Friday, November 11, 2016

On Veterans Day and the Feast of St. Martin of Tours

A Prayer for Veterans Day:

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad.  Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The eleventh of November has, for Anglican Christians in the United States and elsewhere, a double meaning. It is a secular day of great solemnity (known formerly as Armistice Day and since the Eisenhower presidency as Veterans Day). It originally marked the day when the First World War ended. That war, perhaps more than any other single thing, gave birth the world we still live in. Veteran's Day is also a recognition of the many forms of cost borne by those who serve in the armed forces, as well as their families and loved-ones.

But November eleventh has another meaning for us: it is the commemoration of St. Martin of Tours (AD 316-397): Roman soldier, Christian convert, monk, and finally bishop. His life was a fascinating story of living on the borderland between the pagan and Christian worlds, as well as taking seriously the implications of the Gospel in day-to-day living—most famously in the legend of the still-unbaptized Martin cutting his cloak in two in order to share with a nearly-naked beggar, who turned out to be Christ in disguise.

Part of Martin’s story was the difficulty of being a soldier and a faithful disciple of Christ. It has never been easy to hold these two things together. For early Christians this was particularly an issue, as the normal practice was to renounce the shedding of blood once one became a follower of Jesus. Tried for cowardice, he volunteered to go to the front unarmed, to die there. The war ended before this could be brought to pass, and Martin left the army to become a monk and eventually a bishop. Interestingly, in the battle with the great heresies of the time, the staunchly-orthodox Martin was a victim (being flogged by the pro-Arian authorities in one city), but refused as bishop to enact any policy of violence against heretics himself. He was truly a man of faith and integrity, seeing the folly of hypocrisy wherever it occurred and holding a consistent faith and practice for himself.

Veterans Day is, for Christians, a day to recognize the tremendous cost of war, the ministry of Christ as the Prince of Peace, and to pray for all those in the military—whose lives are often in danger or hardship, and frequently involved with temptations to commit acts of brutality and carnality. So many bear the scars (physical and emotional) from war and its apparatus; yet, we do want truly good people to be involved in the waging of war, rather than only the most bestial and carnal in the population. On top of this, of course, we pray for peace.

This day (also known as Martinmas) is a day to recall a saint of great faithfulness and compassion who labored under circumstances similar to our own: conflicting claims for loyalty, demands for conformity to earthly power, and the temptation to use violence in the Name of God. His witness for a consistent ethic of orthodox faith and personal practice of the Gospel is the essential mark of a true Christian. There can be no authentic Christianity without both—something that needs underscoring in our partisan era.

May we who share with Holy Martin the name of Christian, take courage from his witness and share with him life eternal in his Savior--and ours!

The Collect for the Feast of St. Martin of Tours

 Lord God of hosts, you clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Praying for the Dead: The De Profundis

Below are prayers for the dead from the new St. Augustine’s Prayer Book (published by Forward Movement and available here or here). These prayers may be offered at the close of day (traditionally at around 9 PM), or said at other times such as on All Souls’ Day (11/2), after the Eucharist, and especially in times of mourning and before the Burial Liturgy. 

Prayer for those who died is part of the Church's affirmation of the communion of saints. It is also part of the Church's healing ministry, in that through commending the souls of the faithful to God, we are being given grace to understanding more deeply the power of Christ's passion, death, resurrection, and ascension to unite all creation to God the Father in love and peace. 

Our prayers do not "make" anything happen; they connect us directly to what God is already doing, has done, and will do in Christ Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who calls forth our prayer and gives us true communion with God, we participate in the promise of salvation and in its first fruits already made known in Christ.

These prayers take their name from the first two words in Latin of Psalm 130, a psalm long associated with the sick, those in peril and extreme need, or the dead.

130   De profundis

1       Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; *
     let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2       If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
     O Lord, who could stand?

3       For there is forgiveness with you; *
     therefore you shall be feared.

4       I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
     in his word is my hope.

5       My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
     more than watchmen for the morning.

6       O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
     for with the Lord there is mercy;

7       With him there is plenteous redemption, *
     and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

V. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord.
R. And let light perpetual shine upon them.

Our Father &c.

V. And lead us not into temptation.
R. But deliver us from evil.
V. From the gates of hell:
R. Deliver their souls, O Lord.
V. May they + rest in peace.
R. Amen.
V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto thee.

