Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday

Revised and updated from the Archives....

I always enjoy Palm Sunday greatly as the opening of my favorite time of the liturgical year: Holy Week. During this week, I try to focus on Jesus' final teachings to His disciples, on His humility in washing the disciples' feet, on His institution of the Lord's Supper during Passover, on His agony in Gethsemane, on His trial before the authorities, on His suffering as He was beaten and scourged almost to the point of death, on the brutal mockery He endured for our sakes, upon the sorrow and passion of His crucifixion, and finally on the joy of His miraculous and glorious Resurrection. 

The fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures always strikes me fully during this week--so many details foretold hundreds of years ahead regarding the final week of Jesus' earthly life come true in the New Testament Gospel accounts of this last week of Jesus' earthly life.

In the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, we read first a quotation from the Old Testament:

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet [Zechariah], saying,
Say to the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden" [Zechariah 9:9].
The disciples ... brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and He sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:4-9, ESV).

By the way, the Book of Zechariah was written between 520-518 BC, more than half a millennium before the time of Jesus' earthly life.  

The Collect for the Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:

ALMIGHTY and eternal Father, who in your tender love for humanity, sent your Son Jesus Christ as a man to dwell among us and in mortal flesh to suffer death upon the cross, so that all people might learn true humility; In your mercy, grant that we may follow him in his sufferings and share in his resurrection; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Philippians 2.4-8; 3.9-10; Hebrews 12.3)

In liturgical churches, the palms distributed in Palm Sunday's services are bent and folded into crosses and then saved by being put behind icons or framed pictures of Jesus until the Sunday before the next Ash Wednesday when they are burned and the ashes used to anoint the foreheads of those attending the Ash Wednesday services as a new Lenten season begins. I love how the palms come full circle: the Holy Week from one year coming into the beginning of the next year's Lent. As Benedict states in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, "There's a double meaning in that." 

I missed any sense of liturgy in the Palm Sunday service at Pine Valley Community Church; no one mentioned that it was Palm Sunday. We didn't sing the praise song "Hosanna in the Highest." No palms were seen anywhere. I texted Father Acker of Blessed Trinity to save me some palms that I keep on the shelf above my desk until the next Lent rolls around. In past years at Lake Murray Community Church in La Mesa, our church home for twenty years, we often entered the sanctuary on Palm Sunday to see huge palm fronds strewn along the front of the auditorium, and we always sang several praise songs that include the all-important word for this day: "Hosanna." And frequently one of the pastors or elders read the Triumphal Entry from one of the Gospels.

At Blessed Trinity Anglican Church, which meets on Sundays at the SCAIR Center in downtown El Cajon, they had a Blessing of the Palms as well as a Passion Theater in which various congregants take the parts of narrator, Jesus, and Pilate, and the rest of the congregation will be The People...the People who demanded over and over, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" mere days after welcoming Jesus with enthusiastic cries of "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosannah in the highest!"  

My week will be very busy with Holy Week services: a Messianic Seder with Blessed Trinity Anglican Church at the SCAIR Center in downtown El Cajon on Tuesday evening at 6:30, Maundy Thursday evening services including footwashing also at the SCAIR Center at 6:30, the Good Friday liturgy again with the Blessed Trinity Anglican at the rectory in Alpine at 6:30 in the evening, and the Holy Saturday Vigil, my favorite liturgy of the entire Christian Year, also at the rectory in Alpine a little later in the evening (7:00 PM) so that the rectory is darkened as we bring in the Paschal Light, lighting our candles from the huge beeswax candle with the red Alpha and Omega on the side and with five nails pressed into the beeswax to represent the five wounds of Christ. Then we'll celebrate Resurrection Sunday with services in the front yard of the Pine Valley Community Church parsonage after a community Easter breakfast at the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center across the street from the parsonage. With a new pastor this year, I am hoping for a joyful and exuberant celebration of the Resurrection, preferably with the singing of my favorite Easter hymn, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today."

I wish a blessed Holy Week to you and yours, dear readers. May we all experience the sorrow of Christ's sacrifical death for us and the joy of His glorious Resurrection by which He saved all people, past, present, and future, from all of their sins, past, present, and future.

Following in His footsteps this Holy Week,

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Passion Sunday

Crucifixion with Saints by Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) c. 1441-42
Updated from the Archives...

Today is Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Palm Sunday. Most of us are familiar with Palm Sunday, but what is Passion Sunday? Well, it's the beginning of Passiontide.

But what is Passiontide? 

The Catholic Encylopedia states that the season of Passiontide encompasses the last two weeks of Lent, from Passion Sunday, the fifth Sunday in Lent, to the end of Holy Saturday Vigil. The second week of Passiontide is referred to as Holy Week, which we are far more familiar with than Passiontide itself. During this time, liturgical churches cover all crosses, crucifixes, and images of Christ and His Saints with an unornamented cloth of deep purple or black. There was one year when I did cover all of my icons, crosses, and other Christian images with black cloth, but it's not a practice that I felt was particularly helpful for me.

But I have adopted the above image of the fresco Crucifixion with Saints by my favorite artist, the medieval genius known best by his nickname, Fra Angelico (real name: Guido di Pietro), as the wallpaper on my laptop during Passiontide as a reminder of Christ's human sufferings, which He, the sinless Son of God, bore for our sake.

