More insights into the lessons

Every now and then I’ve provided some comments on the scripture readings from the Daily Office Lectionary.  That’s something I will continue to do on an ad hoc basis, but with less urgency, as I am happy to share with you all a couple new resources out there to help people along in the process of reading the Bible according the 2019 Prayer Book’s plan.

First there’s The Daily Office Vlog, by Fr. Brian Barry who serves at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church in Danvers, Massachusetts. (For those not in the know, “vlog” is a modern term for video log.  “Web Log” –> “Blog” –> “Video Blog” –> “Vlog”)  Like my videos, it’s nothing fancy, just cutting straight to the subject at hand.  He comments on any or all of the four sets of readings in the Prayer Book, and is aiming to produce approximately one video per week, summarizing a week’s worth of readings in about ten minutes.

The other resource is a podcast from Adverseria, run by an Englishman named Alatair Roberts.  He has been producing daily podcasts focusing on the two readings from Morning Prayer (currently Genesis and John), and I believe his goal is to cover the Evening Prayer readings next year, and/or to get to a point where he can provide a podcast study for every reading in the lectionary!

So if you want Bible Study aids that run concurrently with the lectionary, I heartily recommend the ministries of these two gentlemen.

In the beginnings

As we’ve noted before, it’s nice starting to read John and Genesis at the same time.  Both deal with “the beginning” in wonderfully complementary ways, and better appreciation of that might save us some interpretative heartache.

And then, once I read from Jeremiah 4 and caught another reference to the language of Genesis 1:1-2, I knew it was time to write something about it.  It took me about a week longer than anticipated, but I finally got ’round to it.

* * *

One of the coolest things about the Bible’s text is that the first book literally starts “In the beginning…”  I mean, of all the things it could start with, it just makes perfect sense that it would start with the beginning.  And when you finish that sentence you find that the “beginning” is eternity past – before time itself was created.  In the beginning, God created.  You learn so much about God in that phrase – his distinction over against all created things, his omnipotence over the same, his very being belonging beyond not only physical existence but also beyond time.  I’m really into science fiction, especially Doctor Who, which deals constantly with the ins and outs and paradoxes of time travel.  So it’s kind of strange, in a marvellous way, to find a truly “timeless” deity proclaimed in the opening words of Sacred Scripture.

But then you get through the first couple chapters and the debates start flying thick and fast – how did God create the world?  Are there conflicts between the various pieces of the text?  Are these writings meant to be taken literally?  What, even, is the literal meaning?  All this and more quickly rises to the forefront of a Bible Study, sermon, or discussion on the opening chapters of the book of Genesis; it’s almost inescapable.  So let’s side-step that direction of argumentation and look at Genesis from a birds-eye view.

“In the beginning, God created…”

Read the rest here.

Planning Prayers & Readings Review 1/13

On Monday, most weeks these days, we’re looking at the liturgical schedule to highlight the propers, prayers and scripture readings, that we’re holding in common according to the 2019 Prayer Book.

Communion Propers

Yesterday was the 1st Sunday of Epiphany, so the first traditional prayer book option for a weekday Eucharist is to repeat yesterday’s Collect and Lessons (dealing with the baptism of our Lord).  Another good option would be to use the traditional Collect and Lessons for Epiphany 1, which deal with the finding of Jesus in the Temple.  Because of the missional tone that the modern lectionary brings to the fore in this season, good second choice for a weekday Eucharist is For the Mission of the Church, noted on page 733, using the propers for World Mission Sunday.

And, of course, Saturday is a major feast day, so be sure to observe the Confession of St. Peter – the Collect for that Day beginning at Evening Prayer on Friday, and carrying through Saturday evening.

Apart from that, a commemoration definitely worth noting are St. Anthony on Friday the 17th.  Consider also St. Kentigern on Tuesday the 14th.

Readings Review

Last week: Genesis 5-11, John 3:22-6:21, Jeremiah 4-10, Galatians 5-6, 1 Thess. 1-4:12

This week: Genesis 12-18, John 6-8, Jeremiah 11-17, 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians 1-2

Special reading for the Confession of St. Peter on Saturday morning: Matthew 16:13-20.  This is a clone of the Gospel lesson for the communion service that day, albeit with one extra verse, providing us the raison d’etre for this holy day.

