Jesus and Apostolic Authority

Happy Saints Simon & Jude Day! Here is a homily exploring the subject of unity in Christ through his apostolic witness.

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Part One: Division

I was having a little dialogue with someone on Facebook last week about the intersection of politics and religion.  It was once of those situations where the other person and I actually were in general agreement concerning the subject at hand, but he seemed intent on convincing me to become more vocal about our concerns.  Pastors should preach these socio-political and religious issues from the pulpit every week, if our country is to be saved!  I pointed out that the preacher’s first concern is preaching the Gospel, and as the texts of Scripture speak to one contemporary issue or another then we address those issues.  However, in doing so, I quoted from the New Testament Epistles, to which the other fellow replied “Are you saying Jesus did not kick over the money changers’ tables? Do you risk putting so-called Saint Paul before Jesus?

As if…

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Two Morning Collects: for the Renewal of Life & for Guidance

After the Collect of the Day in Morning Prayer the 2019 Prayer Book gives us a list of seven prayers, each recommended for the seven days of the week. Here are two more of them.

A COLLECT FOR THE RENEWAL OF LIFE

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night
and turns the shadow of death into the morning:
Drive far from us all wrong desires,
incline our hearts to keep your law,
and guide our feet into the way of peace;
that, having done your will with cheerfulness during the day,
we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This collect was written by Bishop William Reed Huntington and proposed for the 1892 Prayer Book, but was not adopted until 1928, where it serves as one of the additional collects for Family Prayer on page 594. In 1979 it moved to its current position in the Morning Prayer Office. It references several Old and New Testament verses, perhaps most obviously the Benedictus (Luke 1:79).

If there a single prayer that summarizes a “theology of Mornings” it is this collect. The primary liturgical use of night and day is as a picture of death and resurrection, and this prayer explores several variations on that theme. It’s almost a list, carrying at least five verses of Scripture in mind and alluding to others also. Ultimately, in this prayer we acknowledge the works and victories of God, and look ahead to our own participation in that (by giving thanks) at the end of the day.

A 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.

The exact age of this collet is difficult to identify. This version is identical in content and position to that of the 1979 Prayer Book, which in turn was adopted from the Canadian 1922 Prayer Book where it was among the Family Prayer devotions. It was drawn from the 1913 book A Chain of Prayer Across the Ages, which has since gone through subsequent revisions, and is labeled as ancient.

This prayer is particularly appropriate for the morning as it implies a day ahead in which we need to remember God amidst all the busy distractions. Indeed, part of the purpose of the Daily Office (and other hours-based offices like Midday and Compline) is to help us remember God throughout the day. Drawing primarily from Acts 17:28, in which St. Paul quotes from known Greek philosophers to affirm the truth that all of reality is grounded upon the existence and will of God, this collect contrasts the doctrine of God with the sort of experience found in the story of Mary and Martha of Bethany in Luke 10, such that 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.

King Alfred the Great: a Saint?

Our Prayer Book’s calendar of commemorations lists today “Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons and Reformer of the Church, 899.” This may stand out because most of the saints and commemorations seem to be churchmen – bishops, monastics, and other ministers. There are a few kings and queens, though, and Alfred is the only English one known as “the Great”. Why was he great, and why is he considered a saint?

One of the new features of the 2019 Prayer Book is the way it handles the calendar of commemorations: people are not simply named, but also labeled or described. King Alfred was a “Reformer of the Church” who died in 899AD. It may perhaps be best to understand his “reforming” role in a larger context.

Throughout his life, King Alfred was battling Danish invaders, the perennial threat to the British Isles throughout the early Middle Ages. Alfred won some important victories after some difficult defeats, yet also organized some significant rebuilding projects that saved not only the kingdom of Wessex, but Anglo-Saxon culture as a whole. He built a system of burgs (forts) to form a tangible border of defense, and he built church schools to form a new educated generation of teachers and priests. He maintained armies and built ships to counter the threat of barbarism from without and he maintained a court school to counter the threat of barbarism from within. He supplied bishops with copies of Pope Gregory the Great’s book Pastoral Care, to help ensure their ministry was carried out well, and he translated (or had others translate) many important Latin works into (what we now call Old) English. We still have copies of the West Saxon Gospels to this day!

Interesting, Alfred became known as “the Great” in the 16th century when the English Reformers started drawing upon his work and legacy in the vernacular and found it a useful counter to Papal claims for the supremacy of Latin and the supposed antiquity of its doctrines. Alfred, among others, show us an early English church that did not preach the excesses and heresies of late medieval Rome.

