Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Two Notes on the Octave Day of Christmas
(New Year’s Day)

Whether the day is known as The Octave Day of Christmas and the Circumcision of Christ, Being New Year’s Day (as in the Book of Common Prayer), the Octave of Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God (as in the current Roman rite), or The Naming of Jesus (as in the BAS), the same Gospel passage is read, Luke 2.15-21. I wonder if it might not be best to call it the Octave of Christmas and let the complex of themes that arise from the nativity gospel all have their place in our thoughts.
Apart from some questionable jokes and sophomoric suggestions about hymns appropriate to the feast of the Circumcision, it is a theme that should not be allowed to fade into obscurity. In For All the Saints Fr Reynolds suggests that the only reason St Luke mentioned the circumcision of Jesus was that “it fulfilled the last word of the Annunciation, when the angel told the Virgin Mary that the son she would bear should be named Jesus.” The statement in Galatians that the Son of God was “born of woman, born under the law” seems to me to warrant us giving more weight to the circumcision.
For the history of the feast on January 1 and its various names, see:
The first reading in the BAS, Numbers 6:22-27, is the “Aaronic Blessing”. This Priestly Blessing is still recited by the Kohanim (descendants of Aaron) during certain Jewish services. This blessing has found its way into popular culture. Mr Leonard Nimoy has said that in Star Trek he derived the hand gesture associated with the Vulcan phrase “Live long and prosper” from the gesture of the Kohanim while reciting this blessing. For further information on this bkessing and its use in current Jewish ritual, see and .
May God bless you all in the coming year.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas 2008

A Christmas Alone

This year, for the first time, I was unable to be with my family on Christmas Day. Spending Christmas by myself was not so bad, probably because I was not really alone, but I do not think it is the ideal way of spending the holiday
On Christmas Eve there were two celebrations of the Holy Eucharist at the Church of St Columba and All Hallows, where I am Priest in Charge; between the two masses I was very kindly invited home by parishionners who fed me with conversation, tea, and Christmas cake. The attendance was moderate, but the feeling was good, and gratifying remarks were made about my preaching. When all was over I got home at a good hour and tried to watch Alistair Sim as Scrooge on television until I had to go to bed, defeated by the commercial breaks.
On Christmas morning I went to St Matthias’, Bellwoods, for the Sung Mass of Christmas Day. As I was waiting for the streetcar I noticed a man who frequents my end of Queen Street; I give him something from time to time. It struck me that not to do something on Christmas day would be terribly shaming, so I crossed the street to wish him a merry Christmas with a small but useful gift. Mass was lovely, and Fr Kennedy preached a good sermon. Afterwards some friends asked if I had plans for Christmas Dinner, saying that I was most welcome; but by this point I had already thawed the game hen for my own dinner, and felt I had to decline. Moreover, I had been invited out for dinner on Boxing Day, and there was no danger of missing good fellowship!
Home again, I watched the Queen’s message and then napped. Then I cooked a Cornish game hen stuffed with olives following a recipe adapted from Apicius. While it was cooking I called my brother’s home in Ottawa to wish them a merry Christmas and spoke to my Mother. I was thankful that I was only separated by distance, and not estranged from family, as many are. Then after dinner and a quiet evening, I slept. Once or twice in one's life a quiet Christmas Day is a good idea. One should probably not make it a habit, however, for Christmas delights in fellowship. That is why the heart of the celebration is at Church.

On Boxing Day, I went to celebrate the 12:30 Eucharist at St James’ Cathedral. Despite the alternative date provided in the new Church Calendar, the Cathedral keeps St Stephen Protomartyr and the other feasts on the three days after Christmas Day. Many familiar folk were at this mass, including the Bishop of Toronto. (Whenever I see the bishop at a cathedral celebration, I am particularly glad to have remembered that I was on!) In the evening I went for dinner at the home of dear friends, and could not have wished a more festive evening.
So I passed the first days of the Christmas festival in 2008, and though I was often by myself, I was never alone.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lectionary Notes

A Note on the Nativity of our Lord: Christmas Day

The Lectionary provides three sets of readings for the Eucharist at the Midnight, in the Early Morning, and during the day on Christmas. With so much material, I do not propose to comment on all the readings, but urge you even more strongly than usual to refer to the notes at the RCL Commentary site from the Diocese of Montreal (see the link at the left).
At St Columba and All Hallows we will be hearing the first set at the earlier family service and the third set, the traditional readings of the Christmas Mass, at Midnight.
In my own preparation for Christmas this year I have been reading some of the Seventeen Sermons on the Nativity by Lancelot Andrewes. In line with the question which I have recommended as a question to ponder in Advent, some passages from Andrewes’ fifth sermon on the Nativity help us to meditate of the Angel’s words to the Shepherds, which declare what Child this is: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” I offer you these passages to consider in the last days of preparation for Christmas.
"The Angel addeth farther, 'A Saviour Which is Christ', For many saviours had been born, many had God sent them that at divers times had set them free from divres dangers of their enemies; Moses, from the Egyotians; Joshua, from the Canaanites; Gideon, from the Midianites; Jephtha, from the Ammonites; Sampson, from the Philistines. And indeed, the whole story of the Bible is nothing else but a calendar of saviours that God from time to time still stirred them up.
"But these all were but pety Saviours. there was One yet behind that was worth them all. One that 'should save His people from their sins' (Mat 1.21); save not their bodies for a time, but their souls for ever, which none of those saviours could do.
"And there is yet more particularity in this word Christ: three offices did God from the beginning erect to save his people by; and that by three acts—the very heathen took notice of them—1.Purgare, 2. Illuminare, 3. Perficere. 1. Priests, to purge or expiate; 2. Prophets, to illuminate or direct them; Kings, to set all right, and to keep all right in that perfection which this would admitteth. And all these three had their several anointings. Aaron the Priest (Lev 8,12) Elisha the Prophet (1 Kgs 19.16), saul the King (1 Sam 10.1). In the Saviour which is Christ, His will was all should meet, that nothing in Hum might want to the perfecting of this worl. That He might be a perfect Saviour of all, He was all. “A Priest after the Order of Melchizedek,” (Ps 110..4) a Prophet to be heard when Moses should hold his peace, (Deut 18.18); a King to save His people, 'Whose name should be Jehova Justitia nostra' (The Lord is our righteousness; Jer 23.6). David’s Priest. Moses’ Prophet, Jeremy’s King.
"And these formerly had met double, two of them in some other; Melchizedek, King and Priest; Samuel, Preist and Prophet; David, Prophet and Kimg. Never all three but in Him alone; and so, no Perfect Christ but He; but He all, and so perfect. By His Priesthood to purge, expiate, and 'save us from our sins, being a propitiation to God for them,' (1 John 2,2); by His prophecy to illuminate and save us from the by-paths of error, 'guiding our feet in the way of peace,' (Luke 1.79); by His Kingdom protecting and conducting us through the miseries of this life, till He perfect us eternally by Himself in the joys of His Heavenly Kingdom. Rightly then, 'A Saviour which is Christ.'"
[Lancelot Andrewes; Sermon V on the Nativity, Preached before King James I at Whitehall, on Tuesday the 25th Day of December, AD 1610, being Christmas Day.]
May the Good News of Christmas come to you as new this year, and its joy dwell in you all your days.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year B
21st December, AD 2008
The Annunciation

On the Fourth Sunday the Advent tone shifts from John Baptist’s call to repentance to the tender account of the Annunciation of the Lord Jesus to our Lady Mary. The Collect prays that we may embrace God’s will as Mary did, and rejoice in the salvation declared in the coming of the Lord Jesus. It is for this reason that the Sentence of the day in Years B and C is Luke 1.38, Mary’s acceptance of thw Angel’s Message, and the great role to which God has called her.

The Readings

[Don't forget that there are helpful notes on these readings at rhe RCL Commentary site: the link is at the left.]

The First Reading: 2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16.

