Looking Ahead: St. Matthias Day

February 24th is the date our calendar holds for celebrating Saint Matthias.  One could say Matthias was the “second twelfth apostle.”  The Collect for his day makes this explicit:

Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Some modern calendars appoint his feast day for May 14th, landing him close to when Ascensiontide takes place.  That’s a modern change that actually makes some good sense: his only story in the Bible is in Acts 1 – he was elected and chosen by lot to replace Judas in the 10-day period of time between the Ascension of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  But the ACNA’s calendar is holding onto his traditional date February 24th.

This year that puts his feast day on a Sunday, which (many people need to be reminded) is now explicitly permitted, if not also suggested, in our calendar that we can celebrate the feast day right then and there on that Sunday in place of the regular Sunday-after-Epiphany.  The relevant rubrics have been cited here before.

Now, if Lent started earlier, this wouldn’t be an option; Sundays in Lent cannot be overridden by major feast days.  If you are using the traditional calendar, this also would not be an option, as the three Pre-Lent Sundays cannot be overridden either.  But for the majority of us in the ACNA, using the modern calendar, it’s a regular Sunday which therefore can give way to an other prayer book major feast day such as St. Matthias.

So, despite what a lot of the popular Ordo Calendars and online daily office algorithms suggest, feel free to let loose this Saint’s Day on his proper day this month, Sunday February 24th!

Those wicked long readings…

Something great about the ACNA Daily Office Lectionary is that it has a return to the fantastically simple style of our 16th and 17th century lectionaries of reading one chapter at a time.  Back then, that reading pace typically applied both to the OT and NT daily readings, whereas for us it’s mostly just the OT readings that are thus treated.  It’s so much easier when you don’t have to fiddle about with “what verse to stop with” – just read one chapter at a time, and continue it tomorrow.  Simple!

The downside with this approach, of course, is that some chapters are longer than others.  When I tried a 1662-inspired lectionary, at first I found this irritating.  But eventually I came to appreciate the variety of length: sometimes you get a longer story, sometimes it’s short and sweet.  Nevertheless, some chapters are just really long compared to others.

This morning brings us to one such example: Genesis 41.  Clocking in at 57 verses, this chapter packs a punch with two lengthy pieces of the story of Joseph in Egypt.  The first 36 verses detail his interaction with the Pharaoh and interpreting his dreams about the coming bounty and famine; the last 21 verses detail Joseph’s rise to power through the implementation of his vision-based proposal.  It’d be nice to be able to break these up into two different readings, but there just isn’t enough space in the calendar to play with chapter divisions like this.

If you’re a completionist, using the lectionary to read as much of the Bible as possible each year, then you’ve just got to tough it up and read 57 verses in one go.  If, however, you’re praying the Office with a lighter devotional approach, and concerned more about getting the sense of the Scriptures without necessarily reading each word – or if for some reason you need to shorten the reading or have a time limit for the Office as a whole – there is another way.

The ACNA lectionary comes equipped with an “Optional abbreviation” for a number of the larger chapter readings throughout the year.  The entry in the lectionary table for this morning’s Old Testament reading is:

Gen 41 † 1-15,25-40

This means that if you want to shorten the chapter, simply read verses 1-15, then skip to 25 and read through verse 40.  In so doing, you cut out a fair bit of repetition (which is very common in Hebrew storytelling), and abbreviate the lengthy description of the honors Joseph went on to receive, as well as cut out the implementation of the plan that was already described and approved.

Here’s an interesting analogy: reading chapter 41 in its entirety is like reading a sermon, whereas reading the shortened version (vv 1-15,25-40) is like reading the blog post summary of the sermon.  The full version has a beginning, middle and end: “This is what we need to do, this is what we will do, this is what they did.”  A good sermon format is often similar: “This what I’m going to say, this is me saying, this is what I said.”  The blog post version is much more succinct: “Ain’t nobody got time for dis, so here’s the deal.”

Personally, I’m a big fan of reading the Bible in full throughout the year.  If we seriously believe it is the Word of God in literary form then we really ought to be poring through its pages diligently, consistently, and completely.  But as a stay-at-home parent with young children I have come to appreciate all the more how truly difficult it can be for many people to carve out that time for the longer Scripture readings.  So while I see the full-chapter readings in lectionaries like ours to be the ideal to reach for, I must assure you that there is no shame in opting for the shortened version as need arises.

