Friday, October 20, 2017

Praying Christ's Passion


Below is an excellent example of a classic prayer updated and adapted for modern usage. This litany allows for those praying it time to reflect on the events of Christ's Passion so as to foster loving gratitude and a deeper understanding of both Our Lord's humanity and his complete identification with us in our need.

This litany also challenges us to see where we fall short of honoring Christ in his Passion in our thoughts, words, and deeds -- helping to give our Friday devotion more substance and connection with the rest of our lives.

Use of this litany is one way for us to honor the Church's teaching that each Friday is a "little Good Friday," as each Sunday is a "little Easter."

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A Litany of the Passion (contemporary language form)

This litany may be used as a private devotion on Fridays through the year (especially during mid-day), during Lent as part of a Lenten rule of prayer, as devotions on Good Friday or before/after the Stations of the Cross.

God the Father, maker of heaven and earth,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God,
Have mercy on us.

Silence follows each line until the versicle and response.

Jesus, gathering your disciples at the table:
Jesus, washing their feet in humility:
Jesus, offering yourself in bread and wine:
Jesus, going into the garden to pray:
Jesus, whose disciples slept while you grieved:
Jesus, in fear and from a troubled soul, still seeking the Father’s will:
Jesus, whom Judas betrayed with a kiss:

V. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
R. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Jesus, standing before Annas and Caiaphas:
Jesus, spit upon, blindfolded, and struck:
Jesus, against whom false accusations were made:
Jesus, denied three times by Peter:
Jesus, taken before Pilate:
Jesus, rejected for a murderer:
Jesus, exhibited before the crowds:
Jesus, condemned by Pilate:

V. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
R. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Jesus, crowned with thorns:
Jesus, mocked by soldiers:
Jesus, sent out carrying the cross:
Jesus, whose cross Simon was made to carry:
Jesus, whom the women mourned:

V. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
R. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Jesus, nailed to the cross:
Jesus, lifted high upon the cross:
Jesus, praying forgiveness for us all:
Jesus, giving your mother and beloved disciple to each other:
Jesus, granting paradise to the penitent thief:
Jesus, crying out in abandonment:
Jesus, from whose side flowed water and blood:

V. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
R. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Jesus, taken down from the cross:
Jesus, wrapped in a shroud:
Jesus, buried in a borrowed tomb:

V. We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
R. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

From all evil,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From unbelief and hardness of heart,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From any denial of you,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From sloth and sleep when you call us to watch,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all false judgments and untrue accusations,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From acts of cowardice and expediency,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From words that mock and scorn,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From cruelty and disregard of injustice,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all refusal to know our own sins,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all fear to stand by when another suffers,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Hear our prayer, O Lord, and grand that we may die daily to sin and live in righteousness,
Hear our prayer.
That we may take up our cross daily and follow you,
Hear our prayer.
That we may never deny you,
Hear our prayer.
That we may never falsely accuse or violently attack anyone,
Hear our prayer.
That moved to sorrow by your sufferings, we may work for the relief of others,
Hear our prayer.
That we may receive with gratitude the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation,
Hear our prayer.
That having followed the way of the cross in this life, we may come to the joys of your eternal kingdom,
Hear our prayer.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord, remember us when you come into your kingdom, and teach us to pray:

Our Father…deliver us from evil. Amen.

By his cross and passion, + may our Lord Jesus Christ bring us to the joys of paradise. Amen.


- From The St. Augustine’s Prayer Book,
Forward Movement Publications, 2014

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Of burning scrolls and hopeful hearts…

Leaving the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, they went to the court of the king; and they reported all the words to the king. Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary; and Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. Now the king was sitting in his winter apartment (it was the ninth month), and there was a fire burning in the brazier before him. As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a penknife and throw them into the fire in the brazier, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the brazier. Yet neither the king, nor any of his servants who heard all these words, was alarmed, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son and Seraiah son of Azriel and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to arrest the secretary Baruch and the prophet Jeremiah. But the Lord hid them.
(Jeremiah 36:20-26, NRSV)

Every other autumn in the Episcopal Church’s two-year survey of the Holy Scriptures, we make our way through the history of Israel, beginning with the story of Samuel and ending with Judas Maccabaeus. Along the way we encounter Saul's abortive monarchy, David’s extraordinary up-close story of triumph and tragedy, Solomon’s glory and failure, the division of Israel into two kingdoms, the Elijah/Elisha cycle, good kings (a few) and bad kings (many more), and the eventual collapse of first the northern and then the southern kingdoms. It is a fascinating, moving, and often horrifying story.