The events of this passage took place shortly after David, now king over all Israel, captured the city of Jerusalem (2 Sam 5) and brought the ark of the Lord to rest in his new capital (2 Sam 6). Now at peace on all sides, and living in a fine palace of cedar, David is ashamed of the tabernacle in which God was worshipped and wishes to build a temple, but God wills that he establish an everlasting dynasty. The key to understanding the passage is the wordplay on the various meanings of the word house): in vv 1 and 2 it means ‘palace’, in vv. 5, 6, and 7, it means ‘temple’; in vv 11 and 16 it means ‘royal house’ or ‘dynasty’ (like the house of Tudor or Windsor). It is not often that word play translates from language to language, but in this case it does: the same Hebrew word carries the same variety of our “house”.
Although God promises that David’s house and throne will be established for ever, it was seemingly not so. In 587 or 586 B.C., it fell to the Babylonians. The conviction that God’s promises cannot fail led to the expectation that the kingdom would be restored under a descendant of David. In today’s Gospel St Luke sees the promise to David ultimately fulfilled in the universal and eternal kingship of the Lord Jesus. It is with this in mind that we can make the Psalm our prayer of prauise and thanksgiving for what God gave us in Jesus Christ
Here are some oints worth noting in this passage : The prophet Nathan latrer plays an important role in David’s great sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 12) and Solomon’s succession as King (1 Kings 1).
It may be of interest to note that the word “tabernacle” is in Latin the diminutive of “taberna”, which means a rude hut or dwelling, a tent; but also came to mean a place of business, a shop, and eventually gave us the word tavern.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-16.

The caption given in the New Oxford Annotated Bible is “A King prays for deliverance from his enemies.” This psalm may be a source for the account in the first reading. In it the psalmist recalls the covenant God made with David (1-4) and rehearses the terms of the convenant God once made with him (19-26). There seems to me to be no good reason why the selection ends at verse 26 and does not continue at least until verse 39 at least. From the last twenty verses it appears that the Psalm was written afer the defeat of a king, or even after the fall of the house of David.

The Epistle: Romans 16:25-27.

This passage is the concluding benediction of the letter; however, it is not absolutely certain that it belongs at the end of Romans. In the oldest text of the epistle we have, it is found after 15.33. In other MSS it is found after 14.23; others lack it entirely. From the language and ideas (such as mystery) in this passage, some scholars believe that it is a later fragment that scribes have included in Romans. Nonetheless, the evidence seems sufficient that the editors place it here (see further in the RCL notes). I mention this because it is surprising that there are not more serious problems like this in the text of the New Testament, but that it is in general very reliable.
The theme of a mystery, that is a truth long hidden but now revelaed to and through the Apostles, is important for our reading of the first lesson and the Gospel for today. In the coming of Jesus a depth of emaning, hitherto unknown , was revealed in God’s promises to David. Knowledge of this should establish our faith, as in Christ we come to a right knowledge of the whole of scripture.

The Gospel: St Luke 1.26-28.

When the Angel Gabriel (“My master is God”) appears to Mary. and salutes her as highly favoured. she is frightened. (It is interesting to note, in light of the way angels are so often depicted in art, that when they appear they have to say, “Fear not!” Someone said that the angels in are look more likely to say “There, there.”) Gabriel but the angel reassures her, declaring that she has found favour with God, and shall have a son who is to be named Jesus. He is to be called theSon of God and he shall reign on the throne of David for ever. In answe to Mary’s question how this can be, the angel tells her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and informs her of Elizabeth’s comdition. Thereupon Mary meekly accepts the message
There are two parts to the message this passage conveys about the child who is to be born. First, St Luke wants us to believe that Jesus is born from God. This is why the Scriptures and Creeds of the Church affirm that Jesus was conceived and born of a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit: “the virginal conception” is “the sign that it truly was the Son of God who came in a humanity like our own” [The Catechism of the Catholic Church]. As St Thomas Aquinas teaches, it was also a sign that we are reborn in Christ "not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13), and, following St Augustine, that "It behooved that our Head, by a notable miracle, should be born, after the flesh, of a virgin, that He might thereby signify that His members would be born, after the Spirit, of a virgin Church.” {Summa Theologica, Pars IIIa, Q. 28 Art 1.]
Secondly, he wants us to undertand the role of the Christ in salvation history. As we read in 2 Samuel, God had promised David an eternal house and throne. Hence the expectation that a descendant of David would once again rule the house of Jacob. Luke sees this expectation fulfilled in a wondrous way in Jesus Christ, whoc will reign over God’s people for ever.
I conclude with a comment of interest from the theologian C. B. Moss on the Virgin Birth:

It has, however, been suggested that the story of the Virgin Birth is based on a misunderstanding of Isa. 7:14 ("Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel"), and that the argument was, "The Messiah was to be born of a virgin; Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah; therefore He must have been born of a virgin; therefore He was born of a virgin."
But this objection will not bear examination. The Hebrew word in Isaiah does not mean a virgin, but a young woman, married or unmarried. It is not a prophecy of the Messiah, and no emphasis is laid on the mother’s virginity. It is a prophecy of an Assyrian invasion, and the point is that before the child, who is shortly to be born, is old enough to know right from wrong, the Assyrians will have destroyed Samaria and Damascus, and the population will be reduced to famine rations (butter and honey). There is no evidence that anyone ever referred this passage to the Messiah until the writer of St. Matthew’s Gospel did so (1:22), but he was fond of taking passages of the prophets out of their context and referring them to incidents in our Lord’s life. It was the event which caused the reference, not the reference the belief in the event. In St. Luke’s account which is probably the older of the two, there is no reference to this passage in Isaiah. [The Christian Faith pp 111-112]

Note: Texts of Sermons are occasionally published on my blog Sermonets for Christianets. Click on :My Sermon Blog"at the left. Since some parishioners asked, the Sermons for Advent II and Advent II have now been posted.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B
Sunday, 14 December, 2008

Advent III: Gaudete Sunday
Although the penitential character of Advent has not quite disappeared, it is no longer generally regarded as a “little Lent”. In some ways this is a pity, for it is a good principle that we should prepare for the joy of a feast by self-examination and restraint, and putting away the festive airs and indulgences. I suspect that a more serious Advent might be a more pointed contrast and corrective to the anticipation of Christmas festivity that now marks all of December in Western culture. This appears to be a minority opinion, however, and I only raise it because the old name for this Sunday marked it as a relief from the sombreness, just as Mothering Sunday does at Mid-Lent. In the good old days (or bad, depending on your point of view) it was only on Advent III that the organ was played and flowers decorated the altar and rose-coloured vestments could be worn.
The name Gaudete comes from the Introit for the day in the old Missal, whose Antiphon is Philippians 4.4, Rejoice in the Lord always (Gaudete in Domino semper). That epistle was also read this Sunday, which is possibly why it was chosen for the Introit. For some reason the reading seem to have been bumped to the next Sunday in early English uses, a practice which was carried over into the Book of Common Prayer. In the revised liturgy, Philippians 4 is read only in one year of the cycle, but other passages are read in other years which urge Christians to rejoice, as in this Year B the reading from 1 Thessalonians begins with the words “Rejoice always!”

Although the traditional theme of this Sunday is Joy, the Sentence — or Alleluia verse—taken from the first reading proclaims the sending of the Messiah or Christ (both words mean the Anointed One) to declare God’s favour and salvation to the poor, his comfort to those who mourn. If we think about this for a moment, it should be clear that it is because of this good news that we rejoice, and Joy is truly the theme of this Sunday.

The Collect, in its prayer that things that hinder our love of God may be removed from us, calls us to self-examination; for individuals are hindered in loving God in different ways, and to make this prayer their own must be aware of their own situation. Two points are noted below where the readings today suggest further interpretations and applications of this prayer in our Christian life.
The Readings
I am happy to welcome new readers of this blog from the Church of St Columba and All Hallows in East York. where I have the honour to be Interim Priest in Charge. This is a good occasion to mention Chris Haslem’s Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary from the Diocese of Montreal, which has such excellent comments on the readings that I do not need to repeat them here. I hope that you will consult these RCL notes; a link can be found on the left hand side of this page.
The first readings, Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11, is a consolation of the people who have returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. Compare it to the Servant Songs of chapters 42-53 or Isaiah, and in particular of 50.4-11. The passage, especially the two opening verses, has particular importance for Christians because it was this passage which Jesus read in the synagogue in Nazareth and declared that in his ministry the prophecy found fulfillment.
Note the joy with which this passage ends, as the prophet recognizes the good things God has done. Verse 10 my sould shall exult in my God can easily be read as a prophecy of the joy with which our Lady was filled (the Magnificat, Luke 1.47-55).
Psalm 126 also comes from the time of the return from Babylon. This deliverance was beyond belief (“we were like them that dream”); but as life returned to normal it seemed to be hard and disappointing, Then the people cried to the Lord to restore their fortunes, and the psalm ends on a note of hope, confidence, and joy.
We may note that the Negev is the desert to the south of the land of Israel. The “watercourses” are the riverbeds which only flow with water after the seasonal rain. This is a symbol of our souls, which without the grace of God are dry and lifeless. God’s grace is an ever-flowing spring (see John 4.14), but it is within our power to turn away from the source or even damn up our lives so that his grace is hindered. This is a point where we might remember the collect for the day, and the things that hinder out love of God.

