Archive for the 'Luke' Category

For Feb. 1, 2015: Presentation in the Temple

The Reading                                                           Malachi 3:1-4

After the time of the kings, priests (“descendants of Levi”) guide the people, not always well. God’s messenger will purge the impurities spawned by bad guidance—verse 5 names sorcery, adultery, false witness, keeping wages low, and oppressing widows, orphans, and aliens—so the priests’ offerings will once again please God.

The Response                                                        Psalm 24:7-10

Psalm 24 praises God the Creator and victor over the forces of chaos. Verses 7-10 use a call-and-response format to depict the King of glory asserting his right to enter the sanctuary.

The Epistle                                                             Hebrews 2:14-18

Malachi depicts the messenger of the Lord as coming to scour the Temple with fire and fierce cleansing. The epistle to the Hebrews continues the focus on Judaism but paints a different picture: Jesus takes on our flesh and blood so that he can liberate us from the fear that keeps us from God.

The Gospel                                                             Luke 2:22-40

Exodus 13:1-2, 11-13 requires that a firstborn son must be redeemed; Leviticus 12:2-8 dictates the timing and the sacrifice required for his mother’s purification. When Mary and Joseph take 40-day-old Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, they meet Simeon and Anna and hear astonishing prophecies about their little boy’s future.

Further thoughts

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple commemorates the day on which, in observance of the Law, the infant Jesus was presented at the Temple at Jerusalem and his parents made sacrifice for the post-birth purification of his mother after his birth. Leviticus 12:2-8 specifies a lamb or, in case of poverty, a pair of small birds.

The eastern Church was celebrating this as the Hypapante tou kyriou ‘meeting of the Lord’ at least by 385 AD, when the nun Egeria, making pilgrimage from southern Gaul through the Holy Land, wrote of a Presentation procession in Jerusalem that sounds very like modern ones; it was on February 14, since in those days Christ’s birth was celebrated on January 6. Light was always prominent in the commemoration.[1] The feast was a minor one. In early 542 AD, however, as plague ravaged Constantinople, the Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered prayers and fasting, and on the feast of the Presentation, the plague abated.

The Church in Rome took up the practice of lights and procession, though not before the middle of the 7th century; the focus shifted decisively from the meeting with Simeon and Anna to the purification of Mary.[2]. It is not clear when candles were first blessed before the Mass of the Presentation, though the blessing of the Paschal candle itself goes back to the 4th century. Bede writes of a procession and blessing rather like today’s in his De Ratione Temporibus (730). The festum candelarum or festum cereorum ‘feast of candles’ was known on the Continent—evidently churches were spectacularly lit up for the occasion—while a Danish source trace Kyndelmes ‘Candlemas’ to the Latin phrase benedictio candelarum et missa ‘blessing of candles and Mass’. Certainly Candlemas was well enough known by 1014 AD to be used in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to date the death of Sweyn Forkbeard. As the blog A Clerk of Oxford notes,[3] the Christmas season lasted through Candlemas, and Candlemas inspired a number of charming medieval carols.

The practice of Candlemas candle-blessing and procession continued in the early years of the Church of England, but by 1547, under Henry VIII’s successor Edward VI, images (which were felt to be excessively papist) were to be destroyed and only two candles might be allowed on the altar. Candlemas went underground until the Oxford Movement began to encourage a return of higher-church practice. The ceremony of Candlemas remains uncommon among Anglicans but is compelling. We can agree with the conclusion to Aelfric’s homily on the purification of the Virgin:

Wite gehwa eac þæt geset is on cyrclicum þeawum, þæt we sceolon on ðisum dæge beran ure leoht to cyrcan, and lætan hí ðær bletsian: and we sceolon gán siððan mid þam leohte betwux Godes husum, and singan ðone lofsang ðe þærto geset is. Þeah ðe sume men singan ne cunnon, hi beron þeah-hwæðere þæt leoht on heora handum; forðy on ðissum dæge wæs þæt soðe Leoht Crist geboren to þam temple, seðe us alysde fram þystrum, and us gebrincð to þam ecan leohte, seðe leofað and rixað á butan ende. Amen.[4]

In English:

Let it be known to everyone that it is set in churchly practice that we shall on this day bear our lights to church and let them there be blessed; and we shall go then with the lights among God’s houses and song the praise-song that is set. Although some men cannot sing, they can nevertheless carry the lights in their hands: for on this day was the true Light Christ borne to the temple, he who freed us from darkness and brings us to the true light, who lives and reigns forever without end. Amen.

[1] Connell, Martin, Eternity Today, Vol. 1: On the Liturgical Year: On God and Time, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas (New York: Continuum, 2006), 207. Previewed at https://books.google.com/books?id=m9yoAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA205&lpg=PA205&dq=candlemas+origin&source=bl&ots=SmUWBshabO&sig=4cMpqMURNjluvvUGPRcEiy8tbyo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=KaHIVKqpFoanggSalYSICA&ved=0CE0Q6AEwCDgU#v=onepage&q=candlemas%20origin&f=false

[2] Connell, 218-219.

