Friday
Mar152013

Passion Sunday

Passion Sunday (March 17, 2013) is the 1st day of the last 2 weeks before Easter (these 2 weeks are called “Passiontide”).  The designation “Passion Sunday” is relatively recent, originating in the Anglican Church only in the 19th century. 

The epistle reading for Passion Sunday is Hebrews 9:11-15.  In this passage we are reminded why Jesus hands Himself over to suffer and die for the sins of the world.  He is the Great High Priest to whom the entire Old Covenant sacrificial system was pointing.  He is himself both the perfect sacrifice for sin and the fulfillment of the priestly office, offering His own blood as the propitiation (the perfect atoning sacrifice) for the sins of the world. 

As we continue to meditate upon God’s love (made manifest in the Cross of Christ), it is not enough to simply know what He did, we must also apprehend why He did it.  As we read in this Sunday’s passage from the book of Hebrews: “. . . he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” 

Jesus is our Redeemer.  As we meditation upon His passion, let us remember that He suffered and died so as to Redeem us. 

“Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”  (Hebrews 9:15)

Thursday
Feb212013

Practical Guide to Lent

The Three Disciplines of Lent: A Practical Guide

Works of Repentance: There are three “works worthy of repentance” commended by the example and teaching of Christ, the apostles and prophets:  fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. (In Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus gives counsel “when”, not “if”,  we fast, pray, and give alms).  In Lent, the Church devotes itself the corporate practice of these disciplines, so that dying to sin and rising again to a new life of righteousness, we may be fit to keep the feast of the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter.

Fasting and Abstinence

…is the reduction in quantity and quality of one’s food and drink, together with other bodily pleasures and amusements.   Fasting is designed to curb the body’s imperious appetites, and to express our hunger for God, his kingdom, and righteousness.  We fast from earthly foods, that we may feast upon the bread of heaven.  “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that cometh forth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Fasting – total abstinence from food and drink broken at the day’s end by a light supper of plain food – is required by the prayerbook on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  (Non-nutritive drinks are permitted.)

Abstinence – customarily from flesh meat and other rich foods – is required on all the weekdays of Lent (up to Easter Eve).

Exempted from the full requirement are little children, the elderly, the infirm, and those whose health or work require it (e.g. diabetics, active-duty soldiers).  They should however practice self-denial in other ways – perhaps just by eating plainer food without fussiness or discontent.

Prayer

…is the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, in thanks and praise for the greatness of his glory, and asking confidently for his grace.  In Prayer we exercise our Hope in the Promises of God, and learn to look expectantly for the fulfillment of his saving purpose.  Fasting acknowledges the hunger of the soul:  Prayer directs this hunger to God, his kingdom and righteousness.

For prayer to be a discipline, you need to make a rule for yourself – a time (and ideally, a place) in which you can give your full attention to God; some kind of pattern or form to follow.  Here are a few to choose from:

Morning and Evening Prayer is the Church’s official daily service of prayer (sometimes called the “Daily Office”).  

It can also be read privately, and informally.  To do so requires some preparation: a Prayer Book and Bible.

Look up that day in the table of “Psalms and Lessons for the Christian year” at the beginning of the Prayer Book (pp x – xlv).  Mark the psalms in the Prayer Book and lessons in the Bible for the service you are about to say. 

Mark the Collect of the day (usually that of the previous Sunday, unless it is a holy day). 

Follow the service, inserting psalms, lessons, and collect as indicated.  Morning Prayer begins with on page 6, Evening Prayer on page 23. 

Simple Morning and Evening Prayer reduces the complexity and length of the service.  Suggested elements:

  • Confession (page 6 or 23), 
  • A psalm and a lesson (selected from the Table on pp x – xlv), 
  • One canticle (Benedictus p. 14 in the Morning, Magnificat p. 26 in the afternoon, Nunc Dimittis p. 28 in the late evening), 
  • Apostles’ Creed (p. 15 or 29) 
  • Lord’s Prayer 
  • Collect of the day (usually that of previous Sunday)
  • Second and third collects (for Morning p. 17, for Evening p. 31). 
  • General Thanksgiving (p. 19 or 33) and other prayers as desired.

“Forms of Prayer to be used in Families”

In the Prayer Book pp 587-593 are simpler still, but pithy!

“A-C-T-S”

This formula outlines a way of praying in your own words which is still balanced.  It is best when grounded in a meditative reading of Scripture.

A – Adoration. Lift up your mind and heart to God in wonder, love, and praise for the greatness of his goodness revealed in his Son Jesus Christ.