1 Thessalonians 5.16-24. The final chapter of 1 Thessalonians is very good to read in Advent St Paul has been explaining the sort of people Christians ought to be as they await the coming of the Lord Jesus, just as we ought to consider every year what kind of people we should be as we prepare to celebrate his coming and birth. The last thing the Apostle speaks of is the spiritual life. We are to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in everything” because this is what God wants for us in Christ.
We do not have space for more than a brief comment on joy. Just as in Christian language, Love is not the emotion but a way of acting towards others regardless of how we feel (“a policy”, as Madeleine L’Engle put it), Joy is not simply feelings of happiness or delight, but is more deeply-rooted in the knowledge of God and doing God’s will (see John 15.10-11). Indeed, joy might be something new and strange, so that one has to learn to recognize it. To take the first steps in knowing Joy one must turn to God in prayer, and study his teachings, especially the words of Jesus, and try to carry them out in your daily life. Then our souls will be refreshed like the watercourses of the south when the spring rains come.

John 1.6-8, 19-29. This is the Gospel reading in the Prayer Book for Advent IV. It is also known to those who love classic English church music from that wonderful anthem by Orlando Gibbons, This is the Record of John.
As we heard last Sunday, the preaching of John the Baptist and his call to a baptism of repentance had stirred up the whole countryside. St Luke informs us that “all questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ”. The religious authorities at Jerusalem (whom St John calls “the Jews”, v. 19) sent to inquire into John’s ministry. We must not assume that this inquiry was malicious: it was the responsibility of the council to investigate purported prophets and judge whether they were true or false.
When John denied that he was the Messiah, they asked whom he claimed to be. The coming of Elijah before the Day of the Lord was foretold in the third chapter of Malachi, while Deuteronomy 18 spoke of the coming a prophet like Moses. People later affirmed that Jesus was this prophet (John 6.14, 7.40). At John’s further denial, they asked who he said he was, and he replied in the words from Isaiah quoted in all the Gospels, “I am the voice crying in the wilderness”. John 3:26-30 should be read along with this passage.
Here we see one important lesson to learn from John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Lord. It is that John points away from himself and towards Christ. Like John the Baptist, the Church and its members must learn to say, we ourselves are nothing, we only matter if we point you to Jesus. As we pray that God will remove from us the things that hinder love of him, let us remember that when we do not keep God’s commandments, we may easily hinder the love of other people for God.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Useful Resources

Some Resources for Advent
There are hundreds of websites to do with Advent and Christmas. Here are just a few that looked interesting and useful. They are in no particular order. You can find many more by going to "seasonal resources" at Anglicans Online.
The Season of Advent: Anticipation and Hope by Dennis Bratcher [The Colours of Advent ; The Spirit of Advent ; Evergreens and The Advent Wreath; Celebrating Advent ; An Advent Reflection
Full Homely Divinity : Resources for Anglican Parish Life
Lift Up Your Hearts: Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Resources
This blog from the Scottish Episcopal Church has daily postings for Advent and more.
A calendar with spoken word and music from the BBC
A history of the Advent Calendar
Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament

Friday, December 5, 2008

God Moves in a Mysterious Way ...

This week I received an unusual comment on my notes for Advent I. It was from a person in India who began by saying very clearly that he (I believe) was not commenting on my notes but was trying to reach my younger brother, Dan.

Dan is an animator, and some time back had been in India, and in particular in Mumbai. From what he saw he produced a cartoon entitled 'Construction worker's slum with the luxury condo's the workers built in background Bombay, India' which my correspondent wanted to use on the conver of the magazine published by Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief based in New Delhi. He was seeking Dan's contact information.

The obvious thing to do was to pass the note on directly to Dan. It was more efficent than to send an email address to India, and more respectful of Dan's privacy. As it turned out, he was more than happy to give permission for use of the cartoon, because of his concern for the poverty and need, and our correspondent in India was very happy.
That is an effect I would never have thought this blog would have. If the cartoon raises awareness of the needs of poor workers, then I will be glad to have done a little something to help, even if all I really did was provide an avenue for contact. I'd like to see the cartoon sometime.

Lectionary Notes

Some Thoughts on the Second Sunday in Advent, Year B
7th December 2008

An Advent Question
Advent is our time of preparation for our annual remembrance of the birth of Christ for Christmas. Although there is great pressure all around us to begin Christmas celebrations as soon as we can, there is much to be gained by holding off. How often do hear folk ask what is the meaning of Christmas, or where the true meaning of Christmas gone and how we can get it back?
In many of us are very busy with the outward preparation for Christmas: decorating homes and offices, shopping for gifts, cooking and baking. In the midst of all this preparation, the prayers and readings of Advent —at least those of the Eucharist on the four Sundays — can help to keep our hearts and minds fixed on the one whose coming we celebrate.
May I recommend a simple question to keep in mind that will keep the Advent preparations focussed? You know it, it is the opening of a very beautiful Christmas hymn: “What Child is this who, laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping?” If we make this question the focus of Advent prayer and meditation, by the time we come to the creche on Christmas Eve we will be ready to contemplate the story it depicts.
The Three Advents
We are well used to thinking of the first Advent of our Lord, when he came in humility to be born for us at Bethlehem, and looking ahead to the his second coming in glory to judge the world; but as Peter of Blois, who lived from about 1135 to about 1200, said in an Advent Sermon
"There are three Advents of the Lord: the first to take our flesh; the second to our soul; the third to judgment. The first at midnight the second in the morning, the third at noon.”
The first Advent has been; the third is yet to come; the third is in our loves. In the second Advent our Lord comes to us in the Spirit, and if we welcome him, takes possession our souls, and gives us new life. We mst keep this in mind when we hear the words of Isaiah : Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
In one sense this means that I must be sure that the way is open for him to me. And this is why in the Gospel today we hear of John’s Baptism for the remission of sins. In sin I turn from the way of God to go my own way. It is not that Christ won’t come to me, but that I block his way, being blind to his coming and deaf to his voice.
In another sense, when we hear these words we must ask ourselves whether we are preparing a way for the Lord to come to his people or are blocking him

