Filling in the Blanks: Leviticus

Today we begin reading from Leviticus in Morning Prayer, according to the Daily Office Lectionary in the 2019 Prayer Book.  But we aren’t reading the whole book.  Now, now, don’t show that sigh of relief too obviously; all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, and that includes even the weirdest laws in Leviticus.  But the fact is that no Anglican lectionary has ever actually covered the whole book.  Leviticus and Numbers have always been truncated, presenting only the highlights or key samples from those books for the reader, thus saving space in the lectionary for other readings that will be more immediately beneficial to the reader, and fitting the reading plan as a whole into a single year.

But let’s see you’re a “completionist” like I am, and want to to read everything, even the weird, obscure, boring, or otherwise challenging material that lectionaries tend to skip.  This Customary’s Supplemental Midday Prayer Lectionary picks up the omitted chapters from Leviticus, starting this weekend, and gives you the opportunity to read every last verse of this book.

Why are parts of Leviticus omitted in the first place?

It comes down to the nature of Old Covenant law.  As our Article VII of Religion explains, there are different aspects to the Law of Moses – religious and ceremonial, civil, and moral.  Only the moral law is binding upon us under the New Covenant.  The religious laws expired with the Old Covenant and the civil law ended with the destruction of the Israelite kingdoms.  Those forms of laws are still useful for Christian instruction – they may model good civil laws for other countries or they might prefigure religious rites and ceremonies in the Church – but they are not binding for “what is right and wrong” the way moral laws are.

The Book of Leviticus deals largely with religious law, and to a lesser degree with civil law.  And therefore, for the average Christian reader, large chunks of this book are not as immediately useful as other parts.  So rather than bogging the reader down in the hard slogging experience of sifting through the complexities of Old Covenant religion, only the highlights that will profit us most are provided, and the rest is passed by.  It is not a suppression of Scripture, as some have argued, but a strategic move to deliver the Bible to people in a way that will most benefit them.  And so, different Anglican lectionaries through the course of our history have handled Leviticus in slightly different ways, but to my knowledge, none have ever simply appointed the book wholesale in its entirety.

If you want to read the omitted portions of Leviticus, feel free to join me in doing so at Midday Prayer over the course of this month.  Just see that you don’t condemn those who satisfy themselves with what the Church hath appointed.

Video: Passiontide through Easter Week

We’re a few days into Passiontide already, but Holy Week is still not quite here, so this is a good time to share this introduction to Passiontide, Holy Week, the Triduum, and Easter/Pascha.

subject index:

  • 00:00 Nomenclature
  • 05:03 Major Themes and Traditions of these three weeks
  • 11:33 Walkthrough of Passiontide & Holy Week in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 15:08 Walkthrough of Easter Week in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 19:47 Daily Office Lectionary and other liturgical features
  • 23:47 Closing in prayers

The Acclamation can be anything “appropriate”

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How does the service of Holy Communion begin?  Many churches have a processional hymn or an opening song to start things off.  The 2019 Prayer Book notes this option with a rubric on pages 105 and 123.  But after that comes the Acclamation, the textual beginning of the worship service in the modern liturgy.  It says:

The people standing, the Celebrant says this or a seasonal greeting (pages 145-146)

When you turn to page 145 you find eight different Acclamations for different seasons and holy days of the year.  But they are introduced with this rubric:

The opening Acclamation may be replaced by a greeting appropriate to the season or the occasion, such as the following

This means that you can create your own acclamation!  That means you could do something like this:

Celebrant Hey there, fam!
People  ‘Sup, preacher!

This assumes, of course, that the celebrant deems this “appropriate to the season or the occasion“.  One would hope that the priest has better taste than this, haha, but it’s technically possible.

Yes, it’s Weird Rubric Wednesday, this is my chance to be silly.

Anything helpful to suggest?

Okay, yes.  First of all, it should be noted that this openness links smoothly with the Additional Directions on page 139 that authorize the assembly of a Penitential Order at the beginning of the liturgy.  It may be that an appropriate greeting be an immediate call to confession of sin, or the proclamation of the gospel of repentance, as the Daily Offices do.  In times of grave trouble, this might actually be a good idea.  The use of the Great Litany as the preface to the Communion liturgy is also appropriate to this scenario, and is provided for in the rubric on page 96, and certain dates of the year to do this are urged on page 99.