The changeover from last week to this week with regards to the readings from Genesis is that before we were dealing with ancient history of almost legendary or pre-historic quality, and now we are stepping into the story of Abraham.  The book of Genesis is organized into ten “origin stories”, subtly given a ten-fold prologue to the exposition of the Mosaic Law and Covenant in the book of Exodus, which itself centers around a famous group of ten.  If you’re not familiar with the Genesis Ten, feel free to pull up an overview.  The focus switches to Terah (and primarily his son Abraham) part-way through chapter 11 and remains with him into chapter 25, so we’ll have just over two weeks with the Abrahammic Sagas, as some like to call them.

The importance of Abraham in the Christian faith cannot be overstated.  While there are indeed many references to the Law of Moses in the New Testament, those references are a mixed bag of positive and negative iterations of keeping the Old Covenant.  Ultimately, while we have much to learn from what God revealed through Moses, our ancient-historical identity as Christians largely bypasses him and links us straight back to Abraham.  Abraham, as we read last week in Galatians, is the father of all the faithful, both circumcised and uncircumcised.  We are blessed through him and his offspring (Jesus), not through Moses and his law.  So take a good look at the interactions between Abraham and the Lord.  He indeed has a journey of growth in working knowledge and trusting faith, but in the end God lays a foundation with him upon which even we, today, are built.

Readings Review – The Epiphany Special

Our usual Monday fare is going to look a little different today.  Instead of looking at the lessons of the whole weeks (past and present) we’re just going to narrow in on the feast of the Epiphany.  But first, the quick run-down…

Last week: Wisdom 9-11 Genesis 1-4, Revelation 21-22, John 1-3:21, Song of Songs 6-8, Jeremiah 1-3, Luke 23-24, Galatians 1-4

This week: Genesis 5-11, John 3:22-6:21, Jeremiah 4-10, Galatians 5-6, 1 Thess. 1-4:12

Special reading for the Epiphany on Monday morning: Matthew 2:1-12
Special reading for the Epiphany on Monday evening: John 2:1-12

As I noted last week the Epistles of St. Paul in evening prayer are being read in their estimated chronological order, so after Galatians we’re moving to 1 Thessalonians.

The Epiphany Lessons

The major highlight this week is today – January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany.  It’s one of the seven Principle Feasts listed in the 2019 Prayer Book on page 688, putting it essentially on par with Christmas and Easter (and four other holy days).  As a result, both Morning and Evening Prayer get a special reading, out of the daily sequential sequence, to mark this day.

In the morning is the obvious choice: Matthew 2:1-12, in which we read of the magi and their journey and the gifts for the young Jesus.  This is the “primary” celebration for the Epiphany.  It’s also doubling with today’s gospel lesson at the Communion, which previous daily lectionaries never really did before, but ours does due to the sad reality that very few churches hold communion services on weekday feasts anymore.

The other special reading, in Evening Prayer, is John 2:1-12, which is perhaps less obvious: the Wedding at Cana.  If you go back to the original prayer book daily lectionary you will see three major gospels featured: The adoration of the magi (at the Communion), the baptism of Jesus (in Morning Prayer), and the Wedding at Cana (in Evening Prayer).  Those are three big “epiphanies” that start off the season.  Each of these gospel stories, in their various ways, proclaim the divinity of Jesus – his reception of gifts, the testimony from God the Father, and finally the power at Jesus’ own command.  The wedding at Cana would go on to be the gospel lesson for the Communion in one of the early Sundays of the Epiphany season, and in the 20th century the baptism of Jesus began to take over the first Sunday of Epiphanytide also.  But in the modern lectionary that we have in the 2019 Prayer Book, the wedding at Cana in John 2 is no longer a mainstay gospel.  It’s read on the second Sunday in Year C, but not not Years A & B.  Therefore our lectionary makes a point of retaining this story on Epiphany Day itself to make sure it’s still part of our annual observance of Epiphanytide.

The Circumcision & Holy Name of Jesus

It’s January 1st, and you know what that means… it’s the eighth day of Christmas, when our Lord Jesus got circumcised!  Happy Feast of the Circumcision, everybody!  Let’s turn to the Bible:

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Luke 2:21

Yeah, I’m not kidding.

The handling of this holy day in the 2019 Prayer Book is actually one of the last-minute changes that have proved a pleasant surprise for me to discover.  Last year, as I described it here, the draft texts suggested that this would be the feast of the Holy Name and Circumcision, but in the actual book the order has been switched to Circumcision first, Holy Name second.  This represents a rare recovery of old tradition that had been largely lost in the course of modernist revision.  The 1979 Prayer Book replaced the Circumcision with the Holy Name.  Even the Roman Catholics replaced the Circumcision, in their case with a solemnity of Mary, because apparently they didn’t have enough Marian feasts already, I guess?