With all these things in mind, it is clear why the particular Sentence ot Alleluia Verse was chosen for today, for it contains a very clear promise and a very clear command: The promise is that “All flesh shall see the salvation of God”, that is to say, the salvation of God comes to all people; it is most obviously fulfilled in the proclaiming of the Gospel in all lands and nations. The command is to prepare the way of the Lord, as.
The Readings
As always you would do well to look at the notes at the RCL Commentary Website; a link is in the left-hand margin.
In each year of the Revised Common Lectionary the Four Sundays of Advent follow the same pattern.
The Gospels of the first Sunday all concern the Coming of the Son of Man in glory to judge the world;
The Gospels of the Second and Third Sundays concern the John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Son of Man and his testimony to Jesus
The Gospel of the fourth Sunday concern the annunciation of Jesus’ birth to Joseph (Year A) and Mary (Years B and C).
Today our first reading [Isaiah 40.1-11] is the opening of the second part of the Book of Isaiah; it is a prophecy of the return of Israel from exile in Babylon. The prophet sees it as a new Exodus (the wilderness, the desert) and a promise that God himself will be shepherd of his people. This, as we remember was a theme through the last Sundays of the Chiurch year. Another passage of Isaiah which is closely related to this one is Isaiah 35.1-10 (read on Advent 3 in year A).
The Advent focus of this passage is made clear because it was used by John the Baptist, as seen in today’s Gospel.
The Psalm [85.1-2, 8-13}, like the first lesson, looks to God’s mghty acts of salvation as assurance that he will continue to show loving kindness to his people.
With the Epstle reading from Second Peter [2 Peter 3.8-15a] we return to the theme of Christ’s coming in judgment. We must not forget that this, too, is answer to the question “what child is this?” for Christ was not always a child, and he did not come to give only a superficial love and peace. He came to meet the needs of the human race at the very roots of sin and death, and to restore God’s loving and merciful rule. That cannot be without judgment.
Moe immediately, this passage says two things to us. The first is that although the promised coming may seem delayed, it is not. All things, and the end of the story, are in the hands of Christ. If we are given time, it is so that we may turn to him and learn his ways. The other thing is that if we are to be his people, knowing that he is to judge, we must ask ourselves, How then shall we live? At Christmas, we may put this another way: our Lord came in humility to become an infant, which is a sign of his giving all he had for our sake. How then shall we live?
I have to confess that I am not sure what is meant by "waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (verse 12). Most early modern translations (such as the Authorized Version of 1611) give it as hastening unto; some more recent versions give vehemently desiring. Hastening seems to be the most literal version, but what does it mean? What can we do to hasten the day of God? This would be an excellent question for a Bible Study Group. Another question that comes from this verse is: what difference is there, if any, between the "day of the Lord" and the "day of God"?
The Gospel passage [Mark 1:1-8] is very straightforward, and I do not think I need to add anything to the notes in the RCL Commentary.
I am looking forward to being at The Church of Saint Columba and All Hallows this Sunday to begin a time as Interim Priest in Charge. The Church is at 2723 St Clair Avenue East, just east of O'Connor Drive, in East York. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated at 8:30 a.m. (said) and 10:00 a.m. (sung)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes on the First Sunday of Advent, Year B
Sunday, 30th November, 2008
With the First Sunday of Advent, traditionally called Advent Sunday, we begin a new Church Year. Advent Sunday is the Sunday nearest to St Andrew’s Day, whether before or after; it can also be found by counting four Sundays back from Christmas Day
The Introduction to this Sunday adapted from the St Joseph Sunday Missal is worth noting:
Theme: Stay Awake! We can imagine the following embarrassing situation: A young baby sitter falling asleep or just stepping out for a short while, the children running all over the house, and the paents coming home from a party at midnight—a little bit earlier than anticipated! A soldier caught asleep on guard duty is court marshalled severely, and rightly so, for if the guards are sleeping, who can feel safe? We Christians believe that Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”. Scripture teaces that we are related to God in a covenant. We are his co-workers in making this planet a better place for all. The moment you least expect it, the Lord may call you in. make sure that it is not going to be an embarrassing situation for you! “Take heed, watch.”
But it might be asked why we begin our preparation for Christmas by hearing and thinking of the end-times and the second Coming. It is so that as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child we may have firmly fixed in our minds just why it was that he came to us: in answer to the cry that God rend the heavens and come down; to keep us from "Peterpantheism," the sentimental worship of a God who never grows up.
The Sentence or Alleluia verse is taken from the Gospel for Year C (Luke 21.25-36). It reminds us that the coming of the Son of man is not a terror to be feared but the deliverance which we confidently expect. The Roman Missal uses a different sentence for this Sunday: “Lord, let us see your kindness,a nd rant us your salvation

The Collect is an adaptation of the traditional Collect for Advent Sunday, which beautifully contrasts and balances the Lord’s first Advent in humility (and indeed secrecy) and his second coming in power and majesty
The Readings
For detailed comments on the readings, please consult the RCL site at
First Reading: Isaiah 64.1-9 [63.19b-64:8]
Isaiah, son of Amoz, proclaimed the word of God iin Judah between 742 and 687 BC, at te time when the northern kingdom, Israel, was taken by the Assyrian empire and the southern kingdom maintained a precarious indepence. Nithng is known of his early life, but froom some aspects of his message and from Is 6.1-8 it appears that he might have been a priest. The Book of Isaiah is apparently made up of three parts. Only the first section, caps 1 to 39, can be assigned to his time; from differences of literary style and theological emphasis, scholars have generally concluded that caps 40 to 66 were written during and after the Exile in Babylon., or indeed from immediately before the fall of Babylon in 539 BC and afterwards Further, some scholars consider that Chapters 56 to 66 form a third part of the book, written after the return to the Promised Land. It is from this last section that today’s reading is taken. The prophecy is of hope, but fully aware that the people have sinned, and that for this God seems to have deserted them.
Today's passage is a prayer in a time of distress; God's people have returned from exile in Babylon but their return and the reconstruction have not been the success they expected. The cause of this failure, they reckoned, was their sin and disobedience. So their prayer is for salvation to come from without, from God, for there is no hope in the world. God’s intervention is cataclysmic, the heavens are rent asunder and the mountains flee from the face of God.

Psalm 80.1-7, 16-18
Like the first reading, this Psalm is a prayer that God will deliver Israel. Note the recurrence of the Shepherd imagery that marked the readings for the Reign of Christ.

The Epistle: First Corinthians (1.3-9)
In this opening passage of his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul gives thanks for the gifts of speech and knowledge which the Father has granted them in Christ. Indeed, he writes, they lack no spiritual gift as they await the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. With these words we recall the Parable of the Talents that we heard two weeks ago, in which the rich man’s slaves were entrusted with his property and on his return called to account for the use they made of it. We will also remember them when we hear the little parable of man going on a journey in today’s Gospel (St Mark 13.34-35).

The Gospel: Mark 13.24-37.
In Year B of the Lectionary, the Gospel passages are mostly taken from the Gospel according to St Mark, supplemented with passages from St John. Mark’s is the shortest of the four Gospels and in the opinion of the majority of scholars was the first of the three synoptic Gospels to be written (the synoptics, so called because of their many similarities, are Matthew, Mark, and Luke). To try to summarize the facts and arguments involved in this conclusion would be ridiculous. However, some of the most important facts, as noted in the New Oxford Annotated Bible, are:
1) Apart from details Mark contains very little that is not in Matthew or in Luke
2) When Mark and Matthew differ as to the sequence of matter, Luke agrees with Mark, and when Mark and Luke differ as to sequence, Matthew agrees with Mark
3) Matthew and Luke never agree as to sequence against Mark.
The Gospel is anonymous, but ancient Christian tradition ascribed it to John Mark (see Acts 12.12; 15.37), who is said to have composed it at Rome as a summary of the preaching of St Peter (cf 1 Peter 5.13). The earliest witness to this tradition was Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, about AD 130:
Mark became the interpreter of Peter and he wrote down accurately, but not in order, as much as he remembered of the sayings and doings of Christy. For he was not a hearer or a follower of the Lord, but afterwards, as I said, of Peter, who adapted his teachings to the needs of the moment and did not make an ordered exposition of the Lord.
The thirteenth chapter of Mark, which is parallel to Matthew 24 and Luke 21, contains the teachigj on the end of the age that is sometimes called the “little Apocalypse” (remember, though, that apocalypse means ‘revelation’ and not ‘end of the world’). The section chosen for today’s Gospel stresses the need for constant vigilance because the day and hour of the Lord’s coming cannot be known. We have learned from other passages, such as the Parable of the Talents and last week’s Gospel of the Great Judgement, that above all being alert and watchful means taking every opportunity to d othe Lord’s will, reaching out in love to all we meet.

Finally, there is a question of translation about the opening verse of the passage, which the NRSV renders "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,” where older translations had “after that tribulation”. Now “tribulation” is just the Latin word that was formed from tribulare, “to press”, hence “oppress”, “afflict”, to render the Greek θλῖψις (thlipsis), which means “pressure”, and so “affliction”. The root meaning in both langauges is to “rub”, “sqeeze”, “press”. The root meaning of “suffering,” on the other hand, is “to bear”, “undergo”, “endure”, and the like (suffero; sub + fero). It would seem to me that, if “tribulation” is to be avoided, θλῖψις would be better translated by a word like “affliction” or “oppression”, which describes the evil that is happening to one, than by “suffering” which is really about how one bears up.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for
The Last Sunday after Pentecost:
The Reign of Christ
Sunday 23 November 2008.

On the Last Sunday of the Church Year we celebrate Christ as King. Although the BAS uses rather an impersonal title for this feast, the meaning is no different, as can be seen from the Collect, which speaks of Christ “our Lord and King” and of course from the Gospel which speaks of the Son of man as the King in judgment. “Reign” after all means “kingly rule”.
Christ the King is the most recently established of the feasts of our Lord, having been instituted by Pope Pius XI (Achille Ratti) in December 1925. A brief history may be found at The original explanation of the feast, and of the meaning of the title King as given to Christ, may be found in Pius XI’s encyclical Quas Primas of 11 December 1925, at
In the three year cycle of the Lectionary, the gospel readings chosen for this feast look at the kingship of Christ in three ways. In Year A, this year, the passage tells of Christ’s coming to take the royal judgment seat and settle all creation under his gracious and loving rule; in Year B the gospel is John 18..33-37, in which Christ stands before the judgment seat of Pilate, who asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?”, and we hear the reply, “My kingdom is not of this world.” In year C the gospel is Luke 23.33-43, which shows us Christ on the Cross, that most mysterious throne. It is the request of the thief, Dysmas, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”, which points to the truth of this scene.