There is, of course, much about Alfred’s life that we don’t know with much certainty. He did, at least, have a biographer who knew him personally, which is an advantage over many historical figures from that long ago, but that doesn’t prevent the growth of legend and inference over time. Nevertheless, what we do know is that he was a good king who tried to take care of his people both in safety and in culture. He did good things for the preservation and rebuilding of the church amidst and after the devastations of war, and for that we Christians (especially of the English Church) have been very thankful ever since.

Getting uncomfortably close to Jesus

It’s the feast of St. James of Jerusalem today. We’ve got a brief round-up prepared for this holiday, plus a little devotional.

This year, meanwhile, we’re looking at the New Testament lesson appointed for Morning Prayer on this major feast day: James 1. Specifically, just the verse first.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greeting.

St. James 1:1

Compared to all the other New Testament Epistles, this really stands out. To the casual reader it doesn’t even sound like he’s writing to Christians! But this makes perfect sense when the reader considers two key things about his context.

  1. It was universally understood among the first Christians that the kingdom of Israel was being re-founded around the throne of Jesus as King. The New Covenant, further, brought a new rite of entry into the covenant people: baptism instead of circumcision. Gentiles, therefore, were eligible to join Israel with unprecedented ease! When James writes to the “twelve tribes”, he means the “Israel of God”, the Church, which St. Paul refers to in Galatians 6:16.
  2. James was based in Jerusalem, so when he wrote to his fellow believers elsewhere they were naturally considered “the Dispersion”, literally, those who weren’t in or near Jerusalem.

That said, St. James of Jerusalem did have a distinctly Jewish view of Christianity. His epistle, of all in the New Testament, reads the most like an Old Testament treatise, drawing heavily on biblical Wisdom literature and the Law of Moses. He speaks of the apostolic testimony, of course, and makes references to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, but the tone is very much reflective of someone who was raised Jewish and continues to live according that culture.

Despite this strange character compared to the majority of the New Testament’s wide-eyed perspective towards a Gentile-inclusive future, the epistle of James gives us an unexpectedly close portrait of the world in which Jesus walked. He kept the Law, he lived under the Old Covenant (thus fulfilling it), his cultural references were almost 100% parochial Jewish. Although James’ language doesn’t represent the majority tone of the Apostolic witness, it does bring us very close to what one might have experienced had one walked with Jesus during his earthly ministry.

This “awkward Jewishness” about James is compounded when you consider one of the few references to him in the Gospels. Natives of Nazareth expressed their unbelief regarding Jesus in this way: ““Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?”  And they took offense at him” (Matthew 13:54b-57a). One of the reasons (or excuses) that some people rejected Jesus was that they knew his family and relatives. They were “too close” to him to take him seriously.

And that sort of thing can be a challenge for Christians, sometimes, too. We know about his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. We hear about his relatives, including this James. They’re unapologetically Jewish, undeniably 1st-century Roman Palestinians. And still we exalt and worship that Jesus as God-in-the-flesh. St. James can bring us very close to Jesus, and sometimes that can be a little uncomfortable. It’s somehow “safer” to imagine Jesus in isolation, with no mother, no relatives, just a man descended from heaven. But, thank Him, that isn’t who he is; he’s a real person from a real lineage and race and region.

Customary Update: Holy Communion part 1

The first half of the Communion liturgy is now covered by the Saint Aelfric Customary. You may already have seen the prologue on how to choose between the two Communion Rites in the 2019 Prayer Book, and now the first half of the actual worship service is summarized.

There is clarification on the use of the Acclamations at the very beginning, ideas about the Collects, guidelines for including the Decalogue periodically, notes about handling the lessons, and even some of the music around them.

Notes on parts of the liturgy that are often taken for granted or ignored (the Gloria, the Creed, the Prayers of the People, the Exhortation) may also give you pause for thought. And, perhaps most unexpectedly, we’ve got a recommended use of the full list of Offertory sentences. Just think how few of them are normally read, and how many of them sit unused, unheard by the majority of our congregants!

You can read the whole thing here: https://saint-aelfric-customary.org/customary-for-the-holy-communion/

A Collect for Strength to Await Christ’s Return

If there is a single prayer that summarizes a “theology of Sundays” it is this collect.  The Lord’s Day is associated with many things – God’s reign over all creation, the resurrection of Jesus, and the many spoils and great redemption wrought through that victory.  It is from that resurrection power that Christian derive courage, boldness, and obedience to live for him both today and in anticipation of the last great Day.  The worship on this day therefore leads to the works throughout the week, and in so doing we sanctify time itself (cf. Question 298 in the Catechism, To Be A Christian).

Among this list of collects, this one is the only one that is not the same in the 1979 Prayer Book.  That prayer for Sundays in Morning Prayer was short both in length and in theological and devotional content.  Ironically, the prayer we have appointed instead was written originally for the 1979 Prayer Book, where it was found as Occasional Prayer #69.

