St. James of Jerusalem Day

October 23rd is the feast of St. James of Jerusalem in modern calendars.  The traditional calendar didn’t give him a separate day of his own because for a large chunk of history he was identified as one of the twelve apostles, commemorated along with Philip on May 1st.  Recent trends of interpretation have preferred to see this James as a separate person, not one of the twelve.  You can read a little bit more about that in last year’s entry.  I suppose it’s better accidentally to commemorate one person twice a year than to forget to commemorate someone because we confused him with someone else.  We’ve got that same problem with St. Aelfric, too, to be fair.

Anyway, let’s move on and look at the Collect of this Day.

Grant, O God, that following the example of your apostle James the Just, kinsman of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

It’s interesting to come across this just as a public strife has arisen between fans of John MacArthur and Beth Moore surrounding recent comments of the former against the latter.  There is, indeed, something of a theological gap between the two of them, and, further, a theological gap between both of them and the Anglican tradition from which we could stand aloof to their quarrel – or at least the quarrels of their respective fandoms and supporters.  “I follow Johnny Mac!” and “I follow Beth!” are voraciously-defended causes right now.

St. James of Jerusalem presided at a church council in Jerusalem around the year 50.  The primary issue was responding to Judaizers – people who insisted that Gentiles had to become practicing Jews in order to be proper Christians.  Circumcision, the keeping of the Law of Moses, the Saturday Sabbath, dietary regulations, and the like, were the prominent visible aspects of their cause.  The apostles, including Sts. Peter and Paul, had already been teaching against the Judaizers’ cause, though the former had paid lip service to them in the recent past, much to St. Paul’s consternation.  But a case had been made against St. Paul and his company, and it was time to settle the matter formally.  The full story can be read in Acts 15, and I put together a walk-through of that text a few years ago if you care to read it.

The short of it is that James, acting as what we would now call the diocesan bishop of Jerusalem, heard the case, made a ruling, saw it confirmed by the assembly, and released an official statement to make their decision public.  Enmity and strife was resolved with a little bit of comprise, but primarily a restatement of gospel truth.  Remember, godly compromise is only possible when both sides are essentially correct and only peripherally in disagreement… many of the judaizers were outright heretics (cf. the epistle to the Galatians), so there was very little room for compromise anyway.

What makes this episode particularly noteworthy is that St. James was supposed to be a “safe” choice for the judaizer cause.  He had been a faithful Jew, like most of the first disciples and apostles, and he was known continually as a devout Jewish man even after his conversion to Christ.  Simply the fact that he continued to live, minister, and lead the church in Jerusalem when all the other apostles had fled due to persecution by Jewish authorities (cf. Acts 12) is a significant clue to how Jewish James must have appeared.  If the judaizers were going to get a bishop on their side, James would be their man.  But, of course, he wasn’t.  He had a strong personal affinity for the Jewish religion and culture, and he was among the least willing to give up the formal trappings of the Old Covenant, but despite that he understood that this was a voluntary choice and not a Gospel mandate.

Only with the Gospel mandate, or creedal orthodoxy, or however you care to summarize it, can “reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity” be achieved.  This speaks volumes to the MacArthur versus Moore conflict; this speaks to the ordination of women conflict within the ACNA; this speaks to the substantial disagreements between parties within the Anglican tradition, not to mention the many denominations beyond the confines of the Anglican Way.  Some compromises are possible, but ultimately one truth will prevail over the other(s) if unity is to be achieved.  Let us pray for leaders akin to the spirit and wisdom of St. James of Jerusalem – bishops who can discern biblical truth from personal preference and piety – through whom Christ can bring true reconciliation to his people in variance and enmity.

Generic or Specific Saints’ Day Collects

When I started getting into catholicism (in the broad sense – Roman, Eastern, Lutheran, Anglican, hadn’t decided yet) one of the things I found myself hoping for was that there’d be more information on the Saints.  Where did the twelve apostles go, besides Paul?  What did they do, and how did they die?  It was a naive hope, of course, because we’ve all got the same Bible, and the Bible is still the surest witness to the history of that generation.

We all have access to the same histories, too, which indicate the further stories all of the apostles, but some of that is legendary, and it’s often hard (if not impossible) to separate fact from fancy.  To some degree it doesn’t matter: if we know what kind of people the apostles were (thanks to the Bible) then we can infer the kinds of things they did, even if the details have gotten muddled over the centuries.

