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

Happy Halloween or Reformation Day?

Perhaps the strangest thing I remember hearing in seminary was around this time of year when a classmate commented in class with great frustration that Halloween must be a satanic plot to obscure Reformation Day.  … yeah, he was actually serious.

Halloween, as most of you probably know, is a mash-up of the words “hallows’ eve”, referring to All Hallow’s Eve.  (Hallow means holy, just like in the traditional translations of the Lord’s Prayer.)  All Saints’ Day has been celebrated on November 1st for a great many centuries – I believe I read somewhere that it was previously at a different time of year, but 1,000-year-old liturgical detail is neither my forte nor the goal of this blog.  The noting of the Eve of this great feast day had been known for centuries before the Reformation began.  Furthermore, Reformation Day as a holiday is quite a recent introduction to the evangelical world.  German Lutherans have been observing it in some way for a long time, which makes sense.

Honestly, there’s something terribly strange about a church celebrating Luther’s Reformation when its own doctrines are violently at odds with Luther himself.  The fact that most evangelicals today refuse to baptize their babies and treat the sacrament of the altar as a bare symbol would be enough to earn them outright excommunication in Luther’s mind, not to mention the host of other theological disputes that would come up.  Although as Anglicans we are much closer to Lutheran theology than most other protestants out there, it still makes less sense for us to celebrate Reformation Day… we’re better off celebrating our own Reformation events – the promulgation of the first prayer book is a good example that I’ve advocated before.

Plus, the present Lutheran pattern of celebrating Reformation Sunday a week before All Saints Sunday is a liturgical faux pas.  The way the calendar works, “Proper 26” is usually overwritten by All Saints Sunday; occasionally Proper 27 is instead.  But with another holiday adjacent to All Saints Sunday, that means Proper 26 will never be observed at all, and Proper 25 will also rarely be observed.  So that’s a liturgical-logistic argument against Reformation Sunday, too.

Anyway, enjoy Halloween.  And here’s a halloween homily to go with Evening Prayer tonight:

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.

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:

Reading Pace, with video

Back in October I wrote a short piece about reading pace – how talking too quickly or slowly, either as a leader in the liturgy or concerning the congregation as a whole, can be the death knell of intelligible worship.  I decided it was time to re-visit that subject, not because I just had another bad experience with it, but because it was on my mind and I made a video.  The original post is repeated below.  Enjoy!

A major feature of any liturgy is reading.  Appointed readers read Scripture lessons, a Deacon (or Priest) reads a Gospel lesson at the Communion service, everyone reads prayers and Creeds together.  Sometimes it’s like a dialogue, going back and forth between the minister and the people; sometimes it’s a block reading, like everyone reading a Confession together.  One of the issues that can crop up is the pacing of these readings.

On his or her own, sometimes a reader gets nervous.  This is perfectly understandable, and experience and practice works wonders here.  But it must be cautioned that a nervous or inexperienced reader can rush through the words, tripping over or slurring them together.  Or sometimes the opposite – the gravity of reading the Word of God overwhelms them such that they end up reading it very slowly.  Public readings ought to be read at a natural pace, such that the commas, semicolons, and periods are all clear and distinct.  We want the reading to have some dramatic weight, but we don’t want to overdo it, William Shatner style:

B1iiw7BIgAArkQf[1]

The same applies to congregation readings.  Be it a Psalm, a Collect, Creed, or other prayer or reading, the people need to go at a natural pace.

If we read too fast together, the issues are many:

  • people could run out of breath
  • there’s no time to think about or process what you’re actually saying
  • it communicates a lack of care, value, or import to the words
  • visitors unfamiliar with the liturgy will feel swamped and overwhelmed

Similarly, reading too slowly can mask the overall coherence of the reading or prayer.

If your congregation has a pacing problem, it’s really upon the leaders to fix it.  The clergy or other ministers who lead the various services need to set the pace, even instruct the congregation to speed up or slow down.  Reading and praying together is a spiritual exercise requiring practice and intentionality.  Western culture sometimes makes this difficult for us – we don’t want to end up like the Borg from Star Trek, we don’t want to lose our individuality, we easily mistrust corporate liturgical action and prefer “personal” and “relational” things.  So for many people these acts of common prayer and common reading is a lost art that has to be re-learned.  Let’s not beat people over the head with this, but we do need to be aware that actual training, practice, and learning is involved!

Reading Colossians

We’ve been reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians this week, in the 2019 Prayer Book’s daily lectionary, and I wanted to single out this little book for further reflection today.  The Revised Common Lectionary (including the 2019 version) also just took us through much of this epistle back in July and early August, and some of us may even have preached on those lessons, making this read-through all the more fruitful now.

