Archive for the 'Etymology' Category

For Dec. 28, 2014: Holy Name of Jesus

The Reading                                                            Numbers 6:22-27

The book of Numbers, named for the first census of the Israelites after their departure from Egypt, tells their journey from the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula to the land of Moab on the east side of the Jordan. Here the Lord explains how the priests of Aaron are to bless God’s people: by putting God’s name on them.

The Response                                                           Psalm 8

Psalm 8 responds to God’s activity in Creation with wonder and praise. The God whose Word creates (as one of our Eucharistic prayers puts it) “galaxies, suns, the planets in the courses, and this fragile Earth” is the God who bends low to you and me—and the God who calls us to care just as tenderly for Earth and its resources.

The Epistle                                                               Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11 may be a very ancient hymn of the Church. This luminous passage names Jesus as God and human, humbled and then exalted, with the Name to which every knee shall bow as we saints below join in praise with the saints above, world without end.

The Gospel                                                               Luke 2:15-21

As Luke tells it, angels impart the great good news of the birth of the Savior to shepherds, and these rough outsiders hasten to adore him. Eight days later, in accordance with Jewish law (Genesis 17:9-14), the boy is circumcised and given the name Jesus, as the angel had told Mary in Luke 1:31 (and Joseph in Matthew 1:21).

 

Further thoughts

The feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is celebrated on January 1, eight days after Christmas Day; the timing reflects the practice of circumcising and formally naming a baby Jewish boy on the eighth day of his life in accordance with the Torah. This feast day raises some interesting issues in naming and inclusion.

In both tellings of the Annunciation, the angel tells one of the child’s earthly parents to name him Jesus. Matthew 1:21 adds a bit: the angel says, “You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The comment makes sense in Hebrew: the name would be Yeshua, a shortening of Yehoshua, which combines the YHW– element that refers to the Lord with a verb that means ‘deliver, save, rescue’. The name was then rendered into Greek (in which there is no “sh” sound, and the letter y is used solely as a vowel) as Iēsous Ιησουσ, with an –s suffix to make it masculine gender and a long e pronounced as in Spanish. Latin adopted this as Iesus.

As lower-case scripts emerged in Europe, a “swash” form of the letter I, with a curly tail, came into use at the beginning of a word before a vowel, yielding the occasional spelling Jesus. This letter J was not a fully separate letter in English until the 17th century, however, so the first edition of the King James Bible (1611) still spells the name Iesus. By that time, the French shift in pronunciation from “y” to “soft g” before a vowel, in progress as of the beginning of the twelfth century, had become standard in English. All that remained to produce the current pronunciation of Jesus was the Great Vowel Shift that has given English long e the pronunciation it has today.

Jesus has two other titles of interest: Messiah and Christ. We tend to think of Messiah as meaning ‘savior’, but the Aramaic word meshiach, borrowed into Greek and then Roman as messias, means ‘anointed’. It turns out that Christ means the same thing: it comes from Greek khristos ‘anointed one’. Jesus was first called crist (no H, no capitalization) in English no later than 830 AD; speakers of Old English were likelier to call Jesus Hæland ‘savior’ or more literally ‘healer’. Of course, none of those is a name he was given at birth.

Circumcision according to the Torah marks a boy as fully a Jew, a member of the community. It also marks Jesus as fully human and submissive to the Law. The apostle Paul—also a Jew who had been circumcised—concluded that circumcision was not necessary for Gentiles. Instead, what marks a fellow Christian as “ours” is anointing at baptism and at confirmation. The ritual embraces those of us who are not equipped for circumcision as well as all who are not Jews. This shift thus emphasizes the extension of grace through Jesus to all peoples. But what if the shift also stands as a reminder to me to rise to the challenge of being as nearly Christ as I can to all people, seeing each person through Jesus’ eyes and loving each one as “ours”?

For Dec. 25, 2014: Christmas Day (Christmas III)

The Reading                                                           Isaiah 52:7-10

Addressing ruined Jerusalem, the prophet Isaiah shows us the sentinels of Zion singing the good news of the Lord returning to redeem his people—all his people, to the ends of the earth. To the ends of the earth let us also repeat the sounding joy of Christmas, and live into it.

The Response                                                         Psalm 98

Isaiah 52:7-10 celebrates the Lord’s return to Zion and the salvation of God’s people. Psalm 98 resounds in response: the Lord has done astounding things, and the Lord’s victory is so obvious to all the earth that the very rivers and hills cry out for joy.

