Sunday, February 24, 2013

Second in Lent

Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18

Good morning, here now to begin the second full week of Lent.  A season of resolutions for many of us: fish on Fridays, or restraint at the dessert table--sometimes like New Year’s Resolutions, but framed for us in this season at least in part with particularity by the Invitation to a Holy Lent that we hear on Ash Wednesday:  by self-examination and repentance, by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.  

Perhaps for some of us Lent every year a season with a particular pattern of attention, or perhaps we vary our practice and observance from year to year.  But simply to say a word of encouragement, with a prayer that this is a season that will be in all ways spiritually rich and meaningful for you, a time of renewal, re-commitment in our Christian discipleship on this road once again toward the Sunday of Easter.

A stop along the way today.  The reading from Genesis this morning is one of the watershed passages in all the narrative of scripture.  The German Biblical theologians gave us a fun word heilsgeschicte (I love to say that: heilsgeschicte), the holy story, the sacred thread, the divine plot that runs continuously and with direction and intention from the burst of light in creation in the first chapter of Genesis to the great culmination when in the 21st chapter of the Revelation to St. John the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, like a bride coming to meet her bridegroom, and the New Heaven and New Earth that is where we’re all headed.   Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.  He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.

All the different stories--history, biography, theological and philosophical reflection, songs and prayers, poetry, mystic visions—revealed as one story.  All the tangled paths leading to the one destination.  And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” 

 And now this moment as we have heard it again this morning, this strange conversation, a dramatic, almost Shakespearean dialogue.  .  Adam and Eve and Noah and all the rest serving as a kind of prelude and overature.  Now the curtain rises, Act One, Scene One.  God and Abraham.

There is something I try to say at some point in just about every baptism—often at the time of the anointing with aromatic chrism right after the baptism has taken place.  Most of you will have heard me refer to it briefly when I recall the story of the Prophet Samuel as he discovers and anoints David the Son of Jesse, the boy God has revealed to him as Israel’s future king.  And I say that what Samuel said to David in that moment is what we would say to the child or adult being baptized: “God has a great plan for your life.”

Something like that for Abraham here.  God says, I have a plan for you, and for those who come after you, your descendants.  And it’s a big plan.  A plan greater than anything you could possibly imagine.  Not just about your work and household, or about who besides some guy named Eliezar of Damascus,  is going to inherit these tents and herds when you die. That’s only the beginning.  There is so much more. I have a plan for the whole world and for all of history, that is going to begin with you, with you and me together, here and now.  To be revealed in its fullness not now, but in the future.  And so here: Look toward heaven and count the stars; look at all the land stretching between the great rivers.  A new nation and people to spring from you, a holy nation and a holy people.  Nations will stream to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning.  My promise to you, Abraham.  Today.  A promise of good news, that you will be the instrument and vehicle for my blessing, for all nations and peoples.  Let’s shake hands on it.

And then this very strange contract ritual of the ancient Near East.  When we were kids we used to say, “cross my heart and hope to die.”  In the ancient world it was in some places a custom to seal a contract by slaughtering an animal of the herd, cutting it into pieces,  and then to say, “if I break my word, let the same thing that just happened to this animal happen also to me.”  And here in Abram’s vision it is God himself who comes down to seal the promise.  Don’t be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield.  You can trust me.  I promise.

In all the complex unfolding of human history, we might say, in all the cosmic history since the universe was born, this turning point.  God chooses to act not by a thunderbolt of force, but in relationship and in love, making himself vulnerable, in relationship with this one man.  Making himself vulnerable.  Such a strange and beautiful thing for God to do.  Not because he has to, but because he wants to.  Just for love.  By making a promise.  If you will be faithful to me, I will be faithful to you.  As if to say, “my life, my great plan for all the world, is as much in your hands now as your life and your plans are in mine.”

In just a few weeks we’ll have on our church calendar the Feast of the Annunciation, the reminder of the story so beautifully represented in the first panel of the Clara Miller Burd Nativity Window here in what we should call our South Transept.  God speaks first, with a plan and a promise, and then it’s up to her.  That one girl.  It was up to her.  Just as in the story from Genesis it was up to Abraham.  And with the whole universe in the balance, she takes a breath, Mary, and then she answers: Let it be, as you have said.  Let it be.  We have a deal.