Book Review: Common Prayer 2011

Welcome to Saturday Book Review time!  On most of the Saturdays this year we’re looking at a liturgy-related book noting (as applicable) its accessibility, devotional usefulness, and reference value.  Or, how easy it is to read, the prayer life it engenders, and how much it can teach you.

This weekend I’ve got something perhaps a bit more obscure for you: Book of Common Prayer 2011.  This book was self-published by the Rev. Keith J. Acker in 2011, and has stuck around for the past 8 years in (I assume) very limited circles, probably seeing more private use than congregational use.  It was (and perhaps still is) primarily one person’s effort to propose a modern-language Prayer Book that retains the historic content and order.  The Reformed Episcopal Church (in which he is a minister, and which is a subjurisdiction of the ACNA) already does have a modern-language version of their Prayer Book, so I’m not sure if the purpose of this book has any longevity at this point.

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Most of this Prayer Book is in line with the 1928 Prayer Book‘s order and content.  Its Daily Office is more in line with the English books (such as the 1662).  In accord with the spirit of the newer additions of 1979, though, this book also has a liturgy for Confession, a Healing Service, shorter Family Prayers, and special liturgies for Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and Good Friday.  All of this is in modern English, even the Psalter is the ESV translation (with the verse numbers fixed to match the traditional Coverdale versification).  The “translation” style is a bit clunky for the modern reader, though careful use of punctuation can help one navigate the long compound sentences.  For example, the Prayer of Consecration begins this way:

ALL glory be to you, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for you, of your tender mercy, gave your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death on the cross for our redemption; Who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world; And did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of his most precious death and sacrifice until his coming again.

So it is very traditional in its content, preferring faithful adherence to original words over contemporary readability.  Some will like this, some may not.

Another feature of this book that is common to modern Prayer Books is that it has explanatory notes at the beginning or end of most sections.  For example, between the liturgy for Admitting of Catechumens and the liturgy for Holy Baptism, there is this note:

On Initiation into the Body of Christ

We are initiated into a relationship with the Body of Christ by God’s grace in the Sacrament of Baptism.  God has supplied us with a fellowship of disciples, his Church, in which we are to live out that relationship with him.  The Church is God’s family and the household of Faith into which we are adopted, receiving the gift of being born anew and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Converts are instructed in the Christian Faith.  Catechumens (Greek for instructed) are taught the need for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and the practices of prayer, devotion, and fasting in preparation for Baptism.

In general, this book leans high church.  Confirmation, Confession, and Matrimony are referred to as Sacraments, the 1549 Prayer Book is expressly named as the primary foundation underlying this book, and (in line with REC polity) Holy Orders are explained as a male-only ministry.

Now, between the fact that it has only been authorized for use by one or two bishops in the ACNA, that its translation style is slightly different from what the 2019 Prayer Book is going to be, and that it doesn’t really supply anything that we don’t already have in the 2019 or 1928 Prayer Books, it has to be admitted that from a functional point of view this book isn’t really all that useful.  I will probably never use its Daily Office or its Communion liturgy, much less its pastoral services.  The fact that is retains the historic Communion lectionary is nice, and its suggested additional (usually Old Testament) reading to match the traditional Epistles & Gospels is excellent, but ultimately it’s a redundant book on my shelf.

However, it has something going for it that pays untold dividends in my understanding of the liturgy: it’s ANNOTATED!  Check it out:

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The rubrics are in red (as was traditional back in the day) and its annotations are in blue.  So you can look at a Collect or other prayer or exhortation in this book and see some of their origin from the Bible (or occasionally other sources).  This is immensely useful for a student of the liturgy.  It does make the book a little more complicated to use, because in the ordinary course of prayer your eyes have to ignore those blue reference notes.  It also makes the “Sundays and Holy Days of the Christian Year” a bit more complicated to navigate, as in the picture above – Matthew 4:1-2 is an annotated reference for the Collect for Lent I, but (in black text) Matthew 4:1-11 is the actual Gospel lesson for that Communion service.

Further, looking at this picture some more, there is a handy reference line under each Collect.  The first two blocks are the two traditional lessons for the Communion service on that day.  The second two blocks are the traditional Introit and Gradual (usually psalms) for that day, and the last block on the right is the recommended “third” lesson to add to the traditional two.