[3] “Tidings, tidings that be true: Sorrow is past and joy doth renew,” A Clerk of Oxford, http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/tidings-tidings-that-be-true-sorrow-is.html. Web. Consulted 30 January 2015.

[4] Wikisource contributors, “The Homilies of the Anglo-Saxon Church/IX,” Wikisource , http://en.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=The_Homilies_of_the_Anglo-Saxon_Church/IX&oldid=3548508 (accessed January 30, 2015).

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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. 21, 2014: 4 Advent, Year B

The Reading                                                              2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

When King David, the mighty but undeniably flawed ancestor of Jesus, takes it into his head to build God a house as grand as David’s own, the prophet Nathan at first tells him to have at it. As 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 tells it, however, God has other plans, including a “house”—a dynasty—for David.

The Response                                                            Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

Psalm 89 dates to the period of Israel’s subjugation by Babylon, but the verses here sing of the Lord’s love for Israel and for David. The Great Sea is the Mediterranean and the River is the Euphrates, in Mesopotamia: this dominion is thus most of the known world. The speaker in verses 3-4 and 19b-26 is the Lord.

The Epistle                                                                  Romans 16:25-27

In the book of Romans, written around 57 AD, Paul sets out the Church’s earliest understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ and of the salvation he brings. Romans 16:25-27 ends the document with a complicated sentence that dedicates the book forms a doxology, or statement of faith.

The Gospel                                                                    Luke 1:26-38

Luke 1:26-38 tells the story of the Annunciation. Mary learns from the angel Gabriel that she has been chosen to bear the son of God who will rule as the heir of David, if she agrees. Mary responds not by strutting and preening and making grand plans—unlike David—but by questioning and listening and at length saying yes.

 

Further thoughts

Whoever said, “Life is what happens while we are making other plans,”[1] the saying resonates for most of us—and it resonates in the readings for the last Sunday in Advent.

King David, having unified Israel and made Jerusalem its capital, receives from King Hiram of Tyre a grand house of cedar (2 Samuel 5:11). While relaxing in it, David gets a terrific idea: the Lord surely needs a house as grand, and David himself plans to build it. That night, however, the word of the Lord comes to Nathan. It is not for David to build the Lord a house. Instead, the Lord is going to make of David and his sons a “house”—a dynasty—that will rule in God’s name forever. As the following history of Israel amply demonstrates, however, the kings who follow all fail, in large ways or small, to carry out God’s plan, and the line seems to die out.

Mary’s plans for her life must have been much simpler: she is going to marry Joseph the carpenter. Then an angel shows up: “Hail, favored one! You can be the mother of a mightier king than David.” Unlike her famous forebear, Mary stops to think and to listen. Not only is the child to be a new David, he will be called the Son of God. Then she says yes, trusting in God to make this work. Mary is rightly honored above all women as the Theotokos or God-carrier. It is good to remember that being favored of God does not mean being spared all trouble: Mary will stand at the foot of the cross and watch her innocent boy die the most horrible of deaths.

And even in that darkness, the Lord is no less with her.

 

[1] http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/05/06/other-plans/

For Nov. 26, 2014: Thanksgiving

The Reading                                                   Deuteronomy 8:7-18

In Deuteronomy, Moses addresses God’s people as they prepare to take over the land of Canaan. Verses 7-10 describe a land in which hard work can be rewarded richly—which means it will be easy to forget that all the good is the gift of God.

The Response                                                Psalm 65

Psalm 65 is a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s activity in the Temple (verses 1-4), in the natural world (verses 5-8), and in supplying plentiful rain for the harvest (verses (9-14). The opening phrase dumiyya tehillah elohim, usually translated “Praise is owing” or “You are to be praised”, can also be rendered “Silence is praise to you.”[i]

The Epistle                                                     2 Corinthians 9:6-15

According to 2 Corinthians 9:1-6, this epistle has been sent ahead so the Christians of Corinth can ready their gift for the Church in Jerusalem (“the saints’) before Paul and a possible Macedonian escort arrive. Verses 6-15 go on to explain how cheerful giving blesses both receiver and giver while glorifying God.

The Gospel                                                      Luke 17:11-19

As Jesus makes his way toward Jerusalem and the last week of his life through the area between Jewish Galilee and non-Jewish Samaria, ten lepers there beg his mercy from a proper distance and he responds with healing. The one who turns back to thank Jesus is the one from Samaria.

