Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the First Sunday of Advent
29 November, AD 2009
The Advent Antiphons
While the city is sprouting Christmas lights and decorations, and the shops are filled with the most tiresome of Christmas music, in our churches we find a quieter, more reflective mood. It is Advent, the season of preparing for Christmas and of contemplating the one who came, who comes to us, and who will come in glory to restore all things to God’s love.
Every year I find that there is one Christmas hymn that can give us a right perspective for the Advent preparation: that hymn is What Child is This? This year I would like to suggest as a particular focus for exploring this question that we take up the ancient Advent Antiphons, the “Great Os”. For each of these seven antiphons is a title for the Messiah, the Christ, which is drawn from the prophecies, particularly those of Isaiah. Today's reading from Jeremiah is also refelcted in the thrid antiphon. Altogether, the "Great Os" are a rich source for meditation on those promises of God to wich Christ is his resounding “Yes!”.
1. O Sapientia
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, / attingens a fine usque ad finem, / fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: / veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, who came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reaching from beginning to end, mightily and sweetly ordered all things: Come, and teach us the way of prudence!
2. O Adonai
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, / qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, / et ei in Sina legem dedisti: / veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Lord and Ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai gave him the Law: Come, and with an outstretched arm redeem us!
3 . O Radix Jesse
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, / super quem continebunt reges os suum, / quem Gentes deprecabuntur: / veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing for an ensign of the people, before whom rulers shall keep silence, to whom all nations shall have recourse: Come, save us, and do not delay.
4. O Clavis David
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; / qui aperis, et nemo claudit; / claudis, et nemo aperit: / veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, / sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel: who opens and no one closes, who closes and no one opens: Come, and deliver from the chains of prison whoever sits in the darkness and the shadow of death.
5. O Oriens
O Oriens, / splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: / veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Dayspring, Brightness of the light eternal and Sun of Righteousness: Come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
6. O Rex gentium
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, / lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: / veni, et salva hominem, / quem de limo formasti.
O King of the Nations, and their Desire, the cornerstone that binds two into one: Come, and save mankind, fashioned out of clay.
7. O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, / exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: / veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations and their Saviour: Come, and save us, O Lord our God.
A version of these Antiphons may be found in the Advent Litany on page 119 of the BAS; they are adapted (in reverse order) in the hym O come, o come, Emmanuel.
Some further notes on these Antophons, including the appropriate scriptural references will appear in the next posting.
The Collect
The Collect in the BAS is adapted from the Prayer Book Collect, which seems to have been an original composition in the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. It is based on the theme of the traditional Epistle for the day, Romans 13.11-14, which in the RCL is read on this Sunday in Year A.
The First Reading: Jeremiah 33.14-16
The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the word of the Lord in the last years of the kingdom of Judah, from the thirteenth year of Josiah (about 626 BC) to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 597 BC.
Chapter 23 of Jeremiah speaks of God’s judgement on the evil shepherds, bad kings of his people, and utters the promise of a restoration of the house of David to rule in righteousness and justice. This oracle of the “shoot of David” is repeated in today’s reading, which is thought by many scholas to be the work of a later editor. In the Babylonian captivity it seemed to many that the promise had gone unfulfilled, and the people were tempted to abandon their ancestral faith.
The earlier prophecy promised the restoration of “Judah and Israel”; now we hear, “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” In the earlier prophecy the new name, :"The LORD is our righteousness" [YHWH șidqēnû] is a play on tbe name of the last king, Zedekiah[șidqî-yāhû “my justice is the LORD”].
To Christians, the promise of the righteous shoot of David is fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. The image of the shoot or branch became a clsssic term for the Messiah (see Zech 3.8, 6.12; Isaiah 11.1). This inage is found in the Great “O” Antiphons of Advent which are familiar both from the hymn O come, O come Emmanuel and from the Advent Litany in the BAS : “O Root of Jesse, standing for an ensign of the people, before whom rulers shall keep silence, to whom all nations shall have recourse: Come, save us, and do not delay!” It is verse four of the great Advent hymn O come, o come, Emmanuel.