Almost every word of the readings for this feast might provoke a comment or a train of thought, so to keep these notes within manageable and useful limits, we will abandon the method of writing a note on each passage. For this, the RCL commentary from the Diocese of Montreal provides excellent introductions and notes on the eeadings for this feast, and I commend them to you. An examination of the “clippings” page will repay the time, if you can give it. See
Here, now, are a few points that arise from reading these passages.

Sheep and Shepherds ....
The image or theme of sheep and shepherds unite the first reading, the Psalm and the Gospel reading, while the judgment of the Gospel passage is foreshadowed by that in Ezekiel, “Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.” The RCL notes point out the close link in ancient Middle Eastern thought in general and in Biblical thought in particular between the ideas of king and shepherd.
Perhaps the most important verse about shepherds in today's readings is Psalm 100, verse 2: “Know that the LORD is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” The Bible’s declaration that the Lord is our shepherd is rightly beloved by all, for it is a word of comfort and hope in a world which often seems indifferent at best. But is this declaration that we are his sheep equally well-loved? Let us ask ourselves what are its implications: and more particularly that “we are his”? How does this square with the independence and autonomy that people so often pride themselves on?
In this connection we may also ask whether the fierce loyalty to the doctrine of Creation we so often hear about is matched by an equal loyalty to the doctrine that one is a creature.
... and goats
John Chrysostom noted that the distinction between sheep and goats was that sheep were used “to denote the unprofitableness of the one, and the fruitfulness of the other, for sheep are greatly productive in fleece, milk, and lambs.” Whether Chrysostom was being entirely fair to the goats is hardly the point here
It is much more important that we remember that it is not our job to say who are sheep and who are goats. Remember that both are surprised by the judgment. In The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, the end of the world and Last Judgment of Narnia are described in a way that brings out the fact that we do not know who will be saved. At the end, all the creatures of the world of Narnia come running "up to the doorway where Aslan stood." As they came right up to Aslan (who represents Christ) and looked in his face some responded with fear and hate; these went to the left and disappeared into his shadow; the others "looked in his face and loved him" ;these passed to his right through the doorway. But, as Lewis writes,
There were some queer specimens among them. Eustace even recognized one of the Dwarfs who had helped to shoot the Horses. But he had no time to wonder about that sort of thing (and anyway it was no business of his) ...
Although the Bible clearly works in distinctions: good and evil, light and dark, left and right, sheep and goats, and many others, it is not for us to make the distinctions (cf the Parable of the Tares among the Wheat, Mat 13.24-30). It is for us to show love and kindness to all.
This, of course, brings us back to the fact that we are God's and not our own. When we are all subject to judgment, there is no time to be condemning our fellow sheep, or hiding the very goatish points in our own characters/
By the way
The Epistle passage from Ephesians does not fit into the sheep and shepherd theme; rather it is a prase of the exaltation of Christ as over all things and the head of his body, the Church,

The RCL notes make it clear that there is no one interpretation of this passage that is universally accepted: some take the nations to mean all peoples of the earth, both Gentile and Jew; others to mean only the Gentiles. It should be noted that in the Catholic tradition, the passage is taken to be about the General Judgment of all people of the world.
As a general rule, we Christians should hear all the gospel passages about judgment as being addressed to us. Regardless of questions raised in commentaries, when we hear a reference to what is done or not done to “the least of my brothers and sisters”, we know that we are being called to examine how we behave to those around us, and whether we see Christ in the deprived and downtrodden. A good rule of thumb is “Passages about judgment are always addressed to me”
The Gospel states that the Son of man comes in glory for judgment; but his identification with the poor and oppressed makes it clear that he has never really been away. Compare how the Lord identifies persecution of his disciples as persecution of himself in Acts 9.5. We cannot think that he is far away, but here in mystery, and the “coming” will be the manifestation of his present rule.
We should notice that the judgement is not about what we feel, or think, of “these least” but about what we do to them. But perhaps we should not think of this story as being about Judgment Day and not about today. The lesson to be learned is to to realize that when we see someone in need, we see Christ, and that that is the moment of judgment. How can we make this real for ourselves?
An interesting and fresh interpretation of Bible stories can be found in the late mediaeval mystery plays, which present popular dramatic versions of the whole history of salvation . For a general introduction to these plays, with good links to further information, see In the Mercers’ play of the Last Judgment from the city of York we find the words of the King to the righteous set like this:

Jesus: When I was hungry, ye me fed;
To slake my thirst your heart was free;
When I was clotheless, ye me clad;
Ye would no sorrow upon me see;
In hard prison when I weas stead.
Of my penance ye had pity;
Full sick when I was brought in bed,
Kindly ye came to comfort me.

When I was will and weariest lost
Ye harboured me full heartfully sheltered, cordially
Full glad the were ye of your guest,
And plained my poverty piteously; lamented
Believe ye brought me of the best quickly
And made my bed full easily; comfortably
Therefore in heaven shall be your rest,
In joy and bliss to me be by

To their question, when did we see thee hungry, came the reply

Jesus. My blessed children I shall you say
What time this deed was to me done:
When any that need had, night or day,
Asked you help and had it soon;
Your free hearts said rhem never nay,
Early ne late, midday ne noon,
But as oftsithes as they wold pray, often
Them hurt but bid, and have their boon

A modern English version of this play may be found at From there you can find links to the other

Finally we may notice the difference in the way the King speaks of the reward of the righteous (verse 34) and the punishment of the unrighteous (verse 41). The first are “blessed of my Father” and invited to a kingdom “prepared for them from the foundation of the world”. The others are called “cursed”, but not “of” or “by my Father”; perhaps it was their own inhumanity that cursed them. Again, the fire was not “prepared for them”, but “for the Devil and his angels”, and it was not prepared “from the foundation of the world”. As one commentator put it, “The kingdom was prepared for the righteous, but not the fire for the unrighteous.” These verses ought to be taken into account when the Last Things are to be considered.
Next week a new Church year begins with the First Sunday of Advent/

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some notes for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 33, Year A
Sunday, 16 November, 2008

The Sentence is founded on John 15.5; notice the link between the servants in the Gospel who gain a profit from trading the talents that had been committed to them, and the description of the members of Christ as branches that are to bear fruit.
The Readings
For more detailed notes on the passages, please see the RCL Commentary, at

First Reading : Judges 4:1-7
From the death of Joshua until Saul was made king, Israel was ruled by twelve successive Judges, charismatic leaders who were raised up at times of national crisis by the spirit of God, to deliver God’s people from pagan oppressors. which included the judicial and military roles. The word Judge [Hebrew shoftim] is from the root from the verb "Š-P-T", "to pass judgment”, A cognate form, which we know from Latin texts as “sufete”, designated the two chief magistrates of Carthage, which had been a Poenician colony.
Chapters 4 and 5 of the Book of Judges tell of Deborah the prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, in whose time the nation was delivered from the oppression of Jabin King of Canaan, whose general, Sisera, had the advantage of iron chariots at a time when the Israelites were not familiar with ironwork. Deborah inspires Barak to raise an army against the Canaanites. Today we read the opening verses of the story, but the rest is not included in the Sunday Lectionary. It seems strange to read only a small part of such a fine passage, partly because this story centres on two women whose actions save the people, but also because of the effective simplicity of the writing. The rest of the story is as follows (Judges 4.8-5.end)
Barak refused to go against Sisera unless Deborah went with him; she said she would, but that Barak’s was not the path to glory, “For the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman”. Deborah and Barak went up with ten thousand men to Kadesh [vv.8-10] Near Kadesh at Za-anannim lived Heber the Kenite and his wife Jael. The Kenute were a nomadic tribe relatd to the Hebrews (see Judges 1.16).
Sisera and his nine hundred chariots of iron (or armed with scythes) went up against Barak at Mount Tabor. Atr Debora’s word Barak and his ten thousand came down from the mountain; the army of Sisera was routed and Sisera himself fled on foot. Barak followed the fleeing army to Haroseth-hagoiim. “All the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left”. [vv.12-16].
Meanwhile Sisera sought shelter at the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. She welcomed him into the tent, and covered him with a rug. She gave him a drink of milk.
“And he said to her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyoner here?’ say, No.” But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and tool a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drive the peg into his temple, till it went down into the ground, as he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died.”
When Barak came by the tent in pursuit of Sisera, Jael came to meet him saying, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking” [vv. 17-22]
The story is told again in Chapter 5 “the Song of Deborah and Barak”, which is considered to be “the oldest remaining considerable fragment of Hebrew literature” [NOAB]. In this chapter there are many fine passages, such as the description of Jael’s killing Sisera, but 5.28-30, which pictures the mother of Sisera looking out the window as she awaits his return, is one of the most poignant passages in all literature.
Psalm 127.
This psalm, a prayer for deliverance from enemies, makes an apt reflection on the first reading. The refrain appointed in the BAS, “The earth was still when God rose up in judgement,” makes this more clear.
The Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
In this pre-Advent season we continue to read from First Thessalonians, which gives the impression that some early Christians were like children on a journey, always wanting to know: Are we there yet? In fact, from the very beginning [see Acts 1.6-7], Christians have been asking “how long?” and “when will the end be?” St Paul reminds the Thessalonians of what Jesus himself said, that the coming would be like a thief in the night [see Mat 24,43; Lk 12.39; 2 Peter 3.10; Apoc 3.3. The fact that the day has not yet come should not lull them into a false security, lie sleep; rather they should be awake and alter, living in the Lord’s service, above all encouraging and building up one another.