Currently, we are reading from the book of the prophet Jeremiah about the last days of the Kingdom of Judah, headed by the feckless Jehoiakim (son of the great-but-too-late King Josiah). After God gave his people’s leaders so many opportunities to repent and return to justice, holiness, and obedience to his revealed will, the sands in the hourglass are about to run out. The promise to David that his line would never lack for an heir (made way back in 2 Samuel 7) is now about to be tested to its limit.

God’s just anger is expressed in Jeremiah’s dictation of a prophesy to his scribe Baruch, who then goes to the Temple and reads it aloud. This prophesy is a “final warning.” Rather like telling a late-stage diabetic to stop drinking sugary sodas, Baruch announces the consequence of the current path taken by the Kingdom of Judah: dismemberment and destruction. The news of this travelled to the palace fast.

On a cold, raw day, the scroll is read to the king and his close advisers.  The heating system is an open fire in a brazier before Jehoiakim. As the prophesy is read, one can imagine the various hearers being filled with many emotions…shock, fear, disgust, anger, doubt. But not Jehoiakim: no, he seems oddly calm. After every few of God’s warnings are read out, the king takes his knife out and cuts a new chunk of parchment for the fire.

Few actions in the annals of history have been more symbolically loaded than this grim BBQ of God’s word. Jehoiakim did what so many leaders (sacred and secular) have done—and continue to do—in the face of God’s judgment: ignore and destroy the evidence, preferring to live in denial of reality, or to believe in the delusion of their own power.

When Jehoiakim starts to burn the scroll, some of those around him know it is a mistake; however much they may resent what it says, they know it has truth in it. Yet, the culture of corruption and dishonesty is rooted too far down for them to act. They keep their cool, they cooperate. The fire consumed each slice of written truth until there was no more.

But, of course, there is always indeed more with God. Jeremiah, now hidden, dictates once more to Baruch the prophesy (and then some!). God’s word is more than words written down; it is truth and indestructibly eternal.

And this is the curious thing about reading this account: we can feel terribly sad as we see, step by step, arrogant, corrupt, and foolish leaders (then and now) make their way to the abyss; yet, we know that even after Babylon takes the city, destroys it, and carts most of the population away, God’s committed promise of love was not broken. Even human folly and cruelty on this scale is not enough to break it.

Eventually, King Cyrus of Persia (called “my anointed” by God!) will release those in Babylon desiring it so they can return to Jerusalem. They will find it a largely empty wreck, but they will begin the process of rebuilding, all the same. Nehemiah and Ezra will urge the people on (in their very different ways), renewing the community in purpose and faithfulness as they overcome one obstacle after another.

Destruction by a new enemy—the Greeks—will be miraculously overcome by a group of zealots who figure out how to beat the enemy at his own game. And, eventually, a country preacher who just happened to be of the lineage of David would come to town and be hailed as king, killed as an outlaw, and then rise again to achieve in humility what was lost by arrogance. Interestingly, a fire burning to keep people warm is mentioned along the way in both stories.

When we read history, we are taking a journey requiring enormous humility on our part—humility in reading, interpreting, and making conclusions. Anyone at Jehoiakim’s “Bonfire of the Prophesies” might have thought the coming end was going to be complete and final, that God had turned his back on his people for good.

This was not the case; rather, the consequences of sin and evil were allowed to be visited upon an unrepentant people…but God’s love and purpose would be waiting for the remnant on the other side of these trials, as it always is.


And it is this knowledge we must bring to our reading of the story of Israel, America, the institutional Church, and our own lives if we are not to join in the old, old story of people trying to master God’s truth by brazier, ballot, or bullet.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A Memorial of the Passion: Praying the Saving Power of Christ


When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all the world to myself.
Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Silence

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray you to set your passion, cross, and death between your judgment and our souls, now and in the hour of our death.  Give mercy and grace to the living; pardon and rest to the dead; to your holy Church peace and concord; and to us sinners everlasting life + and glory; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever.  Amen

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This short prayer form, called a memorial, comes to us from the Holy Week liturgies (especially Good Friday). It is a simple way to keep the cross of Christ before us in all times of need, anxiety, and spiritual oppression. It is also an excellent and easily-memorized form of prayer for use on Fridays, honoring the Episcopal duty to observe Fridays with “special acts of discipline and self-denial” in recalling the crucifixion (BCP, p. 17). In addition to fasting and works of mercy, a form of prayer for Fridays is a key part of this observance.