But we can’t teach as doctrine what history only assumes and the Bible doesn’t tell or infer… so how do we celebrate saints days like today’s?  We know nothing about Bartholomew’s activity in the Bible, and assuming he’s the same man as Nathaniel we’ve only got about one instance of Jesus even speaking directly to him (toward the end of John 1).

So what we do is have a Collect of the Day that’s more generic.  The wording is a little different between classic and modern prayer books but in this case the content is the same:

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

As you can see, we assert nothing specific about his life, only the generic fact that he believed and preached the Word of God, as did all the apostles, especially after the Day of Pentecost.  New-to-traditional-Christianity-me was disappointed at this sort of thing; I was unconsciously feeling the gnostic pull, hoping for secret knowledge and insight that was previously denied me in the generic non-denominational setting.  But it is good, in its own way, that we don’t know much about most of the apostles.  For the reason that we celebrate them isn’t for their own sake.  If that were so we’d need to know a lot about them… each would need his own biography in the Bible!  But we celebrate the saints for the sake of Christ.  We live by their light not because they shine like the sun but because they’re moons that reflect the sun’s light back toward us from another angle.  (This analogy has long been used of Mary, too, to the extent were you’ll occasionally see a moon associated with her in certain strands of iconography.)

So, with St. Bartholomew, the lesson is going to be generic but fundamental: let us love the Word which the apostles taught, and let us go and preach the same.

Remember to use different Collects today

Just a quick entry this Friday morning – remember to use a different Collect of the Day in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.

  1. In Morning Prayer today, we’re still using the Collect of the Day from Sunday (Proper 15 in the 2019 book).
  2. In Evening Prayer today it’s time to switch the Collect of the Day over to tomorrow’s feast day: St. Bartholomew.

As it says on page 687:

Following ancient Jewish tradition, the celebration of any Sunday begins at sundown on the Saturday that precedes it. Therefore at Evening Prayer on Saturdays (other than Holy Days), the Collect appointed for the ensuing Sunday is used.

Although this only refers to Sundays, the principle has traditionally been applied to major holy days, such as the “red-letter days” in Prayer Book tradition.  This quote does, however, speak to tomorrow’s Evening Prayer situation, noting that the Holy Day takes precedence over starting Sunday at sundown.

In short…

  • Friday Morning: still using the previous Sunday’s Collect
  • Friday Evening: begin using St. Bartholomew
  • Saturday Morning & Evening: still using St. Bartholomew
  • Sunday Morning: begin using that Sunday’s Collect

Happy praying!

Praying Humbly

The Collect for Proper 12 (or, in classical prayer books, for the 12th Sunday after Trinity) is a truly humble prayer.  If you want to see an example of what it means to pray with a humble heart, look no further.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This prayer acknowledges several things that takes our egos down a notch.

  1. God is more ready to hear than we are to pray.
  2. God gives us more than we desire or deserve.
  3. God forgives us the things of which we’re afraid to ask for forgiveness.
  4. God gives us god things that we’re not worthy even to ask for.
  5. We’re only worthy to ask God for things through the merits of another: Jesus Christ our Savior.

If you chase down some Scripture references this one prayer could be turned into a Bible Study, even a sermon!  And why not? let’s grab a few verses right now.

  • Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. – Isa. 65:24
  • God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. – 1 Kings 3:11-12
  • I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. – John 16:33

Sometimes in a conservative, confessional, liturgical, or otherwise traditional church setting, we might find ourselves downplaying the prodigal love of God toward us, preferring to take a more severe and sober attitude concerning our sinfulness or concupiscence, pushing back against the excesses of pop-evangelical culture, or worse, the prosperity gospel heretics who go on about bastardized versions of “God’s love” all the time.  It’s important, with prayers such as this one, to maintain that biblical balance between sober awareness of our sinfulness and joyful recognition of God’s loving-kindness.

So enjoy this prayer for the rest of the week, and revel in God’s love for you!  (But if you’re in a classical-prayer-book parish, then I guess you have to wait another month or so for your turn with this Collect!)

St. James’ Day

It’s July 25th, you know what that means!  No, no “Christmas In July”… it’s Saint James’ Day, I warned you this was coming!  One of the “inner three” of Christ’s apostles, James’ story comes to an abrupt end in Acts 12.  Let’s start with prayer though:

O gracious God, your servant and apostle James was first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ: Pour upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service, by which they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Though he tends to get less press than a few of the other apostles, James is one of the ones we know the most about from the New Testament.  This is reflected in several of the Scripture readings appointed for today.  The special reading for this feast day in Morning Prayer is from Mark 1, where we see the call of James with his brother John, sons of Zebedee.  At the Communion today the Gospel (from Matthew 20) has Jesus’ subtle prediction of James’ death, and the reading from Acts 11 & 12 (in the place of the Epistle) accounts for James’ death directly.