It may be that a particular situation or occasion may invite the use of a canticle for the celebrant and congregation to say at the start of the liturgy.  This is, in effect, what the Burial Service does.

It may be that a particular situation or occasion may benefit from a special address by the celebrant to the congregation, as the Marriage liturgy begins.

Most of us are currently in a closed-church situation where few-to-none of us can attend worship in person.  The first Sunday back may call for a special address, a call to celebrate and rejoice, and a reminder of why we do gather together and what worship is all about.  Priests and pastors across the country will be thinking about what to say and how to handle our eventual reunions, and this rubric for the Acclamation gives us leeway – not simply to mess with the liturgy for our own purposes, but to hand us the freedom to give thoughtful consideration to how we might usher the flock into a time of worship, given the particular occasion or circumstance.

Work as to the Lord

Nearly every church and clergyman is doing a lot of stuff online now during the global pandemic.  I don’t mean to overload anyone with devotional resources, but I since I have a history of sharing occasional reflections on a lesson from the Daily Office lectionary here already, it seems alright to do so now.

“Work as to the Lord” is my brief homily on Ephesians 6:1-9, which is the New Testament lesson in Evening Prayer today.

Happy Friday!  Keep the fast, pray the litany.  Work as to the Lord.

Hymn: Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow

Passiontide doesn’t start, technically, until the 5th Sunday in Lent, commonly called Passion Sunday, but we’re going to look at a passiontide hymn today.

Cross of Jesus, cross of sorrow,
Where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect man on thee was tortured,
Perfect God on thee has bled.

This is a phenomenally theological opening for a piece of music.  The mystery of the incarnation is explored, wherein we see Jesus as fully God and fully man.  The cross, particularly, is his place of suffering and sorrow.  One may wish to say that Jesus technically suffered only with respect to his human nature, but the hypostatic union (or the perfect conjoining of divinity and humanity in his singular person) is such that all the experiences of Jesus, be they human or divine, are fully shared in both natures.  Thus we are perfectly right in saying that God bled on the Cross.

Here the King of all the ages,
Throned in light ‘ere worlds could be,
Robed in mortal flesh, is dying,
Crucified by sin for me.

The scope of that first scene on the cross is widened massively in both directions through time.  First it points backwards into eternity past, wherein we see the eternal reign of God and the sharing in power and light that the Son has always had with the Father.  And then it points forward from the cross to you and me; we are recipients of the grace of that death.  He died for the sins of real people, not just for some abstract cause, however noble.

O mysterious condescending!
O abandonment sublime!
Very God himself is bearing
All the sufferings of time.

This third stanza just takes a moment to reflect in wonder on what has thus far been said.  After all, if Jesus was just God and not man, such suffering would be abstract, meaningless, even a mockery of real human suffering.  And if Jesus was only man and not God, the gravity of his condescension and abandonment of divine rights would be nullified.  The cross is only significant because the God-Man himself died there.

Evermore, for human failure,
By his passion we can plead;
God has taken mortal anguish;
Surely he will know our need.

Now we get a more explicit application, or lesson, from the theological assertions and emotional outpouring of this hymn.  Because Christ has suffered and died specifically for the sins of the whole world, we can plead for the forgiveness of all our sins based squarely and solely upon that death.  Not only can we be sure it is a valid and sufficient sacrifice for our sins (because Jesus is God), but we can also be sure that God is sympathetic to our plight (because Jesus is man).

Once the Lord of brilliant seraphs
Winged with love to do his will,
Now the scorn of all his creatures,
And the aim of ev’ry ill.

Up in heav’n, sublimest glory
Circled round him from the first,
But the earth finds none to serve him,
None to quench his raging thirst.

This is an unusual turn for a hymn.  Normally the “application” verse that turns to the self is the last one.  And four verses is a pretty standard length, at that.  But instead we get these 5th and 6th verses after, in which we meditate further on the glory of Christ and his undeserved death.  Both of these stanzas contrast the eternal glory he enjoys in heaven with the scorn and abuse he received on earth.

