The Maccabean Famine

In Evening Prayer we’re walking through some brief highlights of 1 & 2 Maccabees this week, and I thought that since so many Anglicans today have minimal experience with these books, it would be a good idea to offer a brief homily.  To that end, I present you with The Maccabean Famine: a reflection on the death of Judas Maccabeus in 1 Maccabees 9.  For best effect, save this for during or after Evening Prayer so you’ll have read the story before watching/listening to this.

Readings Review & Planning Propers 10/14

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 1 Kings 20-22, 2 Kings 1-3, 2 Chronicles 20, 1 Peter 4-5, 2 Peter, Jude, 1 John 1:1-2:6, Malachi 2-4, 1 Maccabees 1-2, 2 Maccabees 6-7, Matthew 25-27:56

This week: 2 Kings 4-9, 1 John – 3 John, 2 Maccabees 8,10, 1 Maccabees 7,9,13,14, Isaiah 1, Matthew 28, Mark 1-3

Special reading for St. Luke’s Day on Friday: Luke 1:1-4

The first hint of the end of the year makes its appearance this coming week: the book of Isaiah begins on Saturday the 19th in Evening Prayer.  In every Prayer Book lectionary (without exception, as far as I’m aware) Isaiah is saved for the end of the year, such that it is the big Old Testament focus in the Daily Office leading up to Christmastide.  Although many of the OT Prophets contain passages that prophesy of the advent of Christ, Isaiah has the most.  It helps that it’s the longest of those books, but even besides that Isaiah does spend an unusual amount of text looking ahead to the Christ, or Messiah, or Anointed One, whom we know to be Jesus of Nazareth, God-with-us.

Before we get there, though, we have to finish our survey of the Maccabean age.  Expect another post on that soon!

In Morning Prayer we have a rapid-fire wrap-up of the Epistles this week.  Having just walked through Peter and Jude’s writings, we’re completing the batch with John’s.  It might seem odd reading them out of order (Jude after Peter, rather than after John), but as I’ve pointed out before, the thematic similarities between 2 Peter and Jude make it very beneficial to read them together.  Plus that leaves us this current stretch of days to focus on John’s final exhortations to love God and keep his commandments, before calling it a day on the year’s second round of epistle-reading.  Acts will be next, followed by the Revelation, to finish off the year in Morning Prayer.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 21 (or 15th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 10/14 = Votive *
  • Tuesday 10/15 = Votive or St. Theresa of Ávila, nun and reformer
  • Wednesday 10/16 = Votive or Hugh Latimer & Nicholas Ridley, martyrs
  • Thursday 10/17 = St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr
  • Friday 10/18 = SAINT LUKE
  • Saturday 10/19 = Votive

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019).  The traditional appointments are Holy Trinity on Sunday, Holy Spirit on Monday, Holy Angels on Tuesday, of the Incarnation on Wednesdays, of the Holy Eucharist on Thursdays, the Holy Cross on Fridays, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturdays.

What happened after Malachi?

It’s a classic Sunday School question in evangelical churches when learning about the books of the Bible – “what happened after Malachi?”  Nearly four centuries pass between the last regular prophet, Malachi, and the forerunner of the Christ, St. John the Baptist.  What happened during that time?  Why is the Bible silent about it?

Well, the Bible isn’t entirely silent.  The Church has always had at least two books specifically devoted to relating some of the key historical events between Malachi and the Gospels: 1 and 2 Maccabees.  They cover only a specific 50-year stretch (roughly 175-135 B.C.) but relate some critical goings-on that provide the social, cultural, historical, and even political set-up for making sense of what’s going on in Judea in the 1st century.  Only in the past couple centuries have these books fallen out of Protestant attentions – the King James Bible (like Luther’s German Bible, and probably others) included these books as an appendix between the Old and New Testaments.  For economic reasons, many publishers started omitting those middle books once mass printing picked up speed in the 18th century, such that by the 20th and 21st centuries now, hardly any Protestant Christian is aware of them, let alone familiar with their contents.