The ratings in short:

Accessibility: 3/5
It’s not really any more complicated to use than the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Books, which I rated as 4, but the visual formatting of this book (mainly due to the annotations) make it a little harder to follow.  There’s also the practical challenge of getting a physical copy.  Mine is from the first printing, which had notoriously horrible quality – I’ve barely used it and the front cover has almost torn off!  But there are nicer prints of it available now, apparently.  Its official page is here: http://www.bcp2011.com/node/1.

Devotional Usefulness: 5/5
If one can get past the issues of authorization, visual accessibility, and translation style, the spirituality of this book is almost perfect.  It pretty much fits the bill of my personal opinion of an ideal Prayer Book.  My only actual complaint about its content is that its Daily Office Lectionary seems a bit too scatter-brained.

Reference Value: 5/5
Even though very few people in the world use this, and it will probably be forgotten in a couple decades, the fact that it is similar in content to the 2019 Prayer Book makes it annotations extremely relevant for cross-comparison.  If you want to explore the Scriptural basis for part of our liturgy, you can look it up in this 2011 book and find out.  Unless someone makes an annotated 2019 book, this volume will be a precious asset to me for the rest of my life.

So, final recommendation… if you want to study the Prayer Book liturgy, and don’t have another annotated Prayer Book already, this is worth getting.

 

Retelling History in the Prophets

Okay, so, I can’t help it… let’s look at Jeremiah again.  This evening’s reading from that book continues through some more historical material culminating in the Fall of Jerusalem in tomorrow’s reading (chapter 39).  If you were to do a side-by-side comparison, you’ll find that this is lifted almost word for word from 2 Kings 25.  This will happen again towards the end of this month, as the last chapter or two of Jeremiah also reflect on the Fall of Jerusalem, bringing us back to 2 Kings 25.  So in the Daily Office lectionary you can trace lines of connection from February 9th and 22nd to November 12th.

The almost-perfect word match raises a lot of questions for biblical scholars, too.  Does this mean that Jeremiah wrote 2 Kings?  Did the writer of 2 Kings just copy Jeremiah’s writings?  Did an anonymous editor of Jeremiah add that excerpt from 2 Kings in order to add context to Jeremiah’s biographical material?  It’s one of the many mysteries of the Old Testament that will probably keep us guessing until we pass into the next life wherein we can finally ask the authors ourselves.

This happens in the book of Isaiah, too; chapter 37 extensively retells 2 Kings 19 and/or 2 Chronicles 32.  Again, who wrote what, who copied whom, who edited what and when, are unanswerable questions that remind us that the history of these writings are very long and very complicated.  That story will draw a line of connection from October 5th (Kings) to November 24th (Isaiah).

How does this help one to worship in the Daily Office and appreciate the Scripture readings therein?  Well, not a lot, honestly.  These observations are mostly background, context… more appropriate for study material.  But what we can notice and learn here is that some major events like the Fall of Jerusalem show up in multiple places in the Bible, and we will accordingly hear about them several times throughout the year as they come up.  This is obviously (and more frequently) true considering the great overlap between the four gospel books.  But for now, enjoy taking these stories in Jeremiah’s context.  Later this year we’ll hear some of them again in another setting.

Thirsty Thursday

It’s Thirsty Thursday, wooo!
No I’m not rewinding back to my university days… I wasn’t quite that wild anyway.  But we do have good reason, in the church, to think about wine on Thursdays.

Let’s think about the Christian conception of the week.  On one level we received the concept of the seven day week from pre-Christ Judaism.  The sabbath, or seventh, day was a day of rest to complete the week.  It set ordinary life into the context of creation: as God was described to have worked for six days and rested on a seventh, we were to work for six days and rest on the seventh (cf. Genesis 2, Exodus 20).  That sabbath was a day to replace the ordinary with the sacred, to gather with the community of the faithful and worship God.    That sabbath was also forward-looking, anticipating God’s promised “rest” for his people (cf. Psalm 95, Hebrews 3).

In light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, this theological accounting for the week got expanded.  The first day of the week was the day of Christ’s resurrection, and the apostles eventually dubbed it “the Lord’s Day” (cf. Acts 20:7, Revelation 1).  And although that resurrection day, Easter in English, quickly became an annual festival and holiday, it was also the theological raison d’etre of the first day of the week (or Sunday).  Some Christians also called it “the eighth day”, with a forward-looking anticipation of the new creation in Christ (cf. Justin Martyr’s First Apology ch. 67).  Thus every Sunday is a sort of mini-Easter.

