • March: Easter sometimes
  • April: Easter usually, Ascension sometimes
  • May: Ascension usually, Pentecost sometimes
  • June: Pentecost usually, Trinity, St. John Baptist (24th)
  • July: St. James (25th)
  • August: St. Bartholomew (24th)
  • September: St. Matthew (21st)
  • October: St. Simon and St. Jude (28th)
  • November: St. Andrew (30th)
  • December: Christmas (25th)

Anyway, let’s look at the Creed itself.  It’s called Of Athanasius because he is the traditionally-acclaimed author, though historical scholarship has indicated that it’s most likely a product of his school of thought, or his tradition so to speak, rather than of him himself.  Thus some like to refer to it by its first line in Latin: Quicunque vult.  But the appellation of Athanasius is appropriate nonetheless, as this does express his theology quite clearly.

In terms of contents, this Creed is by far the best and most robust resource in the Church’s arsenal when it comes to teaching the doctrine of the Trinity.  In the way it is formatted in our Prayer Book, most of page 769 deals with the Trinity, all of page 770 does, and the first “verse” of it on page 771 concludes the section on the Trinity.  The rest of the Creed (page 771) proceeds in a fashion very similar to the Nicene Creed, outlining the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  But even this uses more developed language to expound the two natures of Christ (in close union with the 3rd and 4th Ecumenical Councils, again indicating a post-Athanasius origin).

Let’s be honest, this Creed can be a bit of a tongue-twister, and its repetitive phrases can make it difficult to understand without familiarity.  But if you read it slowly and carefully, its logic will be clear, as two things are being established very methodically: there are three Persons in the Trinity and there is one God in Unity.

Apart from its length, this Creed has other features that have contributed to its decline in popularity over the past 200 years: its vehement insistence on orthodoxy for salvation.  Note how it begins:

Whoever will be savedbefore all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

It ends with the same tone:

This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

The good news here is that it never says “understand”, only “hold” or “keep” or “believe”.  So if you or your child or your uneducated Christian friend don’t really understand what this Creed is saying, you or they are not damned.  We keep the faith, we hold and believe the faith, however well we understand and grasp its particulars in our minds.  The mystery of the Trinity is one of the greatest mysteries and paradoxes that can be found in the Scriptures, yet this Creed reminds us (and carefully explains) that no true Christian worships three Gods, or blends the Father, Son, and Spirit together into one person, neither do we blend the divinity and humanity of Jesus together into some sort of demigod half-breed.  We hold to the intellectually-difficult yet simple truths that the one God exists in three persons, and that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

So that, I hope, puts to rest any fears that the anathemas (condemnatory statements) may rile up in the heart of the reader.

If you and your church did not say the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday this year (and let’s face it, very few of us even had the chance to!) consider taking up the tradition of the classical Prayer Books and saying it at Morning Prayer on John the Baptist’s birthday tomorrow!  It’s not technically authorized in our Prayer Book, but to do so would be in accord with the spirit of the rubrics, if not the letter.

St. Alban, Britain’s Protomartyr

Today is the commemoration of Saint Alban, one of the early British Saints whose name appears in the calendar of the 2019 Prayer Book.  His death date is listed as “c. 250” – the c. is for circa, Latin for “approximately”.  In this particular case, this approximation is more of an average… dates given for his death in early sources have discrepancies ranging from 209 to 304.  Also, if you’re curious about the word “protomartyr,” it means “first martyr”, or more technically, first recorded martyr.

You can read his abridged hagiography on Wikipedia if you like; two of our major sources on his story are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and The Ecclesiastical History by St. Bede – both are major source of information for Christianity in Britain in the first millennium A.D.  In short, Alban was a Briton who harbored a Christian priest hiding from state persecution.  Alban came to respect the priest’s faith and holiness and converted to Christ also.  When soldiers came to arrest the priest, Alban put on the priest’s garments and offered himself in the priest’s place.  His self-sacrificial subterfuge was soon found out, but he was tortured and eventually executed instead of the priest anyway.  On the way to his execution a river was miraculously dried up so the execution party could avoid a crowded bridge and a spring appeared to quench his thirst, both incidents heavily reflecting stories of Moses and Jesus.

