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.
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 - http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/apr32m.shtml. 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: http://www.synaxis.org/catechist/rapture.html
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.