Fridays, too, were drawn into this Gospel-centric scheme.  By the end of the first century Fridays were commonly considered a fast day (cf. Didache 8:1).  This tradition, of remembering Good Friday on most Fridays of the year, endures even into the Anglican Prayer Books, which we’ve noted here before.

What does this suggest to us about Thursdays?  Again, looking to the gospel narratives, we have Maundy Thursday, the day on which Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.  Our “Thirsty Thursday” is a weekly remembrance of the institution of the sacrament of the altar!  Now, to be fair, this particular tradition doesn’t have any echo that I’ve noticed in the classical Prayer Book tradition.  The closest we get, these days, is the Collect for the Presence of Christ recommended for Thursdays in the Evening Prayer liturgy:

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread.  Grant this for the sake of your love.  Amen. 

Apart from that little shout-out, taking on a remembrance of the gift of Holy Communion on Thursdays is entirely up to the individual worshiper or worship planner.  You can keep it in heart and mind during the Office; you could read the Antecommunion service; you could choose Opening Sentences or Canticles that help you to reflect on the Sacrament in the midst of your daily worship.

How did this Maundy Thursday emphasis exist in the liturgical tradition before the Prayer Book?  It was part of the cycle of Daily Mass.  For centuries, every priest was expected or required to celebrate Mass every day.  In cathedrals or other churches with multiple priests available, this meant that there were more masses to be said than there were masses needed for the people to come to attend, and so while one or two priests would celebrate the “public” masses, the rest would have to celebrate a “private” mass – not meaning that nobody else could show up, but just that he would be using a side altar and probably serving the bread and wine to nobody but himself.  As the Western tradition flourished and grew more elaborate, more and more stipulations guided how this worked.  The “mass of the day” was the principle service, but could only be celebrated once or twice, depending upon the number of the congregations attending them.  For the rest of the priests, they’d be saying “votive masses”, that is, other topical devotions mostly divorced from the liturgical calendar.  And part of that tradition included a particular “votive mass” for each day of the week, and for Thursday it was – you guessed it – a mass giving thanks for the gift of Holy Communion, essentially repeating the theological themes of holy days like Maundy Thursday and (later) Corpus Christi.

Obviously, much of that tradition and mentality is incompatible with the Anglican Prayer Book tradition.  But the idea of taking on a different theological theme on different days of the week may well make its echo in our own private devotions, regardless of the potential excesses of medieval tradition.  So perhaps, tonight, you can raise a glass to our Lord Jesus, and give a toast to his saving health!

The Passions of Jeremiah & Jesus

Tonight at Evening Prayer, according to the ACNA daily lectionary, we will read Jeremiah 36 which begins a sequence of chapters of historical material depicting what might be termed ‘the Passion of Jeremiah.’  Although it does not lead to his death, he comes pretty close in chapters 38 and 39.  Meanwhile, in Morning Prayer, we’re getting into the Passion of Christ in John’s Gospel.

Because the Daily Office Lectionary is primarily a tool for reading the Bible sequentially, there is little to no intentionality to the combination of the lessons within a given day.  Nevertheless it is fortuitous to the reader that we should come to the sufferings of Jeremiah for the word of the Lord at the same time as we read of the sufferings of the Lord himself.  Notice the innocence they both have, before the face of the people.  Notice the innocent verdict afforded them by royal authority, and yet how they inspire the hatred of the populace at large.  One can even compare and contrast the way in which Jeremiah and Jesus respond to their accusations.

This is liturgy blog, not a Bible Study blog, but as Jeremiah is my favorite of the prophets I couldn’t let this slip by unmentioned.  Notice the pattern of the confessor or martyr that these two stories establish.  Even if the “official” authority figures find God’s people innocent of crime, that does not mean they will be safe from public ire for the message they bring.  It is the same for a confessor or martyr in any age – whether a government or individual ruler finds Christianity favorable or not, the unbelieving element in society will always be adversarial towards us.  Cozying up to King Zedekiah would have done Jeremiah no good, nor was Pilate able to save Jesus simply because he didn’t have a problem with him.  Likewise the Christian should take note that we do not derive our true public safety by means of law and government.  If the Gospel is offensive to a given culture, then members of that culture will not be kind to us no matter what those in charge may say.