If you want to learn more about those books, I have an introductory video and links to a few written articles here.  For now let’s just focus on 1 & 2 Maccabees, which our lectionary is about to start sampling in Evening Prayer.  1 Maccabees was originally written in Hebrew, but survives primarily in Greek, and gives us a lengthy 50-year history of the struggles between the Hellenistic kingdom and the Jews.  2 Maccabees was originally written in Greek, meant to summarize another source (probably working off of something much like 1 Maccabees), and gives us a closer look at the events surrounding the desecration and purification of the Temple.

In a general sense, 1 Maccabees is more historically-minded, giving more information, covering more years, providing less religious commentary.  2 Maccabees is more religious in nature, summarizing events with an eye to exhortation to faithfulness to God.  They work together not unlike how 2 Samuel – 2 Kings play off 1 & 2 Chronicles: a lot of overlap providing different emphases.  The following table shows how the two books line up.

maccabees parallel

Our lectionary does not walk through the entirety of either book, but steps through a few highlights.  (To read them in full would be a significantly more lengthy process, and, for many readers, a great deal more tedious.)  From October 9th through 18th we cover:

  • 1 Macc. 1 = the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes and his profaning of the Temple (the “abomination of desolation”)
  • 1 Macc. 2 = the uprising of Mattathias and his sons
  • 2 Macc. 6 = the violent suppression of Judaism
  • 2 Macc. 7 = a specific story of martyrdom at the hands of the Greeks
  • 2 Macc. 8 = Judas Maccabeus takes his father’s place and continues the good fight
  • 2 Macc. 10 = the purification of the Temple (origin of Hanukkah)
  • 1 Macc. 7 = the next round of Greek invasion and suppression of Judaism
  • 1 Macc. 9 = the death of Judas Maccabeus and succession of Jonathan
  • 1 Macc. 13 = the death of Jonathan and succession of Simon
  • 1 Macc. 14 = the final peace established by treaty under Simon’s leadership

If you have time, it’s worth exploring these books in full, to get the whole story.  There are a lot of new names and places to keep track of (from the perspective of one unused to this period of history), but the benefits can be great.  The entanglements between Jewish authorities and Rome, for example, find their beginning here.  When you realize that the Romans helped save the Jews from the Greeks, and supported Judean independence, it sheds new rays of light on the relationship between the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate in the Gospels!

Historical Accuracy in the Bible

This evening we reach Matthew 26, including the Last Supper.  This is a very familiar part of the Gospel for many readers, and yet it can also be one of the most frustrating stories to get straight.

When it comes to identifying the betrayer, according to St. Matthew, the disciples ask “is it I?” and Jesus answers to Judas “yes.”  According to St. Mark, the disciples ask “is it I?” and Jesus says it’s someone who’s eating bread from the dish like he is.  St. Luke doesn’t specify Jesus’ answer to the question.  According to St. John, John and Peter ask who the traitor is, Jesus indicates by giving a piece of bread to Judas, who then leaves, but the other disciples don’t know why.  How do you reconcile this? It’s pretty complicated.

There are several places in the Bible where the level of detail and precision leave the modernist’s desire for strict chronology not a little frustrated.  The underlying reality is that, even when a part of the Bible is labeled “historical”, its purpose is not to relate history, but to reveal God, specifically the person of Jesus Christ, to us.  We preach the Gospel, not history lessons; the unfailing authority of the Bible is not based upon what it has to say about science or about history, but about God and mankind.  Some people get overly hung up over this sort of issue, and we have to assure them that even in those little corners where the Scriptures don’t seem to add up historically or archaeologically or whatever, there is no cause for alarm.

