Friday, February 5, 2010

Lectionary Notes and More

The Week of Sexagesima,
or,
the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
7 February, 2010
The word Sexagesima means Sixtieth (in reference to the days before Easter), and has nothing to do with you-know-what.
More on Preparing for Lent
More seriously, it is only ten days till Ash Wednesday, and high time to be planning how to keep a holy Lent. Last week we noted the seven things to take into account for Lent from the Ash Wednesday Exhortation. Since the forty weekdays of Lent are set apart by the Prayer Book as days of Abstinence, and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as Major Fast Days, it would be helpful to consider fasting, abstinence, and self-denial, a category which involves every sort of “giving-something-up-for-Lent”.
Here is the first problem of Lent. While our church tells us that there are days of abstinence and days of fasting, it gives us no official definition of these terms, but seems to assume we know what they mean. Traditionally, to fast is to take no food for a certain time, while to abstain is to do without a particular kind of food, usually meat. but perhaps a snapshot from an older moment in Anglican history can shed some light here.
At the Savoy Conference on the Prayer Book in 1661 the Presbyterian Divines objected that “Christ’s fasting forty days and nights” was “no more imitable, nor intended for the imitation of a Christian, than any other of his miraculous works were, or than Moses his forty Days fast was for the Jews.” To this the Bishops replied,
“The fasting forty days may be in imitation of our Saviour, for all that is here said to the contrary; for though we cannot arrive to his perfection, abstaining wholly from meat [i.e., food] so long, yet we may fast forty days together, either Cornelius his fast, till three of the Clock afternoon, or St Peter’s fast till noon, or at least Daniel’s fast, abstaining from Meats and Drinks of delight, and thus far imitate our Lord.”
So the old rule in the Roman Church was that “fasting essentially consists in eating but one full meal in twenty-four hours and that about midday.” It also involves abstinence from meat in the same period. “The quantity of food allowed at this meal has never been made the subject of positive legislation.” The rule was later relaxed to allow “a collation, usually taken in the evening.” It will be easily seen that to go into details of such rules would be to little purpose here. It is quite reasonable to suggest that on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday one abstain from eating until one has taken part the solemn rites of the day, but to stick to one meal.
More important is to consider the purpose of fasting. Bishop Jeremy Taylor wrote in The Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, that fasting is “advised in order to three ministries: (i.) To prayer; (2.) To mortification of bodily lusts ; (3. ) To repentance.
Of these we might need to clarify the second a little. The meaning of “lusts” has come to be narrowed in recent times, so that it means not just any desires or appetites, but only the “sinful lusts”. The mortification of lusts really means bringing our appetites under control, so that they do not control us. Experience shows that “mortification” is not too strong a word for this. By fasting we learn to do without things which are good but not necessary, which we like but don’t really need.
Young children (traditionally under seven) and persons over 60 are not bound to fast in the Roman Church, but “Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.” It is perhaps needless to point out that one following a diet for medical reasons should not change it in Lent. Likewise, a person who is supposed to take medication with food may have to take a little something in the morning before Church on the two fast days.
As to abstinence, the only serious question is what a Vegetarian should do. I can give no advice here, because I do not know if there is anything in the diet of such a one that can be considered the equivalent of meat. If anyone has wiser advice, I would be grateful to hear it.
The lack of a hard and fast rule about fasting should not be taken as an excuse to do nothing at all. But this is all too often the way with Anglicans!
Next: Giving things up and Giving things away: Abstinence and Alms.

Lectionary Notes for Epiphany V
The Propers

The BAS Collect is A Prayer for Pardon in the Order of Service for Young People in the Canadian Prayer Book; I have not had a chance to serarch for its origins. It is often used at funerals, orders for evening worship and other occasions. It well fits the first Reading and the Gospel.
Just a reminder: there is a link to the RCL Comments at the head of the list on the left-hand side of this blog.