The Epistle                                                             Hebrews 1:1-12

The letter to the Hebrews, written to the church in Jerusalem, addresses Paul’s fellow Jews. To explain exactly who and what Jesus is, Paul cites Old Testament scriptures the Jews would know well. These scriptures refer to Jesus, the Son of God and the very being of God, who will remain after heaven and earth are gone.

The Gospel                                                              John 1:1-14

The word “gospel” comes from Old English gōd spell ‘good news’. The first fourteen verses of the gospel of John indeed tell good news: beginning at verse 10, “he”—Jesus—is come to help us become children of light, of grace, of truth, of God.

 

Further thoughts

Jim Mathes, the Episcopal bishop of San Diego, reports in his blog that, though he has been a lifelong fan, he has chosen to stop watching football as a witness against the violence of our culture.[1] I think it can also be argued that football epitomizes our human insistence on sorting people tidily into categories that amount to “winners” and “losers”, “good guys” and “bad guys”, “Us” and “Them”. as either winners or losers, and we extend this even in circumstances that don’t seem much like competitions. How readily we disparage losers! How readily we perceive disrespect on the part of others and move to “get our own back”! That this is true of human nature in general is surely an important lesson of the Bible, from the murder of Abel onward. Furthermore, we easily fall into projecting onto God our own eagerness to see winners rewarded, losers punished, and disrespect prosecuted to the fullest extent of the Law.

The lections for Christmas Day suggest that what we project onto God may not represent God very accurately. Psalm 98 celebrates the Lord’s victory, but without identifying a loser, and the psalmist emphasizes that the Lord judges all peoples with equity—that is, with an eye toward the special circumstances of each. Isaiah proclaims the Lord’s return, but what the Lord brings in Isaiah 52:7-10 is not retribution but redemption and comfort. More to the point, Hebrews 1:3 emphasizes that the Son, Jesus, is “the exact imprint of God’s very being”, and, if what God the Son brings us, according to John 1:1-14, is life, light, grace, and truth, it follows that God’s own self is life, light, grace, and truth—and such a God may be not nearly as ready to categorize either my enemies or me as I am myself. Such a God takes on the frail flesh of a baby. Such a God hangs on the cross with arms open to all peoples, to show us that what it takes to break the cycle of retributive violence is, when offered violence in deed or even in word, to refuse to offer violence in response.

That, it seems, is how to live into the call to join Jesus as another-child-of-God of life, light, grace, and truth, it follows that I am called to do as he did in a dark world. How astonishing, and how much the point of Christmas!

 

[1] Mathes, Jim, “Bearing Witness to Our Culture of Violence,” Where SunDays Are Better than Others, Episcopal Diocese of San Diego Web site, 18 December 2014. http://www.edsd.org/where-sundays-are-better-than-others/bearing-witness-to-our-culture-of-violence-fourth-witness/#.VJmQoAAA. Accessed 23 December 2014.

For Sept. 28, 2014: St Michael and All Angels

The Reading            Genesis 28:10-17

The readings for the feast of St Michael and All Angels are full of angels. In Genesis, Jacob the conniver, fleeing from the brother he has fleeced, stops for the night far from what he thinks of as God’s country. Even here, however, and despite his guile, the Lord finds him and has plans for him.

The Response            Psalm 103:19-22

Psalm 103:19-22 calls on all creation to bless the Lord: the angels who do as the Lord orders, the hosts of heaven who minister, all the works of the Lord, and finally the psalmist’s own God-created soul.

The Epistle            Revelation 12:7-12

In Revelation 12:7-12, forces let by the mighty archangel Michael throw Satan and his angels out of heaven. That the infuriated devil is en route is bad news for earth and sea, but his time is short and we are not defenseless.

The Gospel            John 1:47-51

John 1:47-51 alludes to Genesis 28:10-17, the Old Testament reading. Nathanael, unlike Jacob, is no deceiver—in fact, he may be gullible in proclaiming Jesus the Son of God just because Jesus noticed him under the fig tree—but, like Jacob, Nathanael and we will see angels at work bringing heaven to earth, by way of Jesus.

 

Further thoughts

The Bible mentions angels about 270 times, including the mentions in the Michaelmas readings. The Anglican tradition recognizes four named archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel.

Michael (Hebrew mi-cha-’el ‘who (is) like God?’) is named in the book of Daniel; as the warrior angel of Revelation he is the patron of military members and mariners and, since his late-fall feast day coincides with harvest, of grocers. British banks still call the last quarter of the calendar year the Michaelmas quarter.