If you want to share a whole video on the subject, feel free:

Readings Review & Planning Propers

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 1 Chronicles 16, 1 Kings 15-19, James 3-5, 1 Peter 1-4:6, Zechariah 9-15, Malachi 1, Matthew 21-24

This week: 1 Kings 20-22, 2 Kings 1-3, 2 Chronicles 20, 1 Peter 4-5, 2 Peter, Jude, 1 John 1:1-2:6, Malachi 2-4, 1 Maccabees 1-2, 2 Maccabees 6-7, Matthew 25-27:56

There’s something appropriate about the convergence of St. Matthew’s Passion this week alongside the reading of selections from 1 & 2 Maccabees.  The suffering of God’s people at the hands of hostile non-believers – that is, martyrdom – is always best understood juxtaposed against the Cross.

You’ll also notice that although Kings & Chronicles are still swapping back and forth from time to time, but less often for the first half of October.  The reason for this is that at the end of 1 Kings and for the first half of 2 Kings there are a lot of stories about the Prophets, rather than of the Kings.  The result of this is that there are more chapters to read from 2 Kings before getting to a period of history where 2 Chronicles has anything to add in.  Of course, if you’re using our Supplemental Midday Lectionary then there are still plenty of “duplicate chapters” in 2 Chronicles to read along the way this month.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 21 (or 15th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 10/7 = Votive *
  • Tuesday 10/8 = Votive
  • Wednesday 10/9 = St. Robert Grosseteste or Votive
  • Thursday 10/10 = St. Palinus or Votive
  • Friday 10/11 = St. Philip the Deacon
  • Saturday 10/12 = Votive

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019).  The traditional appointments are Holy Trinity on Sunday, Holy Spirit on Monday, Holy Angels on Tuesday, of the Incarnation on Wednesdays, of the Holy Eucharist on Thursdays, the Holy Cross on Fridays, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturdays.

Imagery in Zechariah 14

If Evening Prayer has been tough to get through lately, I understand; Zechariah is not an easy book for a lot of people to read.  It is one of the most apocalyptic texts in the Old Testament (after Daniel), which really just takes the challenges of prophetic literature and dials them up to 11.

It goes beyond the purpose and scope of this blog to provide a Bible Study, not to mention the time availability of this chronically-fatigued stay-at-home-dad, but there are definitely a few features of the last chapter of Zechariah, that we’ll be reading tonight, which I can point out.

Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst.  For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle…

The chapter begins with a “Day of the Lord” reference.  Like “D-Day” when talking about the second world war, the Day of the Lord is a title for the time of a great invasion, a the decisive turning point in the great spiritual war.  We understand this in two parts: first, the Cross, and second, the return of Christ.  There are many moments in history that serve as pictures for these moments of ultimate spiritual importance, such as the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the desecration of the Temple by the Greeks, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans… yet all these serve merely as pictures of the greater judgment that takes place when Christ was crucified and when Christ will return again.

It is an error of certain Protestant sects to mis-read Old Testament prophetic literature, especially the apocalyptic writings, without Christ in mind.  What follows in this chapter, to finish the book, is not a visual prediction of future events, but a prototype or foreshadowing of judgment day when Christ returns to Earth to consumate his kingdom forever.  Don’t try to figure out what’s going to happen to the geography of Palestinian mountains and valleys in verses 4 & 5, but rather, focus on the fact that “the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him” at the end of the age.

There shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light,” (14:6), because Christ himself is the light of the world.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem,” (14:7) just as Jesus promised of the Holy Spirit in John 4:14 and especially 7:37-39.

And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance.” (14:14) Think of texts like Isaiah 60, which also depict the nations bringing their wealth to Jerusalem to honor the Lord.  These are pictures, not of earthly nations paying homage to the earthly nation of Israel, but of gentile believers turning to worship the God of Israel – Jesus.  So don’t get carried away with the images of wars and horrible plagues and panics; those are exactly what sin is.  Only the victory of the returning Christ will bring all the terrors of sin to an end in this world; the epic apocalyptic style just makes spiritual reality more vivid.

