Friday, February 27, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Thoughts on the First Sunday in Lent
1 March AD 2009
Dear Readers: Once again I find myself pressed for time on Friday afternoon, with a sermon not yet done. There are some points about today's first reading and those of the other Sundays of Lent which should help us to put our Lenten discipline in a better focus. I would like to say something about the Gospel, but I doubt that I will have a chance. In brief, I will note that the account of our Lord's temptation in Mark's Gospel does not mention his fasting in the forty days in the desert. This lessens the didactic use of the story to teach us that as Jesus fasted forty days so we have forty days of Lent. It is reasonable to take the fasting as implied by being in the desert and by the note that the angels ministered to him. Still, the absence of a mention of the fast, as well as the lack of detail of the temptation, suggest that more should be made of the "wild animals". As you can see in the RC commentary, there is more than one interpretation of this verse. The most pleasing is that it marks Jesus as the new Adam, in a restored paradise (cf. Genesis 2.19f.). Here, then, we have the undoing of the temptation of Adam and Eve follwoed by a moment of paradise - the story of the Fall in reverse.

Lent and Covenant

Covenant is a central concept in the Scriptures. It is defined by the NOAB as “a term of relationship between a superior and an inferior party, the former ‘establishing’ the bond”. We are used to speaking of the old covenant and the new covenant (and might note here that Testament, as it is used in the Bible is usually a synonym for covenant). In fact the scriptures speak of a series of covenants. In Hunting the divine fox : images and mystery in Christian faith, Robert Farrar Capon discusses the series of covenants, discussing them in terms of the promise, the commandment and the sign of each one.
The concept first appears in the story of Noah, as seen in the first reading today, Genesis 9.8-17 (there is in fact an earlier mention of covenant in the same story (Genesis 6:18). Unlike the later covenants with Abraham (Genesis 17) and the people of Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24), ), this is a universal covenant with Noah, his descendants, and with every living creature, for Noah’s three sons (6.10,18-19) are regarded as the ancestors of all the nations (see chapter 10). The promise of the covenant is that God will never again destroy all life on earth by a flood; in verses 1-7 we read that God commands Noah and his descendants to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”; he gives them the living creatures for food but forbids the eating of blood, which is the life of the flesh. The sign of the covenant is the rainbow (verses 13-16). The bow was thought to be God’s weapon from which the lightnings of his arrows were shot (Ps 7.12-13; Hab 3.9-11) ; God hangs this weapon in the sky as a sign that he has put away his wrath. A further point is that the bow is not merely placed in the sky, but that it is aiming upwards. Thus God can be understood as aiming the bow, and his wrath, at himself (Capon).
The first readings for most Sundays of Lent are concerned with the succession of covenants: On Lent II it is the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16). On Lent III, the Ten Commandments. On Lent IV in Year B we read of the bronze serpent (Numbers 21.4-9) which is a type of the crucified Lord (John 3.14-21). This seems to be the exception, for on Lent V we read Jeremiah 31.31-34, in which the Lord promises a new covenant. This series of readings provides an important framework for keeping Lent.
If Lent is a preparation for Easter, we might ask in what way we are preparing. It could simply be that the great feast is prepared for by the great fast, so that out celebration is all the more intense and happy. Aside from feasting and celebrating, though, there an action we perform at Easter that needs careful preparation. That is the celebration of Baptism or the renewal of Baptismal vows. It is through Baptism that we enter into the new covenant with God in Christ, the everlasting covenant, and at Easter we are asked to renew the promised we made in Baptism (see BAS, pp. 330-332); it is no accident that in the liturgy of Baptism these vows are entitled: The Baptismal Covenant (p.158). As we hear the first readings on the Sundays of Lent, then, let us remember that we are listening to a history that was constantly pointing to and which were fulfilled in the New Covenant made in the Passover of Christ Jesus from death to new life, of which the signs are chiefly Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, of which the commandments are the laws of love, and of which the promise is the new heaven and the new earth, the dwelling of God with us see Revelation 21).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Additional Note for Lent

The Carbon Fast
Over the past two years or so, the idea of a Carbon Fast for Lent has been proposed and gained a large following. I believe it would be negligent not to bring this idea to as wide an audience as possible, and so I bring it to my small band of readers and hope you will pass it on.
It would be otiose for me to repeat what is well presented elsewhere, so here is link to this week's Anglicans Online, from where you can travel to places with further information: (Anglicans Online has much more good material for Lent as well.)
It worries me a little that this important idea sometimes seems to be presented as something you would do instead of the traditional way of fasting. I should have thought that it was something to do as well as those other things. For being more careful in the use of resources is not something to be done for Lent and then given up. Lent is simply a good time to begin it, and to do more intentionally what should then be carried on for the rest of the year.
Later on, I will report on my Lent reading for this year.
Have a blessed Lent and a wonderful Easter

