Category: Anglican Moments

Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

John, the son of Zebedee, with his brother James, was called from being a fisherman to be a disciple and “fisher of men.” With Peter and James, he became one of the inner group of three disciples whom Jesus chose to be with him at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, at the Transfiguration, and in the garden of Gethsemane.

John and his brother James are recorded in the Gospel as being so hotheaded and impetuous that Jesus nicknamed them “Boanerges.” Which means, “sons of thunder.” They also appear ambitious, in that they sought seats of honor at Jesus’ right and left when he should come into his kingdom; yet they were faithful companions, willing, without knowing the cost, to share the cup Jesus was to drink. When the other disciples responded in anger to the audacity of the brothers in asking for this honor, Jesus explained that in his kingdom leadership and rule takes the form of being a servant to all.

If, as is commonly held, John is to be identified with the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” then he clearly enjoyed a very special relationship with his Master, reclining close to Jesus at the Last Supper, receiving the care of his mother at the cross, and being the first to understand the truth of the empty tomb.

The Acts of the Apostles records John’s presence with Peter on several occasions: the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, before the Sanhedrin, in prison, and on the mission to Samaria to lay hands upon the new converts that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

According to tradition, John later went to Asia Minor and settled at Ephesus. Under the Emperor Domitian, he was exiled to the island of Patmos, where he experienced the visions recounted in the Book of Revelation. Irenaeus, at the end of the second century, liked to recall how Polycarp, in his old age, had talked about the apostle whom he had known while growing up at Ephesus. It is probable that John died there. He alone of the Twelve is said to have lived to extreme old age and to have been spared a martyr’s death. (The Lesser Feast and Fasts, 1997)

 

 

 

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary

There are three feasts in the Church calendar which focus upon St. Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. These feasts are The Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin (Dec. 8), The Feast of the Annunciation of our Lord Jesus Christ (March 25), and The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (May 31). Today, I would like for us to focus upon St. Mary and the important role that she played in Salvation history as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s first Advent. In doing this, we will take all three of the Marian feasts in consideration.

Introduction to the Marian Feasts

“The honor paid to Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, goes back the earliest days of the Church. Two Gospels tell of the manner of Christ’s birth, and the familiar Christmas story testifies to the Church’s conviction that He was born of a virgin. Mary was the person closest to Jesus in His most impressionable years, and the words of the Magnificat, as well as her humble acceptance of the divine will, bear more than an accidental resemblance to the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount.

Later devotion has claimed many things for Mary that cannot be proved from Holy Scripture. What we can believe is that one who stood in so intimate relationship with the incarnate Son of God on earth must, of all the human race, have the place of highest honor in the eternal life of God.” (Source: The Proper for the Lesser Feasts and Fast 1997, p. 328)

The Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“In accordance with the eternal purpose of God, who willed to prepare a most pure habitation for Himself in order to take flesh and dwell among men, Joachim and Anna were prevented from having children for many years. Their barren old age was symbolic of human nature itself, bowed down and dried up under the weight of sin and death, yet they never ceased begging God to take away their reproach. Now when the time of preparation determined by the Lord had been fulfilled, God allowed Joachim and Anna to conceive a daughter. Through the conception of Saint Anna, the barrenness of human nature itself, separated from God by death, has on this day been brought to an end; and by the wondrous birth-giving of her who had remained childless until the age when women can no longer bear fruit, God announced and testified to the more astonishing miracle of the Conception without seed, and of the immaculate coming to birth of Christ within the heart and the womb of the Most Holy Virgin and Mother of God. Even though the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary took place through a miraculous action of God, she was conceived by the union of man and woman in accordance with the laws of our human nature, which has fallen through Adam’s transgression and become subject to sin and corruption (cf. Gen. 3:16). As the chosen Vessel and precious Shrine prepared by God since the beginning of time, she is indeed the most pure and the most perfect of mankind, but even so, she has not been set apart from our common inheritance nor from the consequences of the sin of our first parents. Just as it was fitting that Christ, in order to deliver us from death by his own voluntary death (Heb. 2:14), should by his incarnation be made like to men in all things except sin; so it was meet that His Mother, in whose womb the Word of God would unite with human nature, should be subject to death and corruption like every child of Adam, lest we not be fully included in Salvation and Redemption. The Mother of God has been chosen and preferred among all women, not arbitrarily, but because God foresaw that she would preserve her purity and keep it perfect: conceived and born like all of us, she has been worthy to become the Mother of the Son of God and the mother of us all. So, in her tenderness and compassion, she is able to intercede for us with her Son, that He may have mercy upon us” (excerpt taken from the Synaxarion).

