Monthly Archives: December 2012

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

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Then I was beside him, like a master worker;
And I was daily his delight,
Rejoicing before him always,
Rejoicing in his inhabited world
And delighting in the human race.

Happy is the one who listens to me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting beside my doors.
(Proverbs 8:30-34)

More than the other Gospel writers, John captures the scope and grandeur of the Incarnation.

The full creative force of God, the Wisdom that rejoices in creation, became part of creation through the birth of Jesus to Mary. That man Jesus, known best perhaps to “the disciple whom he loved,” showed his followers that love is the abiding quality in God’s own life. Love is also to be the characteristic of our lives.

As he reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, John heard the new commandment “that you love one another” from a privileged position — but that privileged position is now open to each one of us.

Each of us is a Beloved Disciple in our own right, invited to share the same intimacy with Jesus that John did, and called to share the same good news of love with those around us.

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That is not what ships are built for

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“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” -John Augustus Shedd

It’s tempting to read words like those from today’s Epistle and feel content. “So we have known and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16).

Abiding sounds like being snug in port, securely tied to the dock, battened down, gently rocking on the peaceful swells. It’s a lovely picture.

But that’s not what ships are built for, and that’s not what we are meant for.

John goes further in his letter: “Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:21).

Abiding in God means living in the way God lives – out in the world, vulnerable, open, available, giving without fear. We can live that way because God did it first in the person of Jesus.

So don’t be afraid to put out from safe harbor, and don’t be afraid of the storms that may come. That’s what your ship is built for, and the One who built it abides in you.

For God alone my soul in silence waits

Early in the morning, the hotel lobby is a very comfortable place to read Morning Prayer with a cup of coffee close at hand (and it means I won’t disturb Lovely Wife, who is still asleep in the room).

I will admit, however, that it is tough to read Psalm 62:1 — “For God alone my soul in silence waits / from him comes my salvation” — while Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” wafts from the speakers above my head.

Nevertheless, the brief time apart provides space for God’s “daily visitation,” in the lovely phrase from our collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 212)

What small space of inner silence might you need to create in the middle of this holiday whirl, making room for God to visit so that you are “a mansion prepared” for Jesus’ coming?

The Prayer Book Office

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On a lighter note, tonight marks 20 years since I began seriously to use the Daily Office as a regular part of my spiritual discipline.

Howard Galley’s two volumes, The Prayer Book Office and Morning and Evening Prayer, were invaluable to me as I took the first steps and felt my way into this way of praying.

Regrettably, The Prayer Book Office remains out of print. One can occasionally find a copy of Morning and Evening Prayer, a nice volume with selected readings and psalms suited for the beginner or those who prefer a simpler version of the office.

Anyway, on this anniversary day, whether you’re just starting out or celebrating many years following the Prayer Book pattern, I pray that “the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing, through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The Living Hope of St. Thomas

By the hand of Nicholas Pappas. Comeandseeicons.com

Three things strike me about the story of Thomas: his intellectual honesty, Jesus’ saving embrace, and the living hope that their relationship invites all of us to share.

Thomas is my favorite saint, and it’s a good thing, because I have preached on his feast day nearly every year since I have been ordained. I have taught homiletics (preaching) for many years, and I counsel new deacons and priests to become particularly familiar with the prologue to the Gospel of John and with the story of Thomas. Assisting clergy nearly always get to preach on “Low Sundays” like the First Sunday after Christmas and the Second Sunday of Easter, when these passages are appointed as the Gospel reading.

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark  of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:24-25)

Can you imagine how much Thomas wanted to believe Jesus was alive? Can you imagine what it cost him to admit that he needed evidence, to stand firm in his self-knowledge in the face of the others’ joy? Thomas is intellectually honest, and I admire that quality in him. He is self-aware and disciplined, even in the face of something he desires.

A week later, the disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them … [Jesus] said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28)

Here is another example of Jesus’ compassion, which reminds me of his returning to find the man born blind after he has been expelled from the synagogue (John 9:35). It is as if Jesus here asks Thomas, “What do you need from me in order to believe?” He does not berate Thomas, but offers his wounds as evidence. Here, too, is further evidence of Thomas’ honesty. When he has seen Jesus’ hands and side, he leaps straight to the proclamation, “My Lord and my God!” He is not the Doubter, but the first to name Jesus as Lord.

