Posts Tagged 'St Albans'

For Dec. 15, 2013: A Service of Advent Lessons and Carols

First Reading            Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-25: God creates man and woman to live in obedience to God in the Garden of Eden.

Second Reading            Genesis 3:1-15: Adam and Eve rebel against God and are cast out of the Garden of Eden.

Third Reading            Isaiah 40:1-11: God comforts God’s people and calls on them to prepare for redemption.

Fourth Reading            Jeremiah 31:31-34: A new covenant is promised which will be written in our hearts

Fifth Reading            Zechariah 9:9-10: The humility of Jerusalem’s King is foretold.

Sixth Reading            Haggai 2:6-9: The Lord will restore the splendor of the house of David.

Seventh Reading            Isaiah 65:17-25: God promises a new heaven and a new earth.

Eighth Reading            Luke 1:26-38: The Angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she will bear the Son of the Most High.

The Gospel            John 1:1-14: The Word was made flesh and we have seen his glory.

 

About the Service of Advent Lessons and Carols

The format of this Sunday’s service dates back to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols devised by Edward White Benson, then Bishop of Truro in southern England, for Christmas Eve 1880. In 1918, shortly after the fighting in World War I ended, this order of service was adapted for use at King’s College, Cambridge UK, by the Dean of the college chapel, Eric Milner-White. With the revisions that Milner-White made in 1919, this is the service that is broadcast every year by the BBC.

In 1934, Milner-White devised a similar service for Advent: its purpose, he said, was “not to celebrate Christmas”—as the Christmas Eve service does—“but to expect it.” It is in that spirit that we offer today’s lessons and carols.

The nine short lessons or readings are chosen to show the story of salvation unfolding. God’s creation of humanity in the first reading from Genesis is followed by the fall into disobedience in the second. The remaining readings, except for the last two, come from Israel’s dark time during and after the destruction of the Temple and the deportation to Babylon. Isaiah foresees comfort and return from exile for God’s people, in words that inspired much of the first part of Georg Friedrich Handel’s masterful Messiah; Jeremiah announces the new covenant, not between God and the whole people but between God and each human soul; Zechariah foresees a King who combines the power to end war with the humility to ride a donkey; Haggai foresees the restoration of the house of David and of the temple to which all people will come in worship; Isaiah returns to prophesy a world order of unimaginable peace and harmony under God. The eighth lesson is Luke’s account of the  invitation to Mary to become the mother of God and of her astonished but ultimately obedient response. The ninth lesson, from the beginning of the gospel of John, tells of Jesus as Word, God, Light—and, wonder of wonders, flesh like us.

“For the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.” Thanks be to God!

For June 24, 2012: St Alban’s Day

The Reading            2 Esdras 2:42-48

The books of Esdras or Ezra present themselves as prophecies of the Messiah from far back in Old Testament times, though they were probably composed in Latin several centuries after Jesus died. In any case, Ezra’s vision on Mount Zion is a stirringly mystical account of the honor that awaits in heaven for all who, like our patron Saint Alban, are fully faithful to the Son of God.

The Response            Psalm 34:1-8

The Epistle            1 John 3:13-16

Ezra rapturously described how the Son of God would reward those who are faithful to him. John’s first letter sketches out the path we are to take as followers: the path of loving one another. The letter also reminds us of the cost—whether, like Saint Alban, we lay down our lives all at once or whether we lay them down minute by minute and day by day.

The Gospel            Matthew 10:34-42

 

Further thoughts

Legends about St Alban agree that he lived and died in Verulamium, outside London, two to three centuries after the birth of Christ. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives the death date as 283 AD. The Venerable Bede’s account points to a date around 304 AD, though one modern scholar has proposed 209 AD and some others suggest 251-259 AD; these are times when Roman edicts made Christianity punishable by death.

Tradition says that Alban was British and a soldier in the Roman army. Since Roman legions recruited locally, both may be true, though his living in a house means that he was either an officer or a well-to-do civilian. In any case, somehow Alban took into his home a Christian priest who was on the run. Fascinated by the priest’s piety and testimony, Alban converted to Christianity. As the authorities closed in, Alban changed clothes with the priest so the priest could escape. Alban was haled before the Roman governor, who may have been a son of the emperor Septimius Severus and who was certainly irate to find that the priest had gotten away. Neither threats nor flogging could induce Alban to sacrifice to the Roman gods, whose efficacy he disparaged, so the exasperated governor ordered him beheaded. En route to the execution site, a hill outside Verulamium, the waters of the river Ver parted to let Alban and his executioners cross; at the top of the hill Alban prayed for water and a spring rose up. His executioner then threw down his sword and declared himself also Christian. A substitute executioner beheaded Alban and the first executioner, only to have his eyes fall out.

Alban’s reply when the governor demanded his name—“My parents called me Alban, and I worship and adore the true and living God who made all things”—remains part of prayers at the church that was built over the site of his execution, St Alban’s Cathedral in St Albans, UK.

As England’s first martyr and our patron, St Alban is a hero, and his story is a myth in the fullest and best sense. The word myth is commonly used of something that is entirely untrue.  Among scholars, however, a myth is a story that explains how something in the world came to be and also sheds light on how humans either are or ought to be: it may not be factual, but it is assuredly true. The myths of St Alban vary in details, but all show a man accepting the faith and defending it at the cost of his life. We of the 21st century face few enemies of the Church who can order us executed. We are, however in a world that makes us choose, day by day and sometimes minute by minute, whether we stand with Christ on the side of life or not. Sometimes the choice is big and heroic; more often it is a matter of deciding whether to spend this minute opening doors in love or closing doors in fear. May the love of Christ and the example of St Alban always embolden us to choose love and life for Christ.


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