Similarly, we aren’t literally going to go to Jerusalem “year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths” (14:16), for that holy day has been and subsumed under the New Pentecost – the gift of the Holy Spirit.  No longer must we celebrate the days of the Exodus when our forefathers dwelt in booths (or tents) and received the Word of God on tablets of stone; rather we now celebrate the greater present reality that we ourselves are dwellings of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  That’s why in Revelation, the end-times city image doesn’t have a temple building at all (Revelation 12:2).

Thanks be to God!

Readings Review & Planning Propers 9/30

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 1 Kings 12-14, 2 Chronicles 12-15, Hebrews 11-13, James 1-2, Zechariah 2-8, Matthew 16-20

Next week: 1 Chronicles 16, 1 Kings 15-19, James 3-5, 1 Peter 1-4:6, Zechariah 9-15, Malachi 1, Matthew 21-24

The “crazy visions” of Zechariah are drawing to a close and we’re getting to the second half of the book, populated by oracles – messages from God to various contemporaries of Zechariah.  The visions of chapters 1-6 in particular were apocalyptic in nature, functioning on one level to encourage the then-leaders of Jerusalem to continue rebuilding the Temple (much like Haggai did in the previous book), and on another level providing pictures of judgment that would only find their proper fulfillment in the ministry of Christ Jesus.  The oracles of Zechariah, primarily in chapters 9-4, speak against the oppressive regimes of foreign powers such as Persia, foretell the coming Christ (or Messiah), and look forward to when God’s people will be perfectly cleansed and united under their Good Shepherd.

Appropriately, our readings from the Gospel of St. Matthew are also reaching an apocalyptic section as the coming week unfolds: our Lord’s parables after his triumphal entry in Jerusalem become increasingly focused on the Kingdom of God and the day of judgment.  At the end of the week we’ll read through chapter 24’s famous discourse about the destruction of the Temple (which was fulfilled about 35 years later).

The Old Testament lessons in Morning Prayer, meanwhile, continue through the much more mundane writing style of Israelite history.  As the kings of Israel and Judah get increasingly apostate from the true worship of the Lord, the narrative spends less time with them and more time with the prophets, especially Elijah, who were faithful to Him.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 21 (or 15th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 9/30 = St. Jerome or Votive *
  • Tuesday 10/1 = St. Remigius or Votive
  • Wednesday 10/2 = Votive
  • Thursday 10/3 = Votive
  • Friday 10/4 = St. Francis of Assisi or Votive
  • Saturday 10/5 = Votive

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019).  The traditional appointments are Holy Trinity on Sunday, Holy Spirit on Monday, Holy Angels on Tuesday, of the Incarnation on Wednesdays, of the Holy Eucharist on Thursdays, the Holy Cross on Fridays, and of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Saturdays.

Blessings Despite Sin

Since we’re reading Haggai in Evening Prayer, let’s go for a sermon on part of chapter 2.

Index Outline:

  •  00:00 The story of Haggai 2:10-19
  •  05:13 Lesson #1 Grow in faith
  •  07:20 Lesson #2 Sin is contagious
  •  10:20 Lesson #3 Receive God’s holiness 
  •  12:20 Lesson #4 Recognize God’s blessings 
  •  15:15 Concluding thoughts & prayer

The short book of Haggai is one with which I’m particularly familiar, having preached through it a few years ago.  If you want to explore any part of this book in depth, feel free to check out these sermons and articles:

Readings Review & Planning Propers 9/16

What we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is looking back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying, and list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 1 Kings 1-5, 1 Chronicles 28, Ephesians 5:18-6, Hebrews 1-5, Micah 6-7, Nahum, Habakkuk 1-2, Matthew 8:18-12:21
This week: 1 Kings 6-11, Hebrews 5-10, Habakkuk 3, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah 1, Matthew 12:22-16:12
Special reading Saturday for St. Matthew’s Day: Matthew 9:9-13

The Old Testament lessons in Evening Prayer are still powering through the Minor Prophets (or slogging through, depending upon how you feel about them).  In the next few days we finish up the middle group of minor prophets, covering the “late kingdom era”, that is, the prophets who served at the royal court in the final century of Judah’s existence as a kingdom.  Later this week we’re starting into the last three (Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) who wrote during the Second Temple Era, that is, during the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon was complete.  The short book of Haggai is one with which I’m particularly familiar, having preached through it a few years ago.  Click here to find eight articles and sermons about Haggai and his themes!