The Holy Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30:
The Parable of the Talents
The Gospel is one of the three parables of judgment that make up Matthew 25. Last week we read the parable of the Bridesmaids, and next week the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The parable of the Talents comes between and springs right out of the preceding parable, as is clear from the opening words, “For it is as if a man… ” This is an illustration of the previous verse, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day not the hour”. It is helpful to read all of Matthew 24 and 25 to set today’s passage in context,
We have to be clear that in Jesus’ day the word talent did not mean what we think it mean, a power or ability of mind or body. A talent was a unit of weight, and, as a weight of silver or gold, an amount of money. The meaning of ‘talent’ familiar today in English and other languages in fact comes from the interpretation of this parable as teaching that God gives each of us some talents and opportunities of body and mind, and the judegment on our life depends. This inrerpretation must have been heard so often and clearly that people for whom the “talent” was no longer a sum of money must have taken it to mean a “gift”; the idea that it means “ability” seems to come from the phrase, “to each according to his ability”:. The first known use of “talent” in this sense in English was in Lydgate’s Testament, by the poet John Lydgate, about 1430.
It is useful to recall that for Jesus and his audience “talent” did not yet have this meaning, for this drives us to look at the parable again, and at more ancient interpretations. For many of the Church Fathers, the talents reprsented the “gospel doctrines (Jerome) or the oracles of God (Origen); the different numbers represented the spiritual understanding of the servants. In such an interpretation, “doing business” with the talents means preaching and teaching the Gospel. The profits are the souls brought to Christ —compare the “fruit” of John 15. The servant who hid his one talent is a Christian who kept the good news to himself: For St John Chrysostom, the talents are all that we are given by God, “money, or words,” or anything else that can be used to help one’s neighbour; charity is how the talents are put to work. Here we should read Matthew 24:45-51 and consider what light that has to shed on this parable. When you read it note “gnash their teeth” which is echoed in today’s reading.
If we take “talent” to mean our abilities and opportunities in the broadest sense, then one of the main points of this parable is that they are not our property, but only loans—perhaps “investments: would be a better word in the context—for which we must make reckoning. In the parable of the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25.31-46], which we read next Sunday, it is made clear just how we are to use these investments.
The link to the final words of the Parable of the Bridesmaids tell us that since we do not know when the reckoning will come, we cannot put off doing business with our talents — no matter how we interpret them.
Thso parable, like most, has attracted many comments of varying quality and value. A Google search for “Parable of the Talents” produced about 180,000 results. From those here are two which give unusual interpretations of the parable. I have not checked these carefully, and take no responsibility for their content:
Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed - by William R. Herzog – 1994:
~ id=sG6Bjr7guSAC&pg=PA150&lpg=PA150&dq=Parable+of+the+Talents&source=web&ots=kEUXjNMkeo&sig=s01bAfFAyGXd9QbV7s3ZT3JpI4I&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=10&ct=result#PPA153,M1
There is also the animated “lego” version:

An Historical Note
This Monday, 17 November, is the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth I. This was a most significant day in the history of the Church of England and developing Anglicanism.

An Important Note
As I was preparing these notes, I received a message from the Anglican Diocese of Toronto calling attention to a letter from Bishop Colin Johnson that will appear in the Toronto Star next Tuesday, 18 November. You will doubtless hear or read about this in other places; it can’t hurt to mention it here, to encourage you to read it, and to be aware of the suggested actions .mentioned at the end of the letter. As we approach the “time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices”[1] this reminder that “tough economic times” are not the time to step back from commitments against poverty seems particularly apt.
[1] Charles Discken, A Christmas Carol, p. 12,

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fabula De Domo Quam Iohanniculus Aedificavit

ECCE domus quam Iohanniculus aedificavit!

Ecce hordeum tostum
quod in domo iacuit
quam Iohanniculus aedificavit

Ecce mus,
qui hordeum tostum edit
quod in domo iacuit
quam Iohanniculus aedificavit

Ecce feles,
quae murem necavit
qui hordeum tostum edit
quod in domo iacuit
quam Iohanniculus aedificavit!

Ecce canis,
qui felem laceravit
quae murem necavit
qui hordeum tostum edit
quod in domo iacuit
quam Iohanniculus aedificavit!

Ecce vacca cornu rugoso
quae canem iactavit
qui felem laceravit
quae murem necavit
qui hordeum tostum edit
quod in domo iacuit
quam Iohanniculus aedificavit!

Ecce virgo destituta omnino
quae vaccam cornu rugoso mulsit
quae canem iactavit
qui felem laceravit
quae murem necavit
qui hordeum tostum edit
quod in domo iacuit
quam Iohanniculus aedificavit!

Ecce vir valde pannosus
qui virginem destitutam omnino osculatus est
quae vaccam cornu rugoso mulsit
quae canem iactavit
qui felem laceravit
quae murem necavit
qui hordeum tostum edit
quod in domo iacuit
quam Iohanniculus aedificavit!

Ecce sacerdos rasus tonsusque
qui virem valde pannosum coniunxit
qui virginem destitutam omnino osculatus est
quae vaccam cornu rugoso mulsit
quae canem iactavit
qui felem laceravit
quae murem necavit
qui hordeum tostum edit
quod in domo iacuit
quam Iohanniculus aedificavit!

Ecce gallus qui mane cantavit
qui sacerdotem rasum tonsumque excitavit
qui virem valde pannosum coniunxit
qui virginem destitutam omnino osculatus est
quae vaccam cornu rugoso mulsit
quae canem iactavit
qui felem laceravit
quae murem necavit
qui hordeum tostum edit
quod in domo iacuit
quam Iohanniculus aedificavit!

Ecce agricola granum serens
qui gallum qui mane cantavit habuit
qui sacerdotem rasum tonsumque excitavit
qui virem valde pannosum coniunxit
qui virginem destitutam omnino osculatus est
quae vaccam cornu rugoso mulsit
quae canem iactavit
qui felem laceravit
quae murem necavit
qui hordeum tostum edit
quod in domo iacuit
quam Iohanniculus aedificavit!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes on the Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 32, Year A
Sunday, 9 November 2008

Some personal obligations and the Preparation for the liturgy on All Souls’ Day left less time this week for considering this Sunday’s readings. However, there are some important points that should not be missed.
In the Book of Common Prayer, the Collect we use today in the revised liturgy was appointed for the second Sunday in Advent, where it had a clear thematic connection to the Epistle, Romans 15.4-13. This prayer seems to have no particular connection to the readings for this Sunday, but it is good that it was retained in the BAS.

