The First Sunday in Advent

The collect for today, the First Sunday in Advent, being the Fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

Pala d'Oro, Entrance into JerusalemALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever. Amen.

The Epistle: Romans 13:8-14
The Gospel: St Matthew 21:1-13

Artwork: Entrance Into Jerusalem, Pala d’Oro (upper part), St Mark’s Basilica, Venice.

The Pala d’Oro (literally, “golden cloth”) is the altarpiece of St Mark’s Basilica, Venice, made of cloisonné enamels on gold leaf (Byzantine, 10th-12th centuries) in a gilded silver frame encrusted with pearls and precious stones (Venetian, 14th century).

The lower two-thirds of the altarpiece was commissioned by Venice from Byzantine craftsmen in the early 12th century. The upper third was looted from the Pantokrator Monastery, Constantinople, and brought to Venice after the Fourth Crusade of 1204.

The Pala d’Oro assumed its present form in 1345 when doge Andrea Dandolo commissioned Giambattista Bonesegna to make the Gothic frame of gilded silver, studded with almost two thousand precious and semi-precious stones, to contain the two parts.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria

The collect for a virgin or matron, on the Feast of Saint Catherine of Alexandria (4th century?), Virgin and Martyr, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

O GOD Most High, the creator of all mankind, we bless thy holy Name for the virtue and grace which thou hast given unto holy women in all ages, especially thy servant Catherine; and we pray that the example of her faith and purity, and courage unto death, may inspire many souls in this generation to look unto thee, and to follow thy blessed Son Jesus Christ our Saviour; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Lesson: Acts 9:36-42
The Gospel: St Luke 10:38-42

Click here to read more about Saint Catherine.

Altichiero, Beheading of St Catherine

Artwork: Altichiero da Zevio, The Beheading of Saint Catherine, c. 1377. Fresco, St George’s Oratory, Padua.

Saint Clement

The collect for today, the Feast of Saint Clement (c. 30-c. 100), Bishop of Rome, Martyr (source):

St Clement window, St Olave's Hart Street, LondonEternal Father, creator of all,
whose martyr Clement bore witness with his blood
to the love that he proclaimed and the gospel that he preached:
give us thankful hearts as we celebrate thy faithfulness,
revealed to us in the lives of thy saints,
and strengthen us in our pilgrimage as we follow thy Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Epistle: 2 Timothy 2:1-7
The Gospel: St Luke 6:37-45

Click here to read more about Saint Clement.

Artwork: Saint Clement, stained glass, St Olave’s Church, Hart Street, London. Photo taken by admin, 24 August 2004.

Saint Cecilia

The collect for today, the Feast of Saint Cecilia (3rd century), Virgin, Martyr (source):

O GOD, which makest us glad with the yearly festival of blessed Cecilia thy Virgin and Martyr: grant, we beseech thee; that as we do venerate her in our outward office, so we may follow the example of her godly conversation. Through Jesus Christ our Lord who livest and reignest with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

The Lesson: Ecclesiasticus 51:9-12
The Gospel: St Matthew 25:1-13

Maderno, Martyrdom of St Cecilia

Artwork: Stefano Maderno, The Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia, 1601. Marble, Saint Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome.

Sermon for the Sunday Next Before Advent

“Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts; / Show the light
of thy countenance, and we shall be whole”

It is, to my mind, a most intriguing scene. It belongs to the beginning of John’s Gospel and yet we read it at the very end of the Christian year. It is the first scene in his Gospel in which Jesus speaks directly. Quite apart from the miracle of John’s Prologue, which speaks to us from the eternal heights of heaven, as it were, and which we will hear at Christmas, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God”, this is the first scene in which Jesus comes out of the background and into the foreground of the Scriptures. But has he been in the foreground of our lives in this past year of grace?

The prophetic finger of John the Baptist points to Jesus directly. “Behold the Lamb of God,” he says, twice actually. The first time is just before our gospel reading here. It is followed by the Baptist’s profound reflection upon the meaning of the one whom he sees and whom he has pointed out. He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” something we hear and pray repeatedly in our liturgy. The second time is followed by Jesus stepping out into the centre which he is and around which everything turns. John points him out to us again with the words: “Behold the Lamb of God.” In some sense the ministry of John the Baptist is already fulfilled even as it seems it has only begun. As he says in a related passage, Christ “must increase but I must decrease”(Jn.3.30) He gives place to him who is “the Alpha and the Omega” of our lives and who must have his increase in us.

The witness of John the Baptist is all the more remarkable because it points to the Revelation of God in our very midst. As he says, “I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel”(Jn.1.31). And again, “I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (Jn.1.33).

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