The hymn ends with a verbatim repeat of verse 1.  The structure of the 7 stanzas are thus somewhat chiastic:

1: Cross & hypostatic union
– 2 & 3: meditations on the mystery of Christ’s two natures
– – 4: Application
– 5 & 6: meditations on how Christ is treated in these two realms
7: Cross & hypostatic union

Annunciations to Mary and to the world

In the 2019 Prayer Book, Luke 1:26-38 is the New Testament reading at Morning Prayer on March 25, as well as the Gospel lesson for the Communion service on this holy day – The Annunciation to Mary.  It may be obvious, but it’s easy to miss, that we are now nine months ahead of Christmas Day, the exact relative timing between this gospel story and the birth of Christ.  I’ve written about its timing before, and how it can assist our reading of Scripture in the daily lectionary, compared it to other Marian holy days, and even shared a hymn appropriate for the Annunciation.  So my backlog of blog posts provide quite a few opportunities for devotional reading.

I also put together a trilogy of theological explorations of various doctrines concerning our Lady, soberly examining the biblical and traditional foundations behind a few popular beliefs.  So you can read about typologies of Mary in the Old Testament and their theological implications, the motherhood of Mary from various angles, the significance of the virginity of Mary, and the potential extent of the blessedness of Mary.  If you like to learn and study, there you go, have fun!

Rabbit trails aside, let’s settle down with the text mentioned at the start.  The angel (traditionally considered one of the Archangels) Gabriel appears to Mary with a message.  Gabriel has appeared before, to prophets like Daniel, and will promptly appear again to Joseph.  As one great hymn puts it, Gabriel is the “herald of heaven”, always appearing with a message, invariably about the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus.  While there is a lot about angels that we simply don’t, and can’t, know, the angelic role of messenger is one that is very informative for the Christian calling – we, too, in our own ways, are messengers or ambassadors or witnesses, proclaiming to the world in some fashion or another that Jesus is here.  Just as Gabriel appears, surprises Mary, and gives her good news, so too do we go about the world with surprising news that’s hard to believe: God loves his world such that he came among us in the humblest of ways!  We proclaim a Jesus who is great, and is called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God has given to him the throne of his father David, and Jesus will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.  Gabriel’s message to Mary, almost verbatim, is the message of the Church to the world to this day.

How will this be?”  How can we proclaim the reality of Christ to a world that so rarely seems interested in listening to us?  This is hard question and the answers look different, according to the situation.

Sometimes we must wield the hammer of the Law – identifying the sins of the people and pointing out the dire demands of divine justice.
Sometimes we must apply the salve of the gospel – announcing the prodigal love of a merciful God.

Sometimes we need to proclaim the truth with emotion – that through our fervency the world will realize how serious we are.
Sometimes we need to proclaim the truth with carefully reasoned argumentation – that through such apologetics we may show ourselves a people who are thoughtful and wise, even “scientific” in the truest sense.

Whatever the details, the underlying reality is the same: God is a worker of miracles.  He made the barren womb bear life, the made the virgin womb bear life, “for nothing will be impossible with God.”

At the end of the day, our posture before God is perfectly embodied in Mary’s response at the climax of this text.  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  Car puns aside, this is Mary’s fiat.  The first fiat is God’s, in Genesis 1: fiat lux, “let there be light.”  That is how the old creation begun.  The new creation begins in the second fiat from the Second Eve, the mother of all re-living, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, “let it be to me according to your word.”  This is then simplified and codified forever in the Lord’s Prayer: fiat voluntas tua, “thy will be done.”

I daresay there is no holier, no more humble, prayer than this.

The Gospel in Apocalyptic Vision

If you’re using our Supplementary Midday Prayer Lectionary, you’ll be coming across this gem today from 2 Esdras 7…

For behold, the time will come, when the signs which I have foretold to you will come to pass, that the city which now is not seen shall appear, and the land which now is hidden shall be disclosed. And every one who has been delivered from the evils that I have foretold shall see my wonders.   For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years.

And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath.  And the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings; so that no one shall be left.  And after seven days the world, which is not yet awake, shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish.

In the first paragraph, the Messiah is said to live for 400 years, and in the second the Messiah is said to be dead for seven days.  Are these just bad predictions?  No, this is apocalyptic writing.  This literary genre is meant to read like an epic tale, not like a dry history book of the future.  400 years of life and 7 days of death depict the grand importance of the life and death of the Messiah both by using dramatically large numbers and by using symbolically significant numbers.  People make this kind of mistake with the writings of the Bible all too often, trying to line up Daniel’s “weeks of years” and Revelation’s “thousand years” with chronological history – apocalyptic writings such as these are not meant to be understood in such shallow and mundane terms.