If you chose to make use of the Midday Lectionary provided by this Customary, you’ll also read from 2 Kings 1 today – a curious story in which the prophet Elijah calls down fire from heaven upon multiple groups of soldiers until a group entreats him with the honor due his office as a Prophet.  This sets the Old Testament background and precedent for another story of James (and John) in Luke 9, wherein they ask Jesus if they should call fire down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that rejected Jesus’ teaching.  One can see that St. James was indeed a zealous disciple of our Lord!

So, as the Collect of the Day, how about taking a little time today to pray for pastors, deacons, priests, bishops, that they might be ready, like St. James, to lay down their life for you and those whom else they serve in the name of the Lord?

Pairing a Collect with a Hymn

One of my favorite things about the 2017 hymnal, “Book of Common Praise“, is that among its extensive indices it has a liturgical index that suggests hymns to match each Collect, OT lesson, Epistle lesson, and Gospel for each Sunday and holy day in the traditional calendar.  (Yes, traditional calendar, not the modern 3-year lectionary, because the REC made this book, and they still use the classic Anglican calendar.)  If you pay attention to the traditional Collects and find where they are in the modern (2019 Prayer Book) calendar, then you can profit from this liturgical index.

Take, for example, the Collect for Proper 9, which is this coming Sunday.  It corresponds with the 9th Sunday after Trinity (most of the post-Trinity collects numerically line up from the old to new calendars like this, which is handy).  The collect reads as follows:

Grant us, O Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who can do no good thing apart from you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

The 2017 hymnal recommends the following hymns to match with this Collect:

Dear Lord…” right off the bat reveals its connection with this collect: “Forgive our foolish ways!  Reclothe us in our rightful mind, In purer lives thy service find…”  The recognition that we need God to enable us to good is clear throughout the hymn.

Breathe on me” is perhaps better known.  It’s not as “negative” about the sinful self, but its plea for reliance on God is just as sincere: “Fill me with life anew, That I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.”

O thou who camest” is a hymn for Confirmation in this hymnal.  It isn’t until verse 3 that this hymn’s connection to the Collect is clear: “Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire to work, and speak, and think for thee”.  Verse 4 also contributes: “Ready for all thy perfect will,
my acts of faith and love repeat”.  Its emphasis on doing the desire of one’s heart is revealed to be the godly intention of desiring what God desires, and thus plays into the main theme of the Collect.

Take my life, and let it be” may be cliche to some.  But the entire song can serve as a meditation on this Collect’s prayer for God’s spirit which alone enables us to do good.  Verse by verse this hymn hands to God our life, hands, lips, heart, voice, and finally our will:

Take my will, and make it thine;
It shall be no longer mine.

Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for thee.  Amen.

If you want to make use of these hymns to reinforce the Collect of the Day on this coming Sunday, one of the best spots to do this is either between the Gloria in excelsis and the Collect.  The rubrics on pages 107 and 125 indicate that the Gloria may be substituted for a different song of praise, which my congregation traditionally stretches a little such that we say the Gloria and then sing a hymn.  I know of other congregations that take this idea even farther and put a whole “praise and worship set” after or in place of the Gloria… that strikes me as a stretch of the rubrics too far.  Whateverso, placing one of these hymns immediately before the Collect maximizes the potential for people to hear the thematic echo of the hymn in the Collect when the celebrant reads it.

If you place the related hymn elsewhere in the liturgy, it may be necessary for the preacher to identify that connection during the sermon.  And honestly, that’s not a bad idea either.  Include an explication of the Collect in the sermon, quote a piece of the hymn that connects to it, and then have the congregation sing that hymn during the Offertory or something.  That way the liturgy stands as a more coherent whole, and you the ministers are helping your flock see that, recognize that, and learn to make those connections on their own. For if we truly believe lex orandi lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief) and vice versa, we should take care to see that our form of worship is just as coherent as our biblical preaching and doctrinal catechesis.

