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.

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.

Lectionary Convergence: 1 Corinthians

This week we’ve got a somewhat rare event: the Daily Office Lectionary and the Sunday Communion Lectionary are crossing one another’s paths.  The Epistles in Evening Prayer started us in on 1 Corinthians a week and a half ago, and this evening is reaching chapter 12.  Yesterday and the Sunday before, the Communion lectionary has also been taking us through chapter 12.

This sort of double exposure probably happens a few times a year, at different times depending upon which year in the 3-year cycle it is.  This can be an excellent opportunity to get a perspective check on the Communion lectionary readings.  That lectionary, by default, is unable to be as comprehensive as a daily lectionary; it has to cut corners, it has to summarize books of the Bible and move on.  It is the function of the Daily Office to slog through virtually everything and put it all in context.

Having Evening Prayer take us through the bulk of 1 Corinthians in the past ten days, and finishing the book in the coming week, will be a helpful overview to remind us of the larger context as we listen to the 1 Corinthians lessons at the Sunday Communion services for the next few weeks until Lent begins.

This Morning: Resurrection

This morning  our Old Testament and New Testament lessons, which have been independently walking through the books of Genesis and John, step onto the same subject for a brief moment: resurrection.

Genesis 22 is the story of Abraham and Isaac, the father offering his son on an altar, though not having to go through with the actual spilling of blood.  As the anonymous New Testament author explains it,

Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back (Hebrews 11:17-19).

Thus Genesis 22 is a sort of prototype resurrection story, prefiguring the Cross of Christ, and we usually hear it read in the Good Friday liturgy.

The New Testament lesson from John 11 is the story of the resurrection of Lazarus.  This is one of the lessons offered in our Burial Office due to its prominent place as a vivid and explicit example of the resurrection power of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Not only does he perform a miraculous resurrection of a man four days dead, but he also speaks of his own inherent life – that Jesus himself is resurrection, he himself is life.

Obviously, it is a plain coincidence that these two lessons are read together today.  The nature of a Daily Office Lectionary is to read through the Bible in sequential bits, not to try to connect the dots between Scripture (that is the function of a traditional Communion lectionary, which our modern ones unfortunately only do half the time).  Nevertheless, the co-incidence of explicit resurrection themes in Genesis 22 and John 11:1-44 is refreshing and noteworthy.  You might even want to grab an Easter-appropriate Canticle in place of the Te Deum… instead of saying Surge illuminare (#2) how about Cantemus Domino (#5), Dignus es (#6), or Cantate Domino (#7, Psalm 98)!

Confession of St. Peter at Morning Prayer

As is often the case, today’s holiday, the Confession of Saint Peter, has a special reading for the Morning Office: Matthew 16:13-20.  As our new ACNA daily lectionary likes to do, this lesson is a repeat of the Gospel lesson at today’s communion service.  So if you’re saying the Daily Office but have no Eucharist to attend today, you still get the primary story of the holiday.  The downside is that if you do attend today’s Communion, you hear the same passage twice rather than hearing something different to deepen and enrich the day with further scriptural insight.

As we noted last week, this feast day is an excellent “epiphany moment”, revealing the divinity of Jesus through the words of Peter.  This feast day is actually a modern addition to the Prayer Book tradition; it first appeared for us in 1979.  And this seems a good contribution to the calendar, in my opinion, reinforcing the traditional epiphany theme.

If you haven’t been doing so, perhaps this is a good day to pull out the Surge illuminare as the first Canticle at Morning Prayer, too.  If you have, then perhaps bring back the Te Deum in honor of the major feast!

The Evening Epistles

This evening, the ACNA daily lectionary begins reading through 1 Thessalonians.  It just completed the Epistle to the Galatians, which could be said to have some thematic links to the Circumcision / Holy Name on January 1st and the Epiphany on the 6th.  But 1 Thessalonians, often known for its attention to the subject of the return of Christ, doesn’t really have much connection with the Epiphany season.  So what’s the logic here?

It must be remembered, first of all, that this is a simple lectionary; its purpose is to take us through the Bible with as little interruption and skipping around as possible.  Normally, this would mean going through the Epistles in canonical order (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, etc.).  But for this lectionary it seems the designers decided to bring us through chronologically, starting with the Epistles of St. Paul.  Galatians is thought to be his earliest, followed by those to the Thessalonians, then the Corinthians, and so on.  When the Pauline Epistles are finished in early April, the General Epistles are covered (Hebrews, James, Peter, Jude, John) into late May.  Then the cycle will be ready to repeat soon after.

Some readers may lament the decision to use the ‘secular calendar’ for our lectionary, rather than the liturgical calendar.  But 1) the daily lectionaries in the Prayer Books followed the secular calendar for centuries before switching over to the liturgical one, 2) this way is simpler and more accessible to more people, and 3) with our version of the Revised Common Lectionary at the Sunday Eucharist, we already get a lot of seasonally-appropriate Scripture readings.  The Daily Office Lectionary doesn’t need to pick up that task in addition.

So as you pick up 1 Thessalonians tonight, keep in mind that you’re walking through the written legacy of Saint Paul, and don’t try to force connections with the Epiphany season.

Epiphany: A Crowded Holiday

If you’re following this blog or its Facebook page, chances are you know what Epiphany’s about.  After the twelve days of Christmas comes this holiday in which we celebrate the arrival of the magi, or wise men, bearing gifts for the Christ Child.  It is the beginning of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the worship of Jesus, the first fruits of “the wealth of the nations” flowing into the land of Israel.

But what fewer of you may realize is that this day has traditionally had three different points of focus, making it unusually “crowded” as a holy day.