The prayer at the end of the Memorial is taken from the end of the Good Friday liturgy. It combines intercession for the living and the dead with a petition for our own forgiveness and peace. All of this is based on the fact that Christ’s Passion is the sure and certain sign of God’s love and forgiveness for all people; by contemplating his Passion, we are given the grace to live truly forgiven lives and cooperate with his will.

The time for silence in this prayer may be given to this contemplation, as well as making specific requests to Christ for grace, direction, strength, deliverance, healing, &c. The “+” indicates where to make the sign of the cross as part of this devotion, blessing one’s self with the very sign of God’s forgiving power and assurance. There is nothing “magical” in this, any more than hugging is “magical” when expressing our feelings for a loved-one; this is part of what living a sacramental life means—engaging the total, created self in our response to God.


The Friday observance is yet one more way Anglican spirituality provides practical ways for us to integrate holy living into the daily round of activities—revealing the implicit holiness of the Creation and disclosing the potential of New Life in Christ at every turn in our day and week.

[With gratitude to Forward Movement's St. Augustine's Prayer Book for making this prayer more widely available.]

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

St. Mary's Day & the Song of Mary in the writing of St. Bede the Venerable


Mary proclaims the greatness of the Lord working in her…

Here is a short passage from a commentary on the Gospel according to St. Luke written by St. Bede the Venerable (AD 673-735), focusing especially on the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise following the Visitation (Luke 1:46-55). This canticle is sung or said each night as part of Evening Prayer, and forms one of the central texts not only of our faith, but of our understanding of St. Mary and her mission/role as the Theotokos, or God-bearer.

The Magnificat contains, in miniature, much of the substance of the Gospel. By praying it daily, we keep in close contact with the message of liberation, mercy, and divine compassion that marks authentic Christianity.
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"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior. With these words Mary first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God’s universal favors, bestowed unceasingly on the human race. When a man devotes all his thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, he proclaims God’s greatness. His observance of God’s commands, moreover, shows that he has God’s power and greatness always at heart. 

His spirit rejoices in God his savior and delights in the mere recollection of his creator who gives him hope for eternal salvation. These words are often for all Gods creations, but especially for the Mother of God. She alone was chosen, and she burned with spiritual love for the son she so joyously conceived. Above all other saints, she alone could truly rejoice in Jesus, her savior, for she knew that he who was the source of eternal salvation would be born in time in her body, in one person both her own son and her Lord.

For the Almighty, has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Mary attributes nothing to her own merits. She refers all her greatness to the gift of the one whose essence is power and whose nature is greatness, for he fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him.

She did well to add: and holy is his name, to warn those who heard, and indeed all who would receive his words, that they must believe and call upon his name. For they too could share in everlasting holiness and true salvation according to the words of the prophet: and it will come to pass, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the name she spoke of earlier: and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.


Therefore it is an excellent and fruitful custom of holy Church that we should sing Mary’s hymn at the time of evening prayer. By meditating upon the incarnation, our devotion is kindled, and by remembering the example of God’s Mother, we are encouraged to lead a life of virtue. Such virtues are best achieved in the evening. We are weary after the day’s work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds are ready for contemplation."

Saturday, July 15, 2017

With Pure Affection


O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for Proper 9, 1979 Book of Common Prayer)

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. (Matthew 11:25-26, NRSV)


This Sunday’s collect emphasized the importance of the Summary of the Law by reminding us that we fulfill all of God’s commandments by loving Him and our neighbor. In order that we might do this, the prayer then goes on (in good Reformation order) to pray God’s Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to God “with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection.” It is this last clause I have been thinking about this week.

The concept of purity is not getting much press these days. Whether in the political realm, public discourse, or (alas) in the language of theological conversation, our nation has developed a profound allergy to “freedom from adulteration or contamination; freedom from immorality” as one dictionary defines purity. In our rush to be hip, relevant, and “authentic,” we have chosen to swim in a septic tank of imagery, language, and acceptance of behaviors having nothing to do with the Beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Perhaps this is why sightings of God (and godliness) are a rarity these days.

Clergy are a bad group by which to judge Christians; there is a good reason Medieval paintings of the Last Judgment populate Hell with so many clerics. Yet, even amongst this notoriously worldly and nervous-making lot there has been an extraordinary decrease in even the attempt to show the value and meaning of purity of late. The focus on grittiness, “street-cred,” and relevance has meant a full-scale renunciation of the topic of purity, along with meekness and innocence. These characteristics of Christian faith, as they have often been treated in the past, are seen as weak or hypocritical in our power- and success-obsessed era.