 

Collect for “Proper 8”

This week’s Collect of the Day is drawn from yesterday’s position in the calendar, “Proper 8”.  This is a prayer for God’s fatherly ordering of our lives:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and on earth: Put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things that are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

On its own, simply, this is a prayer that highlights God’s parental role over us.  If you have had children, or have cared for or ministered to children regularly, you know on an experiential level just how important a prayer like this is.  Children often have a hard time accepting or understanding the difference between the “hurtful things” and “those things that are profitable”… what they want is what they want, and that’s that!  Of course, we adults fall into the exact same mentality all the time, we’re just usually a little more sophisticated about it.  “I deserve to indulge myself today”, “Just one ___ won’t hurt me”, “I know it’s bad for me, but I can keep it under control”.  This prayer demands of us an honesty that we’re not always prepared to attain to on our own.

In the traditional calendar, this Collect was appointed for the 8th Sunday after Trinity, and was paired with Romans 8:12-17 and Matthew 7:15-21.  That epistle is very clearly in mind in the construction of this Collect:

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

The Gospel contains a warning against false teachers – wolves in sheep’s clothing.  This adds to the Epistle’s concern with things that are morally and spiritually harmful or profitable the further level of doctrinal harm and profit.  It is critical that we do not scratch our “itching ears” as it is written elsewhere in the New Testament.  We must pray that God will keep, or make, us open to receive his true teaching rather than the teaching we want to hear.  Our fleshly, sinful, self-centered tendencies can easily overrule our moral, spiritual, and doctrinal commitment to Christ and his Church, so let this Collect remind you in the Daily Office throughout this week to “mortify the works of the flesh”, to discern the disguised wolf from the true sheep, and endeavor to follow Christ as he leads, not as we would have him lead.

Collect for Proper 7

After Monday’s brief interruption with the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the Collect of the Day for the Daily Office this week has gone back to Sunday’s “Proper 7.”  Hmm, we should probably look at what “Proper #” means, one of these days.  But right now we’re looking at the Collect.  Here it is:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

It is written in James’ epistle that “true religion” involves caring for those in need.  As the Collect suggests, that is what the original set of Scriptures, in the traditional one-year lectionary, dealt with.  This Collect was originally paired with Mark 8:1-10 (wherein Jesus feeds the 4,000) and Romans 6:1-23 which provides a more detailed explanation for this: we can either be “slaves” to sin or to God; slavery to one is freedom from the other.

A critical lesson of this traditional set of propers (collect & readings) is that being a truly religious slave of God is active, not passive.  This informs our reading of the Collect as a whole, too.  “Graft in our hearts the love of your name” is a prayer not just for an internal disposition, but for external transformation.  It leads to (or includes) an increase in “true religion”, a nourishment “in all goodness” (that is with God’s goodness or righteousness), and “the fruit of good works” brought forth in our lives.

If you look back at the Scripture lessons in our modern (2019) lectionary, you’ll find this Collect is a good answer for the Epistle lesson, Galatians 3:23-29, which spoke of faith that is free from the law.

As this week continues, perhaps this Collect will take you back to that lesson on Sunday.  Or perhaps it can lead you in new directions, deeper into what it means, tangibly, to love God, increase in true religion, be filled with his goodness, and bear the fruit of good works.  It is a prayer to aid us against sloth and lethargy – faith is to be active and productive; internal realities are to have external consequences.  Pray for your growth in Christ, this week!

Planning Ahead: Trinity Sunday

Until the revisions of the 1970’s, Trinity Sunday was the hinge of the Church Year.  That was the day the first half of the cycle (Advent through Pentecost) reached its culmination and turning point.  All the revelation about God covered in those seasons find their apex in the doctrine of the Trinity: God is One and Three.  As the Collect of the Day begins:

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who has given unto us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity…

But this day is also a turning point.  We have not only received this faith throughout the year to confess and worship God, but also:

We beseech thee, that this holy faith may evermore be our defence against all adversities; who livest and reignest, one God, world without end.  Amen.

That is what the season of Trinitytide used to do: unfold like a discipleship course in how this faith may be our defence against all adversities.

I beseech you, readers, if you have the slightest interest in Anglican Prayer Book spirituality and history, to take a look at this essay: http://www.lectionarycentral.com/trinity/Phillips.html  It brilliantly lays out how the season after Trinity served as a multi-layered course of dealing with our chief adversary: sin.  The life and doctrines of Jesus are presented with Epistle lessons that together work to demolish our pride, our lusts, all our vices.  There are, for sure, other ways to analyze the Trinity season, but the general agreement is that it’s an application of the teachings of the first half of the year to help us conform our lives thereto.