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John the Baptist

John the Baptist

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All three annual cycles for the Sunday readings reserve the Third Sunday of Advent for a narration about John the Baptist. Our principal sources of information about John the Baptist are (1) references to his birth in the first chapter of Luke, (2) references to his preaching and his martyrdom in the Gospels, with a few references in Acts, and (3) references in Josephus to his preaching and martyrdom, references which are consistent with the New Testament ones, but sufficiently different in the details to make direct borrowing unlikely.

According to the Jewish historian Josephus (who wrote after 70 AD), John the Baptist was a Jewish preacher in the time of Pontius Pilate (AD 26-36). He called the people to repentance and to a renewal of their covenant relation with God. He was imprisoned and eventually put to death by Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great, who was king when Jesus was born) for denouncing Herod’s marriage to Herodias, the wife of his still-living brother Philip. In order to marry Herodias, Herod divorced his first wife, the daughter of King Aretas of Damascus, who subsequently made war on Herod, a war which, Josephus tells us, was regarded by devout Jews as a punishment for Herod’s murder of the prophet John.

In the Book of Acts, we find sermons about Jesus which mention His Baptism by John as the beginning of His public ministry (see Acts 10:37; 11:16; 13:24). We also find accounts (see Acts 18:24; 19:3) of devout men in Greece who had received the baptism of John, and who gladly received the full message of the Gospel of Christ when it was told them.

Luke begins his Gospel by describing an aged, devout, childless couple, the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. As Zechariah is serving in the Temple, he sees the angel Gabriel, who tells him that he and his wife will have a son who will be a great prophet, and will go before the Lord “like Elijah.” (The Jewish tradition had been that Elijah would herald the coming of the Messiah = Christ = Anointed = Chosen of God.) Zechariah went home, and his wife conceived. About six months later, Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, a kinswoman of Elizabeth, and told her that she was about to bear a son who would be called Son of the Most High, a king whose kingdom would never end. Thus Elizabeth gave birth to John, and Mary gave birth six months later to Jesus.

After describing the birth of John, Luke says that he grew, and “was in the wilderness until the day of his showing to Israel.” The people of the Qumran settlement, which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, sometime use the term “living in the wilderness” to refer to residing in their community at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Accordingly, it has been suggested that John spent some of his early years being educated at Qumran.

All of the gospels tell us that John preached and baptized beside the Jordan river, in the wilderness of Judea. He called on his hearers to repent of their sins, be baptized, amend their lives, and prepare for the coming of the Kingship of God. He spoke of one greater follow Jesus. Some of John’s followers resented this, but he told them: “This is as it should be. My mission is to proclaim the Christ. The groomsman, the bridegroom’s friend, who makes the wedding arrangements for the bridegroom, is not jealous of the bridegroom. No more am I of Jesus. He must increase, and I must decrease.” (John 3:22-30).

John continued to preach, reproving sin and calling on everyone to repent. King Herod Antipas had divorced his wife and taken Herodias, the wife of his (still living) brother Philip. John rebuked him for this, and Herod, under pressure from Herodias, had John arrested, and eventually beheaded. (source: “Birth of John the Baptist” by James Kiefer from the website Saints and Commemorations of the Episcopal Church).

 

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

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The real St. Nicholas was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ word to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals – murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. He died December 6, A.D. 343, in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, the anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day.

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.

Why celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas?

  • To tell the story of a Christian, whose model life inspires compassion and charity
  • To reveal the true identity of Santa Claus and Father Christmas
  • To focus on giving more than on receiving
  • To emphasize small treats and family fun
  • To provide a bit of special festivity early in the waiting weeks of Advent
  • To explain the spiritual dimension of gift giving
  • To help keep Jesus the center of Christmas
  • Saint Nicholas loved children and cared for the needy. He brings the love of Christ and the healing of Jesus. We honor this saint by following his example of selflessness.
The Offertory and Giving

The Offertory and Giving

thohhwfk3lOne of the great controversies of our time is whether or not liturgy is necessary for true worship. We Anglicans, of course, answer the question with a devout yes. But even our most ardent opponents retain certain elements of liturgy, most especially the offertory.

All across the world today, in almost every church, offering bags, bowls, baskets, and plates will be passed through the aisles as people  lay in their money. Why is this the element of liturgy that survives across the denominational lines?

You might answer the question with a crass response such as. “money make the world go around- even for the church.” Or, “Someone has got to pay the preacher.” But these kinds of answers have no connection with the intent of the offertory.

The offertory is an essential sacrifice to God. Let us examine the liturgical action of the offertory. Yes, we do collect alms- which are monies offered to the Lord. We also collect oblations, which are offerings to God. The most significant of the oblations we collect is wine and bread for the Eucharist. On occasions we might also receive candlesticks for the altar, or canned food for distribution to the poor, or a new rosary for prayer. These are also offerings given to God.