It should be noted that the verses which make up today’s reading are missing from the Septuagintm the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Psalm: 25.1-10
Psalm 25 is one of a number of acrostic psalms, that is a psalm in which every verse or every line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This is a device delightful to the composer of verse as a challenge to ingenuity, and an aid to those who wish to learn it, since it makes it easy to remember, but it usually results in the absence of any clear, logical structure. Nonetheless, Psalm 25 is clearly contains the elements of the typical lament: cry for help. (For more infrmation on this point, see
“Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame” : waiting is a central theme of Advent, expressed in the cry, Come, O Lord. Another note in this psalm that is also a note of Advent is the theme of the Lord’s path or ways. These is a key theme of the psalm: see verses 3 and 7-15.
The Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13
This letter is generally considered to be the oldest part of the New Testament. For the circumstances of writing, see the notes at
In this section St Paul offers thanskgiving and prayers for the Churstians of Thessalonica. It was not the custom to include a direct prayer in an ancient letter, so this prayer is couched in the form of a blessing. It contains three petitions: for a return visit, an increase in love by the Thessalonians, and fulfilment of their Christian life, which is to ‘be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.’ This touches on the theme of the Gospel for today. In first Thessalonians the Day of the Lord is treated more .extensively in Chapter 5.

The Holy Gospel according to St Luke: 21.25-36
Traditionally, the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent looks not to the prophecies of the Messiah or to the birth of Christ, it does not look to his coming in the hearts of his people, but to his second Advent, his triumphant manifestation as Lord and Judge.
On Luke 21.5-38, the RCL notes comment:
“This section opens up two windows:
“Through one, the reader may look back on 19:47-21:4 and see the consequences of the religious leaders’ rejection of
Jesus and his teaching in the Temple.
“Through the other window, the reader looks beyond the events of Luke 22-23 and sees God’s vindication of the rejected Son of Man and Jesus’ strengthening of his disciples, who will be rejected
because of their allegiance to him. [NJBC].”
When Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple and his disciples asked him when this should be, he spoke of the signs of the end that were expected, both natural phenomena such as earthquakes and events such as wars and, in particular, the persecution his followers were to expect; now he turns to speak of cosmic events, signs in the heaven, and of a great terror coming on the whole earth, Then the Son of man will come, as Daniel had said, in great power and glory. This is the sign of redemption, and his faithful are to stand firm in confident expectation.
The great message of the end time is this: Whatever happens, in earth or in the heavens, the words of Jesus will remain. The fate of the world is in the hands of the one who came to give himself in love and reconcile us to God.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lectionary Notes

Some Notes for the Sunday between 6 and 12 November
Proper 32, Year B
Sunday, 8 November AD 2009

The Collect and Sentence
The BAS Collect is slightly adapted from the Prayer Book Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent, which was an aoriginal composition for the first book of 1549; it reflects the theme of the Epistle, Romans 15. 4-18, part of which is still read on that Sunday in Year A. There is no readily apparent reason why it is used this week.
The Sentence is the same as the Alleluia verse for this Sunday in the Roman Missal, and is clearly intended to be an interpretative comment on the second part of the Gospel Reading
The Readings
The First Reading: Ruth 3.1-5; 4.13-17
The Book of Ruth is a short story set in the period before 1000 BC, in the time of the Judges. This gentle story has little in common with the history of warfare narrated in the Book of Judges. It is a book about love and fidelity, of how Ruth, a Moabite widow in a Jewish family brings her widowed mother-in-law back to enjoying life. Near the end of the book, Ruth bears a son who becomes David's grandfather. Because Ruth is a foreigner, the book’s effect, if not its intention “is to create a symathetic feeling towardss foreigners who put themselves nder the protection of Israel’s God,” and to show that marriage with foreigners is acceptable. This theme has sugested that it was “a post-exilic composition, based on an older tale, intended to counter the hearsg decrees of Ezra and Nehemiah” requiring Israelites to divorce foreing wives and marry only Israelite women (Era 10.1-5; Neh 13.23-27.