Meanwhile in Morning Prayer we started the Epistle to the Hebrews last week, and are now working our way through the thickest part of that book culminating in chapters 9 and 10.  The gist of Hebrews is basically “Jesus is better than __!” where the blank is just about anything important from the Old Testament religion.  The priesthood descended from Aaron is the particular focus of what Jesus fulfills and transforms in chapters 9 and 10, and have much to teach us about priestly sacrificial atonement.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 19 (or 13th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 9/16 = Votive (of the Holy Spirit) * or St. Ninian
  • Tuesday 9/17 = Votive (of the Holy Angels)
  • Wednesday 9/18 = Ember Day I
  • Thursday 9/19 = Votive (of the Holy Eucharist) or St. Theodore of Tarsus
  • Friday 9/20 = Ember Day II
  • Saturday 9/21 = SAINT MATTHEW

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019) and label in parentheses are simply a traditional suggestion.

Readings Review & Planning Propers 9/9

One of the things we’re doing on this blog on Mondays is look back and forth at the Daily Office readings (or lessons) so we can better process together what the Scriptures are saying.  The other thing we’re going to do on Mondays starting today is list the recommended Propers for the Communion or Antecommunion service for each day of the week.

Readings Review

Last week: 2 Samuel 19-24, 1 Chronicles 22, Ephesians 1-5:17, Jonah 3-4, Micah 1-5, Matthew 4-8:17
This week: 1 Kings 1-5, 1 Chronicles 28, Ephesians 5:18-6, Hebrews 1-6, Micah 6-7, Nahum, Habakkuk 1-2, Matthew 8:18-12:21
Special reading Saturday for Holy Cross Day: John 12:23-33

The main body of the Gospel according to St. Matthew (chapters 5-25) form a five-part cycle of Teachings & Activities.  It’s almost as if he was making a point of imitating the Torah (the five books of Moses) in the way that he compiled his gospel book.  This week’s coverage of Matthew sees us through most of the second block of the cycle: Jesus’ teachings on mission (or least relations with the world) in chapter 10, followed by feedback and opposition (from disciples and critics alike) in chapters 11 & 12.  At the end of the week we even get an example of Matthew’s signature move in citing an Old Testament prophet in the language of Jesus bringing “fulfillment” to the scriptures.

The epistle lessons in Morning Prayer also switch over the book of Hebrews this week, which is another book that leans heavily on Old Testament references.  If you’ve got a Bible with cross references in the margins or footer, this is a book where you should especially watch out, because unless you’re very familiar with the Old Testament already there are going to be a lot of strange-sounding references that you’ll need help clarifying.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 18 (or 12th after Trinity in the traditional calendar), so keep in mind that the historic Prayer Book default is that a mid-week Eucharist will repeat the Collect & Lessons (the propers) for yesterday.  Otherwise, we recommend…

  • Monday 9/9 = Votive (of the Holy Spirit) or Constance & companions (marytrs)
  • Tuesday 9/10 = Votive (of the Holy Angels) *
  • Wednesday 9/11 = Votive (for Peace) **
  • Thursday 9/12 = Votive (of the Holy Eucharist)
  • Friday 9/13 = St. John Chrysostom (teacher of the faith)
  • Saturday 9/14 = HOLY CROSS DAY

* A Votive is a “Various Occasion” (page 733 in the BCP 2019) and label in parentheses are simply a traditional suggestion.

** This is not the traditional votive mass for a Wednesday, but seems an appropriate choice for the nation’s commemoration of September 11th.