If you’re new to the concept of this holy day, or to the idea of circumcision in general, consider checking out this write-up I made two years ago.  Some of its liturgical references are out of date, or non-applicable to the 2019 Prayer Book, but that’s alright, the information is still useful, and Scripture is still Scripture.

So how do we go about celebrating the circumcision of Christ according to the 2019 book?  Let’s start with the Collect of the Day, which should be read last night (Evening Prayer on December 31st) at at Morning Prayer, the Communion service, and Evening Prayer today.

Almighty God, your blessed Son fulfilled the covenant of circumcision for our sake, and was given the Name that is above every name: Give us grace faithfully to bear his Name, and to worship him with pure hearts according to the New Covenant; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

The daily office, sadly, only give us one special reading for this day, where the historic prayer books always had more.  It’s Luke 2:8-21, which is simply the post-birth narrative of Jesus, leading up to his circumcision and naming in verse 21.  This serves as the Gospel lesson at the Communion service as well.  If you follow this customary’s midday prayer supplemental lectionary then you’ll get back one of the historic readings for this feast day, Genesis 17:9-end, in which Abraham first receives the covenant of circumcision from God.

Turning to the Communion lessons, we’ve got Exodus 34:1-9, Psalm 8, Romans 1:1-7, and Luke 2:15-21.  The Gospel is a shorter version of the Evening Prayer lesson already mentioned.  The reading from Exodus 34 tells of the re-establishment of the covenant with Moses during which God declares one form of his name: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  Psalm 8 responds with a celebration of how majestic God’s Name is, and Romans 1 opens a striking christological statement.  The line about “the obedience of faith” is a key tie-in with the Old Covenant concept of circumcision, and the call to “belong to Jesus Christ” is a pointer to the New Covenant.

Something that is, perhaps, a missed opportunity, is the Epistle lesson appointed for this day in the classic prayer books, before 1962.  It was Romans 4:8-14, which deals more directly with the question of circumcision and its relation to the justification offered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you have time today, I encourage you to look at the articles and pages linked to in this entry, as they will help you explore and discern the richness of this ‘unlikely’ holiday.

Sirach’s Wisdom anticipates Jesus

We don’t typically have entries on this blog on Sundays; most of the readership is busy on Sunday morning and I don’t want to distract you on the Lord’s Day (or distract myself promoting a post on Facebook or whatnot).  So today we’re looking at something that’s show up in one of tomorrow’s lessons.

At Morning Prayer on December 15th we read Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 51, the final chapter of that long book.  The last chapter and a half, like the prologue, make for great reading because we get to see the author step out from behind the shadows and talk briefly about himself and his work, giving us an unusual amount of insight into the purpose and making of this book – very few biblical writings provide us with such opportunities, the opening verses of Luke and Acts being shorter examples.

Specifically, the very end of chapter 51 has a lovely little wrap-up:

Draw near to me, you who are untaught, and lodge in the house of instruction.
Why do you say you are lacking in these things, and why are your souls very thirsty?

I opened my mouth and said: Get these things for yourselves without money.
Put your neck under the yoke and let your souls receive instruction; it is to be found close by.
See with your eyes that I have labored little and found for myself much rest.
Get instruction with a large sum of silver, and you will gain by it much gold.
May your soul rejoice in his mercy; and my you not be put to shame when you praise him.
Do your works before the appointed time, and in God’s time he will give you your reward.

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 51:22-30

A host of references to other parts of the Bible can be found here.  The first three verses echo Proverbs 1:20-33 and Proverbs 8, in which Wisdom is personified, calling out on the streets to the simple who would come and learn from her.  Ben-Sirach does not depict Wisdom as a woman in this closing poem, but puts himself forth as a sage, one who teaches wisdom to others, but he is clearly well-schooled in Hebrew wisdom given his fluent use of the language of the proverbs in issuing his invitation to learn from the great tradition through him.

He then speaks of learning in terms of a “yoke” and “little” labor.  A little study in wisdom goes a long way!  Our Lord Jesus himself would take up this language from Ben-Sirach when he said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  The similarities are remarkable; it’s likely that either this set of images was commonplace in Hebrew teaching language, or Jesus was simply paraphrasing Sirach.

Even the line about paying silver to gain instruction and “much gold” lays the foundation for some of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God – the buried treasure, the pearl of great price – the idea that what we have to gain is far greater than what we could ever spend to gain it.