It’s popular now to say that the first half of the year is “the story of Jesus” and the second half is “the story of the Church.”  This is wrong.  The first half is the story (or better, doctrines) of God, and the second half is the application of the story/doctrines of God to us.  Trinity Sunday is the hinge: it sums up all the teaching about the Father, Son, and Spirit, and presents it to us to believe, worship, and follow.

Enough with the theory, now for some advice.

how to mark Trinity Sunday

A fairly long-standing tradition, now recommended or encouraged in the general rubrics at the end of the Communion service in the 2019 Prayer Book, is to say the Athanasian Creed in place of the Nicene at the Communion Service on Trinity Sunday.  It is uncomfortably long, for the average worshiper, but a paltry once a year won’t kill them.  Plus, it’s honestly the best teaching tool we have when it comes to spelling out the doctrine of the Trinity without falling into one of many accidental heresies.  The 1662 Prayer Book called for this Creed to be read at Morning Prayer about 13 times a year, so once a year on Trinity Sunday is really quite lenient in that light!

If you haven’t used the Great Litany with your congregation in a while, that’s another possibility to consider for this day.  Its strong beginning with a Trinitarian invocation is a standard staple of Christian prayer, and extemporanous prayer these days very easily falls into Trinitarian confusion – addressing Jesus yet ending with “in Jesus’ name we pray”, or mindlessly switching from “Father-God” to “Jesus” as if it’s the same Person.  The Great Litany, or indeed any collect or liturgical prayer, can be a helpful teaching example of how to pray in an orthodox manner, rightly praising the triune God without confusing the Persons or denying the Unity.

There are lots of hymns that address God as Trinity, verse by verse.  If you’ve got an Anglican hymnal then the “general hymns” section usually starts with such hymns.  (If you’ve got a generic Protestant hymnal, that could be a problem here.)  If you opt for contemporary praise music, take care to make sure the lyrics handle the doctrine of the Trinity rightly; it’s very easy to make theological mistakes here!

Last of all, for you preachers out there, for God’s sake (literally), preach the doctrine of the Trinity.  Yes it’s complicated; yes it’s difficult; yes it’s easily seen as boring, or even stilted and of minor importance.  But this is basic Christian dogma; the doctrine of who & what God is the foundation of all Christian teaching.  If we don’t get it right, our congregations definitely won’t get it right, and eventually the whole church will be the sicker for it.  Grab a hold of the many resources in the liturgy that you’ve got, use them to your fullest advantage, and disciple your flock!

The Rogationtide Collects

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow are the Rogation Days – days devoted to prayer for the year’s crops.  We’ve mentioned ‘Rogationtide’ briefly recently.  Now that they’re here, let’s narrow in on the liturgical feature of these days that is the most natural to into our daily rounds of prayer: the Collects of the Day.  (We can, and probably ought to, use these as the Collect of the Day in Morning and Evening Prayer on these three days.)

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This Collect reflects the more historical form of the Rogation Days.  It is not the same as the Collect in the 1928 Prayer Book, but takes a rather more expansive view in its petition, now praying for the harvest of land and sea, God’s gift and preservation of both, the prospering of those who labor in those harvests, and for our own sense of thankfulness.

But nowadays the majority of our population aren’t farmers or fishermen, so we’ve got a second Collect for other forms of employment:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give us all a right satisfaction in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

This Collect is a good expression of a biblical theology of work.  We recognize Jesus’ sharing in our labor (implying his decades as a carpenter with St. Joseph), the need to be responsive to God’s will in the workplace (that is, being a faithful worker, judging by several parables of Jesus), a healthy satisfaction in our labor (understanding we were made for work), and a just return (the biblical injunctions concerning paying workers properly).  On their own, any of these four elements of the prayer could be twisted – the first to insubstantial piety, the second to undirected zeal, the third to idolatry, and the fourth to un-tethered social justice championship.  But collected together they form a healthier balance of biblical teaching concerning work and labor and employment.

So make sure you make use of these prayers today and tomorrow! Perhaps one in the morning and one in the evening?  Or both each time?  If you’re a teacher/preacher, that second Collect can also make excellent Bible Study material, especially if you bring up the Scripture readings it’s paired with: Ecclesiasticus 38:27-32, Psalm 107:1-9, 1 Corinthians 3:10-14, and Matthew 6:19-24.