It’s also fascinating to note how the language here anticipates New Testament language quite vividly.  The world “shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish.”  This is very much like what St. Paul would write to the Corinthians.  In the death of Christ, we who are united with Him also die; and in the resurrection of Christ, we who are united with Him also arise.  We put off that which is perishable (sin) and put on that which is imperishable (the righteousness of Christ).

I have written more of this vision from 2 Esdras 7 (the above is just a sample), so if you’re interested in learning more, I’d encourage you to give this article a read: https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/the-gospel-in-apocalyptic-vision/

… and with your spirit

Every now and then I come across people who oppose the response “and with your spirit” or “and with thy spirit“, arguing that it promulgates a Papist doctrine of Ordination.  I actually wrote about this several years ago on my own blog, responding to such a concern.

The interpretation in question that some people happily teach and others fearfully reject is the assertion that “and with your/thy spirit” references the special gift of the Holy Spirit upon the priest, recognizing his indelible ordination character.  Some Anglicans hold to this view quite strongly and happily.  But the Prayer Book liturgy does not require this interpretation – “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” is a powerful phrase indeed, in the ordination, but it’s not a theological point that is explicitly explained to the last detail.

So here is one example of how the phrase “and with your/thy spirit” can be understood without the sacerdotal priesthood assertion.  Picking up the same commentary from John Boys as yesterday, we read

The pastor cannot use to the people a better wish than “The Lord be with you.”  For if God be with them, who can be against them? and the people cannot make a fitter reply than “with thy spirit.”  For (as Plato divinely said) every man’s soul is himself.

Again, forasmuch as “God is a spirit, and ought to be worshiped in spirit;” it is meet we should perform this spiritual service with all earnest contention and intention of spirit….

Blessed spirits in praising God answer one another interchangeably: though unhappy scornful spirits unmannerly abuse this custom.

It is a matter of mutual blessing.  I am pleased to note that this is more or less what I suggested six and a half years ago when wrote that email that became the blog post linked to at the beginning of this.  Whether or not the priest has a recognizable “ordination character” to salute in the liturgy, this exchange is perfectly reasonable and already sufficiently ‘reformed’.  After all, there are offices in which a lay leader “receives” the phrase “and with your spirit“, and there is no fuss over that!

The Lord be with you…

The liturgy is peppered with short prayers and exchanges.  One of the standard dialogues found throughout the Prayer Book begins “The Lord be with you“.  Among his analysis of the Prayer Book in 17th century, the Rev. Dr. John Boys pointed out that

The novelists have censured this, and other like suffrages, as short cuts, or shreddings, rather than wishings, or prayers.

The “novelists” are his word for the Puritans of his day, who sought a new (hence, novel) form of liturgy that relied more upon long extemporaneous prayers said by the minister, rather than the series of short and succinct prayers of the historic liturgy such as in the Prayer Book.  Citing a few scriptural and Early Church examples of short-but-pious prayers, Boys describes them as

as if they were darts thrown out with a kind of sudden quickness, lest that vigilant and erect attention of mind, which in devotion is very requisite, should be wasted and dulled through continuance, if their prayers few, and long.  The same father in the same place [St. Augustine, Epistle 121], “For oftentimes more is accomplished by groans than by speeches, more by weeping, than by blowing.”  Peruse that learned epistle, for it is a sufficient apology, both for the length of our whole service, and also for the shortness of our several prayers.  If Augustine now lived, and were made umpire between the novelists and us, he would rather approve many short prayers in England, than those two long prayers, one before and the other after sermon, in Scotland and Geneva.

“An Exposition of the Several Offices adapted for various occasions of Public Worship…”
by the Rev. Dr. John Boys, 1629; printed by the Rev. Kensey Stewart, 1851 (page 41)

The impatient 21st-century American may look at the Prayer Book and think our Prayers of the People and Prayer of Consecration to be quite long, but just look at some Puritan and other ‘Reformed’ liturgies, such as in this book, and you will discover just what “long” really means!  This is not to say that long prayers are inherently bad, but they are overly demanding upon the attentions, affections, and memory of the hearer.

As for the phrase “the Lord be with you“, Boys comments that it is primarily derived from Ruth 2:4 “as a usual salutation among God’s people“, citing also Judges 6:12 and Luke 1:28.  He considers other salutations like “God speed,” and “God save you”, and “God bless you” as being equivalent in holiness and worthy of Christian discourse.