Of course, there is a difference between the wisdom and teaching of Ben-Sirach in his book called Ecclesiasticus, and the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The former was a brilliant compiler of the Hebrew wisdom tradition and well-schooled in the grand sweet of the Hebrew Bible, able to write of the great heroes of the faith from Enoch in the mists of the past all the way to Simon the High Priest who saw the consummation of the Maccabean rebellion.  If there was no New Testament, this book could almost be treated as the capstone for the entire Hebrew Bible.  But we do have a New Testament, and we do have Jesus the awaited Messiah, or Christ.  As effective a teacher as Ben-Sirach was, he was not God-in-the-flesh.  As Christians, we turn to Jesus to show us the perfect way to understand the Old Testament.

In the meantime, it’s great to see moments like this, in chapter 51, where Ben-Sirach’s stand so clearly and brightly between the Old Testament and the New.  (This is why this book, with the other Ecclesiastical Books, belongs between the Testaments in print, unlike its strange placement in the new one from Anglican Liturgy Press.)

About that Magnificat…

One of the ancient staples of Christian prayer is the Song of Mary, the Magnificat, found in Luke 1, after Mary and Elizabeth have their encounter with their respective unborn sons recognizing one another in utero.  It has been associated with Vespers, or Evening Prayer, for many centuries, and the Anglican Prayer Book tradition is no exception.  The 1662 Prayer Book appoints it for Evening Prayer every day, all year, only replacing it with a Psalm when its text will appear in a lesson that day.  Subsequent Prayer Books, including ours, do not make that rule explicit, and so we technically do have more leeway with replacing the Magnificat with another Canticle, but in the spirit of the prayer book tradition, we should not.

And with good reason – the Magnificat is a fantastic song-prayer.  And its words are… startling.  The first half of it celebrates what God has done with, in, and through Mary herself, and the second half of it celebrates what God has done for the whole world.  “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the humble and meek.  He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he sent empty away.”  Taken in a (very) anachronistic context, this could be an anthem for class warfare!  But this is prophetic language – a survey of the Old Testament prophets will yield multiple hits of phrases like these.  The work of God, however spiritualized and gospel-centric you describe it, still yields real-work effects.  Sometimes such in-breaking of the Kingdom of God can resemble all sorts of political and economic and social theories without actually confining itself to any one of them.  So while one can not read the Magnificat as a socialist manifesto, one can see elements of a socialist ideal drawn from the Magnificat.  Sure, Marx was an anti-religious nut who didn’t always know what he was criticizing, but that didn’t stop him from absorbing select elements of the Gospel.

The Kingdom of God is like that… it gets everywhere and changes the world in all sorts of ways, whether every individual accepts it wholesale or not.

Meanwhile, regarding the first half of the Magnificat, we can learn a startling amount about the Blessed Virgin Mary herself.  Since we’re in the the midst of Advent now, and that’s basically the only time of year most Protestants dare breathe the name of Mary out loud, let’s talk about her.  What do Anglicans believe about the Virgin Mary?

Subject Index:
* 00:00 Yes Mary did know! (see this for more)
* 02:05 Lessons from the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
* 07:25 Lessons from the Early Church (the Mother of God / theotokos)
* 08:51 An Anglican take on approaching Mariology
* 12:37 Lessons from the Anglican Prayer Book (a “pure Virgin”)
* 19:22 Summary wrap-up which is a bit scatterbrained because I had a headcold at the time, sorry

Understanding the Revelation

As promised yesterday, we’re taking a look now at that strange book at the end of the Bible: Revelation.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to Saint John, or the “Apocalypse”, for short, is a unique book in the Bible, especially compared to the rest of the New Testament.  Only brief half-chapter snippets of the first three Gospels come close to the style and tone that is found throughout this book.  Revelation is often the centerpiece in popular end-times debates and theories, and people sometimes take their own interpretation and perspective for granted, assuming that “if you just read the book, you’ll see what I mean.”

Since we will be spending most of the rest of December reading this book, I’m inviting you to take thirty minutes out of your day to refresh your familiarity with the style, content, and purpose of this book, with a nod to the major interpretive approaches that are taken up.

Of course, now I realize that I’ve doubled this entry.  I wrote this up last week already.  Oh well, sorry.  Now you get a second shot at it if you missed it last week.

