Thursday, October 31, 2019

All Saints' Day

The Collect
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

The Psalm

Daniel 7:1-3,15-18     +     Ephesians 1:11-23     +     Luke 6:20-31

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
~Ephesians 1:15-19

The Episcopal Church celebrates November 1st as All Saints’ Day (thus marking Oct. 31st as All Hallows’ Eve). It is one of the seven Principal Feasts of the church, and the only one that the Prayer Book allows to be also observed on the Sunday following the day—presumably as a practical measure to provide ample opportunity for all to keep the feast!

A saint is, literally, one who has been “sanctified”—set apart, made holy in Jesus. In the New Testament, St. Paul uses the term for all the baptized—all who are “in Christ,” whether living or dead. But the church has also long recognized certain saints as providing models of faithful discipleship; in their lives we see Christ’s life reflected. All Saints’ Day has traditionally been regarded as a celebration of these famous holy men and women. Thus, an additional observance developed on November 2nd—All Souls’ Day is an opportunity to remember before God one’s own family and friends departed, perhaps with more tenderness than celebration. (The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed on Nov. 2nd is a day of optional observance in the Episcopal Church calendar.) Of course, it is appropriate to celebrate and remember truly all saints on November 1st—it is All Saints’ Day, after all! Yet there are distinctions in how we have known these saints of God—some personally, others by reputation, but most we do not know by name.

And communion—on-going relationship—is at the heart of this feast. It is good that we remember the saints and look to many of them as exemplars, but there is more—this is not simply the church version of Memorial Day, when we publicly honor and thankfully remember the lives of those who have gone before. On All Saints’ Day, as we remember before God in prayer all those loved ones whose names and lives are beautifully memorialized at our flower-bedecked altar, we are also reminded that God has brought us all into “one communion and fellowship in the mystical body” of Christ. As the Risen Christ transcends place and time, so the mystical communion of those who abide in Christ transcends place and time. And abiding in the One who overcame death, death itself is no final obstacle to this communion. For, as the Burial Rite reminds us, to God’s faithful people “life is changed, not ended.”

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

~ hymn no. 287 (“For All the Saints”)

Closing Prayer
O God, the King of Saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~The Book of Common Prayer, p. 504

Monday, October 28, 2019

Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles

The Collect of the Day
O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Psalm

The Readings
Deuteronomy 32:1-4     +     Ephesians 2:13-22     +     John 15:17-27

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. 
~John 15:24

Over at the Grow Christians blog, Melody Wilson Shobe writes:
The Zealot Saint Simon is partnered with Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. The two of them were disciples, zealous for Jesus, willing to follow that particular lost cause to the cross and beyond. And their witness, when married together, has something to teach us about our experience of the faith, and the faith that we hope for our children. What if we, ourselves, were as zealous for Jesus as we are for our favorite brand of shoes or our newest binge-watch? And what if we formed our children to be zealots for lost causes instead of current trends?
Every once in a while I see this. I meet a kid who is so zealous in supporting animals that they ask for donations to the local shelter in lieu of birthday gifts. I hear from a young person who talks about serving at a homeless shelter with the same fervor that others reserve for going to a big sporting event. I hear one of my kids tell me what story they heard in Godly Play with the same excitement they relate the chapter of Harry Potter she just re-read for the 10th time.

I wonder, how can you, this week, help form the kids in your life as zealots for lost causes, as zealots for Jesus?

How can you direct their zealous energy in pursuit of the things that matter most?
Read the rest here.

Closing Prayer
Lord Jesus, thank you for the example of your faithful servants Simon and Jude. Give us grace, that like them we may be zealous in spreading the message of your love, come what may. Amen.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Saint James of Jerusalem, Brother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and Martyr

The Collect of the Day
Grant, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Psalm


The Readings
Acts 15:12-22a     +     I Corinthians 15:1-11     +     Matthew 13:54-58

All the apostles and elders kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, "My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets . . . Therefore, I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God . . ." 
Acts 15:12-15, 19

James, called by Paul "the Lord's brother," seems not to have become a disciple until after Jesus' resurrection. But he went on to be a leader in the early church, traditionally the first bishop of Jersalem. He presided over the so-called Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts, which wrestled with the pressing question of how to incorporate Gentiles into the church--it was a thorny problem that occupied much of Paul's letters, also. 

In his wisdom, James determined that the church should not place any obstacles in the way of Gentile inclusion. Listen to the testimony of lives changed, listen anew to the word of God spoken in the prophets, and let God call whom God will. Whatever misgivings some may have had about Gentiles as 'the other', the outsiders whose way of life was suspect or even offensive to God, James took his stand to trust that God is drawing the circle wider still. For, as Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, it is finally only upon God's grace in Christ that any of us stand at all. It is a core message we cannot afford to ignore today. However helpful or laudable our practices of piety (and we are learning about their benefit as we follow the Way of Love), however much we may be rightly thankful for our own heritage in the church, still it is not these that save us--it is God's scandalous grace, for you and me and everyone, including those 'outside' who don't know anything about 'the rules,' and who may even disrupt the way we've always done things.