And they really are essential because they really are the bits and pieces of ourselves; and therefore, are a gifting of ourselves to God. Our money is a material form of our time and that is a most basic measurement of our life. Our oblations are the things we could use for ourselves, to decorate or elaborate our lives, but instead we offer these things to God for his glory and his use.

Understanding the offertory as our sacrifice to God of “our life and labor” brings both guilt and joy. We begin to feel the guilt of knowing how often we withhold what is precious from God. But we also know the joy of the goodness of giving freely to the God who “is worthy.”

So when the plates head down your aisle today, do not think to yourself the unworthy and crass thoughts. But search your heart to wonder, what offering shall I bring? What sacrifice shall I make to the God who saves me?

Stewardship

Stewardship

stewardship“The Book of Common Prayer teaches us that ‘The Mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ,’ and the ‘the Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.’  The unstated but clear implication of this teaching is that the main work of the Church is involving people in using all that is entrusted to them in carrying out the mission. Said simply, stewardship is the main work of the Church.

Thus, stewardship is more than church support; it is use of “the gifts given to us to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” Therefore, the way we use or do not use resources to further unity and reconciliation in our homes, our communities, and our occupations is our stewardship. Yet, stewardship is not less than church support. Our worshipping, working, praying, and giving within the Church provide the support that we and others need to engage in the often difficult and lonely tasks of proclaiming the good news, loving our neighbors, and striving for justice and peace.

Stewardship is more than a duty: it is a thankful response to God’s graciousness to us. As such, it is an opportunity to praise God with our lives in thanksgiving for: the blessings of creation, the birth, life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our redemption; the gift of the Holy Spirit; and for the Word, Sacraments, and Fellowship that sustain and transform us al the Church. Therefore, stewardship is an adventure, and expedition into the kingdom where we find our lives through losing them for the sake of the Gospel.”

(Written by the Rev. C.W. Taylor )

The Season of Advent

The Season of Advent

candles-bibleToday, I want to look at the themes, mood and liturgy of Advent. First, let’s consider the theme of Advent. Advent is the beginning of the Liturgical Year (the Christian New Year’s Day). “It is a season of spiritual preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ (Christmas) and looks forward to the future reign of Christ. Eschatological expectation rather than personal penitence is the central theme of the season. Advent is a preparation for rather than a celebration of Christmas, so Advent hymns should be sung instead of Christmas carols. The first Sunday of Advent is not the beginning of the Christmas season, The Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve and continues for the next ‘twelve days of Christmas’” (from the United Church of Christ website). “During Advent, we prepare our hearts to ‘receive’ Jesus into the world each year as a light to the nations, at a time when our secular calendar is reaching its darkest period. It is a time of looking forward to Christ’s Second Coming” (from the website Elizabeth and our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church).

Kimberlee Conway Ireton describes the mood of Advent well. She states that each season of the Liturgical Year “has a special emphasis, [in which] I have opportunities to focus on specific areas of spiritual growth as I live out that season, In Advent, for instance, the focus is on waiting – joyfully and expectantly. In this season, I can practice patience and self-control, perhaps by waiting until Christmas to eat a favorite holiday treat of listen to a favorite carol. I learn again about hope, as I look forward with trust that Jesus is coming even when all around me seems dark” (“Redeeming Time” in Christian Reflection, 2010).

This brings us to an examination of the Liturgy and its changes. Remember the purpose of the changes is not just to do something different, but to emphasize the unique themes and mood, of the Season of Advent and to help us more fully immerse ourselves as Christians in those themes and mood.

Altar Flowers: In keeping with Advent’s penitential theme of preparation, there are no flowers on the altar.

Sanctus Bells: The normal Sanctus Bells are replaced during Advent with a single bell.

Liturgical Colors: Our altar hangings and vestments will be blue for this season “Following the tradition of the Sarum Rite (an old English rite), Blue is the color for Advent. During the Middle Ages, when blue was an expensive color to reproduce, purple was often used instead. This is why you still see some churches using purple in Advent. Also, purple was used by churches that followed the Roman rite as opposed to the Sarum Rite. Theologically, however, blue is the proper color for this season, because Blue is the color of the Blessed Virgin, and Advent is all about Mary as we await with her the arrival of the Incarnate God. Blue is the color of hope, expectation, confidence, and anticipation. These are all adjectives which describe the season of Advent” (from the website of St. James Church Richmond, Virginia).

The Opening Acclamation: In keeping with the theme of Advent, we will use a more appropriate acclamation to draw us into worship which will have a theme of expectation and anticipation.

The Decalogue (Ten Commandments): On some Sunday’s during Advent, we will use the Decalogue in place of the Summary of the Law, The Summary of the Law, of course, encompasses all of the Ten Commandments (“Loving God” covers the first 4 Commandments and “Loving Neighbor” cover the last 6 Commandments). Since there is a certain penitential theme in preparing for Christ to return, the use of the Ten Commandments is appropriate for renewing our covenant vows before God in the liturgy.