Further thoughts

The theme of the Year A lectionary readings for Thanksgiving Day might be “mixed blessings”. As the people of Israel stand on the bank of the Jordan, ready to enter Canaan after the deprivations of life in the wilderness, Moses warns them—and us—not to get cocky enough to think that all the good is of their own getting. The psalm sings glory to God for the grandeur of Creation and for the humbler gift of soil and water for planting and growth—but it begins with confession: “Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out.” The Corinthians get an explanation of why and how to give: the gifts given in thanksgiving for God’s blessings are themselves God’s blessings to the recipient.

The blessing of healing from Jesus may have been very mixed indeed for the Samaritan. “The region between Samaria and Galilee” is the land around the border that divides two peoples, Jewish and mixed-blood Samaritans, who turn their backs on each other. This land between the averted backs serves as a place to which lepers may be banished lest they defile decent people on either side. Ten such outcasts have made something of a community there, and the Samaritan, the double outsider, is accepted as one of them.

Then they cry out to Jesus and are healed. (One wonders how these castoffs knew who it was that walked their no-man’s-land.) The Jews go off, as Jesus and the Law instruct them, to Jerusalem to be judged by the priests as whole, to rustle up somehow the sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus 14 for being declared clean and for atonement a week later, and thus to be readmitted to decent Jewish society. For the Samaritan, however, this isn’t an option: the priests of the Jews will not admit jurisdiction over such as him. He may well fear that the family from which his disease has excluded him will no longer be willing to accommodate him—or that he will no longer be prepared to accommodate to them. Nevertheless, he knows that Jesus has done him, a Samaritan, a stupendously unconventional miracle. He returns to give stupendously unconventional thanks, falling at the feet of the enemy who has just revealed himself as more than a friend. And Jesus’ response hints that the Samaritan’s own openness to miracle and readiness to thank is a factor in his healing.

Surely the result of thankful and thoughtful acts of giving opposes the vicious cycles of the world—in which inequality breeds entitlement breeds oppression breeds inequality and sooner or later despair that boils over in violence—with a virtuous cycle in which thanks foster gifts foster blessing foster thanks and sooner or later love that overflows into the giving and receiving of grace.

What if we’re called to practice thanks as giving and giving as thanks?

[i] Segal, Benjamin A, 17 May 2011, “Psalm 65—Silence Sings from Afar.” A New Psalm: A New Look at Age-Old Wisdom. Web. http://psalms.schechter.edu/2011/05/psalm-65-silence-sings-from-afar-text.html. Consulted 25 November 2014.

For August 3, 2014: Transfiguration

The Reading            Exodus 34:29-35

The reading from Exodus is familiar from the last Sunday after Epiphany. It is, so to speak, the second coming down of the Ten Commandments, Moses having broken the original set on discovering that Israel had taken up idol worship. As Moses returns, his face shines with the glory of God’s presence—and terrifies everyone.

The Response            Psalm 99:5-9

Psalm 99 is a hymn of praise to God. The verses we read for the Feast of the Transfiguration reflect the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness and afterward, with God’s priests Moses, Aaron, and later Samuel calling on him for the people, and God speaking to Israel from the pillar of cloud.

The Epistle            2 Peter 1:13-21

The letters of Peter were probably written in his name and after his death: the author of 2 Peter 1:13-21 writes better Greek than a Galilean fisherman would know. This account is nevertheless a compelling witness to the impact on Peter of seeing his friend revealed as the very Son of God.

The Gospel            Luke 9:28-36

Versions of Jesus’ transfiguration are in all three synoptic gospels. Minor details vary—in Matthew and Mark, Jesus tells the disciples to say nothing, whereas in Luke’s version the disciples keep mum of their own accord—but all agree on the light, the prophets, Peter’s stunned response, and the announcement from heaven.

 

Further thoughts

The readings for the feast of the Transfiguration make much of appearances. The glow that Moses acquires from contact with God—and the apprehension it produces in the Israelites—prefigures the more striking and pervasive alterations in Jesus, with great Moses and Elijah paying court into the bargain, and the greater extent to which they leave Peter and the other disciples (to borrow the evocative British term) gobsmacked.

Interestingly, the book of Exodus doesn’t mention Moses’ skin shining the first time he brings the Ten Commandments to the people. Either his skin wasn’t shining, or it wasn’t obvious, until the second time, after the people have demanded an idol to worship and Aaron has complied and Moses has had his tantrum on God’s behalf. It’s sobering to think that people notice God’s glory when they need it to scare them straight—sobering, and unsettlingly familiar.

The encounter with Jesus plays out differently. Unlike Moses, Jesus seems both aware of and in control of his glory on the mountaintop. Of course, that’s appropriate to God, and of course Peter babbles. But then there is the voice out of the cloud. The voice doesn’t announce itself as God (not that it would have to), nor does it announce that Jesus is supreme, nor does it lay out point after point and law after law that must be obeyed or penalty after penalty that must be paid.