In Morning Prayer, we commonly use this prayer for mission on Fridays:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. (BCP 100)

In the story of Thomas we see Jesus’ saving embrace bringing Thomas both to knowledge and to love.

We, too, are within the reach of Jesus. If we are honest about our doubts and fears, Jesus meets us with compassion and offers us “a new birth into a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). “Although you have not seen him, you love him,” Peter continues, “and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

We are also called by Jesus to reach out to others who may have doubts and fears. Like Jesus and like Thomas, we must meet them with compassion and gently offer them the evidence of our own living hope.

The Christmastide Lectionary

ChristmastideI know it’s still Thursday in the Third Week of Advent, but I want to give you all a jump on the complicated lectionary for the days after Christmas so that you can enjoy the holiday with minimal frustration.

Because Christmas Day occurs on a fixed date and several Major Feasts fall on the next few days after it, the Daily Office lectionary has to supply several options for the days between Christmas and the Epiphany, which also falls on a fixed date.

Here’s the crib sheet for the offices during Christmastide this year. You may wish to print it out and fold it into your prayer book for easy reference.

(The abbreviations MP and EP, as you might expect, stand for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer; BCP for the page number in the Book of Common Prayer):

Dec. 23 – Fourth Sunday of Advent
MP and EP as on BCP 938
Collect on BCP 212

Dec. 24 – Christmas Eve
MP as on BCP 938 “Dec. 24”
MP Collect on BCP 212 (4 Advent)
EP as on BCP 938 “Christmas Eve”
EP Collect on BCP 212 (Christmas Day – second option)

Dec. 25 – Christmas Day
MP and EP as on BCP 940
Collect on BCP 212-13

Dec. 26 – Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr
MP and EP as on BCP 996
Collect on BCP 237

Dec. 27 – Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist
MP and EP as on BCP 996
Collect on BCP 238

Dec. 28 – The Holy Innocents
MP and EP as on BCP 996
Collect on BCP 238

Dec. 29 – Saturday after Christmas Day
MP and EP as on BCP 940 “Dec. 29”
Collect of a Martyr on BCP 246 (Thomas Becket)

Dec. 30 – First Sunday after Christmas Day
MP and EP as on BCP 940
Collect on BCP 213

Dec. 31 – Monday after 1 Christmas
MP as on BCP 940 “Dec. 31”
MP Collect on BCP 213 (1 Christmas)
EP as on BCP 940 “Eve of Holy Name”
EP Collect on BCP 213 (Holy Name)

Jan. 1 – The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ
MP and EP as on BCP 940
Collect on BCP 213

Jan. 2-4 – Weekdays after 1 Christmas
MP and EP as on dated days on BCP 940
Collect on BCP 213 (1 Christmas)

Jan. 5 – Saturday after 1 Christmas
MP as on BCP 940 “Jan. 5”
MP Collect on BCP 213 (1 Christmas)
EP as on BCP 940 “Eve of Epiphany”
EP Collect on BCP 214 (Epiphany)

Jan. 6 – The Epiphany
MP and EP as on BCP 942
Collect on BCP 214

What is the Office for?

“The key to [an examination of the orthodox principles behind the divine office] is to replace the substantial question by the more important existential one: not what is the office, but what is it for? It is not surprising that misunderstanding prevails, not only in Protestantism but also in Anglican practice, when our whole approach to liturgical studies remains historical instead of ascetical, substantial instead of existential. Tons of paper, oceans of ink and millions of words are expended on tracing the sources of ancient prayers, examining the meaning of lessons and psalms, and arguing about revision on historical principles, while most modern Christians are completely bewildered about what the office is for, what needs it is supposed to fulfill, and how it should be used. I am not meaning to be critical of liturgical scholarship as such, for it is of much value; I am critical of the failure to supplement it by ascetical interpretation. A driving instructor may usefully begin a series of lessons by explaining how an internal combustion engine works, but that is not teaching someone how to drive a car; it is not facing the existential question of what the car is for” (Martin Thornton, The Rock and the River 99 – by way of the Martin Thornton Facebook page).
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“Most modern Christians are completely bewildered about what the office is for, what needs it is supposed to fulfill, and how it should be used.”
My hope is that this Daily Office Anchor Society provides some small help to you in terms of how to use the office.
What more would be helpful to you? How can we as a group encourage one another in this ascetical practice?