Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Saints' Day. (November 1)

O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This Collect is to be said daily throughout the Octave.

The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity.

The Collect.

GRANT, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Epistle. Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17 (ESV)

Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

The Gospel. St. Matthew 5:1-11 (ESV)

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

For All the Saints, Who From Their Labors Rest . . .

Tonight is Halloween (All-Hallow's Eve) and also Reformation Day (the observance of Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517, but that's another post for another time -- you can click here if you'd like a little musical tribute) and tomorrow in the Feast of All Saint's. When I was growing up and during my (Presbyterian) seminary education All Saint's Day got short shrift (either totally ignored or subsumed under Reformation Day/or Reformation Sunday). Becoming an Anglican meant that there was a Church Calendar to be learned and that All Saint's Day assumed an increasingly significant role.

Some years ago I listened to a series of talks that the Rev'd Dr. Rod Rosenbladt gave at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, on the subject of fatherhood. In remembering his own father, now deceased, he mentioned that the time at which he is now closest to him is during Holy Communion. The remark was made in passing, almost as an aside, but it stimulated me to think further on the doctrine of the Communion of the Saints. Most Christians confess the Apostles' Creed as a summary of their belief and for those of us who use the Daily Offices we do so twice daily, reciting belief in the "communion of saints," but the extent to which that is driven home to us on a daily basis varies.

The fact of the matter is that there is only one Church, the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Despite the various divisions of it (Eastern/Western, Protestant/Roman Catholic, geographical, chronological) Christ has but one Church. That Church is in communion with one another and even with Him we are truly surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) and in communion with them. When we, as the Church Militant, gather around the table of the Lord we on earth take part in what is going on in Heaven with the Church Triumphant and look forward to that day when we will do so together as one. For that reason, Holy Communion is a time of blessed fellowship with Christ and will all of those who have died in the Lord.

As we worship we can rightly pray to God that we:
bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service, and to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom. -- 1928 Book of Common Prayer
and in that we can rejoice with those whom we've loved who've gone to be with Him!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles. (October 28)

The Collect.

O ALMIGHTY God, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the head corner-stone; Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable unto thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV)

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The Gospel. St. John 15:17-27 (ESV)

These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity.

The Collect.

O ALMIGHTY and most merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things which thou commandest; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. Ephesians 5:15-21 (ESV)

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The Gospel. St. Matthew 22:1-14 (ESV)

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saint Luke the Evangelist.

The Collect.

ALMIGHTY God, who didst inspire thy servant Saint Luke the Physician, to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of thy Son; Manifest in thy Church the like power and love, to the healing of our bodies and our souls; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Collect.

O GOD, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. 2 Timothy 4:5-14 (ESV)

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.

The Gospel. St. Luke 10:1-7a (ESV)

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Remembering Edwin Powers Elliott, Jr.

Among the various experiences that I've had in my life was that of serving as a Correspondent for The Christian Observer from 2004-2006. I had been introduced to that journal while still in seminary and had had various interchanges with sundry members of its editorial staff through the years. When her editor, the Rev'd Dr. Edwin P. Elliott, Jr., called to ask if I would begin covering Anglican news for them, I was flattered and accepted immediately!

The Christian Observer's readership was then, and is now, primarily Presbyterian and Reformed. Edwin had had an abiding interest in Anglicanism through the years having known bishops, clergy, and laity in the Reformed Episcopal Church and having done some editorial work for the REC through the years; he'd also known known the late Dorothy Faber, founder of the Christian Challenge -- which in the years before David Virtue, Kendall Harmon's Titus One Nine, and the good folks at Stand Firm was the Anglican alternative press -- and had continued sharing stories and collaborating with her and later her son-in-law, the Rev'd Lewis Traycik and, following his death, Auburn Faber Traycik (daughter of Dorothy and widow of Lewis). As Edwin put it, Anglicanism was then among the more interesting parts of Christendom (were that we weren't living in such interesting times!) but that the hierarchical structure and lingo could be a bit confusing to his Presbyterian readers (little did he know, it can get confusing for Anglicans as well!) and he hoped that I, as a former Presbyterian, could translate to some extent.

I hope that I was successful in doing so for those two years. I know that I enjoyed it and stepped down only because demands on my time made it difficult to do so for the weekly digests to which I contributed. Along the way some of my writing was reprinted in the Christian Challenge and, curiously, in Faith in Focus , the magazine of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. While my formal association with the Christian Observer ended in the Fall of 2006, our friendship continued. I had developed an interest in the Loyal Orange Institution and discovered shortly before my initiation in 2007 that Edwin was a brother Orangeman. Shortly thereafter, when I was considering petitioning my Masonic Lodge for membership, Edwin, who was serving at the time as Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, was one of a couple of Christian clergymen whose opinions that I respected that I talked to about that decision and he was one of my sponsors. This coming weekend I will, D.V., undertake some of the work in the York Rite, in which Edwin was long active.

Although active in publishing and journalism, Edwin was first and foremost a pastor. He was Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Manassas, Virginia, for many years serving for a time alongside his father, who was also a Presbyterian minister. He was also a key leader in the Reformed Presbyterian Church -- Hanover Presbytery.