Instead, as 2 Peter remembers it, the voice simply says, “Listen to Jesus, because I love him.”

What if the kingdom of God is listening to each of the children of God—whether or not they recognize themselves as such—because God loves them?

For May 4, 2014: Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

The Reading            Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Peter’s first public proclamation about Jesus, of which we read a part last week, ends with Peter reiterating that Jesus is Lord and Messiah. The book of Acts then gives us the crowd’s reaction—they are “cut to the heart”, or deeply affected, and ask what to do—and Peter’s response.

The Response            Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

Like Christians at Easter, the psalmist in Psalm 116 looks backward and forward. The backward glance is quite appropriately at the travails out of which the Lord has rescued him. The forward glance is a bit more surprising: not to further good things from the Lord but rather to what the psalmist plans to do to say thank you.

The Epistle            1 Peter 1:17-23

The first chapter of the first epistle of Peter instructs us how to live. Instead of trusting in gold and silver—passing signs of wealth in the world, now as in Peter’s time—we are to bank on the blood of the Lamb. Because we are ransomed from our sins by the blood of Christ, we are born again to love one another profoundly.

The Gospel            Luke 24:13-35

Gospel readings in the weeks immediately following Easter tell of the first reactions to Jesus’ resurrection. The reading from Luke relates the story of dejected followers leaving Jerusalem and the stranger they meet who explains the scriptures to them—and turns out to be the risen Jesus.

 

Ponderables

In the 1950s baseball musical Damn Yankees, the seriocomic song “Heart”, sung by members of the perpetually last-place Washington Senators, is an anthem to not giving up even when things look hopeless. “Heart” is a good theme for the time just after Easter. Luke shows us disheartened disciples who are still digesting the horrible reality of Jesus’ death as they plod back, one presumes, to the lives they had left behind to follow him. Then a stranger takes the time to explain to them via scriptures such as Psalm 116 how that grisly death was in God’s plan, along with the resurrection to follow; his kindness gives them the heart at least to extend hospitality—and he turns out to be the risen Jesus himself. The reading from Acts depicts the crowd in Judea, not harassed into rebelliousness by Peter’s words but rather encouraged—given heart—to ask what they can do differently and perhaps even consider why. The letter of Peter lays out both the why and the what: we are ransomed by a treasure greater than any amount of gold or silver, and we are ransomed in order to love each other from the heart as God has loved us.

What might the church be like, and how might God’s Kingdom come on earth, if each of us were to do likewise?

For March 23, 2014: The Annunciation, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 7:10-14

With the kingdom of Judah caught between powerful enemies, King Ahaz seeks an alliance with Assyria in defiance of the promise from God that Isaiah has given him. In a reading that is familiar from Advent and Christmas, the Lord offers to prove that the Lord’s intentions are good—but Ahaz refuses.

The Response            Canticle 15

King Ahaz was asked to trust God for an outcome that looked uncertain, and he declined to do so. A girl named Mary, offered a miracle that will turn her life upside down, says yes. Canticle 15, which we know as the Magnificat, is the song of praise that Mary then sings, and the continuation of the gospel for the Annunciation.

The Epistle            Hebrews 10:4-10

Sacrifices and burnt offerings in the Old Testament are intended to atone for sins. Chapter 10 of the book of Hebrews explains how they cannot work. It is Jesus coming to do the will of God that sanctifies us—and in so doing, Jesus gives us a model to follow.

The Gospel            Luke 1:26-38

Like the Old Testament reading and the psalm, this gospel passage is familiar from Advent. Mary, in contrast to King Ahaz, is appropriately perplexed by the angel; she seeks to understand why the angel greets her as he does; and when he gives her a sign, she accepts it and declares her obedience to God’s will.

 

Ponderables

The readings for the feast of the Annunciation play on themes of understanding, obedience, and sacrifice. Ahaz, raised to be a king, nevertheless misunderstands what is being offered and why; he chooses to disobey when obedience would be relatively easy, and the consequence is that he unwittingly sacrifices the good of the nation to his own desperate need to feel in control. Jesus, uniquely begotten by God, understands exactly what the divine plan for the world is and how it involves him; he continually chooses to obey, even to the point of death; and the consequence is that he deliberately sacrifices his own life and human need to feel in control in order to do God’s will in saving even the least of us. Mary, for her part, is the product of a culture that expects her to marry when and how it demands and does not encourage her questions; she nevertheless thinks about what the angel means and asks how things work; and the consequence is that, though she cannot fully foresee all that is being asked of her, she agrees to the potential sacrifice of her good name in the community in order to become the Theotokos—the bearer of God.

Mary is quite rightly held up as a model of human obedience to the Lord—and she questions and ponders. So what if questions and doubts are in fact integral to belief in God? And what if it is this kind of reasoned, questioning human obedience that prepares the way of the Lord?