C – Confession. before his divine majesty, our sins are exposed:  confess them as your own, with full purpose of amendment.

T – Thanksgiving. Give thanks to God not only for the blessings of this life but for his love in the redemption of the world by Christ, for the means of grace and the hope of glory.  In gratitude, offer and dedicate yourself to his service.

S – Supplication. Ask for such gifts and graces both bodily and spiritual which he has promised in his Word and which you need to serve him.

Seven Penitential Psalms

One for each of the “seven deadly sins” (Pride, Envy, Anger, Avarice, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth).  Traditionally prayed during Lent:  6, 32, 38 (in the morning), 51 (at noon), 102, 130, 143 (in the afternoon).

Almsgiving

…is the giving of money (or other goods) for the relief of need, either bodily or spiritual.  If fasting exercises our faith in God’s word, and prayer our hope in God’s promise, almsgiving exercises our charity in obedience to God’s commandments of love.  Fasting corrects excessive love of self, Prayer directs us to love of God, Almsgiving directs us to sacrificial love of neighbour.  To be a spiritual discipline, almsgiving should be done by rule:  make a commitment to yourself about how much and how often.

Dangers along the Way

Spiritual disciplines are not easy.  The six weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve are long – long enough to make a lasting impact, but also requiring patient endurance, perseverance and courage.  It is easy to become discouraged (by difficulty, by failure) and to give up – in which case the Devil has won another victory.

Disdain to be discouraged! Recognize the discouragement for what it is, and take a stand against it.   Recognize that in every failure, God is teaching you a lesson in humility – learn it!  Remember that the saints are just as prone to fall as you are:  the only difference is that they waste no time repenting and returning to the discipline.

If failure tempts us to despair, success in the spiritual disciplines also has its dangers:  vain-glory (impressing others with your accomplishments, seeking or enjoying their admiration) and pride (thinking that you have done these things by yourself and not by the grace of God).   Recognize these as snares of the Devil.

Remember your baptism, wherein you were washed from your sins to lead a new life as a member of Christ, the child of God, and the inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.  Remember also the sign of the cross that was made on your forehead:  “in token that hereafter [you] should not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue Christ’s soldier and servant unto [your] life’s end”.  Remember always, as the 1662 Prayer Book service exhorts, “that Baptism representeth our profession; which is, to follow the example of our Saviour Christ , and to be made like unto him; that like as he died, and rose again for us; so should we, who are baptized, die from sin, and rise again unto righteousness; continually mortifying [putting to death] all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding [increasing] in all virtue and godliness of living.”

Thursday
Feb212013

Reflection on the Collect for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

The Second Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
The Gospel: St. Matthew 15:21-28

Today, the church of God has completed the first ten days of her Lenten fast.  Seeing that this is the Lord’s Day, we enjoy some relaxation of our discipline – joyfully and solemnly celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, while at the same time preparing for another week of outward and inward fasting for him.

Historical Note

This Collect appears first in the Gregorian Sacramentary, with two phrases having been added in the Sarum Missal: of ourselves and which may assault and hurt the soul.  The Collect’s present form is a conservative translation of the Sarum. 

Commentary on the Collect

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves.  In contrast to the Almighty God – our omnipotent Lord – to whom we address our prayer, we are impotent, that is without power.  In the original Collect this relative clause, which states a doctrinal truth about all mankind, simply read that we are destitute of all power.  The Sarum’s amplification of this phrase makes more explicit our great need for the divine assistance of God, both outwardly and inwardly.

Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls.  As is so often the case, the Petition is in direct relationship with the doctrinal statement just made.  We cannot help ourselves and thus we call upon God to be our “refuge and strength (our) very present help in time of need” (Psalm 46:1).  We are able to beseech God to rescue us from both physical and spiritual danger, because as the writer to the Hebrews says, in Christ we do not have a high priest “who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”  (Hebrews 4:15-16 ESV).

That we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body.  At the time in which this Collect was originally written (the 6th century), large portions of the known world were in a state of upheaval as one thousand years of Roman rule was in the process of coming to an end.  Though the Romans could be brutal antagonists, their governorship also provided people with a certain sense of protection from foreign enemies.  But with Rome being unable to protect her own empire, those who lived within her borders would have had to recognize their need to be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body.  The relevant of this prayer, however, is not confined to those circumstances.  Whether it be physical sickness, violent attack or automobile accidents – we must all realize that there is much that may hurt us that we cannot ourselves control.  Thus we in sincerity may pray to God for his protection of us and those whom we love.