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lectionary Notes

A few comments on Ash Wednesday

One of my readers asked for some notes on Ash Wednesday; I thought I wouldn't be able to do it, but here you are, Geoff. And here's a good rule: If you answer "No" you can reconsider and change that to "Yes"; if you answer "Yes" you're pretty well stuck!

The question most often asked about Ash Wednesday is what to do after the service: should one leave the amear of ash on one’s forehead or wipe it off. The reasons for washing off the ash appear strong; after all, in the Gospel passage for today the Lord Jesus says, “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
In a homily for Ash Wednesday which may be read at another site on line, [see], I speak in general of the Gospel teaching against “practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them” and the danger of taking this Gospel passage as an excuse for not practicing your piety at all! There is no need to repeat those observations today. we are good Anglicans, and trust that our people will be able to make their own decision, in light of our Lord’s words, about whether to wipe off their foreheads or not.
Again and again when thinking of these matters, it strikes me that it is a waste of time to worry about our motives. We are all in the process of being saved, of coming to know God in Christ Jesus, and of being remade in his image. Right now our motives for doing good will be mixed: we fear punishment, desire heaven, and yes, desire to be thought good by others. We cannot afford to wait until our motives are pure and selfless before we start to do good. The plain fact is that by doing the right things because we know they are right and regardless of how we feel; by avoiding the wrong, because we know it is wrong and regardless of how much we like it, we come to be better people. What I do comes from my will, regardless of my feelings, and is far more important that what I say or think. I know that this is horribly oversimplified, but it conveys a truth: when we are doing right, we are learning good habits (say, of prayer or almsgiving). So get out there and do good; offering it to God, and asking that your motives and feelings be overlooked. In due course they will be brought to heel, as you yourself learn to answer, or become the answer to, the prayer "Thy will be done",
Rather than worrying about our motives for pious acts, we would do better to make sure that we know what is asked of us. For the important fact about today’s Gospel is that it assumes that we will be giving alms, praying, and fasting. Our Lord does not say, If you give alms, but when you give alms; not if you pray, but when you pray; not if you fast, but when you fast. These three things are the core of the Lenten discipline.
The underlying purpose of this discipline, indeed the underlying purpose of the Christian life is stated in the first reading, from Joel: “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” The call is to return; the true meaning of penitence, and therefore of Lent, is to turn and return to the Lord.
In the readings from 2 Corinthians, St Paul reminds us that we turn to God because of what Christ has doine for us: God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might becoem the righteousness of God.
If the disciplines of Lent are simply the disciplines of the Christian life, altbeit intensified and performed with greater intention, some folk will object that we do not need a special season but should just be doing the all the time. These are like the people who say we don't need to be merry and generous at Christmas because we are supposed to do it all year round. I've never noticed that these folk are particularly charitable all the rest of the year, but I digress Now I suppose we might not need Lent if we always prayed deeply and gave alms from the fulness of our hearts and not the meagreness of our wallets, if we were always in control of our appetites habits and if we never let a sin or negligence slip by without acknowledging it in sure hope and trust in God’s forgiveness. The plain fact is that we human beings tend not to do the things we can do any time, and only do them, or at least do them better if there is a special time for it. St Paul reminds us, “now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” Sure, this might mean any time; but why whould we negelct the time that has been appointed for us by our Church?

To make up for not having had time to prepare more notes on the readings, here is a selection from a good old Saxon homily warning people not to neglect Ash Wednesday and the Lent fast. I happened to have it in my file for today,

In Caput Ieiunii (On the Head of the Fast)
from Ælfric’s Lives of the Saints, edited Skeat. pp 261f.