O God our King,
by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week,
you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life:
Redeem all our days by this victory;
forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will;
and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect for Grace (Morning Prayer)

The Collect for Grace is rich in Scripture references. After acknowledging the beginning of the day, we pray as in Psalm 43:1 “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause.” The Collect expresses a trust in God’s refuge akin to that described in Psalm 62:7 (verse 8 in the Prayer Book numeration) and Psalm 91:2. We pray this “That we may do what is righteous in your sight” (Deuteronomy 6:18), putting the prayer together in much the same way as part of Zechariah’s Canticle does in Luke 1:74-75.

This Collect is the second of the standard Morning Prayer Collects appointed daily in the classical Prayer Books. It also references the Psalms, and has versions in the Sarum and earlier liturgies that bring it to Morning Prayer in the Prayer Book by way of the minor Office of Prime. The wording of the final phrase shifted from the English to the American Prayer Books: “that all our doings may be ordered by thy governance, to do always what is righteous in thy sight” became “that all our doings being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight”. This is a subtle shift of emphasis: the English version places God’s ordering of our works as the primary goal of the prayer, with the righteousness of our deeds as a consequence; the American version places the righteousness of our deeds as the goal, assuming God’s ordering of our works as a necessary cause. The difference comes down to whose works are more important in the Christian life: recognizing God’s grace at work in us (English) or carrying out our work in response to God’s grace (American). The phraseology in the 2019 Prayer Book, carried over from the translation of 1979, remains in the American tradition.

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God,
you have brought us safely to the beginning of this new day:
Defend us by your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin nor run into any danger;
and that, guided by your Spirit, we may do what is righteous in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect for Peace at Morning Prayer

This prayer, like its counterpart in Evening Prayer, addresses the trouble of enemies. Perhaps the first question is who are our enemies? As in several of the Psalms, this is a nebulous concept, a fill-in-the-blank opportunity, and we should take care how we treat it, even in the silence of our hearts. The scriptures teach us that the enemies of the Christian are the world, the flesh, and the devil. Those are the forces that turn us away from God; those are the real threats against whom we need protection, and against whom we must fight. We must fight because peace is not found in avoidance of conflict, but in steadfastness despite conflict. Through “the might of Jesus” we pray for God’s defense “in all assaults”, not from all assaults. The goal or purpose of these prayers is that we “may not fear.” That is where our peace is found.

This Collect for Peace is one of the standard Morning Prayer Collects, appointed daily in the classical Prayer Books. Derived especially from the Psalms and the Gospel of John, and from the meditation of St. Augustine of Hippo, this prayer was used in the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries as a post-communion prayer. In the Sarum Rite it was also appointed for the end of Lauds, whence Archbishop Cranmer carried it over to our Morning Prayer liturgy.

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord,
to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom:
Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies;
that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries,
through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Why the Collect of the Day in the Daily Office?

The first collect after the Suffrages has always been the Collect of the Day. The 1979 Prayer Book made this optional, but ours restores its requirement. The use of the Collect of the Day outside of the Communion liturgy seems to have originated with Archbishop Cranmer himself. This is, in a sense, a Reformation answer to the tradition of Daily Mass: rather than expecting the people to watch the priest celebrate the Sacrifice of the Altar throughout the week, the primary concern was that the people would come and hear the Word of God read throughout the week. The inclusion of the Collect of the Day was therefore an acknowledge of prior tradition both by acknowledging the liturgical calendar in the daily services and by bringing to peoples’ minds the previous Sunday’s prayers and lessons miniaturized in its Collect.

The purpose of using the Collect of the Day here in the Daily Office is either to bring to mind the Communion service on the previous Sunday or the present holy day. The majority of the Office is quite static, unmoved by liturgical season or other occasion; this Collect is its primary link to the sacramental life of the Church.

Although the Collect of the Day no longer relates directly to the readings in the modern Communion lectionary, its repetition from the previous Sunday or present holy day still serves as a tangible link between the Daily Office and the Holy Communion.

The Collects at Morning Prayer

After the short call-and-response prayers of the Suffrages, the worshiper comes to a set of collects: first the Collect of the Day, then at least one from a list of seven, and a Prayer for Mission. The devotional aim is to move from shorter to longer prayers; where the Suffrages summarize, the Collects dig deeper.

So, traditionally, there are three Collects in a row: the Collect of the Day followed by two set Collects according to the time of day (in the Morning it’s for Peace and for Grace, as the rubrics note). By 1662 additional prayers were added to these, though not required in the rubrics. In the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books those two Collects got expanded to the seven choices we have today, plus a choice from three Prayers for Mission.