However, The Catholic Encyclopedia continues, "The crosses are veiled because Christ during this time no longer walked openly among the people, but hid himself. Hence in the papal chapel the veiling formerly took place at the words of the Gospel: 'Jesus autem abscondebat se.' Another reason is added by Durandus, namely that Christ's divinity was hidden when he arrived at the time of His suffering and death. The images of the saints also are covered because it would seem improper for the servants to appear when the Master himself is hidden."

In addition to the veiling of crosses and images, the Gloria Patri is omitted from the liturgy, and fasting is intensified. The focus of prayer is on the sufferings of Christ: upon the humiliations He, the King of Kings, endured on our behalf. The lessons (our daily Scripture readings) focus on His sufferings as well. Passiontide reminds us of the humanity of Christ and the extreme physical as well as spiritual agony that He willingly endured the consequences of every single sin committed by every single person who has ever lived in the past, is now living in the present, and will ever live in the future. This is the "cup" about which He prayed to the Lord, asking His Father if this suffering beyond measure could "pass by" Him, but Jesus concluded His prayer with these amazing words: "Not my will but Yours be done."

The Collect for Passion Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:

ALMIGHTY God, your Son Jesus Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come and entered once for all into the holy places, securing us an eternal redemption; Mercifully look upon your people, so that by your great goodness we may be governed and protected forever, in body and spirit, by the Blood of Christ; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Hebrews 9.11-12; 1 Peter 2.9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5.23.)

May Christ's prayer as well as the Collect for this week resonate within all of us during Passiontide as we prepare our hearts for the sorrows and joys of Holy Week.

"Not my will but Yours be done."

In His grace,

Sunday, March 6, 2016

When Troubles Come....

The Book of Common Prayer 2011

Our family has been going through a very difficult time since early November. I'm not going to get into the details at this point, but let's say that God has given us many lessons on being people of faith and prayer over the last several months.

God has given me great solace in my devotionals, namely The Book of Common Prayer 2011 and The Divine Hours trilogy by Phyllis Tickle which is partially based on The Book of Common Prayer. The beauty of both books is that Scripture is laid out to be prayed several times per day. I pray Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline from the BCP 2011, and then I pray the Morning Office, the Midday Office, and the Vespers Office from The Divine Hours. In addition, I'm also praying my way through the classic My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

So around 9:00 A.M., I read and meditate on the day's reading from My Utmost for His Highest, pray The Morning Office from The Divine Hours, and then pray through the morning's selection from the Psalter in the BCP 2011 which is in the English Standard Version (ESV) translation of the Scriptures. Later in the morning, I'll pray Morning Prayer with Benjamin as part of our "Opening" for starting our day of home education which includes reading the Old Testament and New Testament readings for Morning Prayer as indicated in the Lectionary of the BCP 2011.

As lunch begins around 12:30 PM, I pray the Midday Office from The Divine Hours as well as pray through my prayer list on my Prayer Popper Android app.

And before bed, I pray through the Vespers Office from The Divine Hours and then the evening daily portion of the BCP 2011 Psalter, plus both Evening Prayer and Compline, also from the BCP 2011. And the Vespers Office often contains a hymn in place of the Scripture readings that are usually included in the Morning Office and Midday Office. And these Scriptures from The Divine Hours have been really speaking directly to my heart.

Earlier this week, I came across this Concluding Prayer of the Church from Wednesday's Midday Office in The Divine Hours:

O Lord my God, to you and your service I devote myself, body, soul, and spirit. Fill my memory with the record of your mighty works; enlighten my understanding with the light of your Holy Spirit; and may all the desires of my heart and will center in what you would have me to do. Make me an instrument of your salvation for the people entrusted to my care, and let me by my life and speaking set forth your true and living Word. Be always with me in carrying out the duties of my salvation; in praises heighten my love and gratitude; in speaking of You give me readiness of thought and expression; and grant that, by the clearness and brightness of your holy Word, all the world may be drawn to your blessed kingdom. All this I ask for the sake of your Son my Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime, page 160)

And that same evening, Wednesday, in The Vespers Office, I came across this hymn:

Oh, Love, How Deep
Attributed to Thomas a Kempis

Oh, love, how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortal’s sake!

He sent no angel to our race,
Of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame,
And to this world himself he came.

For us baptized, for us he bore
His holy fast and hungered sore;
For us temptation sharp he knew;
For us the tempter over threw.

For us he prayed; for us he taught;
For us his daily works he wrought,
By words and signs and actions thus
Still seeking not himself but us.

For us by wickedness betrayed,
For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death;
For us he gave his dying breath.

For us he rose from death again;
For us he went on high to reign;
For us he sent his Spirit here
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

All glory to our Lord and God
For love so deep, so high, so broad;
The Trinity whom we adore
Forever and forevermore.

~Latin, 15th Century

So it is with God's Word, prayer, hymns filling us "Up to the brim, and even above the brimwith Scriptural truths, and the prayers of His beloved people who encourage us when another setback strikes and celebrate with us when all seems (temporarily, at least,) well.

Wishing you all a blessed Lord's Day,


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