And from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.  In the original Collect, we prayed for minds that were cleansed, rather than defended.  It read: “that we may be defended from all adversities in body, and cleansed from evil thoughts in mind,” which is reminiscent of the Collect for Purity with which our Eucharistic liturgy begins.  The difference between “defend” and “cleanse” is not insignificant, since to pray for defense against evil thoughts does not imply that they are a present reality, whereas to ask to be cleansed from evil thoughts carries with it the notion that we are presently in possession of them.  This latter thought fits well with this Collect’s opening doctrinal statement – we are asking God to cleanse us from the wickedness which is resident in our minds, which is not something which we have power to do for ourselves.  Even as the demoniac in today’s Gospel text could not heal herself, we cannot rid ourselves of the evil thoughts which assault and hurt our soul – God the Holy Ghost must exorcise them from within us.

© J. S. S. Patterson & Peter Toon

 

Thursday
Feb212013

Reflection on the 1st Sunday in Lent

The First Sunday in Lent

O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights: Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10
The Gospel: St. Matthew 4:1-11

Historical Note

This Collect was composed for the 1549 prayerbook, likely by Archbishop Cranmer.  In the Sarum Missal, the Collect had read: O God, who purifiest thy Church by the annual observation of Lent; Grant unto thy Family that what they endeavor to obtain of thee by fasting, they may carry out by good works.  Through, etc.

This is one of only three Collects (along with the Third Sunday in Advent and St. Stephen’s Day) which is address to the Lord Jesus, and makes mention of his fasting for forty days in the wilderness.  In contrast, the Collect appointed for Ash Wednesday is addressed to the Father and contains no reference to fasting.  Seeing that Lent (and our Lenten fast) begins on Ash Wednesday, Why is it not until the First Sunday in Lent that a reference to fasting (and abstinence) is made?  At first blush, this seems quite strange and confusing, but on closer examination we will see that there is a reasonable and sensible explanation.

Our explanation carries us back to the late Patristic period.  In the fifth and sixth centuries (during which time the Christian Year, with its Collects, Epistles and Gospels was formulated), Lent did not begin until the Sunday that today we call The First Sunday of Lent.  At that time, this Sunday was called “Quadragesima” for it was about 40 days before Easter (the previous Sundays being named Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesia, for they were roughly 70, 60 and 50 days before Easter). 

Only later was the beginning of Lent put back to the previous Wednesday to make it an exact 40 days (when the Sundays are not counted).  However, when this adjustment was made – the Collect for Quadragesima was not transferred to Ash Wednesday, even though it was understood that Lent (and the Lenten fast) was indeed beginning not on Quadragesima but on Ash Wednesday.  Thus the Collect for the First Sunday in Lent testifies to (and historically belongs to) an earlier period of the catholic Church of which we are a part. 

Practically speaking, what this means is that it behooves us to read ahead (in our prayers) and beginning on Ash Wednesday to bear in mind the doctrine taught in the Collect for the First Sunday in Lent, for though we may not pray these words about fasting until Sunday, we shall begin experiencing the reality of the Lenten fast on Wednesday.

Commentary on the Collect

O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights. As we address the Lord Jesus himself, we celebrate the forty days that he spent for us and for our salvation in the wilderness.[1] He who was without sin was tempted and tested for us who are with sin. He fasted so that his spirit was free to be in full communion with his Father, so that as the new Israel and the new Adam he could truly represent us and save us.  What Israel and the world had failed to do – to resist and overcome the Devil’s temptation – he actually did, and he did it for us.

Give us grace to use such abstinence.  In contrast to Jesus the sinless one, each Lent we sinners fast in union with him, seeking to subdue the power of our sinful human nature and to make space and freedom for the work of the Holy Ghost within us, that we may rightly see into our sinful hearts, confess our sins and serve the Lord with a clear conscience and in holiness of life.

Fasting can be a good work acceptable to God and can become a means of grace and of communion with our Lord. Only those who are very old, sick, with child or feeding a child, can truly excuse themselves from making this offering of fasting to the Lord Jesus, when the Church asks for it.  That being said, because today is the celebration of the Lord's resurrection, we are not required to fast from dawn to dusk.  However, to keep the discipline of Lent intact and on-going we would be wise to allow ourselves only a minimal relief from the rigors of the fasting and abstinence of the forty days.  If we take maximum relief, then to get back into genuine fasting and abstinence will be difficult.

That, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness. This portion of the Collect is the Aspiration, and it expresses the purpose for which we are making the Petition. We pray for the grace to keep a holy fast so that through this discipline of the body we might be more perfectly submitted to the Spirit, in all righteousness and true holiness.