The Readings

I have no textual notes to offer on the readings this week, but suggest that you consult the Diocese of Montreal’s RCL site for the material there - Don’t forget the “clippings” page!
As we move through the last Sundays of the Church Year, a definitely eschataological note comes into the readings. Each week the Gospel passage is a parable of the end-time. This week we read the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25.1-13), next week the parable of the talents (25.14-30), and on the Sunday of the Reign of Christ the great parable of the Judgement: the Sheep and Goats (25.31-46). All of these build up the to the first Sunday of Advent, when we begin the Church Year with Mark’s account of the Coming of the Son of Man. One might think that the last Sundays of the Year have become a sort of "pre-Advent"!
The same theme comes in the Epistle reading from 1 Thessalonians (4.13-18), in which St Paul addresses the concern of the Thessalonians that some of the members, having died, might miss out on the glories of Christ's coming. They are to be comforted with the news that all will be together in Christ. The images Paul used in making this point have in turn been used as the foundation for the teaching of the “rapture” which is so popular among some denominations who have bult a very literal picture of the end-times on this and other verses. One form of this doctrine is found in the popular Left Behind novels. Just how literal and faithful to Scripture this teaching of the rapture is has been questioned. Indeed it seems to have been invented in the early ninetheenth century and to be absent from the traditional teaching of the Church. Here are some comments on the question from more traditional churches:
Eastern Orthodox:
It is interesting that in the Roman Missal, where the same passage is read as the Epistle, it is permitted to omit verses 15-18, thereby avoiding any reference to the parousia and the “rapture:”
It might be thought that the first reading, Joshua 24.1-3a, 14-25, which tells of Israel’s great renewal of their commitment to the Lord at Shechem, had little to do with the theme of the second coming. Nonetheless, in the great meeting at Shechem, the people people are asked to choose whether they will serve the Lord or not. When we read this let us hear this question as the question of our Baptism: “Do you turn to Christ?” and let us see ourselves in the people who declare that they will serve the Lord. For it is only in keeoping the promises of Baptism can we be ready for he presence of Christ, today or at the Last Day.
With these readings in mind, it is easy to see why the Sentence for today [Matthew 24.42.44] was chosen: it is the great Advent theme, “Watch and be ready”. It is also the Alleluia verse for today in the Roman Missal.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Science and Faith
Pope Benedict's recent address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences concerning the relationship between science’s reading of the world and the reading offered by Christian Revelation has been widely reported. The full text may be found here:
Further information about the Pontificia Academia Scientiarum may be found here:

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for All Saints’ Day
The Solemnity is kept on Sunday, 2 November, AD 2008

I apologize for this late posting; although the week has been a bit busy, the delay is really because more work was required to prepare a useful and coherent set of notes. I had also wanted to add a note justifying traditional Hallowe'en practices, but time overtook me.
For detailed notes on all the readings, the “comments” and “clippings” in the RCL site [] should be consulted; here are provided only an introduction to the readings and a note on the theme of vision that runs through them all. For it is the vision of God which is the goal of our Christian life.
The Feast

The festival of All Saints had its origins in the fourth century, when the great persecutions had ended, and the Church and there was a desire to remember all the martyrs, not just the local ones or those who had gained a wide veneration.
Christians have long recognized that some of their brothers and sisters showed “an extraordinary love for Christ”, as Fr Reynolds put it, and whose lives displayed Christ’s triumph over evil in the witness to death of the martyrs, the witness through suffering of the confessors, and rthe witness of those who made themselves the servants of others. These, according to the theology that developed, are in heaven granted the Beatific Vision, the vision of the glory of God. It is these men and women whose lives are commemorated in the Calendar of Saints. There are many who are known but have no place in the Calendar, and others who are known only to God: it is all these we remember on this day.

The Saints in Anglican Thought and Worship

The English Church maintained many commemorations of individual saints as well as the festival of All Saints after the Reformation, even though devotions to and invocation of the saints were eliminated from the liturgy. With the Catholic revival of the XIXth century a full-blooded devotion to the saints has been restored in many Anglican churches with the result that today some Anglican churches have images of the saints and do them honour, and both churches and individuals personally ask prayers of the saints, even though these practices are not found in any official Anglican liturgy. For the theological questions involved, see chapters 71 and 72 of C. B. Moss, The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Dogmatic Theology:
For the traditional doctrine of Heaven in Western theology, see .
In the absence of a public cultus of saints and a formal doctrine of Purgatory it is rather hard to pin down the Anglican understanding of the distinction between All Saints and All Souls. Perhaps this is something that individual Anglicans need to think about and discuss. A good question to start with is: Do we believe that some of the departed are taken immediately into the presence of God while others are given healing and growth in Purgatory, and that we ask the prayers of the first and pray for the second group? If not, what difference is there? Does Scripture give us data enough for speculation?
Despite these questions, what might be considered the complex feast of All Saints and All Souls is a celebration of the community of the members of Christ, “knit together in one communion and felowship” in his mystical Body. It reminds us that, as Eric Mascall wrote, people become members of the Church in baptism; they do not leave it through death. It is the assurance that just as “neither death, nor life … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ,” so none of these things will be able to separate the members of Christ from one another.
Finally, on All Saints’ Day we must remember that the saints are not some special type of person more wonderful than us and somehow holy by nature, somehow without failings; they are, like us, redeemed sinners. To study the lives of the saints is to study all the achievements and faults of humanity taken up into the life of Christ. In them we see what we are called to do and be; their example reminds us that we can be and do the same.

The Propers

The Sentence is taken from the first reading of this year; it differs from the Allelui verse in the Roman Missal (Matthew 11. 8)

The Collect of the Day is an adaptation of the traditional Prayer Book collect.

The Readings
The First Reading: The Revelation to John, 7.9-17

It apparently cannot be said too often that this Book is not called the “Book of Revelations” but The Apocalypse, or Revelation, to John. “Apocalypse” is simply a Greek word that means “revelation”. The Revelation has been described as a fitting close to the Holy Scriptures, since its concluding chapters “depict the consummation toward which the whole Biblical message of redemption is focused”. (Though parts of it may be older, it is probable that it was put in its present form towards the end of the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96) by one John—scholars differ as to whether he is the same as the author of the fourth Gospel. This John had been banished to the island of Patmos (1.9), where he received a vision of consolation to the Church in a time of stress and persecution.
Much nonsense has been written about the Book of Revelation; a good commentary is absolutely essential when reading it. The Wikipedia article has a good bibliography, out of which I should recommend that one begin with the volumes in the Anchor Bible series. See

On All Saints’ Day we should stress that this vision is of a great throng beyond all reckoning; for the celebration of the Saints is the celebration of God’s triumph in Christ, made real and material in the winning of each Christian soul. By this vision we see the glory of the hope that is offered to us.
In verse 9 we read that the great multitude was “standing before the throne and before the Lamb”: in both cases the Greek word translated “before” is ἐνώπιον, which has a root sense of “in the sight of”. The same word is used in verse 11, where we read that “they fell on their faces before the throne”. The sense of vision is perhaps at a lower level here, in the “back story” of the words, but it is still here, giving a sense of closeness and knowledge.

A little point might be made about verse 14, where John says to "one of the elders", "Sir, you know". This translation obscures the fact that the elder is addressed as "my lord" (κύριέ μου). Distinguishing the meanings of "lord" and "sir" when translating κύριέ may make sense in our culture, but it obscures the fact that the same word covered both uses in the Greek. Thus a distinction unknown to the original writer and audience is imported into the text.

The Psalm

Like Psalms 9, 10 and 25, this is an alphabetical acrostic, in which the verses begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It is a thanksgiving for deliverance from trouble, in which the psalmist tells of his experience of God’s answer to his cry for help (4-6) and calls on the people to have the same kind of faith in God that the psalmist has, and assures them that God will never be found wanting. Those who fear the Lord lack nothing – “They shall hunger no more, nor thirst any more, nor shall the sun fall on them nor any heat.”
The theme of vision appears in verse 6: “Look upon him and be radiant” It is the vision of God which gives beauty and splendour to us.

The Epistle, 1 John 3.1-3

This is part of the Epistle for Epiphany VI in the BCP; it is the Epistle for All Saints in the Roman Missal.
Although called a letter, 1 John has neither the salutation nor the conclusion of a letter and resembles rather a sermon or treatise. None of the three letters “of John” give the author’s name: their theological ideas, vocabulary and style are so like the fourth gospel as to be from the same pen. It appears to date from the end of the first Christian century and may have circulated together with the Gospel of John. In the verses appointed to be read on this festival in Year A points to our hope of being made like Christ
Our being made like Christ will come in our vision of him: “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” This is something to consider: what does it mean to say that to see Christ as he is will make us like him? The passage ends saying that it is because of the hope of this vision that we purify ourselves: is this what makes the change? Is this the same as what St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13.12

The Gospel, Matthew 5.1-12

The Beatitudes are the traditional Gospel for All Saints’ Day. In these opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares God’s favour towards those who aspire to live under his rule. To “live under God’s rule” is another way of saying to be a saint, for holiness is to live and be as God wills one to live and be. In self-examination it is good to read the Beatitudes regularly as a standard against which to measure your life.
The RCL notes, like some modern translations, suggest that “Blessed are” can be translated as Happy are those who. This is true, but depends one the meaning we attach to “happy”. A word’s etymology or derivation can be well thought of as its “back story”, those things that we might not consciously think that do influence the present sense of the word. The root of “happy” is “hap”, chance, fortune or luck. while it clearly means “very glad” it has a strong sense of luck to it, which is not what this passage has in mind. “Blessed” on the other hand, although it has taken on sense of “bliss”, ultimately means “consecrated”, “made holy” by sprinkling with sacrificial blood (see Revelation 7.14).
Here we will only note the sixth beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” which brings in the theme of the vision of God. The vision of God, above all, describes a relationship. As St Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth:
For now we see as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood (1 Cor. 13.12).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some Thoughts for the Week of Proper 30 Year A
The XXIV Sunday after Pentecost
October 26, AD 2008
Dear Readers: Last weekend I was somewhat distracted by the joyful celebration of the wedding of my niece, which is why there were no lectionary notes. I hope this was not too inconvenient. Indeed, I wonder if many actually find these notes interesting or useful. Perhaps, if you do, you might let me know. I am happy to provide them if they are of interest.