May we strive to be as blameless and innocent as Jeremiah and Jesus.  May we recognize, as we considered yesterday, our frailty and need for the protection of our maker.

Keeping the liturgy faithfully according to the tradition of our forefathers is well and good.  But be sure you let it, especially through the words of sacred scripture, grow and transform you to reflect more and more the One whom the liturgy proclaims.

Pairing: a Collect & a Hymn

Our Collect of the Day from Sunday, the fourth in Epiphanytide, is the first Sunday Collect this season that matches the old Prayer Book tradition.  The first three Sundays have modern Collects to reflect the modern Epiphany emphasis on missions, and now this fourth one takes us back to the original Epiphany tradition.  Here it is:

O God, you know that we are set in the midst of so many and grave dangers that in the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

What I thought we’d do with this Collect today, rather than analyze it or link to a Scripture reading, is match it up with a hymn.  And, rather than dig up a lesser-known song as we’ve done a few times already, let’s pair this classic Collect with a classic hymn: O worship the King.

According to hymnary.org this song appears in nearly 1,000 different books, and probably hundreds more that aren’t compiled on that site.  The lyrics were written by Robert Grant in 1833, loosely based on Psalm 104.  It has been set to a couple different tunes, so I’ll let you readers fight over if LYONS or HANOVER is best, or if one should vote third party.

It is the 5th verse that especially links up with the Collect for Epiphany IV.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In thee, Lord, we trust, nor find thee to fail;
Thy mercies, how tender! how firm to the end!
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and friend!

Both the prayer and the hymn consider us in terms of frailty.  We are “set in the midst of so many and grave dangers”, we need God’s “strength and protection” that, unlike us, are “firm to the end!”  It seems appropriate to consider this hymn a sort of response or follow-up to the Collect: we pray for God’s promised protection, and then we sing joyfully of his steadfast love, his covenant faithfulness, by which we know that our maker, defender, and redeemer is also our friend.

 

Minor Feast Day: Cornelius the Centurion

Today’s commemoration in our calendar is Saint Cornelius the Centurion, whose story is recorded in Acts 10.  He was a devout believer in God, but a Gentile.  He kept regular “hours” of prayer, and during one of these he received an angelic vision affirming his devotion and almsgiving, that these have risen as “a memorial before God.”  As a Gentile, he was separated from God under the Old/Mosaic Covenant, but as he would soon find out, there is a New Covenant that was available to him.

He wasn’t the first Gentile to convert, but he was basically the first Gentile that an Apostle sought out, preached to, and baptized.  Acts 10 is sometimes nicknamed “the Gentile Pentecost,” as the Holy Spirit powerfully fell upon the household of Cornelius in the same way that he fell upon the Samaritans in chapter 8 and the Jews in chapter 2.

Like some of the other holy days we’ve noted in the past few weeks, Cornelius’ commemoration is particularly on-point for the Epiphany season.  Indeed, we need only look two days behind us, to Candlemas, to be reminded of the great Epiphany promise in Christ: to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of [God’s] people Israel.  The light of the Gospel, through the angelic vision and the preaching St. Peter, shone in the household of Cornelius, and he and his family and servants – his entire household – were baptized into the Body of Christ.

If you, or someone you know, are typically skeptical of observing saints’ days, especially the longer list of optional commemorations, keep examples like this in mind.  It’s more than just about the man Cornelius.  It’s about the light of the Gospel advancing into new territory.  It’s about celebrating the fruit of faithful preaching and obedience to God.  It’s about affirming the honest search for God.  It’s about giving flesh and bones, real life stories, to the great theological topics and truths highlighted in the liturgical calendar year.

The Presentation / Purification / Candlemas

February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, also known as The Purification of Mary, or Candlemas for short.  I thought I’d take up some of the liturgical tid-bits that characterize the celebration of that day, and point out something of how they inform us of the Christian Faith, and biblical interpretation.

There are three primary worship services in Western liturgical tradition: Morning Prayer (or Mattins), the Mass (or Communion or Eucharist), and Evening Prayer (or Vespers).  Although they are normally held throughout the day in that order, the Communion service is the “principle” celebration of the day; that means that the scripture readings in that service are usually the most significant ones for the given holiday, and the readings in the Office are supplementary.  Also, what exactly the readings are, and how many of them exist, will vary between different specific traditions.  Older Anglican Prayer Books differ slightly from newer ones, and Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox liturgies also have slightly different choices in many cases, but over all the similarities tend to outweigh the differences.  With that in mind, let’s dive in!