Like Abraham.  As if out in the vast distance of this pre-historic expanse, we can see from this place in the desert a procession of patriarchs and kings and prophets all the way, all the way, to the Cross. 

Which is when the promise is fulfilled, when the plan is accomplished.  The gospel genealogies agree, in Luke 3:34 and Matthew 1:2.  Not only agree, but insist with a crucial theological emphasis, that Jesus was himself a descendant of Abraham.  Perhaps better to give that an upper-case “D.”  Or all caps: not “a descendant,” but THE DESCENDANT.  God blessing the world and reconciling the world to himself.  Keeping his promise.  Which is his promise not just to Abraham, but for us.  You and me.  So the words of the Prophet, “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.” 

You can trust me Abraham to be faithful to my word to the very end. 

And to see in this Lent that we also are standing there, in the shadow of the Cross, to inherit the promise so long ago spoken the Abraham.  Part of the scene.  Knowing that we were there, that we are there, as we approach the Holy Table this morning, and as we live and journey through this Lent: stars in the sky, grains of sand along the seashore.  God had us in mind then, has us in mind now.  Put your trust in me—which is his invitation this morning.  Put your trust in me, and I will be faithful to you. 

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

First in Lent

Romans 10: 8-13

Good morning on this First Sunday in Lent, and with continuing prayers that this season is and will be a time of grace and blessing.  As I've said before, the word “Lent” itself in its history evolves from the Old English name for the time of the year when the days begin to “lengthen.”  And so, a new springtime, and an opportunity for growth and renewal. 

There is an invitation that we use in our service of Holy Communion week by week.  The 1979 Book of Common Prayer only slightly edits Archbishop Cranmer’s wonderful 16th century language.  What Cranmer composed for the 1549 Prayer Book --

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God and to his holy church here gathered together in his name, meekly kneeling upon your knees.

Really could be the banner over all our Lenten disciplines and practices.  Repentance.  Love and Charity.  Intention to lead a new life in accordance with God’s will.  Continuing to walk in his way.  It’s a short course in the Christian way.  Six weeks or so as a microcosm of a lifetime.

In his contribution for Ash Wednesday that opened our new Meditation Book Fr. Marchl talks about Lent as a “process.”  That’s probably a good way to think about it.  Encountering our mortality, turning in repentance, receiving grace as God’s free gift in the work of Christ.  The two traditional sentences for the administration of ashes on Ash Wednesday: “Remember O Man that thou art dust; and unto dust shalt thou return.”  And then, “Turn away from your sin, and be faithful to the Gospel.”

It is a process, though I think it’s more than that too—or at least it’s not “only” a process.  An English priest and writer whose work I've been paying attention to over the past few years talks about how we sometimes talk about the long journey of formation in faith over a lifetime, and then sometimes we talk about the kind of spiritual crisis that can produce a sudden and distinctive decision.  A mountain-top moment of clarity and conversion.  But Richardson suggests that we really should see both as congruent with Christian life.  Process and crisis, folded and intertwined in the stories of our lives. Times of stability and slow and steady growth, and times of great leaps.  Turn-around moments.

When you look closely at a dramatic experience of conversion and renewal—the Ethiopian official puzzling over the scriptures when he meets Philip on the Wilderness Road, Paul knocked from his horse on his way to Damascus, Augustine in Rome, John Wesley and his “heart strangely warmed” at the Aldersgate Meeting—you will always see beneath the surface as well a course of preparation, a longer journey.  What is so often a long and winding road, with twists and turns, times of progress and times of falling back or wandering to the side.

And when we would look closely at a story of someone whose faith story is a long journey, a story of quiet life-long immersion in the community of faith, even then, sooner or later there will be there, perhaps quietly, not so dramatic as Paul or Augustine or Wesley, but nonetheless, something in particular: a turning in the way, an awareness of a new opening, the giving and receiving of mercy and love in the person of Jesus.