It was a momentous decision. The church would not be a Jewish faction, but truly catholic in scope: a universal body united in Christ and reconciled to the God who made all. And yet reconciliation is a difficult thing; easy to talk about, messy and often painful to accomplish, no matter how sincere our efforts. Ultimately, it cost James his life. But it is this work of reconciliation to which we are called: "The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." (The Catechism, BCP p. 855). There is no shortage of need for such a mission in our divided and angry world. It is a mission that we can only hope to accomplish by giving ourselves continually to prayer, and by daily surrender to the gospel grace in which we stand. 

Closing Prayer
Lord God, thank you for you grace toward even me. May I never hinder anyone from coming to you, whose love is more vast than we can imagine; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

The Council of Jerusalem. 
James, vested as a bishop, is flanked by Paul and Peter (Simon).

Friday, October 18, 2019

Saint Luke the Evangelist

The Collect of the Day
Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Psalm

The Readings
Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 38:1-4, 6-10, 12-14     +     II Timothy 4:5-13     +     Luke 4:14-21

He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
     because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
     and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
~Luke 4:17-21

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist (i.e. Gospel writer). According to tradition, he was the author of the third Gospel, “the beloved physician,” a Gentile friend and companion to St. Paul. Luke is a great story-teller, and several of the best known and most loved stories about Jesus come from this Gospel: the details of “the Christmas story,” the parables of “the prodigal son” and “the good Samaritan,” and “the good thief” on the cross.

We've started reading through Luke's Gospel with the youth on Wednesday nights. And as we as a parish focus on "learning" this month along the Way of Love, perhaps the brief advice I've provided the youth may be helpful to a broader audience.

First, a few tips for any Bible reading:

· Begin with a prayer to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you.

· Try to find a quiet place where you can read undisturbed.

· Don’t rush; take some time to listen and enter into the story

· Find a translation that you like; some Bibles also have notes and study helps.

Then, some things to look for in Luke’s Gospel:

· What does Luke say about who Jesus is?

· Story-telling: how does Luke draw the reader in with details? What do you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel as you read this Gospel?

· Luke’s story has been called ‘The Universal Gospel’: what are ways in which Jesus shows that he has come for everyone, even (and maybe even especially) the poor and outcast?

That last point may be another reason why Luke's Gospel has had such lasting appeal to so many. As Eugene Peterson puts it: 
"Most of us, most of the time, feel left out—misfits. We don’t belong. Others seem to be so confident, so sure of themselves, “insiders” who know the ropes, old hands in a club from which we are excluded. . . . As Luke tells the story of Jesus, all of us who have found ourselves on the outside looking in on life with no hope of gaining entrance (and who of us hasn’t felt it?) now find the doors wide open, found and welcomed by God in Jesus." 

Closing Prayer
Lord, we thank you for the gift of Holy Scripture, and especially on this day for the Gospel of your Son according to St. Luke. Send your Holy Spirit to inspire, guide, and teach us, that we may always be growing in our knowledge and love of him who is the Physician of our souls, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Saint Michael and All Angels

(transferred from September 29)

The Collect
Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Sprit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Psalm

The Readings
Genesis 28:10-17     +     Revelation 12:7-12     +     John 1:47-51

Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” 
~John 1:50-51

A Litany of the Holy Angels*
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us

God the Father, have mercy upon us.
God the Son, have mercy upon us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy upon us.

To thee, all angels cry aloud and all the powers of heaven sing,
     glory be to thee.
Thou didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the morning stars rejoiced,
     glory be to thee.
Before thee, seraphim continually do sing, holy, holy, holy,
     glory be to thee.
And with the whole company of heaven, we join our voices,
     glory be to thee.

O all ye angels of God, standing before the eternal light, pray for us.
Michael, who overthrew the devil, the deceiver and accuser, pray for us.
Michael, who restored peace to heaven and defends God's people on earth, pray for us.
Gabriel, sent to announce the birth of John the Baptist, pray for us.
Gabriel, greeting the Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us.
O Angel of the Lord, directing Joseph to protect the Christ child, pray for us.
Angels of God, announcing the birth to shepherds, pray for us.
Angels of God, ministering to Jesus in his fast in the wilderness, pray for us.
Angels of God, strengthening Jesus in his prayer in the garden, pray for us.
Angels of God, waiting at the tomb to greet the women with good news, pray for us.
Angels of God, comforting the disciples at the Ascension, pray for us.
Angels of God, who rejoice over the sinner who repents, pray for us.
Angels of God, joining our praises with your perfect worship, pray for us.
Angels of God, leading home the child of God, pray for us.

Send thine angels to guide and protect us, and be our hope against all dangers in this life and the next,
     Good Lord, deliver us.

Hear our prayer, O Lord, and grant to all peoples peace and prosperity,
     Hear our prayer O Lord.
That in this good and bountiful creation, none may suffer want or hunger,
     Hear our prayer O Lord.
That in thy mercy, all may know thee as their loving creator,
     Hear our prayer O Lord.
Guide thy Holy Church into unity, inspire its witness, and enliven its service,
     Hear our prayer O Lord.
Bless those whom we love and remember before thee,
     Hear our prayer O Lord.
Give to the departed eternal rest,
     Hear our prayer O Lord.