The Collect

The “Collect of the Day” is a prayer that is meant to collect together the theme(s) of the day from the Scripture readings.  Looking at how this is done in a given Collect can reveal the theological, devotional, or practical emphases that the tradition is putting forth.  Here is one Collect for the feast of the Presentation:

Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

This focuses on the historical event (Jesus’ presentation in the Temple) and draws a spiritual analogy to the end product of our salvation: the Day we are all made completely holy in Christ such that he may present us to the Father as adopted members of the household of God.  It also points out that Jesus was in “our flesh,” providing an emphasis on the incarnation and the exchange that takes place: God entered into our humanity so that we can enter into His divinity.

Morning Prayer readings

One Old Testament reading that some of the classic Prayer Books set forth for the Office of Morning Prayer is Exodus 13:1-16.  This makes for a great first reading on this holiday because it gives the Old Testament Law of Moses background for what’s going on with Jesus and his family.  In the wake of the Passover (Exodus 12), God instructs Moses that by destroying all the firstborn males in Egypt except for those households protected by the blood of the Passover Lamb, all firstborn males in Israel now belong to Him.  Therefore they must be redeemed (or bought back) after they are born.  It’s like a first-fruit offering, except because children are not to be sacrificed, they are to be paid for instead.  (Interestingly, it’s the same concept as an indulgence – a debt is owed, but another form of payment is accepted.)

This is what Mary and Joseph were doing in the Temple with 40-day-year-old Jesus; they were obeying this law going back to the time of the Exodus.

Holy Communion readings

Across the board, the Gospel reading for this holiday is Luke 2:22-40, as that is the account of the event on which this holiday is based.  There we find the story of Jesus’ family in the Temple, Simeon recognizing Jesus and singing his prophetic song (or Canticle), and Anna the prophetess recognizing Jesus and sharing the good news of His arrival as well.

The Old Testament reading often included here (including our 2019 Prayer Book) is Malachi 3:1-5.  Much of that passage provides material for the preaching of St. John the Baptist, which inevitably draws the participant in the liturgy back to the season of Advent.  For there we heard for one or two Sundays about John and his preaching, and the accompanying Advent theme of the future return of Christ for the final judgement echoes in this reading too.  But most importantly, the very first verse here says “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”  Obviously this has multiple fulfillments, as Jesus visits the Temple many times in his life and significant things take place at several of those visits.  But this is his first arrival in the Temple, and there are two people there (Simeon and Anna) who had been seeking him there.

Other readings

An Epistle reading found in some Daily Office lectionaries is Galatians 4:1-7.  There we find a theme mentioned briefly in the Collect – our own becoming sons of God.  It also mentions the dynamic of moving from being bound to the Law to being adopted as sons.  Jesus himself, it says, was “born of a woman, born under law,” which this holiday describes.  So the sharing of Christ in our humanity leads to our sharing in his divinity, because “since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

One reading often used at the end of the day is Haggai 2:1-9.  This prophetic writing speaks of the newly-build second temple and its inferiority to the original built under King Solomon.  And yet, God promises that it will be greater in glory, for “in this place I will grant peace.”  This promise is empty and void throughout Old Testament history; it is not until Jesus arrives there that God’s presence actually ever even enters the Temple again!  As the Christian goes through Evening Prayer and sees this promise of peace at the end of the Old Testament lesson, he or she will be drawn back in memory to the Gospel reading earlier, specifically the words of Simeon: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.”  Haggai’s words are directly answered by Simeon in Luke’s Gospel book!

The Canticle of Simeon

Let’s stick with Simeon’s song for a moment here.  It’s Luke 2:29-32, specifically, and is actually used throughout the entire year as a canticle (prayer-song) in the Daily Office.  Traditionally it’s a canticle appointed for Compline, the bedtime office of prayer.  In that context, it is read by Christians sort of in union with Simeon with our approaching bedtime as a picture of our eventual death (as Simeon had been promised that would not die until he’d seen the Savior).  In Anglican practice, the Canticle of Simeon is also used in Evening Prayer, but the end-of-day/end-of-life context and effect is the same.  My point is that a regular participant in the liturgy will be intimately familiar with the Canticle of Simeon.  As a result, hearing it in the liturgy for this particular holiday will have an interesting effect.