Richardson writes, “no matter what the process by which people become Christians, or how long it may take, it cannot be regarded as ended until they are essentially brought to this point: to believe the apostolic message that there is a coming judgment of the living and the dead and that the crucified and risen Jesus is the savior from sin of all who believe in him, as testified to by the prophets.”  And that’s of course key to this Lenten microcosm of the Christian way, this procession to Holy Week and Easter.  To have in sight both the first steps of the journey and the destination.

This is my own personal taste and opinion, but for me Martin Luther’s 1515 Preface to the Book of Romans is one of the greatest expressions of Biblical commentary and interpretation.  He begins, talking about Romans, “This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes. “  Almost breaking into a song or hymn.

So to hear Paul this morning in the reading from Romans appointed for this First Lenten Sunday: “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” for “the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”

The heart of the Good News, the banner of Christian proclamation, the generosity of God: There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.  There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.

If the first great act in the gospel drama is centered in the formal doctrine of the Incarnation, with the Bethlehem Manger at center stage, the curtain then rises for a second act, as the doctrine of the Atonement brings the story to its fulfillment at the Cross.  And I hope we would each of us hear this as a personal invitation this morning.  As Luther says, news that is "the daily bread of the soul."

All along the way first pointed by the carols of Christmas morning:

Good Christian men rejoice with heart and soul and voice; now ye need not fear the grave: Jesus Christ was born to save!  Calls you one and calls you all to gain his everlasting hall.  Christ was born to save!  Christ was born to save!

There are many things to know about Jesus, of course, and many ways to come to know him.  Who he was; why he came.  It is the work of a lifetime.  But here at the starting line of Lent, and at the foundation of whatever we would begin to build in our world, in our church, in our homes, in the secrets of our hearts, we would know him as our Savior.  

We would give thanks for what he has given of himself, to the very end, even for us.  Even for us.  Our worship this morning.  The words on our lips as we sing.  The prayer in our hearts of thanksgiving, as we come to the Table to remember his life and his death and his resurrection.  We would, each and every one of us—this is the take-away: we would, each and every one of us know that we would be lost, and entirely lost, without him.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Last Sunday after the Epiphany: Quinquagesima

Luke 9: 28-36

Good morning, and continuing winter season blessings.  The word “lent” comes to us from the Old English name for the season when the days “lengthen,” and another way of saying “springtime.”  Perhaps doesn't feel quite spring-like yet, certainly as we think about and pray for all those affected by winter storms this weekend.   As we gather here this morning it’s encouraging to know that pitchers and catchers are reporting tomorrow morning at Pirate City in Bradenton, and our long campaign to the October World Series is now officially under way.

On the old church calendar, Quinquagesima, representing 50 days until Easter, more or less.  The Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  As we note in the closing hymn this morning, we set aside our liturgical “alleluias” now for a time, saying the last of them at the dismissal, and the green paraments of this season after the Epiphany will soon to be replaced by the Lenten array.

 In the Old Prayer Book the gospel lesson appointed for this “Sunday next before Lent” was from the 18th chapter of St. Luke, and Jesus and his disciples on the road to Jerusalem meet the blind beggar who Matthew in his parallel account tells us was named Bartimaeus, and who takes his place in the story as someone who is intended to represent every Christian disciple when he  miraculously receives his sight, gives glory to God, and then joins with the other disciples in the procession to the Holy City--and of course then to Holy Week and Good Friday and the Cross. 

In the calendar now this Sunday is more prosaically entitled “the Last Sunday after the Epiphany,” and in each year of our three-year cycle we have a gospel account of the Mount of the Transfiguration.  As we have sung, “O wondrous type, O vision fair!”  This year, Year C in the lectionary, from St. Luke. 

A very dramatic story. Luke tells us in verse 36 that the disciples didn't talk about this event after it happened.  Almost that they couldn't talk about it.  At the time they really didn't have the conceptual framework I suppose to make sense of it.  Just too confusing, too much to take in.  But afterwards, of course—after Good Friday, and Easter, and after Pentecost—their expanded and spirit-filled understanding helped them put things together.

