Monthly Archives: May 2013

A sure and steadfast anchor

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Three times in the two-year cycle of Daily Office readings we get the chance to celebrate the “patronal feast,” so to speak, of the Daily Office Anchor Society.

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul” (Heb. 6:19).

The other readings assigned for today give us a sense of the particular flavor of the Christian hope.

Ezekiel is prophesying against Israel, speaking God’s word of wrath against the wayward people. “According to their way I will deal with them; according to their own judgments I will judge them. And they shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezek. 7:27). God is mighty and holy, and we are prone to fall away into sin and forget how we have been blessed.

Canticle 13, suggested for Tuesday mornings, is a song of praise, but it underscores God’s remoteness as we sing of God “seated between the Cherubim … in the high vault of heaven” (BCP 90).

In the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, however, we see Jesus, our great high priest, bridging the gap between us and God. For “we have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:19-20).

No longer are we distant from the mighty and holy God, who in “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). No longer can anything separate us from the love of God, for now God’s only Son intercedes for us. Jesus, having ascended into heaven, takes our humanity — takes us — with him into the inner shrine, into the presence of God. We now live for all time in the heart of God.

That intimate and enduring union with God is ours through Jesus, the “forerunner on our behalf,” and this particularly Christian hope is indeed a “sure and steadfast anchor” for our souls.

Meant for a sign

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“Ford was humming something. It was just one note repeated at intervals. He was hoping that someone would ask him what he was humming, but nobody did. If anybody had asked him he would have said he was humming the first line of a Nöel Coward song called ‘Mad About the Boy’ over and over again. It would then have been pointed out to him that he was only singing one note, to which he would have replied that for reasons that he hoped would be apparent, he was omitting the ‘about the boy’ bit. He was annoyed that nobody asked.” ~Douglas Adams, Life, The Universe and Everything

Reading today’s passage from the Book of Ezekiel reminds me of this bit from the third of five books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy.

Ezekiel is doing something with Legos, and then he’s putting up a wall and very pointedly staring at it, and then he is lying on one side, and then on the other, and then he is making some really disgusting bread and burning it over a fire made of — what is that! — oh, it’s just cow’s dung.

… oh, whatever!

I’ll bet Ezekiel’s annoyed that no one has asked him what he’s doing. If he tried to explain it, though, he’d have about as much luck as Douglas Adams’ Ford Prefect making anyone understand.

The weird things we do — like going to church on Sundays, praying out of a book twice a day, or reading (on purpose, yet!) about crazy old Ezekiel — are meant for a sign. It’s not the actions themselves that are the sign, though.

We’re the ones who are meant to be transformed by our discipline of prayer and Scripture study, transformed more and more by our obedience into the likeness of Christ, living into our calling to be a light to the nations. I think people will ask us what we’re doing when what we’re doing has made us more peaceful and made a visible difference in the lives of those around us.

So don’t be annoyed and don’t be a one-note Johnny — and don’t, for goodness’ sake, cut off half your beard like Ezekiel will do tomorrow! Instead, be faithful, be disciplined, be “Mad About the Boy” who is our living Lord Jesus.

Aids to Prayer

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It’s hard not to get centered and still when you have two cats stretched out on your legs helping you say Morning Prayer.

What aids to prayer have you incorporated into your daily practice?

Do you have a favorite place to sit? A mug of coffee or tea close to hand? Music, or silence, or some of each? A favorite picture or icon to look at?

What helps “exalt you to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before,” in the words of today’s Collect (BCP 226)?

Ever present in God’s heart

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Fr. John Dally’s teaching about the meaning of the Ascension has stuck with me all these years, since he was assistant priest at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Park Ridge, Illinois and I was just entering the discernment process that led to my ordination.

Fr. Dally told us about the risen Jesus ascending into heaven, returning to take his place in the Trinity, but bearing the wounds of his humanity. The Son who is “seated at the right hand of the Father,” as we say in the Apostles’ Creed (BCP 96), bears the marks of the crown of thorns and raises a pierced hand in blessing.

God was changed by God’s encounter with us, and the Christ of the eternal Trinity still bears the scars.

A Collect for Guidance

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of this life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 100)

Just as we “live and move and have our being” here on earth in the presence and care of God and do well to remember that fact in the middle of our busy lives, we also “live and move and have our being” in God in the person of the ascended Jesus.

Not only are we “ever walking in God’s sight,” we are ever-present in God’s own heart.

Daily Office Challenge

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The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval.
Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding
(Romans 14:18-19).

Two days ago I responded to a tweet by Marek Zabriskie of the Bible Challenge which seemed to me to be making a false opposition between the lectionary and “reading all the Scriptures.” I was hasty and abrupt in my reply — a failing of mine exacerbated by Twitter’s 140-character limit.

The Bible Challenge is an approach to reading the entire Bible in the course of a year rather than just hearing the selections read in worship on Sundays. In that sense, it is a very important project — one I have embarked on several times before, as have many members of the congregations I have belonged to. Reading the whole Bible gives you a sense of the sweep of salvation history and the relationship between parts of Scripture that you might not otherwise get on Sunday mornings.

For myself, I have benefited the most over the years from the Bible-reading plan outlined in The Illustrated Bible Handbook by Edward P. Blair (Abingdon 1985). Blair’s book is long out of print, unfortunately, though you can still find a few copies around.

My initial point, however, is that there’s more than one lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer.

The lectionary for the Daily Office — for Morning and Evening Prayer — provides for the praying of the Psalms and the course reading of Scripture. The Psalms are prayed over a seven-week cycle, the bulk of the New Testament each year, and the bulk of the Old Testament over the course of two years (see BCP 934 and following).

Because Morning and Evening Prayer are part of the public worship of the Church (with the Holy Eucharist on Sundays), the readings in the Daily Office lectionary are organized to reflect the seasons of the Church Year, unlike the Bible Challenge’s approach of reading through the Old Testament in order, supplemented by New Testament passages and Psalms each day.

Marek observes in a subsequent tweet that “Episcopalians excel on Sunday. Our weakness is Monday to Saturday. Helping folks engage Scripture and pray each day is critical.” I couldn’t agree more.

The practice of the Daily Office puts the reading of Scripture in the context of prayer, and the canticles and collects appointed for the Sundays and weekdays of the Church Year help us to understand and interpret Scripture in the way that Christians throughout the centuries have done.

The Bible Challenge and the practice of the Daily Office complement each other, though they are designed with different purposes in mind.

“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

The more we soak ourselves in Scripture, the more we begin and end each day in prayer and Scripture reading (no matter which method we prefer to use), the more readily we will recognize Jesus’ voice and his call for our lives.

On that we can all agree.