Two major promises stand out in the Canticle of Simeon: Christ will be a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and will be a light to be the glory of Israel.  The theme of light coming into the world is echoed throughout the seasons of Advent (Romans 13:12’s armor of light), Christmas (John 1:9’s light coming into the world), and Epiphany (Isaiah 60’s light shining upon the nations).  So as this holiday wraps up the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle, the theme of light is brought to the foreground and celebrated quite visually.

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The Blessing of Candles

This holiday’s nickname is Candlemas, because of the tradition of blessing candles on this day.  All the candles to be used in the Church for the coming year are gathered up to be blessed for their sacred purpose.  Additionally, other candles are blessed and distributed to the people to carry in procession and to take home.  This is a physical enactment of what we learn from Simeon – Christ is the light of the world for all nations, including ourselves!  One can also find in the Gospel books the words of Christ, “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14 and following).

Light does many things.  It drives out darkness and exposes what’s hidden.  Thus, the blessings spoken over the candles include both penitential aspects as God’s people repent of their sins, and apotropaic aspects as demonic spirits are to flee from the light of Christ.  The Scriptures do attest, after all, that the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).  So, by receiving candles and lighting them, we participants in the liturgy are given physical reinforcement to the words and teachings of Scripture that we are God’s adopted children, receiving Christ the light of the world promised in ages past by the Prophets.  And we receive this not just as some abstract teaching, but as historically linked to real events that actually happened.  Christ the Light of the World is not just a spiritual reality that occurs in our hearts, but is grounded in the real arrival of the real Christ child in the real (though now long-gone) Temple.  And with all that in place we are pointed to look ahead to the Day we each are presented in the heavenly temple to our heavenly Father by our adoptive brother, Christ Himself.

This post, apart some new edits, was originally published on my blog Leorningcnihtes boc, on 3 February 2016.

Last Christmas Hymn: From East to West

Tomorrow is the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, or, the Purification of Mary, celebrating the events of Luke 2:22-40.  As I’ve suggested and explored here before, using these 40 days from Christmas Day until tomorrow is a great way to crawl through the massive collection of Christmas songs in our hymnals.  A good choice for the last of these hymns is From East to West, from shore to shore.

This is an ancient hymn, its text written in Latin by Coelius Sedulius around the year 450.  As often is the case with ancient hymns, its English translation has been set to several different tunes, so I’m not going to include a YouTube link this time; the lyrics will have to suffice.

From East to West is a good choice for the end of this extended run of Christmas hymns because its lyrics touch upon some thematic material that makes it fitting for this point in the calendar:

  1. The appeal for “every heart”, “from East to West, from shore to shore,” to awake and sing about the newborn Christ, is very Epiphany-appropriate.  The song starts immediately with that world-wide invitation to worship Jesus.
  2. The epiphany theme of revealing the divinity of Jesus is also prominent in this song, which identifies him with godly epithets such as “the everlasting King” and “the world’s Creator” and “the Lord most high.”
  3. Mary plays a relatively prominent role in these lyrics, anticipating her prominent role in the feast of the Presentation tomorrow.  Here she is celebrated, “a maiden in her lowly place,” who becomes “the chosen vessel of his grace.”  In the doxology, the final verse of the hymn, Jesus is named as the “Virgin-born.”

In all, this is a fantastic hymn that works for Epiphanytide almost as well as for Christmastide.  I wouldn’t be afraid to pull it out almost any time of year, come to think of it, if I knew I’d be preaching or teaching Christology.  It plays out the dual reality of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, his lowliness and his exaltation, marvelously.

Perhaps you can read or sing it at the Daily Office or other time of devotion today?

From east to west, from shore to shore Let ev’ry heart awake and sing
The holy child whom Mary bore, The Christ, the everlasting king.

Behold, the world’s creator wears The form and fashion of a slave;
Our very flesh our maker shares, His fallen creature, man, to save.

For this how wondrously He wrought!  A maiden, in her lowly place,
Became, in ways beyond all thought, The chosen vessel of His grace.

And while the angels in the sky Sang praise above the silent field,
To shepherds poor the Lord Most High, the one great Shepherd, was revealed.

All glory for this blessed morn To God the Father ever be;
All praise to You, O Virgin-born, And Holy Ghost, to thee.  Amen.