Set free from every bond, O Lord, the soul(s) of thy servant(s) N.[N.], that in the glory of the resurrection, he may be raised up amid thy saints and elect unto newness of life. Amen.

Lord Jesus, whose loving heart was ever touched by the sorrows of others, have mercy upon the souls of the faithful departed, and grant them a place of refreshment, light, and peace whence pain and sorrow and sighing are driven away; and in thy goodness and mercy pardon every sin committed by them in thought, word, and deed; thou who art the resurrection and the life, and who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.

- or -

Almighty and eternal God, to whom there is never any prayer made without hope of mercy, be merciful to the souls of thy servants being departed from this world in the confession of thy Name that they may be welcomed into the company of the saints, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

V. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord.
R. And let light perpetual shine upon them.
V. From the gates of hell:
R. Deliver their souls, O Lord.
V. I trust to see the goodness of the Lord
R. In the land of the living.
V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto thee.

O Lord Jesus Christ, our shepherd and guide, grant us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil, lacking nothing, and accompanied by thee, who thyself hast passed that way and made it light and who now livest and reignest in glory everlasting. Amen.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Named & Thus Known: The Apostles Simon and Jude

The Collect for the Feast of Sts. Simon & Jude, Apostles

O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This Holy Day commemorates two of the Apostles about whom we know the least. One of the most trustworthysites on the Web with regard to the Episcopal Calendar has an extensive entry on these Apostles, trying to clarify their identity and history from available sources (including a very good section on what “praying to the saints” means and what it—theologically—cannot mean).

For this writer, however, one of the most important meanings about this Feast Day is the fact that Simon and Jude, though largely mysterious figures, are remembered because they are named in the list of Apostles to be found in the New Testament.

Being named in the Judeo-Christian tradition means being known. Running throughout the Sacred Scriptures from the naming of Adam and Eve in Genesis through the new names we all told we will all receive in Revelation, it is clear that being named means having a relationship with God and each other—a relationship that is not erased by lack of biographical detail.

Though Simon and Jude are little known in terms of deeds or achievements, they were chosen by Christ, recorded as his servants, and thus are known to God and his Church forever. In an era where the focus is almost exclusively on “deliverables,” “metrics,” or output, it is very important to know that one can be accounted a saint of God without having a lengthy list of achievements to show for it. The important thing is that they followed Christ—imperfectly but faithfully, there being an important difference between these two things. Our baptism into Christ’s body is our naming, our being known to God forever, and we should rejoice in this more than we do.

The collect for this day asks God that we may with ardent (a word literally meaning glowing or with fire) devotion make known the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. In our own day, it is precisely this love and mercy which needs attention: A love that is not permissiveness but fidelity to Christ’s example of self-giving care, and a mercy that is not indifference to justice but a deep appraisal of the true worth and need of each person.

If we can apply this collect’s concern to our daily life and relationships in just one concrete way, then we are joining these two holy-but-largely-unknown Apostles in their ministry, and by God’s mercy, will join them in their heavenly reward, where we will all be recognized as the unique and unrepeatable children of God we are: named and thus known to our Lord forever.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Praying for the Dead: A Devotion for Saturdays and Beyond...

As each Friday recalls Christ’s death upon the holy cross, and each Sunday is a direct participation in his resurrection, so Saturday recalls Our Lord’s burial in the holy sepulcher and his descent to the dead. On this day, we turn to Christ's sharing in death and his rescuing souls lost in death. Thus, it has long been a custom for Christians to remember and pray for those who have died, with a particular remembrance on Saturdays.

Praying for the dead is a perfectly natural practice for Christians and goes back to the early Church’s normative worship life. It is an affirmation that we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), and shares in Jesus’ words about the dead being alive before God (Luke 20:38). It is also is a direct participation in the triumph of Christ over death, by which the living and the dead are shown to be members of the same Body (the Church) in heaven and earth. Like the photos we display of cherished loved ones who have died, our prayers for the dead in Christ reaffirm that death has no final power over us now. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Prayer for the dead, which is enjoined by the Episcopal Church in its public worship, is not only a matter of doctrine; it is also an important part of the pastoral life and ministry of the Church’s members. Prayer, by its very nature, connects us to God and each other. Just as the Church on earth prays for its members “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” so the Church in heaven is still accessible to us through the unique high priestly work of our Lord. Such prayer provides succor, strength, assurance, and communion.