Story #1: the adoration of the magi

The Communion service, being the primary liturgy in a given day, centers us on the story of Matthew 2:1-12.  This is what we normally think of when we look at The Day of the Epiphany.

Story #2: The Baptism of Jesus

At Morning Prayer, the New Testament lesson was traditionally from Luke 3, relating the ministry of John the Baptist, particularly highlighting his role in baptizing our Lord Jesus.  In the 1928 Prayer Book, this came to occupy the Communion Gospel for the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany.

Story #3: The Wedding at Cana

At Evening Prayer, the New Testament lesson was traditionally from John 2, telling the story of Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine.  In the Revised Common Lectionary (including our 2019 Prayer Book) this came to occupy the Communion Gospel for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany in the third year of the cycle.  That means we’ll get to hear it in just under two weeks!

Holding them all together

One might wonder what these other two stories have to do with the Epiphany.  I suspect that the more modern focus on the Magi and the inclusion of the Gentiles has muddied our ability to understand the more traditional Epiphany Day.  The central theme is noted in the very word epiphany.  It’s about the “showing” or “revealing” of God in the person of Jesus Christ.  It’s a holiday (and subsequent season) that focuses on showing us that this child whose birth we just celebrated is actually God-in-the-flesh.  The adoration of the Magi, with their symbolism-heavy gifts, shows us the divinity of Christ.  The baptism of Jesus is a break-through moment for all to see the Holy Trinity, including God the Son.  The wedding at Cana included the first “sign” by which Jesus would be known as the Christ, as God himself.

In our ACNA lectionary, it seems that we double up on the story of the Magi: it’s the Gospel at the Communion service as well as the New Testament lesson at Morning Prayer.  Evening Prayer gives us the Wedding at Cana.  The Baptism of Christ has been lost from the Epiphany Day celebrations.  But considering that we now celebrate it on the following Sunday in all three years of the Communion lectionary cycle, we aren’t missing much in omitting it on January 6th.  But it’s good that we have retained the Wedding at Cana reading, since that will only be heard at the Communion service on the 2nd Sunday once every three years.

Eve of the Epiphany

As the ACNA calendar introduction notes:

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.

With today being the 5th day of January, that makes this evening the liturgical beginning of The Epiphany.  So when you settle down for Evening Prayer tonight, feel free to start using the Epiphany-specific features, such as: the Opening Sentence (Isaiah 60:30, Nations shall come…).  More definitely, the Collect of the Day this evening will be the Collect for the Epiphany:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

Although the Scripture readings tonight (Jeremiah 4 and Galatians 5) are not chosen to match the feast day, one can observe the bulk of Jeremiah 4’s prophetic description of an invasion of Gentiles as a sort of pre-cursor to the Epiphany.  In that reading, the Gentiles are enemies of God’s people; in the Epiphany, Gentiles start becoming God’s people!

Happy twelfth day of Christmas, and enjoy the Epiphany starting tonight.

Christmas Day versus Sunday

Imagine if Easter wasn’t always a Sunday, but sometimes a weekday.  What would we do in church on that following Sunday?  Well, given that the resurrection of our Lord is rather a big deal, it would make sense that we would continue to celebrate that holiday on Sunday, perhaps with slightly different lessons so as not to make Sunday a total re-run for those who showed up on Easter Day itself.  That’s how it is with Christmas Day and the First Sunday after Christmas: the Gospel is the same (John 1:1-18) but the other Scripture readings are different.

The Collect is changed, too.  On Christmas Day it’s much more direct to the event:

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen

Whereas for the Sunday it’s a bit more general:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

This is consistent with the analogy I began with.  The “primary” Christmas celebration is on the day itself (December 25th), but the Sunday after is a second pass at the holiday so that those who missed Christmas in church will still get the holiday covered, and that those who attend both will have an enriched experience of the season, not simply repeats.

However….  Something that is often overlooked is the fact that the First Sunday after Christmas is expendable.

If that First Sunday is December 26th, 27th, or 28th, then the Major Feast of that particular day is to be observed that Sunday.  That is the traditional way to handle this Sunday and our Calendar for the Christian permits (if sadly doesn’t mandate) this method.

Furthermore, if Christmas Day is itself Sunday, the “First Sunday after Christmas” is to be omitted.  Traditionally, what you do on that Sunday instead is celebrate the major feast of the Circumcision of Christ (now “the Holy Name”) (January 1st).  Our Prayer Book also authorizes use of the Second Sunday after Christmas on that Sunday, but don’t.  Just celebrate the major feast days in our calendar when they land on Sundays like that… most folks in our congregations have sadly lacked such experiences for the majority of their lives!

Anyway, tomorrow is the First Sunday after Christmas.  Enjoy it!

Happy Holidays: Saint John

Happy Holidays!

No, I’m not being politically correct, I’m being liturgically correct.  The end of December is a rapid-fire collection of major holy days: Saint Thomas on the 21st, Christmas on the 25th, St. Stephen yesterday, St. John today, and the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem tomorrow.

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Just as, at the principle Communion service on Christmas Day, we read from the Gospel of John about the Light that was coming into the world, so at today’s Communion service do we see the light of Christ in the reading from John’s epistle – the Church is called to “walk in the light” (1 John 1).  Using the Old Testament story of Moses preparing to see God’s glory, this holiday reminds us that John, as one of the Apostles, saw Jesus face to face, and learned from him for three years as one of his closest friends.  This didn’t make John perfect (for in the Gospel [John 21:9b-25] it’s pointed out that John would still die someday), but it did make him a powerful witness and teacher of the faith.  Today’s Psalm (92) describes the kind of man that John became: a righteous man who bore fruit even to old age.  This holiday reminds us to sit at the feet of St. John and listen to his witness of our Savior, Christ Jesus.