Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lectionary Notes

Some Thoughts on the Propers for Holy Cross Day
Sunday, September 12, 2008

The Sentence is Galatians 6.14, “Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”; in the Roman Rite this verse is not used as the alleluia but as the entrance antiphon; the verse “We adore you O Christ and we bless you, because by your cross you have redeemed the world,” which we are familiar with from the Stations of the Cross, is used for the alleluia. The stretch between “glorying in” the Cross of Jesus and “exalting” the cross is probably not too great to allow us to see this verse as a very fitting statement of the theme of today’s festival, the Exaltation or Triumph of the Cross. However, it is good to remember that in Galatians Saint Paul goes on to say “by which (or “through whom”) the world has been crucified to me and I to the world, and remember that we are called not only to exalt and glory in the Cross on which Christ was exalted and by which Christ triumphed over evil, but to take it up, to carry it, and to live it.

The Collect is the same as the collect in the American Prayer Book. The Canadian Book of Common Prayer 1962 provides a different collect “Of Holy Cross Day” (p. 231). In declaring that Christ was “lifted high” [exaltatus est] to draw the world to himself this collect strikes the tone for the day reflects both the words of Christ in the Gospel for today and its foreshadowing in the first reading and the old name of the Feast, the Exaltation of the Cross.

The Readings
The First Reading, Numbers 21.4b-9.
In the legends that grew up in Christian tradition, the Tree of the Cross was identified with the Tree of the Fall. The bronze serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness to heal the people of Israel was identified by Jesus as a type of the lifting up of the Son of man on the Cross. This sort of identification is known as “typology”.
Typology is an extremely important concept in biblical interpretation. A type may be defined as
An impression, image or representation of some model which is termed the anti-type; in this sense we often use the word to denote the prefiguration of the great events of our redemption by persons or things in the Old Testament. Thus the brazen serpent and the paschal lamb were types of which our Lord was the antitype.
We would do well to take a moment to consider that the concept of type is vital for understanding the unity of Scripture. To put this another way, One saving act is a type of another because it is the one and only God who is revealed to us and whose saving acts are recorded in the Scriptures. (Once again we see how vital is the question of whether we really believe that God acts). It is only natural that some events, &c., prefigure or foreshadow others. The type, however, is not merely a symbol; it has its own reality and exostence as a saving and revealing act. So the intended sacrifice of Isaac would have happened and been a revelation of God to Abraham, even if God had not also meant it to be a type of the saving death and resurrection of Christ. Again, the crossing of the Red Sea is a type of baptism, but only because it was the real salvation of Israel from Egypt and the first step on the journey to the promised land.
Jesus’ words in the Gospel for today are a foundation of the concept of type. For other passages in the New Testament that bear on the idea, see Romans 5:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6; Hebrews 8:5; Galatians 4:24; Hebrews 9:9, 9:24; 1 Peter 3:21.
In the text we may note that the “fiery serpents” were probably so called not because they were little dragons but because of the burning caused by their venom. But that serpents were sent to punish the people for gruimbling is itself of interest. On Holy Cross Day We cannot avoid linking the fiery serpents with the serpent in the garden of Eden, and remembering the prophecy there of enmity between the serpent and the woman’s offspring. Interestingly enough in the commentaries of Rashi we find it said: ”Let the snake, which was smitten for speaking evil to Eve; come and punish those who spread slander about the manna”. Would some say this is too fanciful a connection for building doctrine? Perhaps but hardly too fanciful to lead us into deeper meditations on Scripture. As we are often reminded, there are no coincidences.
This account also shows the links in culture and ritual between the people of Israel and the peoples around the, such as Midian and Egypt. There are notes on these points in the RCL Commentary.