Today’s Gospel text describes Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  His testing took the form of temptations thrown at him by the enemy of our souls, that fallen angel, Satan – the devil.  These temptations presumed that he is the Messiah and the Son of the Father and they offered him short-cuts and easy ways to accomplish his vocation as the Messiah of Israel and Saviour of the world.  The answers that Jesus gave to these temptations stand as words of grace from his lips to us, his brethren who are the adopted children of God his Father.

"Man shall not live by bread alone" is a message that in a consumer society does not easily penetrate to the inner ear! We think, live and pray as if only material things counted.  We must repent of this, though it will not be easy.  We shall, by God’s grace, be better able to hear this word if we fast and pray in union with the Lord Jesus.

"Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" is a message that in a society where holy order and reverence are discounted also falls on deaf ears. We live and even pray as if we have the right to manipulate God to fit into our pre-conceived ideas of what he should be and do. Of this we also need to repent this Lent. And we shall better hear this word if we fast and pray in union with the Lord Jesus.

"Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." Here is the positive word and the heavenly command heard most clearly when we fast and pray. We are created to enjoy God and to glorify him forever. In public worship, in private devotion, by our daily vocations, and by the quality of our lives we are called to worship and serve the blessed, holy and undivided Trinity of the Father and his only begotten Son and the Holy Ghost. Only in so doing shall we be fulfilled as creatures with hearts, minds, wills and bodies.

To thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.  Our fasting is not only in imitation of Christ, but it is also for the honour and glory of Christ.  Just as fasting was used by our Lord, the man without sin, it ought to be used by us, as people of sin, as we live in union with him by the secret work of the Holy Ghost.

This Collect describes inward fasting unto holiness of which bodily abstinence should be the outward and visible sign. Let us pray this Collect for the whole of Lent in order to be daily reminded that inward fasting led by the Holy Ghost is what fasting is all about.

© J. S. S. Patterson & Peter Toon

 


[1] “As to the Collect’s being addressed to our Lord, we may here usefully recapitulate what has been previously said on this point.  One reason why Collects were very rarely addressed to the Son of God probably was, that the Office of the Holy Communion, of which the Collect was a main feature, is a commemoration of the Sacrifice of Christ, and a representation of that Sacrifice in the Church on earth.  Now the Sacrifice of Christ was offered to the Father through and by the Son; and, therefore, as the Office has the sacrificial though everywhere pervading it, the nature and regular order of things is that all the prayers used in it should be addressed to the Father through the Son.  This Collect for the First Sunday in Lent forms an exception to the general rule, perhaps in order that we may distinctly recognize this same tempted, hungering Jesus, while exhibiting all the infirmities of our flesh, as being nevertheless the eternal Son of God, a glorious truth revealed from heaven at the Baptism of Christ.”  Gouldburn, 134.

Thursday
Feb072013

Ash Wednesday 2013

 

Ash Wednesday is a day on which all Christians should be present in church.  

  

Services at St. Marks:  Holy Communion (with the Imposition of Ashes) will be said at 8 am (said, in the chapel)  and 7 pm. (with choir, in the church).  

 

Ash Wednesday is defined the prayerbook as a Fast day and marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a forty day period especially set aside for careful personal reflection, confession and repentance.  It is a season in which we remember the passion of Christ (His sufferings) and meditate upon the oft ignored reality of our own mortality.  

 

It is a time of self denial and of self examination, a time to seek to understand (and enter into) the sufferings of our Lord in a deeper manner.  Lent is a time to slow down and consider with focused attention those things which we tend to conveniently ignore.  It is a season in which we look to this life as a means of further preparing for the life to come.  

 

Q.  What is the meaning of putting ashes on one’s forehead?

 

A.  We use ashes because in the Bible ashes are often indicators of mourning and repentance (1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:20, 13:19, 15:32), making the imposition of ashes a deeply symbolic gesture.  The priest applies the ashes to your forehand in the sign of the cross, saying “Remember, O man, that thou are dust and to dust thou shalt return.”  Thus we are reminded of the consequences of Adam’s fall (i.e. our mortality, see Genesis 3:19) and of the words spoken at a funeral (“Ashes to ashes; dust to dust”).  The sign of the cross is made on our foreheads because in the Bible to be marked on the forehead is symbolic of ownership (Ezekiel 9:4-6; Revelation 7:3, 9:4, 14:1).  Having been redeemed by God, we belong to God – He has marked us as His own.