Blessed art thou that beholdest the depths;
     and dwellest between the Cherubim.
Blessed art thou, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit;
     praised and exalted above all forever.

Give ear to our prayers, O Lord, and while our path lies through the changes and chances of this mortal life, grant us the fellowship of thy saints, the protection of thy holy angels, and the hope that our journey leads to thine eternal and blessed kingdom. Amen.

* This is a slightly abbreviated form of a litany found in Saint Augustine's Prayer Book, a supplemental book of prayers and devotions that has long been a source of spiritual nourishment for Anglicans and Episcopalians. A recently revised edition is available from Forward Movement.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

The Collect
We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Psalm

The Readings
Proverbs 3:1-6     +     II Timothy 3:14-17     +     Matthew 9:9-13

As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 
~II Timothy 3:14-15

Of the four canonical Gospels, Matthew's is in many ways "the most Jewish." More than the others, his Gospel continually quotes the Old Testament scriptures to "prove" that they are fulfilled in Jesus, who is the long-awaited Messiah. And in structure, Matthew's Gospel presents Jesus as a new Moses, which may itself be seen as fulfillment of the prophecy that the LORD would raise up a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).

This devotion to the Law and the Prophets, to "the sacred writings," is reflected in the readings appointed for this feast of St. Matthew. And yet, somewhat ironically, the traditional author of this Gospel was hardly a pious scholar (at least not initially). As one of the twelve disciples, Matthew (or Levi) was called to leave a profession as tax-gatherer to follow Jesus. As Lesser Feasts and Fasts puts it:
"Tax collectors were viewed as collaborators with the Roman State, extortioners who took money from their own people to further the cause of Rome and to line their own pockets. They were spurned as traitors and outcasts. The Jews so abhorred them that pious Pharisees refused to marry into a family that had a publican as a member. Clearly, Matthew was hardly they type of man that a devout Jew would have had among his closest associates."
And yet this was the man chosen by the devout Jew Jesus to be a member of his inner circle. This was the man whose name is connected with the Gospel that seeks to plumb the depths of the scriptures, and finds in them a witness to the life and work of Jesus Christ.

Consider your own life in comparison to Matthew's. Where do you see yourself in relation to "the religious institution"? Are you, or have you ever been, "an outcast"? What bearing, if any, does that have on your relationship to Jesus? How does your past and present familiarity with scripture, or lack thereof, impact the way you hear and understand the story of Jesus? What is the call of Jesus to you today?

Closing Prayer
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
~an Ember Day collect, 'For all Christians in their vocation' (BCP, p. 256)  

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Holy Cross Day

The Collect
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

The Psalm

The Readings
Isaiah 45:21-25     +     Philippians 2:5-11     +     John 12:31-36a

Sing to the Lord a new song, *
     for he has done marvelous things.
With his right hand and his holy arm *

      has he won for himself the victory.
~ Psalm 98:1-2

This is a feast with a fascinating and in some ways confusing history. (See the book, Holy Cross, Life-Giving Tree by Episcopal priest Donnel O'Flynn for more on that.) Suffice it to say that it is similar in its themes to Good Friday, but is explicitly a celebratory feast--The Lord has shown forth his glory: Come let us adore him (antiphon at Morning Prayer on Holy Cross Day, BCP p. 81).
The universality of God's victory over death is reflected in the day's readings and in the traditional customs and hymnody of the feast, which assert that the wood of this shameful instrument of death has become for all the world the place of life, a tree bearing fruit to eternity. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:32). We are reminded that the cross is not merely a symbol, not merely a spur to reflection, or an unlikely example of hope. The cross is the very place of God’s love revealed for us. And the glory and victory of God is in that love revealed. At the very place where we least expect it, the evil and brokenness of the world is judged and driven out by the victory of God.

"The New Creation, Opened by the Cross" by Aidan O'Flynn and Jana Laxa; 
inspired by Paul Gauckler's "Sketch of the Floor Mosaic of the Byzantine-Era Baptistery at Oued Ramel, Tunisia"

Hymn no. 162 in our hymnal is a sixth-century text composed for this day on which we exalt the cross as God's means for our salvation. (See the video below for the music, with the latin text.)

The royal banners forward go,
the cross shines forth in mystic glow
where he through whom our flesh was made,
in that same flesh our ransom paid.

Fulfilled is all that David told
in true prophetic song of old;
how God the nation's King should be,
for God is reigning from the tree.

O tree of beauty, tree most fair,
ordained those holy limbs to bear
gone is thy shame, each crimson bough
proclaims the King of glory now.

Blest tree, whose chosen branches bore
the wealth that did the world restore,
the price which none but he could pay
to spoil the spoiler of his prey.

O cross, our one reliance, hail!
Still may thy power with us avail
to save us sinners from our sin,
God's righteousness for all to win.

To thee, eternal Three in One,
let homage meet by all be done;
as by the cross thou dost restore
so rule and guide us evermore.