Christian readers will note that as great-grandmother of King David, the Moabite Ruth is an ancestor according to human reckoning of the Lord Jesus; see the genealogy in Mt 1.1-16. It is notable that apart from the mother of Jesus, four women are mentioned in this genealogy: Tamar (see Gen 38); Rahab (see Jos 2, 6); Ruth; Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah (1 Samuel 11-12). The reader or hearer will also connect this passage with the concern for widows, especially poor widows in the Gospel passage for today. In the Roman Mass a passage from 1 Kings 17 about Elijah and the poor widow of Zarephath is read today, with Psalm 146.
The first reading for Proper 31, Ruth 1.1-18, which we did not read last week because of the celebration of All Saints, sets the scene; the story of Ruth and Boaz begins at 2.1. We now come to the conclusion of the tale. At harvest time, when the reapers are required to leave some grain for the poor (including widows) to glean; Ruth chooses to glean in Boaz’s field (2:3). As a kinsman of Naomi (2:20) Boaz he has some obligation to look after her and Ruth. More than that, he notices Ruth and favours her; he has learnt of her fidelity to Naomi. Naomi sees Boaz’ kindness as a gift from God, and desiring to provide for Ruther, she teaches her how to show her love for him.
In verse 1 “security” seems to explain rather than translate the original, as does the RSV’s “a home”. It appears that Naomi literally said, I must seek rest for you, that it may be well with you”: this is supported by the ancient Greek and Latin versions as well as the English version of he Judaica Press.
In verse 4 “feet” is said to be a euphemism for the private parts.

Psalm 127
A psalm of wisdom, 127 teaches that a safe home and a large faily are the Lord’s gift. It declares two truths: first, that without God’s help, all human activity is futile (1-2); second, of the security that comes from a stroing family (3-5)\
1 “House” may mean household as well as a dwelling-place, though the reference to labourers suggests that a building is meant. Because the superscription of this Psalm is “of Solomon”, it has also been suggested that the reference is to the temple. A broader interpretation is that the nation is intended, whose security and confidence rest in God who founded Jerusalem and continues to provide new generations.
2. Worry is vain and has no place in the life of the faithful because the Lord does build he house and defend the city. See Mt 6.25-34. The second half of this verse seems to pose a problem for translators: most English versions more or less agree with the liturgical psalter, but the Judaica Press version is “so will the Lord give to one who banishes sleep from himself,” and the RCL notes cite “honour” and “prosperity” as alternative translations.
5-6. I have only just discovered, while looking for something else that a movement among conservative evangelical Christian couples has adopted the name “Quiverful”, on which see One should also remember how Mr Quiverful, the vicar of Puddingdale in Trollopes’s Barsetshire Chronicles, a poor clergyman with a very large family.

For general comments on the Epistle, Hebrews 9.24-28 see and the link to the clippings there.
The same epistle is read in the Roman Mass today.
In verse 24, the word “copy” translates the Greek antitypon. Since the categories of type and antitype are of some importance in Biblical interpretation and theology in general, it is useful to comment on the words involved. The root of these words is the verb typtein, which means “to beat, press, strike”, from which is typos, “a blow, print, mark”, which comes to mean "a figure, type, model or pattern”. It is helpful to think of the English ‘type” as in “typewriter” (untl this device has been forgotten) and “typography”, Hence a “type” is the model and the antitype the copy struck from it.
By the way, the English “typewriting” and the French dactylographie show a difference in the way the act is considered: the latter means “finger-writing”,

The Holy Gospel: Mark 12.38-44
The same Gospel passage is read in the Roman Mass today, but a shorter reading is provided by the omission of verses 38-40The parallels in Matthew and Luke are, for the warning about the scribes, Mt 23.1, 5-7, 14; Lk 1.20-46 and for the widow’s mite, Lk 21.1-4.