For further reading:
Subject Index:
00:00 Revelation/Apocalypse
02:46 Signs, Metaphors, and the Literal Sense
07:17 Examples: seven lamps, lamb that was slain, city dressed as a bride
12:58 Interpretive Approaches: preterist, historicist, futurist, spiritualist
20:18 The 1,000 Years: pre-millennial, post-millennial, amillennial
30:30 Concluding Summary

Overview of Revelation

The Revelation (or Apocalypse) of St. John, the last book of the Christian Bible, can be rather difficult to make sense of. And when you throw into the mix the wide range of conflicting teaching on how to interpret it, things can get very complicated indeed. Since we’re just getting into this book now in the 2019 Prayer Book’s Daily Office Lectionary, here’s my overview on what this book is about and how to read it profitably.
For further reading:
Subject Index:
* 00:00 Revelation/Apocalypse
* 02:46 Signs, Metaphors, and the Literal Sense
* 07:17 Examples: seven lamps, lamb that was slain, city dressed as a bride
* 12:58 Interpretive Approaches: preterist, historicist, futurist, spiritualist
* 20:18 The 1,000 Years: pre-millennial, post-millennial, amillennial
* 30:30 Concluding Summary

Readings Review & Planning Propers 11/25

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: Judith 11-16, Ecclus. (Sirach) 1, Acts 17-20:16, Isaiah 30-36, Luke 3-6:19
This week: Ecclus. (Sirach) 2-11, Acts 21-23, Isaiah 37-43, Luke 6:20-9:17

Special lesson for Morning Prayer on Saint Andrew’s Day: John 1:35-42

This weekend in Morning Prayer we began the book of Ecclesiasticus, the full title of which is The Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, often called Sirach for short.  This is a book of wisdom literature, like the book of Proverbs, but unlike that book is largely written (or compiled) by one man (whose name is in the title) and translated into Greek by his grandson.  This book even has a Preface (chapter zero, basically) which gives us a note about its translation, and that you always lose something in the process.  That in itself is a fascinating insight into the manner of self-awareness of ancient writers.  Anyway, if you’re not familiar with Sirach, check out my brief introduction to this book from last year.

Meanwhile, in Isaiah, we’re just getting into a brief historical interlude in the middle of the book, where we hear the story of some of King Hezekiah’s interactions with Isaiah.  If you have a keen memory you may recall some of this material from 2 Kings.

After that, starting with Isaiah chapter 40, we get to the second half of the book.  Some scholars think that this section of the book was written by Isaiah’s prophetic successors or disciples because it takes on a different tone and focus.  Although it may be an unnecessary stretch to assume a change in authorship, it is absolutely true that the style of the book changes.  Chapters 40-66 no longer deal so much with specific oracles and prophecies against specific nations and peoples, but take on a much broader scope.  Jerusalem, Babylon, and other important cities are still mentioned along the way, but the emphasis is not so much on what’s going to happen to them specifically so much as what’s going to happen to the whole world.  Almost every chapter from here to the end has at least a couple famous verses that the casual Bible-reader will recognize.

  • 40 = “Comfort, comfort my people…” and “They will soar on wings like eagles…”
  • 42 = “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold… I have put my Spirit upon him…”
  • 43 = “Remember not the former things… Behold, I am doing a new thing…”
  • 49 = “Can a woman forget her nursing child… yet I will not forget you.”
  • 51 = “Awake, awake, put on strength…”
  • 52 = “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news…”
  • 53 = “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…”
  • 54 = “In righteousness you shall be established”
  • 55 = “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near…”
  • 56 = “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”
  • 57 = “thus says the one who is high and lifted up… I dwell in the high and holy place… to revive the spirit of the lowly…”
  • 58 = “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness…”
  • 59 = “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart…”
  • 60 = “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you”
  • 61 = “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me… to bring good news to the poor…”
  • 62 = “You shall no more be termed Forsaken… but you shall be called My Delight Is In Her…”
  • 64 = “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter”
  • 65 = “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.”

Almost every one of these chapters find a home in the lectionary in Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, or near Easter…. most of the major feasts of the Christian year.  This is because, as we will see, reading through, a great deal of Isaiah’s writings point very clearly to Jesus, the New Covenant in his blood, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Planning Propers

This is the week of Proper 29 (or Last Sunday before Advent 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 11/25 = St. Catherine of Alexandria (martyr) or Votive*
  • Tuesday 11/26 = Votive
  • Wednesday 11/27 = Votive
  • Thursday 11/28 = Thanksgiving Day
  • Friday 11/29 = Votive
  • Saturday 11/30 = SAINT ANDREW

* 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.