In the Second Letter of Peter, written years later, we get an eyewitness account, in the 1st chapter, and I think it’s interesting and helpful to have this as a context for our own encounter with the story.  Just to hear this, to speak to us this Sunday, and as we turn this major corner on the road from the Manger to the Cross:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.  And we have the prophetic word made more sure.  You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”  And then he goes on to say, “First of all you must understand this,  that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

To say here, this experience reveals the identity of Christ as the fulfillment of Israel’s hope and the confirmation by God himself of the promises of scripture.  The one we have been waiting for.  Jesus flanked by, embraced by Moses and Elijah.  All the Law and the Prophets, God’s word to God’s people, now present, as Majestic Glory.  God’s self-expression.   This is my Son.  Listen to him.

This story, the moral of this story,  is about loyalty, obedience, trust. About paying attention. About letting the word in, allowing the word to be planted in the rich soil of our hearts.  About the confidence we can have in the Lordship of Christ. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.

On Tuesday evening we’ll enjoy Pancakes and Mardi Gras fun, and then on Wednesday we’ll take a deep breath and step back ont the path, up the mountain, seeking his presence.  We have been there before, in the great cycle of the year.  We've heard the story.  God’s Word written for us.  As we have encountered him and known him.  The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.

In the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy: I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

We seek him, as he finds us.  Christ on the mountaintop.  Our companion on the journey, and the end of our journey.  Christ here and now.  We open our minds and hearts, as he reveals himself to us.  The Angel told us who he would be.  Emmanuel: God with us.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Burial Office

Ruth Mitchell Martsolf Cover
March 10, 1917 – December 29, 2012

Grace and peace to you this morning, as we gather to give thanks for the life of Ruth Mitchell Martsolf Cover, Mrs. Paul Harold Cover—and, Jim and Linda, as we offer our prayers for your mom today we would also be in prayer for you and for all your family, that these days would be rich with memories and appreciation, and for us all, that we would be reminded both of the character of Christian life and of the hope we have in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in the passing to greater life we are presented to our Heavenly Father, as we symbolically represent, illuminated by the light of the paschal candle in the lasting victory of Easter.  

As we have discussed and planned this service this morning it has been to have that first and foremost in our minds and our hearts—that this is a service of thanksgiving for Ruth as she lived the fullness of this life in such a rich and wonderful way, and a service of thanksgiving and celebration for the new life and eternal life that Ruth knows and that we as Christian people can know as well in Jesus Christ our Lord.

In my Father’s house are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there ye may be also.

It’s pretty amazing to think about a life of 95 years.  Childhood in the post-war 1920’s, growing to maturity in the years of depression and war.  Marriage, family.  All the richness of the past century.  From Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama.  From the Model T to the Space Station and the Mars Rover.

For me in the not-quite 20 years that I’ve known Ruth what has stood out: her quick mind, her marvelous sense of humor, her wonderful laughter, her creativity, her generosity, her hospitality, her kindness.  Always such a pleasure to be with her.  She contributed so much here at St. Andrew’s.  Just the other day we were talking about the altar frontal and hangings she made for the Memorial Table that we sometimes have used for more informal services of Holy Communion.  The wonderful banners that for so many years hung along the sides of the nave.  And the creative and thoughtful posters, and birthday cards, that she would send even in these later years.

 I know the ones she would send to me almost always had something about baseball.  She just had a lot of fun with that.  And for so many years in dedicated and loyal service with her friends on the Altar Guild.

In my Father’s house are many mansions.  Some contemporary translations give us this word from Jesus in John 14 as “In my Father’s house are many rooms.”  Which I guess makes sense, and which may be truer to the pattern of Greek as it is heard not in 16th century English but at the beginning of the 21stCentury.  But I want to say this morning, as we commend Ruth into the arms of our generous God, as we affirm our bonds in Jesus Christ for this life and the life to come, that there are mansions prepared for her, for us.  Of a grandeur and a glory and an abundance beyond anything we can imagine.  The fullness of sharing with Christ.  As he said, “that where I am, there ye may be also.”

As we express our friendship and sympathy today, acknowledging a Christian life lived carefully and faithfully, may all that be embraced in a spirit of hope and expectation.  That this Paschal Candle of Easter not just be a reminder of a day on the calendar in the springtime, but the condition and reality of our lives, every month of the year, every day of our lives. 