There are, of course, many commentaries and study guides out there, but one I would recommend is Fullness and Freedom by R. C. Lucas, an evangelical Anglican with a prolific ministry at St. Helen’s in London.  He was my parents’ first pastor, quite a few years ago, and (like J. I. Packer) is miraculously still alive and rocking the world for the Kingdom.  My church’s Facebook page has shared a number of photo clips from his book on Colossians and Philemon, which you may enjoy perusing.

Otherwise, perhaps you won’t mind my rambling:

Overview of the book of Esther

Evening Prayer in our Daily Office Lectionary begins the book of Esther in a couple days.  I had the joy and privilege of preaching all the way through this book a few years ago; it was a lot of fun, and I get kind of enthusiastic about it.  So please forgive me as occasionally stutter over my words in excitement as I talk about this book!

Subject Index of the video in case you want to skip around:

  • 00:00 – it’s an unusual book
  • 02:11 – Characters
  • 05:46 – A Tale of Two Esthers (Hebrew & Greek)
  • 09:50 – Authorship & Origin Questions
  • 13:58 – Canonical Purpose of the book of Esther

Why liturgy in the first place?

If you’re following this blog on Facebook, or directly, or via email subscription, chances are you’re already committed to the Anglican way of liturgical worship.  You may or may not have much to say about why you like or prefer liturgy over the free church tradition.  But you’ve probably been asked before by other Christians why you and/or your church worships the way it does.

Liturgy is not our “style”.  It is not our “flavor”.  It’s actually a part of who we are as Christians; it’s how we’re Christians.  Don’t fall into the trap of assuming or pretending that it’s a simple matter of preference.  No, it’s a principle.

For more on this, here’s a new video:

Subject Index:

  • 0:00 The challenge of understanding liturgy
  • 2:44 Why (and not why) we’re committed to liturgical worship
  • 6:15 Look at the whole, not the individual
  • 8:04 Many of us today struggle with liturgy

Reading 1 John in Eastertide

This evening we begin reading the epistle 1 John at Evening Prayer, and will go through it over the course of the whole week.  As I noted with 1 Peter a little while ago, this is an appropriate daily lectionary experience because it matches up with the Sunday Communion lectionary on one of the three years of its rotation.  It doesn’t match up perfectly in real time, of course, but the idea of reading 1 John in Eastertide is achieved both in Year B on Sundays and in the middle of May in daily Evening Prayer.

What makes 1 John an Easter-appropriate epistle such that it got assigned to this season in one year of the Communion lectionary?  In part, it’s an echo of the historic lectionary for Eastertide, which features 1 John and 1 Peter and James as the Epistle lessons through the season.  Digging deeper, the style of 1 John is very similar to the Gospel of St. John, which also gets heavy coverage in Eastertide and other major festal seasons and occasions throughout the year.  1 John has emphases on community, belonging, love, and release from sin, which all connect easily with the tradition of reading Acts in Eastertide, and the more general “result of the resurrection” frame of mind that this season is all about.

The opening prologue to 1 John also betray the unusual status of this book.  It is billed as an epistle of John but its writing style is much more like a homily or address.  Thus it makes for great reading and hearing but a far more difficult study than a more orderly epistle like those of St. Paul (at least in my opinion).  Despite the general challenge of making sense of how this book is structured and organized, the opening verses are one of my personal favorite passages of Scripture.

If you’d like a homily to accompany you in Evening Prayer today, here you go:

Three-fold Rule of Worship

Typically on this daily blog we look at specific pieces of advice or insight into some aspect or ingredient of the liturgy of the Anglican tradition.  Sometimes we’ve stepped back here to look at an entire season, but even that is still a fairly specific subject in the broad scheme of things.  Today we’re going very broad indeed: the “three-fold rule of Christian worship.”

Summarized briefly, the 3-fold rule, or Regula, is the balanced diet of Common Prayer (Daily Office), Sacramental Rites, and Private Prayer & Devotion.  The Anglican tradition, historically, has arguably the most ingenious execution of this three-fold rule, though it is a concept as old as the Bible itself.  Anyway, this is a model for understanding the total life of worship as a Christian; it was revolutionary for me in my own spiritual growth, and I hope it will be of value and insight for you as well.  So, without further ado:

Please bear with me, as I am new to the art and science of making videos.  Making eye contact from the pulpit with a congregation is quite different from making eye contact with a computer camera!  Don’t worry, I won’t inundate this blog or your inbox with videos now; but this is a new skill I’m looking into learning.  Hopefully my learning process won’t be too distracting for you.