The first Reading : Isaiah 6.1-8 (9-13)
Chapters 6.1 to 9.6 of the Book of Isaiah are sometimes referred to as “Isaiah’s Memoirs”. The main section, 7.1-8.18 consists of materials concerning the crisis of 735-732 BC (when Syria and Israel tried to force Judah to join them against Assyria) arranged apparently to report Isaiah’s words and actions during this period. These are introduced by the prophet’s vocation narrative (6.1-13) and followed by 8.23-9.6. These materials may have been put together by Isaiah himself (note the use of the 1st person in caps 6 and 8 ).
In verses 1-13 Isaiah tells of his call to the prophetic office, to the end of justifying his teachings to his contemporaries, even though it may be unwelcome to their ears.
There is little we need to add to the notes in the RCL site except to point out an older comment which is not often found in modern notes.
Older commentaries (for example Matthew Henry’s, Adam Clarke’s and John Wesley’s Notes) remind us that this vision is explained in John 12.36b-41 as being a vision of the glory of Christ. Commenting on Isaiah 6.9-10, the Evangelist notes: “Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” (Compare to this John 8.56) William Temple comments on the Gospel:
“God does not cause sin, but He does cause its appropriate consequence to result from it by the law of the order of creation. The prophet had apprehended this though a vision of the glory of Christ—who is thus identified with Jehovah; and this is correct, for Jehovah is God revealed; and God revealed is the Logo, Word, self-utterance of God; and the Logos is Jesus Christ.”
This point opens up many questions about the nature pf prophecy which we cannot deal with here.
The place of this reading among today’s lections is found in Isaiah’s response to the vision of the all-holy God: “And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’" The sense of uncleaness and unholiness that grips one in the face of holiness is found in the Gospel as well, where Peter, when he saw the miraculous draught of fish, “fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."” This is not just true of mortals:
At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim with sleepless eye
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,
alleluia, Lord most high!”
These examples suggest that we might want to consider whether we are not often too familiar and casual in the presence of holiness and in our approach to God. we would do well to take some time to ponder God as all-holy, sinless, apart from earthly things, and the paradox that such a one would come down for our sake and take our nature upon him.
A companion to the reading from Isaiah is the antiphon Duo Seraphim from Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of the BVM: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U0Nq2ngbzA

The Psalm.
The words of the psalmist in the second verse of Psalm 138 echo the passage from Isaiah: like Isaiah the psalmist is in the court of the Temple, looking toward the Holy Place. The psalm is a hymn of thanksgiving for the never-failing love of God.

The Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15.1-11
This Sunday we conclude our series of readings from 1 Corinthians with the opening of St Paul’s great chapter on the resurrection. Up to this point he has been answering questions posed by the Corinthian church, but now he raises a matter which he knew was of concern, although they may not have asked him about it. It appears that there was a group in the community who, for one reason or another, denied the promise of the resurrection of the body. He begins his reply with an appeal to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus. Note that verses 3-8 appear to be a very early statement of faith, or creed. The NJBC notes that while there is nothing to prove that this statement is a translation from a Semitic language, it almost certainly originated in a Palestinian community. Paul has apparently added v. 6b: “most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep,” with the point of underlining that eye-witnesses are still available for questioning. In verses 9-10 he speaks of his own experience of seeing Christ.
The English of verse 9 “one untimely born,” might be taken to mean merely that Paul was late to see the Risen Lord ; although it can mean this, it more likely ought to be taken quite literally, for it renders ἐκτρώμα, “an abortion.” The NJBC notes that this was “possibly a term of abuse used by Paul’s opponents, who mocked his physical appearance (2 Cor 10.10) and denied his apostleship (1 Cor 9.1-18).” The RCL notes catch this meaning rather well by pointing out that the original has the sense of “an object of horror and disgust.” and glossing it as “monster”.
When we read this passage along with the other’s appointed for this Sunday, Paul’s statement of his own unworthiness as a former persecutor of the church to be an apostle fits with the unworthiness expressed by Isaiah and St Peter. Together they build up a clear statement that there is nothing in us so bad, no guilt so deep that God cannot take it away when he calls us into his service and fellowship.
May I point out that since we all understand the metaphor of death as falling asleep (or can easily figure it out) the NRSV didn’t need to render ἐκοιμήθησαν (dormierunt) in verse 6b by “have died”. But the translators will insist on spoon-feeding us.
The Holy Gospel: St Luke 5.1-11.
The other readings for today suggest that this passage was chosen because of St Peter’s sense of sinfulness in the face of the holy might of Jesus and the Lord’s assurance of forgiveness implicit in the call to become a fisher of people.
The relationship of this pericope to certain other passages in both the synoptic Gospels and John is a difficult question which we cannot take up here; it is discussed at the RCL site.
For the traditional interpretations of this passage, you might want to check the selections from the Church Fathers in the Catena Aurea, for which an address was given in last week’s notes. Once again we are out of time.

2 comments:

THE OLD GEEZER said...

I enjoyed looking over your blog
God bless you

Felicity Pickup said...

re Experience shows that “mortification” is not too strong a word for this.

LOL! You certainly have a way with words.

re The lack of a hard and fast rule about fasting should not be taken as an excuse to do nothing at all.

And now you've not left us even the excuse of spending all of Lent thinking about it!