Which is, again, why we light this Paschal Candle, the Candle of Easter, in the service this morning.  As we are born in Christ in baptism, as we live, as we die, and as we are reborn in his image and presence, to live in all fullness in the place, in the mansion, he has prepared for us.

Jim suggested the passage from Philippians 4, and it does seem just right, as we would remember and honor Ruth.  “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if  there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise ,think about these things.”  And certainly as we remember and give thanks for Ruth, these Christian virtues shine in a brilliant way.

And it seems just right to me here this morning that we sing together one of Ruth’s favorites, from the Lutheran hymnal: Beautiful Saviour.  A tender reminder of the Father’s deepest benediction and care for us, each of us individually, and as we remember and give thanks for our friend this morning.  May she rest in peace, and rise in glory. 

The words are printed on the insert in the service leaflet.  Let us stand and sing.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany: Sexagesima

 Luke 4: 21-30

Good morning and grace and peace.  Already February, and I suppose I might say the 41st Day of Christmas, just to keep the count going, though yesterday, February 2, Candlemas, Feast of the Purification of St. Mary the Virgin and the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, is usually the day when we stop counting.  Susy and I watched “Groundhog Day” last night in our traditional Pennsylvania commemoration of the holiday . . . . 

We turn at Candlemas to the Pre-Lenten  season, sometimes called the “Gesimas” because of the old Greek titles of the three Sundays before Ash Wednesday, indicating at least symbolically 70,60, and 50 days before Easter –Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima.  Pre-Lent running a little tighter timeframe this year, with an early Easter to come on March 31, last Sunday technically Septuagestima, though you don’t usually mark those Sundays if they fall before Candlemas, and so already today Sexagesima.  Corner turned on the long highway from the Manger to the Cross.  From the sunshine of Christmas morning, now moving into the day, and with High Noon not too far ahead, and already on the horizon. 

In Luke’s gospel as Jean has just read it for us, the continuation of last Sunday’s reading, and here in a sense at the very beginning of the earthly ministry and witness of Jesus, returning to his hometown after gathering his disciples in the villages of the Galilee, his first sermon in his hometown synagogue.  We heard the opening line of that sermon last Sunday, following the reading from Isaiah in which the Prophet looks with joy to the wonderful healing and fulfillment that will come when God’s power is finally revealed to the nations of the world.  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The new day dawns.  Yet from the very beginning things don’t seem to go quite right.

Back in 2009 an Episcopal priest, Dennis Maynard, wrote what has become a very well-known book about conflict, in the field of congregational studies.  A careful study of churches that have been torn apart by conflict between members of the congregation and clergy leadership.   I love the title, “When Sheep Attack.”  A terrifying image (!)

We see something of that here—no, not here, but here in St. Luke-- as the congregation in Nazareth that just a few verses before is so excited to welcome this hometown celebrity, a congregation almost bursting at the seams with pride, is suddenly provoked into a reaction that is so dramatic and violent.  I think something more than even the most harrowing example that Maynard gives in his book.  Jesus literally driven out of the synagogue and to the very edge of a nearby cliff.   Giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “sermon feedback,” they are in what can only be described as a murderous rage.  They’re about to do their worst, all of us holding our breath as we watch the scene unfold.  But then Jesus is somehow almost miraculously able to turn and to walk through the crowd and to make his departure.

Jesus knows what is in their hearts, and as he continues to speak to them with these references to Old Testament stories about God showing favor to outsiders and foreigners the people of Nazareth are reminded of their own sin, their own unfaithfulness, and their own sense of pride and profound denial of the reality of their lives is exposed in stark relief.  And as is our familiar pattern of response, the first thing to do is to kill the messenger.  Who does he think he is, anyway?

Even from the very beginning, this morning.  The 41st Day of Christmas.  And what starts as sunshine and full of hope gives way to shadow, conflict, tension.  The songs of the Angels to the shepherds on the hillsides have only just come to an end, and there are darker sounds, thunder in the distance, and a foreshadowing of the conflict that will bring us from this place directly to the Cross.