The Sentence
is adapted from John 14.23, and is also used in the Roman Missal as the Alleluia verse, reminds us that our love of God in Christ issues forth in the keeping of his commandments, just as the love of neighbour is inseparable from the love of God. In meditating on this active love, it is useful to recall words of Fr Huntington, Founder of the Order of the Holy Cross:
Holiness is the brightness of divine love: love must act as light must shine and fire must burn.
~ (A Monastic Breviary, p. 462, 3rd antiphon for the Solemnity of Fr Huntington)

The Collect
reflects the first reading in a vague sort of way, with its reference to the Promised Land, but seems even more apt for Proper 22 (p. 377) when the call of Moses was read. A collect that would seem to fit today’s gospel better might be that for Proper 13 (p. 365).
The Readings
The first reading: Deuteronomy 34.1-12.
In the Roman Missal the reading is Exodus 22.20-26, which more immediately refers to the teachings of the Gospel; our reading continues to follow the general outline of the history of Israel. It is the last chapter not only of Deuteronomy but of the five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, known as the Torah or Law. This is the first of the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah, the Law, Nevi’im, the Prophets, and Ketuvim, the Scriptures (hence the word Tanakh. (Note that different English transliterations of these Hebrew words may be found).
In the Land of Moab to the east of the Jordan, the people of Israel are ready to enter the promised land. God takes Moses aside, however, to give him a sight of the land but to die without entering it, because Moses “broke faith” with him when the people demanded water and God provided it (32:48-52, see also Numbers 20:1-13). From the mountain Moses can see all the land, from Dan in the north to the desert of the south, from the Jordan in the east to the western Sea, the Mediterranean.
After this view, Moses, an old man, dies “at the Lord’s command,” which literally means “at the mouth of the Lord, which gave rise to a tradition that Moses died as a result of a divine kiss. Note that the NRSV “He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab ….” is in error; the text says “He buried him”, clearly signifying that the Lord himself buried Moses. Moses’ burial place is unknown. Many traditions and legends grew up around this subject; see Jude 9. One result of it is that there is no danger of worship being accorded to him at his tomb. Joshua, son of Nun, Moses assistant, succeeded to the leadership: Moses had laid hands on him (Numbers 27.18-23)
The last two verses are in praise of Moses.
The fact that this passage reports the death and burial of Moses, posed problems for the traditional belief that Moses himself had written these five books. This tradition goes back centuries, and was largely unquestioned until the Renaissance and modern times. If you are interested in the authorship of the books of Moses, you might begin with the two Wikipedia articles on the subject, and
A good library will also have several one-volume bible commentaries which will have more information on this point. The commentary of Rashi (which may be found on line at the Judaica Press Complete Tanach) notes two rabbinic treatments of thus passage. One is that Moses had written the Torah up to this poiint, and Joshua carried on. Another is that God dictated the description of Moses’ death, and “Moses wrote it in tears”.
Finally, although I have not seen this noted elsewhere, there may be an interesting parallel between God’s showing the whole land to Moses from Mount Pisgah (verse 1) and the devil’s showing all the kingdoms of the world to the Lord Jesus from “a very high mountain” -- in a sort of infernal parody (Matthew 4.8; Luke 4:5).
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Our Psalm for today comprises two sections of a prayer for deliverance from national adversity or “group lament”. The opening six verses are in the form of a hymn that declare God’s eternity and the transience of humanity (compare Isaiah 40.6-8); the final section is a more hopeful prayer that the Lord will deliver from its difficulties. The suggested refrain is “Happy are they who fear the Lord”. Apart from the traditional inscription, The prayer of Moses the man of God, it is not quite clear to me why this psalm was chosen for this Sunday. It may be that the pondering of the brevity and transience of our life is an apt reflection on the death of Moses. Be that as it may, meditation on our own mortality is an imperative duty for all Christians. Note verse 3, in which the psalmist sees death as a return to the dust, that is, the reversal of the creation of human beings from the dust (Genesis 2:7).

A light note

Ambrose Bierce was perhaps not being pointlessly cynical when he suggested in The Devil's Dictionary that RIP (Rest in Peace, Requiescat in pace) really stands for Reductus in pulverem, reduced to dust. [Bierce seems to have given the phrase incorrectly, his definition of RIP is: “A careless abbreviation of requiescat in pace, attesting to indolent goodwill to the dead. According to the learned Dr. Drigge, however, the letters originally meant nothing more than reductus in pulvis.”]

The Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 2.1-8.

We began to read selections from St Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians last Sunday and will continue for the rest of the Church year. This is probably the earliest of Paul’s surviving letters, and the earliest portion of the New Testament. On his second missionary journey (Acts 15.40-18.22), after he was driven out of Philippi in Macedonia (not Caesarea Philippi), Paul went to Thessalonica, the capital of the province along with Silas and Timothy, where he preached for three Sabbaths and gained converts (Acts 17), but had to leave. In his concern for the new congregation, which faced persecution, Paul sent Timothy to strengthen them. On Timothy’s return with a good report of their faithfulness and loyalty, Paul wrote to declare his gratitude and to exhort the Thessalonians to Christian conduct. He also addressed two questions about Christ’s second advent in glory. These questions are dealt with in 4.13-18 (read this year on November 9) and 5.1-11 (read this year on November 16).
The opening verses of Chapter 2 are variously interpreted: see both the comments at the RCL site and the clippings: . These notes are also helfpul for the rest of the passage.

The Gospel: St Matthew 22.34-46

This passage includes two incidents which conclude the series of tests to which Jesus was put by his opponents (Matthew 22.15-46). These were: the question about the tribute money, posed by the Pharisees and the Herodians (15-22), the question about the resurrection, posed by the Sadducees (23-33) and the lawyer’s question about the greatest commandment (34-40, the first part of today’s reading). Then Jesus himself asks a question of his opponents (41-46), taking the offensive to end these attacks.
The lawyer — but we must first be clear: this is not a lawyer as we would understand the word but a student and teacher of the Torah, the Law of Moses; the older translations were certainly more accurate and maybe more clear to say “doctor of the law” — asks a question that was often debated in those days. There were 613 laws; some considered ‘heavy’, others ‘light’; it would seem that to keep the law faithfully required one to know which had priority. But to ask which is the ‘greatest’ is to ask where the centre and core of the law is to be found. It is only in this way that we can be sure to avoid a legalism that makes of the law a killing letter rather than a life-giving spirit.
Jesus’s answer would not have been surprising to the lawyer; he quoted two passages from the law, Deuteronomy 6.5 and Leviticus 19.18. What was surprising was the fact that he joined them so that one could not be considered without the other.
The comments on this passage at the RCL site are good: see -- and remember to check the “clippings” page as well.
As a companion to the first part of the Gospel passage I would recommend the Homily on Christian Love and Charity from the first Book of Homilies which was published in 1547 in the reign of Edward VI. It may be found at
The RCL notes are also useful for the second part of the passage, the question about the Messiah as David’s son and David’s Lord. I will only note here that this passage depends on a traditional ascription of authorship, this time of Psalm 110 to David. It would seem that there is no real difficulty in this: even though modern scholarship questions this ascription, it was universally believed at the time of our Lord. To some, however, the possibility that Christ could have been in error about a particular fact (such as the authorship of Psalm 110) raises difficulties for belief in his divinity (how can he be in error?). The true doctrine of the Incarnation should ease this difficulty: if our Lord truly took on a human nature, then he truly had a human mind, and a mind of people of his time. As man he was not omniscient: “he increased in wisdom” (Luke 2. 52). The real difficulty, if there is one, is that we cannot understand how the divine and human natures can be united in one person and perhaps that we have no idea what that experience would have been. But that is a different question.