In this Week on Wednesday, throughout the whole world, even as it is appointed, the priests bless clean ashes in church, and lay them upon men’s heads, that thye may have in mind thay they ca,me from earth, and shall again return to dust, even as the Almighty God spake to Adam, after he had sinned against God’s command, “In toil shal thou live, and in sweat shalt thou eat thy loaf upon earth, until thou return again to the same eaerth from which thou camest, because thou art dust, and afterwards shalt to dust return.” This is not said of men’s souls, but of men’s bodies that moulder to dust, and afterwards shall at doomsday, through our Lord’s might, all arise from the earth, that were ever alive, like as all trees are always quickened in Lenten time, which before had been deadened by the winter’s chill.
We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew aſhes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.
There was a certain foolish man with bishop Ælfstan in Wiltshire, in his household; this man would not go to the ashes on Wednesday, as other men did, who attended at mass; then his companions begged that he would go to the mass-priest, and receive the sacred mysteries which they had received. He said, ‘I will not.’ They still prayed him. He said that he would not, and spake strangely in his talk, and said that he would use his wife at the forbidden time. Then they left him so. It befel that the heretic was riding in that week about some errand, when hounds attacked him very fiercely, and he defended himself untl his spear-shaft stood up before him, and he fell dying. He was then buried, and there lay upon him many loads of earth within seven nights, because he had refused those few ashes.
In the same week came a certain bufoon [sum truđ] to the bishop’s husehold, who heeded no Lenten fast, but went to the kitchen, while the bisho was saying mass, and began to eat; then fell he, at the first morsel, backwards in a swoon, and spat blood, but his life, nevertheless, was with difficulty preserved.
Likewise Athelwold, the holy bishop, who now worketh miracles through God, often told us, that he knew a man with bishop Ælfheah [Alphege], who would drink in Lent whenever it pleased him. Then one day he prayed bishop Ælfheah to bless his cup; he would not, and the fool drank without blessing, and went out. They were baiting a boar by chance outside, and the boar ran against hom and thrust him so that he gave up his life; and so paid for the untimely draught.
Every man wo eateth or drinketh untimely in the holy Lent, or on appointed fast days, let him know in sooth that his soul shall sorely abye it, though his body may here live sound.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lectionary Notes [with additions]

Some Notes on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
(The Sunday Called Quinquagesima)
22 February, AD 2009
On The Last Sunday After Epiphany

Not all Anglicans in Canada are aware that the most recent printing of the BAS has been revised to include the Revised Common Lectionary (1992). These are the readings given in the annual McCausland’s Order of Divine Service “in response to a directive from the House of Bishops”.
On Quinquagesima, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the option is given of using either the readings of Proper 7 or the readings of the Last Sunday after Epiphany with the proper prayers of the Feast of the Transfiguration (p. 418). This seems to be one of the points at which the Revised Common Lectionary is overtaken by confusion. The Roman Church, on the other hand, keeps the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time rather than the Transfiguration (see, but reads the Gospel of the Transfiguration on Lent II. This last is an option in Canada (BAS p. 288). Notwithstanding the provisions of the BAS, the Montreal RCL Commentary site provides notes only for the Last Sunday after Epiphany. According to the RCL site of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, this Sunday is “Transfiguration Sunday” and the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany is “not observed this year”. This differs from the Canadian use.
I am still looking for an official explanation of the keeping of the Transfiguration on the Last Sunday afer Epiphany. If pressed for a reason, I would guess that it is meant —at least to some extent —to parallel the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday after Pentecost. If so, then the shining light of the Tansfiguration sums up the Epiphany’s the me of manifestation. The reason might also be that, as the Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent states: Christ “was revealed in majesty before he suffered death on the Cross” (BAS p. 288). In that case, the Transfiguration theme is appropriate to what is not so much the Last Sunday after Epiphany as “The Sunday next before Lent” (we could ask then, why not call it Quinquagesima? but let that pass).
If anyone knows of an official explanation (that is, one found in an authorized service book or document, and not the private opinion of individuals, be they never so learned), I should be glad to hear it.
Guessing that the intention of the BAS is that one is to read the Transfiguration Gospel either this Sunday or on Lent II, I
have decided that at St Columba and All Hallows we will do so this Sunday.

Quinquagesima and Shrovetide

Quinquagesima, by the way, merely means "fiftieth", since it is approximately fifty days before Easter. This is a highly apt title for the Sunday preceding Ash Wednesday. It has also been known as Shrove Sunday. Shrove is from "Shrive", meaning to make one's confession, which is a laudable custom before the beginning of Lent. For Shrove Tuesday, see Many countries keep festival on this day before the fast begins, and have Carnival (farewell to meat) or Mardis Gras (Fat Tuesday); the English managed to begin their discipline a day early by eating pancakes. The Handbook of Dates for Students of English History says that a name for Shrove Monday was "Collop Monday", the Book of Days explains that this is from the practice of eating collops of salted meat and eggs on that day.

