Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes on All Saints’ Day, Year B

There seems to be no point in repeating the general notes that were provided for the feast of All Saints last year, and are posted on this blog under the date of 1 November 2008. However, a further note on the Collect that As we noted then, the Collect for this feast in the BAS is an adaptation of the traditional Prayer Book Collect, which appears to have been composed for the first book of 1549. It might be interesting to note how this Collect has changed since the first Prayer Book of 1549.
The first Prayer Book prayed God to grant us grace so to follow this holy Saints in all virtues and godly living. In 1662 this was altered to all virtuous and godly living, which was retained in the Canadian Book of 1962. In the BAS this became lives of faith and commitment. Which, if either, of these is in any way better I leave to your judgement. One would only hope that by following the saints in lives of faith and commitment we will all increase in virtue and godly living.
The change of unspeakable to inexpressible was probably unavoidable, as unspeakable has gained a pejorative sense. I find the older words sound better, but there you are.
All Saints and All Souls : the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed can hardly be separated, but make a two-day commemoration of those who have died in Christ. The readings for Year B make this clear, for the first choice of first reading appointed for All Saints this year, Wisdom 3.1-9 is also the first reading for All Souls. Just what the distinction between the two commemorations might be is hard to say, especially since our Church has no formal doctrines concerning the prayers of the Saints or of Purgatory —though a variety of opinions and practices on these matters are held by its members. Nonetheless, the ground for some distinction does exist in the practice of placing the names of certain of the faithful departed in the calendar to be remembered. For further thought on this question, you would do well to consult the entries for these feasts in Fr Reynold’s For All the Saints. I wold also recommend for reading at this season a recent book by N. T. Wright, the Bishop of Durham, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008), which is also an excellent Lent book.

The Readings
First Reading: Wisdom of Solomon 3.1-9 or Isaiah 25.6-9
At St Columba and All Hallows the reading from the Wisdom of Solomon will be read on All Saints’ Day this year. The alternative reading, Isaiah 25.6-9 contains a vision of the Lord’s feast for all nations at the end time. This saving vision speaks of the conquest of death; its promise that the Lord “will wipe away the tears from all faces” is echoed in the reading from the Book of Revelation.
Internal evidence suggests that the Wisdom of Solomon is not the work of that monarch, but of a Hellenistic Jew, possibly of Alexandria, in the first century before Christ. It was written in Greek, though the first chapters show signs of having been translated from Hebrew originals. It was part of the Greek version of the Scriptures, the Septuagint, which were excluded from canon established by the Jewish authorities after the fall of Jerusalem. However, along with other books of the so-called apocrypha, it formed part of the Christian Old Testament and has been read as such in the Roman and Eastern Churches. Although the Anglican Church went with other Protestant and Reformed teaching in denying that these books are canonical, or may be read to establish doctrine, it has always included them in the lectionary.
When the commemoration of the faithful departed was restored to the Canadian Calendar, Wisdom 3.1-9 was appointed as the lesson at the Eucharist.

Psalm 24
is said by the New Oxford Annotated Bible to be “a liturgy on entering the sanctuary, probably used in connection with a procession of the ark. It is imagined as having been sung by two choirs, one inside and one outside the temple. Within the temple gates is sung an acknowledgement of the Lord as creator [1-2]. The choir then asks and answers the question, “Who is worthy to be admitted to the temple?” [3-6]. Verses 7-10 are a dialogue in which the choir without the gates, presumably carrying the ark, demands admittance. In verse 7 the heads of the gates are the lintels.
It is obvious that this Psalm is read on All Saints because of verses 3-6, the description of those who seek the face of the Lord and are worthy to ascend his hill. However, it might not be too far-fetched to recall that verses 7-10 figure in the ancient legend of Christ’s Harrowing of Hell. When the Crucified Lord Christ descends to the place of departed spirits (see the BCP p. 545), these verses are heard. Thus in the Christian mind, these words are associated with the victory of Christ over the everlasting doors of Hell. Let them echo in your mind as you hear the final verses of the Gospel passage being read.

Second Reading: Revelation 21.1-6a
Time does not permit much comment on the reading from the Revelation of John also known as the Apocalypse (which is merely “revelation” in Greek). Please note that there is no ‘s’ in Revelation.
In commenting on this passage, N T Wright suggests that this scene of cosmic renewal “is not well enough known or pondered (perhaps because, in order to earn the right to read it, one should really read the rest of the Revelation of St John first, which proves too daunting for many).”
There are two particular promises in this vision of the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven which are particularly important for the present feast. The first is the great declaration that “The home of God is among mortals.” Can there be any more perfect fulfilment of all the promises of scripture than this?
While I understand the need to avoid exclusive language, I must ask whether “among mortals” is a good translation for μετὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων: “Mortals” does not mean “human beings, but all that are subject to death. While it is an important truth that God cares for all his creatures, that does not seem to be the point here. Further, I wonder whether “home” best renders ἡ σκηνὴ, literally “tent” or “tabernacle”: “dwelling” seems less definitive. But I digress.
The other promise is the abolition of death and tears and sorrow; which should be read in close connection with the Gospel account of the raising of Lazarus; for what do we see in God’s perfect self-revelation but that he takes part in and shares our grief.

The Holy Gospel, John 11.32-44
The pressure of sermons that need to be prepared has overwhelmed me, and I am unable to make any useful comments now. I do recommend the comments on this passage in William Temple’s Readings in St John’s Gospel.

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