The Kyrie Eleison: Again in Keeping with the penitential theme of preparation in Advent there are certain omissions in the Eucharistic Liturgy. This is where we find one of those omissions – The Gloria in Excelsis (no glorias or alleluias). In place of the Gloria, we will sing the Kyrie Eleison which better fits with our Advent themes. We will sing the 3-fold Kyrie (each line sung once for a total of 3 lines) versus the 9-fold Kyrie (each line sung three times for a total of 9 lines) which we sing in the Season of Lent.

The Comfortable Words: We will read sentences from St. John and St. Paul which emphasize Jesus’ promise to come again to receive His people unto Himself and that His people can have confidence in His grace and mercy to deliver them in their time of need.

The Faction Anthem: Here we find another omission in the Eucharistic Liturgy in light of the penitential theme of preparation for Christ’s Second Coming. The Alleluias are omitted.

The Blessing: In place of the usual blessing at the end of the Eucharist, the celebrant will use a seasonal blessing for Advent.

Good Friday

Good Friday

John 3.16 Good FridayWhat is Good Friday?

“Good Friday is the English designation of Friday in Holy Week — that is, the Friday on which the Church keeps the anniversary of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. From the earliest times the Christians kept every Friday as a feast day; and the obvious reasons for those usages explain why Easter is the Sunday par excellence, and why the Friday which marks the anniversary of Christ’s death came to be called the Great or the Holy or the Good Friday” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI, 1909). “The Church treats Good Friday as a fast day, which in the Western Church is understood as having only one full meal (but smaller than a regular meal) and two collations (a smaller repast, two of which together do not equal one full meal) and on which the faithful abstain from eating meat” (Wikipedia, article ‘Good Friday’).

Why is Good Friday “Good”?

“This question puzzles not only children, but many adults as well. After all, it isn’t obvious that we should call Good Friday good, since it is the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. How can Good Friday be good when it commemorates the day on which the sins of mankind brought about the death of our Savior? The Baltimore Catechism declares that Good Friday is called good because Christ, by His Death, “showed His great love for man, and purchased for him every blessing.” Good, in this sense, means “holy,” and indeed Good Friday is known as Holy and Great Friday among Eastern Christians, both Catholic and Orthodox. Good Friday is also known as Holy Friday in the Romance languages. Thus the answer given by the Baltimore Catechism seems a good explanation, except for the fact that Good Friday is called good only in English. In its entry on Good Friday, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that: ‘The origin of the term Good is not clear. Some say it is from “God’s Friday” (Gottes Freitag); others maintain that it is from the German Gute Freitag, and not specially English. Sometimes, too, the day was called Long Friday by the Anglo-Saxons; so today in Denmark.’ If Good Friday were called good because English adopted the German phrase, then we would expect Gute Freitag to be the common German name for Good Friday, but it is not. Instead, Germans refer to Good Friday as Karfreitag—that is, Sorrowful or Suffering Friday—in German. So, in the end, the historical origins of why Good Friday is called Good Friday remain unclear, but the theological reason is very likely the one expressed by the Baltimore Catechism: Good Friday is good because the death of Christ, as terrible as it was, led to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, which brought new life to those who believe.” (Article by Scott P. Richert)

Anglican Moments for Holy Week and the Season of Easter: Palms on Palm Sunday

Anglican Moments for Holy Week and the Season of Easter: Palms on Palm Sunday

Christ riding as palms are being thown down In general, the palm is a symbol of victory and triumph. It is associated with the rejoicing that comes with victory. Thus saints, especially martyrs, are often depicted carrying the palm of victory – they have triumphed over sin and won the victory of heaven.

All the Gospels recall the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem before his passion and death. The Gospels tell us that the crowds lined the road welcoming Jesus to the city. And they laid branches from the trees or reeds on the road before Jesus. John recalls, “…they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…” ’(12:13).

“On that Palm Sunday, the Passion Week began. It is ironic, that the journey toward the most intense suffering in history is launched at the moment of greatest accolade. This is always the insidious deception associated at times with human approval. It is often fickle, shallow and insincere. Perhaps the jubilation of Palm Sunday was not insincere. No doubt it was spontaneity without commitment, which usually leads to disaster in this life.

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The Lenten Fast

The Lenten Fast

Fasting is the most well-known of the Lenten disciplines because it is the one that we most often discuss, and the one we most often seem to approach rather trivially. Yet, it is one of the most beneficial of the spiritual disciplines because it teaches us the virtue of self-control as we learn to subjugate our bodies in order to focus on higher things, namely Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. This is the reason that fasting has been from the earliest days of the Church one of the most commonly practiced of the spiritual

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