Since two weeks ago, the readings from Mark’s Gospel have jumped over Chapter 11, which relates the palm Sunday Entry into Jerusalem and its sequels, and the first part of Chapter 12, We missed 12.28-37, which is read on Proper 31 B, because of All Saints. That passage ends with a dispute between Jesus and the scribes in which Jesus had the upper hand, and at which “the throng heard him gladly”. It was likely because of the mention of the scribes that the Gospel-writers put the pericope 38-40 here, and the mention of widows in verse 40 that attracted the incident of the widow’s mite
Beware the scribes!
The scribes were certainly not all as evil as they are depicted here, nonetheless, these faults are common to religious leaders, The charge that they “devour widow’s houses” (v. 40) is one that resonates in all ages, for the unscrupulous man of God who takes large sums from credulous old women is well-known. Of course old women are not their only credulous victims.
v. 38. Long robes probably refers to the outer garment with tassels prescribed in the Law (Num 15.38-9, Deut 22.130. The scribes apparently wore a longer version of these. They were proper for times of prayer and other duties: here it seems that the scribes liked to wear them at other times to parade their piety. Note Matthew’s version, “they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long”. I have seen reference to a suggested correction of the text that would read stoais, (porticoes), for stolais (robes); this would give the more elegantly balanced phrases, “walk in the porticoes and be greeted in the market-place” but does not seem to be supported by the manuscript evidence.
Greeted: According to Nineham’s commentary on Mark, the custom was that one should pay greetings to a person more learned in the Law, but “that some of the greatest rabbis are known to have waived their right and been eager to make their salutations first.
v. 39. best seats, literally first seats. The custom was growing at this time that in the synagogues the elders sat in front of and facing the congregation. First, then, would probably catch the image better than best. On seeking places of honour at banquets, see Lk 14.7-11 and Mk 10.37.
The widow’s coins
The devouring of widow’s houses brings the next pericope to mind, the well-known story of the widow’s mite. Jesus, while watching the people casting their offerings into the temple treasury, sees a widow cast in two mites declares that she is giving more than all the others, because she only is making a real sacrifice to provide her gift. There is a danger of missing the point, and teaching ourselves to think that this incident simply praises those who give little.
We do not need to concern ourselves too much with the exact meaning of treasury; it translates a word which in some passages means a room, but it here is seems to refer to a number of chests in the women’s court of the temple that were earmarked for specific purposes.
The small copper coin is a lepton, the smallest coin of the day worth 128th of a denarius, which was the standard day’s pay. Mark explains that two are worth a quadrans, transliterating the Latin name of a coin which the NRSV calls a “penny”, although the sense might be better caught by “farthing”. One lepton was the smallest acceptable (or indeed possible) offering.
Since a number of quite similar stories are told in both pagan and Jewish literature, it has been suggested that this pericope originated as a story Jesus told and which was later transformed into an incident in his life, Nineham cites a famous example from the Rabbinic literature, the story of priest who scorned a woman’s offering of a handful of flour; overnight he received in a vision this rebuke: “Despise her not; it is as though she offered her life”.
Another reading of this passage should also be noted, one which takes the two parts of today’s reading as a unit, Byron Smith of Edinburgh sees the widow’s mite as
" illustration of how the scribes who run the temple are devouring the house of a widow, all she had to live on, indeed literally, 'her entire life'. Whether or not this was a 'freewill' offering or a compulsory payment, this temple system has eaten another widow. She has not just given until it hurts, but the temple has taken away her very life. There is no criticism of the widow, but neither is there simple commendation of her as an example of generosity. She is an innocent bystander, a casualty of the temple, pointlessly sacrificed by the very scribes who will soon go on to devour Jesus' life too." [See:}
Of course, we do not need to choose one reading or the other. The example of giving all one’s life to God in Christ is important whether the scribes were fleecing this poor woman or not: for this story really isn’t about money. You’ll have to think about that, or discuss it among yourselves; I’m getting too close to 2,00 words for comfort.