The tricky thing about hagiographies, of course, is that this is a very stylized way of writing which only gets more elaborate over the course of history.  And even if the religious content was not an issue, there is also the simple reality that we don’t have a lot of original information from this many centuries past.  It may be that these miracle tales are historically accurate, but it’s also very likely that these stories have been told and retold in particular ways and with particular embellishments to teach the hearers something apart from the actual history of these Saints.  I would suspect, for example, that the crossing of the river on dry ground and the appearance of the water-spring are additions to the “real” history of Saint Alban, added not make Alban look super-special nor to trick posterity into believing a lie, but to illustrate the virtue of Alban’s faith by adding biblical allusions to the crucifixion of Christ and the Exodus led by Moses.

You who read this probably already know: I love history.  I even wrote a short article entitled Why History Matters a few years ago.  You might be puzzled, then, why I’m so positive about sharing a hagiography that even I admit is probably not strictly historically accurate?  The answer is this: we learn from hagiographies in much the same way we learn from history.  These old writings bring us into worlds that are different from our own, where people think differently and conceive of similar ideas in dissimilar ways.  How we understand and relate to history is very different from how they understood and related to history before them.

So as we go through Saint Alban’s Day, I encourage you to give thought to the witness of those who would die for the faith, for the name of Christ.  Regardless of what historically happened on his way to his execution, his example of truly committed faith is instructive and inspiring.  And, I daresay for most of us comfy Americans, a healthy humbling shock.

As we remember martyrs according to our Prayer Book (from page 637),

Almighty God, you gave your servant Alban boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Visions of the New Temple – Ezekiel 40

Today at Evening Prayer we begin the final phase of the book of the Prophet Ezekiel.  I was a bit tired when filming this video, so forgive my facial expressions… covidtide has been difficult on all of us.

As for the content matter itself, the hermeneutic employed here, looking at Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48, is one that applies handily throughout the Old Testament: we’re not simply studying and learning history, but through historical visions we receive insight into the very Gospel of Jesus.

A Psalm & A Hymn

Psalm 90 begins with the simple but heartfelt words

Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to another.

This is captured and paraphrased in a famous and beloved hymn:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home;

Under the shadow of thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Yes, O God our help in ages past is a hymn that was written to paraphrase and reflect upon Psalm 90.  It was written by Isaac Watts in 1719, and many of his hymns are re-workings of biblical psalms.  Let’s see how more of this hymn teases out layers of meaning from Psalm 90.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

This approximates verse 2 of the psalm:

Before the mountains were brought forth, or the earth and the world were made,
you are God from everlasting, and world without end.

The ancient helping power of God traced through the generation of his saints in the first verse of the psalm and first two stanzas of the hymn is here found all the in the very Days of Creation.  God has always been God, “world without end” or “from ages of ages”.  Before the aeon of time itself, God was the same God we now know and love.

The next stanza in our hymnal reads thus:

A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

This matches verses 4 & 5 of the Psalm:

For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday,
even as a day that is past.

You scatter them them as a night-watch that comes quickly to an end;
they are even as a dream and fade away.

Verses 6 & 7 also provides more context and application of this concept of God’s timelessness:

They are like the grass, which in the morning is green,
but in the evening is dried up and withered.

For we consume away in your displeasure
and are afraid at your wrathful indignation.

The eternity of God causes us to reflect upon our mortality, and our insignificance in comparison with Him.  The days of our lives compared to his eternity is like comparing our long lives with the brief life of grass in the desert climes – just one hot day can dry and wither it away.

This leads to the next stanza in the hymn.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Verse 7 of Psalm 90, above, and also verse 10, here, both play into that stanza.