Purity, for the Christian, is not an exterior matter…the mere absence of certain behaviors or traits (such a view is, indeed, a hypocritical form of purity). Rather, it is a freedom from contamination by a rival loyalty, an alternate identity beyond our foundational communion with God the Holy Trinity. Anything…be it currently fashionable or traditionally “accommodated” that supersedes our baptismal promise to make Jesus our Lord and to put our full faith and trust in him is an idol, a contaminant, and must be confronted—sooner or later—in the Christian’s life as completely incompatible with the Kingdom of God.

Such a view of purity is hardly the stuff of milquetoast “spirituality.” A real life of purity is so deeply desirous of seeing God that anything—anything—getting in the way of holiness must be confronted and overcome…by God’s grace and in God’s strength. If we find it hard to imagine casting aside an identity, an opinion, a priority as the elders cast down their crowns before the glassy sea and the Throne of the God (Revelation 4), then we know we have work to do, for nothing but such purity of intention and heart may live in that Kingdom.

Such a view of purity is necessarily a challenge to any era’s easy settlement with sin. As one studies history, it is painful (but essential) to see how every culture, time, and group of people has tried to twist the Gospel to accommodate its own sinful desires…and how this never, ever works. To be “pure in heart” is a way of life always putting one on the margins, in conflict with the powers and systems ruling the day.

It also means knowing how impure and in need of de-contamination we all are. This is one of the great difficulties facing the Church in our country today. With all of the emphasis on various forms of self-salvation through identity and ideology, the general trend has been to reject the teaching found in this week’s Collect that only with God’s grace—and purity—may we truly see clearly both our own need and God’s supplying that need in us. Instead, the focus has gone to building up all sorts of complex language about “internalized” this-and-that, psycho-babble, pseudo- and ersatz-Christian categories ultimately derived not from the Gospel or the catholic faith but from the preoccupations and obsessions of human fancy.

One of the ways to tell the difference between the true and false forms of Christianity has to do with purity…true practice of the Gospel has a deep desire for an abiding (and loving) purity of communion with God. Another way is see where the above passage of the Gospel read this Sunday is operating.

When Jesus thanks the Father for revealing the truth to “infants,” he is pointing to something very important—and easily forgotten—in faith: if it takes an enormous amount of complex language to live and share the Gospel, then it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but some other “gospel” that is being shared. The genuine article has a deep simplicity and a gracious purity about it—a simplicity that invites others in, but does not make compromises on matters of fundamental loyalty or identity. It is gracious, but never permissive; forgiving but not conformed to this world’s standards—always at odds with the prevailing “norms.” It seems to me that much of current Episcopal chatter about the major issues of the day fails these tests. But, much the same could be said about American Christianity in general. We shouldn't be satisfied or complacent about these things, though.

Taken as a whole, this week’s Gospel and Collect suggest to me that we need to get back to the Beatitudes in their fullness—and not focus only on those we like or (mistakenly) find easier or convenient. It is time to question all of this worldly-wise accommodation of the sordid and the vicious in our society found in the Church today. It is time to get back to living out the “pure affection” so central to the Collect’s vision for the Christian life.

The Gospel shoe will pinch us all, of course—challenging all of our individual as well as collective accommodations of sin. Yet, it will also result in a more merciful kind of Christian practice (as opposed to the intensely merciless culture of blame-and-shame found in secular thinking). We will all be reminded of our common need for mercy and forgiveness, and our common call to share Christ’s love rather than human condemnation.

Once I hear more about our need for purity in the Love of Christ, and less about the latest iteration of “what the wise and intelligent among us demand we say and think this year,” I’ll know we are at long last being more faithful to the mind of Christ and less concerned with the spirit of the age.


In the meantime…we pray on.

Note: Part of my reason for writing this reflection has to do with the value of taking time with the Sunday propers (collect and scripture readings for that Sunday). The classical pattern in Anglicanism is to use the collect of the Sunday through the week at daily prayer (excepting Major Feasts, which have their own propers), continuing to reflect on the teaching and practice of the faith found therein. In recent years there has been a tendency for clergy and parishes to study the coming week's lessons in some sort of setting (occasionally as a way for the preacher to get or "float" ideas...hmmm), and then to move on to the following week's propers immediately thereafter. While new ideas can be good, old patterns often exist for a reason. By "premiering" the propers on Sunday, we experience a communal sharing of the experience of hearing the scriptures and praying the collect of the day together. The sermon, ideally, uses the scripture lesson as interpreted by the collect and the other key elements of the faith as an opportunity for exposition, study, and application. Once the entire community has experienced these propers together in the Eucharistic assembly, it is a profitable practice for various groupings and individuals in the parish to study and reflect on what has been shared first as a body.