It can also be an important part of how we allow God to heal our broken relationships that could not find peace before death. I have often found, personally and pastorally, that recognizing Christ’s salvific power through the Communion of Saints (and sinners, let us remember) opens us to forgiving others and seeking forgiveness ourselves. While this practice has at times been misused (like everything else in Christian life at one time or another), it remains a vital part of spiritual healing and reconciliation in the Body.

There are many resources for the right and healing practice of prayer for those who have died. The Book of Common Prayer provides several. One is an adaptation of the Litany at the Time of Death (BCP p. 462 and following). This litany, along with prayers from the Burial Service or other resources (such as The St. Augustine’s Prayer Book published by Forward Movement), offered on a Saturday with the name or names of those you desire to pray for, can be an excellent weekly practice. 

May such prayer be a means of healing, affirmation of faith, and personal experience that our God “is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Saturday Prayers for the Dead from the Book of Common Prayer

God the Father,
Have mercy on your servant(s).

God the Son,
Have mercy on your servant(s).

God the Holy Spirit,
Have mercy on your servant(s).

Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on your servant(s).

From all evil, from all sin, from all tribulation,
Good Lord, deliver him.

By your holy Incarnation, by your Cross and Passion, by your precious Death and Burial,
Good Lord, deliver him.

By your glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the Coming of the Holy Spirit,
Good Lord, deliver him.

We sinners beseech you to hear us, Lord Christ: That it may please you to deliver the soul of your servant(s) from the power of evil, and from eternal death,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you mercifully to pardon all his sins,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to grant him a place of refreshment and everlasting blessedness,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to give him joy and gladness in your kingdom, with your saints in light,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Jesus, Lamb of God:
Have mercy on him.

Jesus, bearer of our sins:
Have mercy on him.

Jesus, redeemer of the world:
Give him your peace.

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

Our Father, &c.

Let us pray.

Deliver your servant, N., O Sovereign Lord Christ, from all evil, and set him free from every bond; that he may rest with all your saints in the eternal habitations; where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.

Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon him.

+ May his soul, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Blessed in Keeping God’s Word

Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
(Collect for the Feast of the Visitation, BCP)

When we come to the month of August we prepare for one of the great Holy Days of the Church Year—the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin on the fifteenth.

This day commemorates St. Mary’s passing from this life to the next and is called various things by various parts of the Church. Roman Catholic Church call it the Feast of the Assumption, as they teach that on this day the Blessed Virgin was carried up—assumed—into heaven body and soul. The Eastern Orthodox Communion call this day the Dormition of the Theotokos, commemorating when the God-bearer (Theotokos in Greek) “fell asleep” in the Lord. The holy icons for this feast show Christ holding the Blessed Virgin’s swaddled soul new-born into heaven, recalling her holding his tiny swaddled body new-born on earth at the Nativity.

Anglicans put a somewhat different focus on this day. We call it the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, Mother of Our Lord because for us St. Mary's primary identity is found in her unique relationship with her son. At every turn in her witness, she points to Christ; in this, she teaches us how we ourselves are to be living "God-bearers" in the world through our witness.

The Collect for this feast recalls that God took St. Mary “unto himself.” This points both to her calling to be the Mother of the Incarnate One at the Annunciation and in her joining the company of heaven at her passing—emphasizing the special character of Mary as the highest of all the saints with a unique relationship to Christ. Indeed, she receives the highest form of praise for a mortal in our liturgies, always being named first among the saints and having a number of Holy Days throughout the year (Annunciation, Visitation, Purification, &c.).

Yet Anglicanism is also very concerned to show that Our Lady is the model for the life of the Church and a pattern for our own discipleship. The Collect of the Feast of the Visitation (reprinted above) well expresses our approach to The Blessed Virgin: she is praised as the one who bore the Word Incarnate into the world (providing him his human nature), yet she is exalted even more because she kept God’s Word all her life.

When we gather on the Feast of St. Mary, we are praising God for her witness and recounting the wonder of her ministry—the longest and most intimate of all those near Jesus—recorded in Scripture to have stretched from the Annunciation all the way through Pentecost.

We are also gazing upon her as a model, a pattern, a guide for what it means to follow Christ through thick and thin, through joy and sorrow, when we understand and when we do not. After Our Lord, she is the person who most powerfully embodies faithfulness in the New Testament, and we know that we may derive great benefit from joining her in always pointing to Christ by our actions and prayers, thereby “keeping God’s word” along with her. May we be found so at the end of the ages!