The Rev'd Dr. Edwin Powers Elliot, Jr., suffered a major heart attack this past Friday night, 9 October and went nearly an hour before EMS personnel could could resuscitate him. He suffered significant brain damage and was on a ventilator, unable to breathe on his own. This morning his family met with a neurologist who informed them that his brain was swelling and that that would kill him regardless of what was or was not done. Life support was removed after giving his family a chance to say their goodbyes and at 5:11pm he departed this life for the next and exchanged his earthly body for the glories of Heaven where he, and all of the faithful departed, await glorified bodies in the General Resurrection.

May my former editor, friend, fraternal brother and, most importantly, brother in Christ rest in peace and rise in glory and may God's grace comfort his family at this time of grief. I thank God for the privilege of having known him!

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity.

The Collect.

LORD, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 (ESV)

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Gospel. St. Matthew 22:34-46 (ESV)

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’?

If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity.

The Collect.

LORD, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle. Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV)

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

The Gospel. St. Luke 14:1-11 (ESV)

One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they remained silent. Then he took him and healed him and sent him away. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” And they could not reply to these things.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pets in Paridiso

Of all of the sticky pastoral questions that present themselves, the fate of dearly departed pets is among the stickiest. When a five year-old child whose beloved dog has just died asks if his dog is now in Heaven, it would be sappy and sentimental to say with utter certainty "Why yes, he is." While perhaps more theologically correct, the response, "Your dog was just a dog and had no soul; she no longer exists," is hardly gentle and loving. One friend of mine once heard a pastor who was rather bombastic in most other instances give the amazingly wise response, "If, when you are in the presence of God in Heaven, beholding Him in all of his glory, you need your dog to be with you for the perfect joy that will be there, he'll be there" (one might call that kind qualification).

My thoughts on this were prompted by a couple of unrelated events that have taken place over the past couple of days. Tomorrow, transferred to Monday, is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and so this morning, as is my wont, I took my faithful Black Lab-mix Sabrina to the Church of the Holy Communion for the Blessing of the Animals; as always, it was a great and blessed time for both of us (she always enjoys getting out and we went for a walk in downtown Charleston afterward). Last night I picked up Charlie Wilson's War, a movie that I'd been wanting to see for some time (I loved it as it combined many elements of which I'm quite fond: history, politics, and the military -- the Liberal from Lufkin is a rake whom I disagree with on many issues but he is a lovable rake and helped defeat the Soviets, for that he has my kudos). As is often the case when I watch history, either in dramatic portrayals or in documentaries, I wanted to know the rest of the story and did some looking around on the Internet. I knew that Charlie Wilson is living in retirement in Texas and that Gust Avrakotos had died of a stroke in 2005, but Joanne Herring, the Houston socialite who spurred Wilson to support the Freedom Fighters (portrayed expertly by Julia Roberts in the film), intrigued me and I came across her website in which she talks about various aspects of of life, including her Christian faith. There, on a page that's hardly theologically precise, she makes the interesting statement: "Your dogs and cats are here [in Heaven]!!! He [God] never gives you something to love that he does not give back."

Mrs. Herring's postulation may seem a bit sappy and perhaps it is, but I must admit that it got me to thinking. Admittedly one must guard against taking it to the point of universalism (God can, and often does, give us people to love but as some of them know not Christ, our loving them certainly won't redeem them), but in this case we're not talking about people with moral agency but rather about pets who have been loved (and have loved). While Revelation 22:15 lists dogs as among those outside the gates of the New Jerusalem, there is some legitimate question as to whether the term there literally refers to
Canis lupus familiaris or whether St. John is using the term, as would have been typical, to refer to Gentiles or some other group of humans (the term was sometimes used to refer to homosexuals, for instance) -- in that case, St. Paul's words in Ephesians 5:3-10 are particularly worth noting. Even if "dogs" (Gk. κυνες) refers to canines, the Rev'd Dr. Rick Strelan, a Lutheran minister and classicist, has demonstrated that their exclusion stems not from any particular animus that God has toward dogs (much like I feel toward cats!), but rather from their involvement with pagan worship of the day.

C.S. Lewis held out hope that pets would join us in the new Heavens and new Earth ,* and while I am hesitant to speak with any certainty, I think that a hopeful agnosticism is an appropriate view and will be delighted to learn that that is the case. The Rainbow Bridge, while a very comforting concept, is speculative theology and speculative theology is to be shunned at every turn -- as Christians and especially as Christian preachers our task is to proclaim what God has taught in Scripture, not our (pardon the pun) pet theories; on the other hand, negative speculation is just as bad as positive speculation. Where Scripture has not spoken about the world which is to come, we need to concede that it is a mystery.

*While I found Connolly's article a helpful summary of Lewis' writing on the subject, particularly since my reading of Lewis (which I've enjoyed and profited from) has not included either The Problem of Pain or The Great Divorce (although I am going to make it a point to read the former as soon as possible given my current ministry), I do not concur with everything that he stipulates (goes a bit far toward the animal rights movement).