Gabriel (gabri-’el ‘my strength (is/be) God’) is named in the book of Daniel and in the deuterocanonical book of Enoch. Identified with the angel of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, he is the patron saint of postal workers, broadcasters and other communications workers, the clergy, and stamp collectors.

Raphael (rafa-’el ‘my healer (is/be) God’) appears in the deuterocanonical book of Tobit as the guide and healer of Tobit’s son Tobias, and by tradition he is the angel who stirs the pool of healing waters in John 5:7. He is the patron saint of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lovers, travelers, and nightmares.

Uriel (uri-’el ‘my light (is/be) God’) is named in the deuterocanonical books of Enoch and 2 Esdras, in the latter as the instructor of the prophet Ezra. He is the patron saint of the rite of Confirmation and of poetry.

The word angel is from Greek ἄγγελος or ángelos, which translates the Hebrew word mal’akh ‘messenger or agent’; in biblical times both words refer to either human or heavenly beings. St Jerome’s fourth-century Vulgate Bible first reserves angelus for divine messengers and nuntius or legatus ‘delegate, emissary’ for humans.

In today’s world, evidence of angelic intervention seems rare—but our brothers and sisters at home and abroad cry out for the protection, truth, healing, and light that Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel have represented. What if that means that the angels of the 21st century are you and me?

For June 29, 2014: Proper 8, Year A, St Alban’s Day

The Reading            Jeremiah 28:5-9

As this reading opens, most Jews are captive in Babylon, just as Jeremiah prophesied. The prophet Hananiah gladdens the king by predicting an early end to Babylonian rule and restoration of Israel to Jerusalem. Jeremiah responds to Hananiah skeptically: only if a prophet’s words come true is that prophet sent by the Lord.

The Response            Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18

From verse 37 onward, Psalm 89 laments Israel’s subjugation, for which there is no end in sight. The beginning of the psalm, however, celebrates the eternal love of the Lord for David and Israel. The speaker in verses 3-4 and 19b-26 is the Lord.

The Epistle            Romans 6:12-23

The reading from the letter to the Romans continues the argument against persisting in sin because God keeps giving grace. Putting oneself in service to God for righteousness is the slavery that leads away from death and to both sanctification and eternal life.

The Gospel            Matthew 10:40-42

In the reading from Matthew, Jesus finishes his instructions to the disciples as he sends them out. His words are also for us: whoever welcomes anyone—especially as God’s agents, but not exclusively so—welcomes us and Jesus and the Father; moreover, even the humblest of good deeds by or to the humblest looms large to God.

 

Ponderables

June 29, 2014 is the third Sunday after Pentecost or the thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, which covers the two parts of the church year that fall outside the major seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. On this Sunday we also celebrate the feast of St Alban, our patron saint—a week later than usual, partly because the Rev. Allisyn Thomas is here to celebrate the Eucharist with us in her capacity as Canon to the Ordinary.

Wait: Everyday time? Canon to the commonplace? How can we make sense of these two uses?

The term ordinary time originated in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1970s, as part of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Instead of counting Sundays after Epiphany and then Sundays after Pentecost, Catholics started counting all 33 to 34 Sundays as a unit, starting with the four to nine Sundays after Epiphany and resuming after Pentecost; if Ash Wednesday fell early in the year, readings that were skipped in the shorter Epiphany would shift to the end of Pentecost to round out the church year. In English and most modern European languages, that unit is called ordinary time. In the everyday sense of ordinary, the phrase sounds odd—Eucharists that are boring?—so some sources in English assert that ordinary is a corruption of ordinal, as in ordinal numbers: first Sunday, sixteenth Sunday…) That sounds plausible, except that the original 1970s Latin phrase should be tempus ordinalis, and it isn’t: it’s tempus per annum ‘time through the year’.

Let’s shift for a moment to the other ordinary. Its roots go back much farther, to nearly the beginning of the church. While the source of our English word bishop is the Greek episcopos (literally ‘overseer’), Latin also used a term derived from Latin ordo ‘order or rule’: the ordinarius is ‘the one who keeps order’. In English, that would be ordinary, and the word remains in the vocabulary of church law and common law: a judge ordinary has jurisdiction over a case in his own right, as is to be expected, whereas a judge extraordinary has been specially appointed outside her normal sphere. So the Canon to the Ordinary is the clergyperson who assists in carrying out the customary duties of the bishop, such as visiting St Alban’s for its patronal feast day. We can argue, then, that ordinary time is a matter neither of time that is nothing special nor of weeks in sequence but rather of Sundays that are celebrated not for a special feast or fast but because they are Sundays and therefore worthy in their own right.


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