One of my favorite movies a few years ago was Superman Returns.  Maybe you remember.  Superman has been away from earth for a number of years, and when he finally comes back to Metropolis he finds that things have changed since his departure.  There’s even some sense among the city’s leaders that maybe the superhero was more trouble than he was worth.  Superman tries to warn people about some brewing danger, but they are in deep denial.  Perhaps just like the congregation of the Nazareth synagogue.  Or like any of us.  And there is a great scene in which Superman is rebuked and rejected with these words from Lois Lane, who tells him, basically, to get lost.  “The world doesn't need a savior,” she says, “and neither do I.”  Again, deep denial. 

But then the story unfolds.  Darkness returns.  Crime and murderous mayhem.  And it turns out, of course, in the end, that a savior is exactly what she and the world do need. 

There is an old saying among preachers, as we see in the first reading from Jeremiah about his call to a prophetic ministry and then most especially as we see it played out with Jesus here in the synagogue.  About the impact of the gospel: “To comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.”

And of course Jesus not simply the preacher here, but also the text itself, God’s sermon, God’s perfect self-expression,  present in our midst.  The Word made flesh.  And as he comes into our presence, there is light in the darkness.  What was hidden, now in plain sight.  No covering things up.  The secrets of our minds and hearts.

St. Benedict says to his flock back in the beginning of the sixth century, in his long section on Christian and monastic humility, “let a man consider that God is always looking at him from heaven, that his actions are everywhere visible to the divine eyes and are constantly being reported to God by the Angels.”

So this is a hard business here, a struggle, and the story of our life: we just don’t really want give it up without a fight.  But then, there is this:  Jesus is going to fight hard for us.  Conflict and persecution.  All the way to Jerusalem, all the way to that Cross, and as the soldiers pound in the nails.  He’s going to fight for us all the way, until the strife is over, the labor done, the victory won.

If it were going to be easy, we wouldn't need to do the hard work we do here.  As my Aunt Bert used to say, I think quoting Jack Benny, actually--as she sailed on into her late 90’s, and with a whole series of health problems: “getting old isn't for sissies.”  Heavy lifting.  To turn.  Laying our dark places out before him again.  

We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.  We have followed too often the devices and desires of our own hearts.  We have offended against thy holy laws.  Miserable offenders.  No health in us.  

Laying it all out for him, emptying ourselves and praying for his mercy, his kindness.  If it were going to be easy we wouldn’t need to follow him up to that cross ourselves, which is what we do in our minds and hearts as we approach this holy table.  If it were going to be easy we would be fine with food and drink that didn't come to us at such a great price.  The most expensive meal we will ever eat.

The 41st day of Christmas now, and there is thunder in the distance.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

On the 40th Day of Christmas


Prayer for the Blessing of Candles

God our Father,
Source of all light,
today you revealed to Simeon
Your light of revelation to the nations.
Bless + these candles and make them holy.
May we who carry them to praise your glory
walk in the path of goodness
and come to the light that shines forever
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech thee that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Feast of the Purification of St. Mary the Virgin

Mary of the Grapes, Pierre Mignard, 1640

Thanksgiving and Prayer to Mary
by St. Augustine of Hippo

O Blessed Virgin Mary, who can worthily give you the just dues of praise and thanksgiving, you who by the wondrous assent of your will rescued a fallen world? What songs of praise can our weak human nature recite in your honor, since it is by your intervention alone that it has found the way to restoration?

Accept, then, such poor thanks as we have to offer here, though they be unequal to your merit; and, receiving our vows, obtain by your prayers the remission of our offenses. Carry our prayers within the sanctuary of the heavenly audience and bring forth the gift of our reconciliation.

Take our offering, grant us our requests, obtain pardon for what we fear, for you are the sole hope of sinners. Holy Mary, help the miserable, strengthen the fainthearted, comfort the sorrowful, pray for your people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all women consecrated to God.

Be ever ready to assist us when we pray and bring back to us the answers to our prayers. Make it your continual care to pray for the people of God, you who, blessed by God, merited to bear the Redeemer of the world who lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.

Groundhog Day