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).