The Readings

The First reading (2 Kings 2.1-12) tells of the assumption of the Prophet Elijah. This reading is clearly linked to the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration because of Elijah’s presence with our Lord and Moses on the Holy Mountain. The story itself is quite straightforward. Elijah, to whom it has obviouly been intimated that his departure is nigh, keeps saying to Elisha, “You stay here”. This may have been to give Elisha a chance to show his loyalty, as the RCL Commentary seems to suggest, or it may be, as Rashi said, that Elijah wanted to drive Elisha away because of his [Elijah’s] humility, so that he would not see him being taken away.
Note that the “company of prophets” have been interpreted in different ways. The RCL Commentary says “they are communities of followers, disciples, of Elijah”; Rashi, on the other hand, says that the fact that they refer to Elijah as “your master” “teaches us that they were equal to Elijah”.
On a light note, I'll mention that when I was reading this text in the Vulgate I thought taht it would be amusing to render the opening words, “Factum est autem cum levare vellet Dominus Eliam per turbinem in caelum,” as “Now when the Lord wanted to lift Elijah into heaven by means of a turbine.” I thought better of it.
That may be all I have time for this week; if I get a chance I will add further comments on the readings.

Some further comments:

Although in its original context Psalm 50 is a psalm of judgement, in which the Lord calls on heaven and earth to witness his charges against Israel for violating the covenant, the verses selected for this Sunday are in a new context, the Transfiguration of Christ. In particular these verses evoke the voice of God speaking from the cloud at the Transfiguration, for the cloud is a symbol of the divine glory. So we remember the pillar of cloud that led Israel out of Egypt and descended on the tabernacle, the thick cloud on Mt Sinai (Exodus 19.16), and the cloud that filld the temple (1 Kings 8.10, cf. Isaiah 6.4).
In 2 Corinthians 4, St Paul is apparently responding to complaints that he has not made the Gospel clear, and has not been efective in his preaching, and here he is conrasting his open preaching of the Gospel with the cunnung and underhanded methoids of his oppponents. In this Sunday’s context of the Transfiguration, this passage points to the glory of Christ. In reading of the Transfiguration we declare with Paul that we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Thoughts on the Readings for Proper 6, Year B
The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
15 February, AD 2009

Owing to a glitch in the internet service, there were no lectionary notes last week. I am sorry for the inconvenience. Readers may be interested to know that two of my Lenten Sermons are available on the Reflections page at the Anglican Diocese of Toronto website.

Both the first reading, 2 Kings 5.1-14, and the Gospel, Mark 1.40-45, tell of the cleansing of a person suffering from leprosy. As all the commentaries tell us, the words translated as “leprosy” do not necessarily mean the disease now known as leprosy, that is, Hanson’s disease, but several repulsive skin diseases, and the precise meaning is uncertain. Indeed, the laws concerning “leprosy” in Leviticus 13-14 also cover blemishes affecting garments and buildings.
The horror and fear of this disease meant that the sufferer was quarantined, at least in its later stages. In Israel it involved ritual uncleanness and complete exclusion fro community and religious life. “According to the rabbis, the healing of leprosy was ‘as difficult as the raising of the dead’” (D. E. Nineham). Apparently, whatever malady Naaman suffered was not so far advanced that he had to be quarantined.
There is a striking difference between the two stories in the manner of the healer. When Naaman comes to Elijah’s doorway, the prophet sends a message telling him to wash in the Jordan and be cleansed; he does not deign to come out to him, let alone heal him with some impressive gesture. The Lord Jesus, on the other hand, is moved with pity and reaches out to touch the leper who has fallen on his knees before him, with no regard for contagion or ritual uncleanness.

The other synoptic Gospels tell this story in different contexts. In Matthew 8.2-4 it comes just after the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, while in Luke 5:12-16 it comes just after the account of the unexpected catch of fish (5.1-11). This suggests that this story of a leper cleansed originally circulated as an isolated unit of tradition, and that each evangelist has used it for his own, presumably theological, reasons. Indeed, as it stands in Marks Gospel, where it follows a summary of Jesus’ preaching in Galilee (1.39) and no further indication of where or when it happened.. Perhaps Mark intended it to be “a sort of appendix to the specimen day, showing that Christ ‘s power was able to deal even with leprosy—a claim that would certainly have seemed something of a climax to the contemporary reader.” What the Old Testament religion could not do, Jesus did readily. (D. E. Nineham). According to Luke 7.22, the cleaning of lepers was an expected sign of the Messiah’s coming. On all this see Romans 8.3.