The days of our life are seventy years, and though some be so strong that they come to eighty years,
yet is their span but labor and sorrow; so soon it passes away, and we are gone.

The following verses of the Psalm continue on that meditation: we must learn to “number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” which, we know from the scriptures, is the fear of the Lord.  The fear of the Lord has also been described in the psalm, especially in verses 7, 8, 9, and 11.  It doesn’t feed into Isaac Watts’ hymn too directly, but it’s an important piece of context to keep in mind as we sing.

The hymn ends with a partial repetition of the beginning, but a slightly different petition.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home.

This matches the tone of Psalm 90 in its final few verses, which step back from the language of fear and the shortness of life, and settle upon prayers for comfort.  The Psalm does not overtly return to the language and imagery of God as our refuge or help in ages past, nor of being our home or shelter, but it the hymn and the psalm do wrap up with the same tone or mood.  Thus the hymn is an encapsulation of Psalm 90 in miniature, pulling out some major themes and leaving only hints of others.  It’s no substitute for praying the psalm, of course, but it is a wonderful point of entry.

 

This reflection was originally written for Grace Anglican Church and published on leorningcnihtes boc.

FOUR versions of the Lord’s Prayer!?

Did you know that there are four versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the 2019 Prayer Book?

You may be aware of two already.  In just about every rite in the book, a traditional-language and contemporary-language rendition of the Lord’s Prayer are offered in parallel columns.  But how do we get four versions, then?  On pages 39 and 65, the following rubric can be found:

Either version of the Lord’s Prayer may be ended with “deliver us from evil.  Amen.” omitting the concluding doxology.

You may find that confusing – why would one opt for the shorter version?  Don’t just the Romans do the short version?

This rubric has some interesting history behind it; welcome to “Weird Rubric Wednesday”.

If you look at various Prayer Books before our own you’ll find a pretty clear pattern: the doxology is often omitted from the Lord’s Prayer.  Let’s list it out:

  • Beginning of Morning Prayer:
    1662 Yes, 1928 Yes
  • Among the Prayers of Morning Prayer:
    1662 No, 1928 Unspecified, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes
  • Beginning of Evening Prayer:
    1662 Yes, 1928 Yes
  • Among the Prayers of Evening Prayer:
    1662 No, 1928 Unspecified, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes
  • Beginning of the Lord’s Supper:
    1662 No, 1928 No
  • At the reception of Communion:
    1662 Yes, 1928 Yes, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes
  • Baptism & Confirmation:
    1662 No, 1928 Yes, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes

You can see a slow trend from a fairly even split of using or omitting the Lord’s Prayer’s doxology toward uniform use of that doxology.  A further detail in this sequence in the 1979 Prayer Book’s introduction of Noonday Prayer and Compline, in which the doxology is omitted from the Lord’s Prayer.  Thus, only in the 2019 Prayer Book has the doxology become ubiquitous.  These “weird rubrics”, however, note the two Offices in which we are formally invited to consider using the short form of the Lord’s Prayer, and it is the same two (Midday and Compline) as appointed in the 1979 Book.

In ordinary practice, the average lay person who doesn’t use the Prayer Book religiously is going to default to the one version he or she knows from Sunday mornings: what is said at the Holy Communion.  If certain Offices omit the doxology, many such people are going to have a big trip-up moment.  So from that practical perspective, one of the factors aiding this slow shift was merely simplifying things so there were fewer things for newcomers to mess up!

Anyway, in your own prayers and use of the 2019 Prayer Book, it is not going to be this Customary’s business to regulate which version of the Lord’s Prayer you ought to use at which points.  It is traditional to use the short version in most Offices and the long version at the Communion.  But if you’re praying all the Offices every day, plus other devotions like the Family Prayer mini-offices, then you’ll be saying the Lord’s Prayer many times a day, and it might be good to change up which version you use just to help avoid turning into a parrot!