Psalm 98.1-6.
The Roman Missal appoints verses from Psalm 78; coments on this selection may be found in the RCL notes {see the link to this site on the left].
The New Oxford Annotated Bible describes this psalm as a “Hymn proclaiming the future establishment of God’s Kingship on the earth.”
Verse 1: summons to worshp, calling on the people to praise the Lord for his faithful love to them. It must be noted that although the verbs are all in a past tense, their reference is the future. The same poetic usage is found in Psalm 76.3. See also Psalms 46, 47, and 48.
Verses 2-4 declare the Lord’s triumph over all the forces that oppose him.
Verses 5-10 summon all nations [5-7] and the physical world itself [8-10] to join in singing God’s praises.
It is not clear to me why the selection ends at verse 6; a more natural cut would be at the end of verse 7.
We should probably look for the reason this Psalm was chosen for Holy Cross Day in the call for a new song, since the marvellous thing we celebrate is a new one. The Lord’s victory is declared not in the defeat of his enemies but in the his death on the Cross. Indeed, one might spend time pondering the new meaning this gives to the words “With his right hand and his holy arm, has he won for himself the victory”, for he won the victory in stretching out his arms on the Cross.

The Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1.18-24
In the preceding section Paul has written against divisions (schismata) in the community at Corinth; he had heard that they had fallen into factions, some claiming to be “of Paul”, some “of Apollos”, others “of Cephas”, and still others to be “of Christ”. This seems to have had to do with the one who baptized them, for Paul declares proudly that he baptized few, and that Christ had not sent him “to baptize but to proclaim the Good News, not in the wisdom of words, lest the Cross of Christ be emptied [of its power]. Now he goes on to proclaim that his preaching (ond ours) is the Good News of the Cross of Christ.
It is a mystery to me why this selection ends at verse 24, when it would seem most natural to continue on to verse 25: “For the foolshness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” It is after this verse that our modern translations make a pararaph division.
The quotation in verse 19 is from Isaiah 29.14b; as is noted in the RCL Commentary, this is from Isaiah’s account of a time when Israel was threatened by Assyria. “The king’s counsellor (a “wise” man, one versed in popular philosophy) advised alliance with Egypt, but Isaiah told the king to do nothing but trust in the Lord: God would save Israel and bring to nothing the ‘wisdom of the wise’ and the ‘discernment’ (intelligence) ‘of the discerning’”. see also 1 Corinthians 3.19, which quotes Job 5.13: “He takes the wise in their own craftiness; and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.”
Verse 21 echoes the words of Jesus in Matthew 11.25.
On verse 22, see Matthew 12.38, 16.1-4, John 2.18, 6.30 [signs] and Acts 7.16-21 [wisdom].
On the foolishness of proclaiming the Cross, see the rest of 1 Corinthians 1 and 2.1-13.
The contrast between the wisdom of the world and the foolishness of God is not something that we can just apply to our actions as if it were a ready rule of thumb. We are not necessarily called to live by the foolishness of this world! We mst learn God's way through our daily experience of trying to take up our cross and follow Christ. It is only in this experiecne that we can come to recognize in it that God's "foolishness" is wiser than the wisdom of the world. Once again, the key will be found in St Paul's words, "be transformed by the renewal of your minds".

The Holy Gospel, John 3.13-17
It is sometimes necessary to be reminded that quotation marks were not used by ancient writers, and must be added by modern editors. Indeed, quotation marks were not used in the Authorized or King James Version of 1611. While in most cases it is clear enough where a quotation ends, there are pasages where scholars differ. Today’s Gospel reading is one such case. It is taken from the account of the Pharisee Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night (John 2.1-21). Some interpreters hold that the whole of verses 10 to 21 is meant to be read as the words of Jesus; others that the quotation concludes at verse 15, and read the following words as the narrator’s reflection. It is interesting that the RSV closes the quotation at v.15, whle the NRSV closes it at v.21! See further the note on this in the RCL Commentary.
The passage proclaims that the salvation offered by God to the world is in Christ crucified, that is, the living, risen Christ who was crucified. We who believe are to preach Christ to the world and show him forth in our lives.
What else?
To conclude, here is a handful of links from the hundreds of hits for "Holy Cross Day" in a Google search:, a sermon on Holy Cross Day in 2003 by The Rev. Harold Shepherd, preached at St David’s, Donlands, in Toronto. A lectionary resource from the Episcopal Church. That’s Trinity Church, Dublin, Texas, by the way.

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