Everyone knows that the Olympic games were meant to be a revival of the games that were celebrated at ancient Olympia every four years, but are less familiar with the other Greek games that were celebrated regularly in ancient times, the Nemean games, the Pythian games at Delphi, and the Isthmian Games which were held near Corinth every two years. So it is not surprising that St Paul would think of using athletic metaphors in his letter to the Corinthian Christians. This metaphor extends the comments in the preceding passage about the discipline he has taken on “for the sake of the gospel”. Like all metaphors, this one should not be pushed too far. St Pau; uses the fact that on the track, all the contestants run, but only one wins, to remind the Corinthians of the possibility that they may fail to persevere in the faith. The RCL notes are helpful here:
It seems that by being believers and joining in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church some Christians at Corinth thought themselves sure of eternal life – but the Christian way requires more than this. While we all set out on the Way in our baptism, not all persevere as we should. In athletics, one person wins; in Christian life, not all persevere beyond baptism so Paul says “run in such a way that you may win it” (v. 24).
This calls to mind the verse of the Psalm, “While I felt secure, I said, I shall never be disturbed”. In Christian life it is necessary to know the difference between a sure and certain trust in God’s love and a feeling of security. We can speak of a certain and sure trust in God because it is founded on the steadfast love promised in scripture, but security is founded on a complacent trust in one’s own constancy. Lancelot Andrewes once had occasion to note that:

The Holy Scriptures nowhere recommend Security, but rather seem to to take offence at the Word: We ought to avoid it, since such are reproved by the Apostle, who would trust to it: For when Men shall say, Peace and Safety, then sudden Destruction cometh upon them, 1 Thess. 5.3. Wherefore I think it ought to be avoided as a thing of an ill Omen. [A Review of the Censure passed upon Dr Barrett’s Opinion concerning Certainty of Salvation]

A little later in the same work, Andrewes adds:

For he that is secure, does not only banish all doubtfulness, but even care too: For Security is directly opposed to care. But we are commanded by the Holy Ghost to make use of all our care and watchfulness: And the Apostle, Heb. 6.11. desires, That every one should shew the same diligence, even unto the end.

St Paul also writes “Therefore let any one who stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10.12). It is this which underlies the teaching on self-control of today’s passage.

Friday, February 13, 2009



It's Friday the Thirteenth, and as everyone knows, that's an unlucky day. This belief ranked seventh in the top ten supersitions in an English study in 1989.
The belief that Friday is unlucky is an old one. Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (15th ed.) remarks that Christians considered it unlucky as the day of the Crucifixion, but that it has also been considered unlucky "among Buddhists and Brahmans". The Noresmen, on the other hand, regarded Friday as the luckiest day of the week; it was the day of Freyja the Goddess of love, and the day on which weddings were celebrated. Brewer's notes that in Islamic tradition Friday is the day on which Adam was created, but also the day Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and the day they died, and that it is also the weekly day of rest and worship; but nothing is said of whether it is held lucky or not. Friday seems to have been thought particularly unlucky for beginning ventures and journeys, especially voyages at sea; but in 1492 Columbus set sail on a Friday and on a Friday sighted land. These events are widely, but perhaps not universally, thought to have been good things. Oddly enough, "Friday's child is loving and giving".
The idea that the number Thirteen is unlucky is also very old; it was known even among the ancient Romans. A general distrust of thirteen in mediaeval England led to the idea that if thirteen sat down to dine, one would die within a year. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, the first known reference to this belief dates from June 1695. It was then that the belief was said to come from the thirteen who lay down to the Last Supper, of whom Judas the first to leave the table later killed himself. Brewer, however, refers this superstition to a Norse myth. It was at a banquet in Valhalla, where Loki intruded himself to make thirteen guests, that Balder the fair was slain. (It seems to have taken a long time for this myth to influence English superstitions, but let that pass.) It is also noteable that the thirteenth day of any month was thought unlucky.
Although it might seem natural that two such venerable superstitions would have been joined early on, the fear of Friday the Thirteenth as such developed quite recently. Indeed, the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore says that the two ideas are not found in combination before the beginning of the twentieth century. The earliest reference is said to be in N&Q in 1913. However, "the reputation of Friday the thirteenth is now thoroughly established, and constantly reinforced by the media".


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