John West, Missionary

The collect for a missionary, in commemoration of The Rev’d John West (1778-1845), Priest, first Protestant missionary to the Red River Valley, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

John WestO GOD, our heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst call thy blessed Apostles and send them forth to preach thy Gospel of salvation unto all the nations: We bless thy holy Name for thy servant John West, whose labours we commemorate this day, and we pray thee, according to thy holy Word, to send forth many labourers into thy harvest; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Lesson: Acts 12:24-13:5
The Gospel: St Matthew 4:13-24a

John Wycliffe, Scholar and Translator

The collect for today, the commemoration of John Wycliffe, (c 1320-84), Scholar, Translator of the Scriptures into English (source):

O Lord, thou God of truth, whose Word is a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path: We give thee thanks for thy servant John Wyclif, and those who, following in his steps, have labored to render the Holy Scriptures in the language of the people; and we beseech thee that thy Holy Spirit may overshadow us as we read the written Word, and that Christ, the living Word, may transform us according to thy righteous will; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

The Lesson: Daniel 2:17-24
The Gospel: St. Matthew 13:9-16

Madox Brown, Wyclif Reading His Translation

Artwork: Ford Madox Brown, John Wycliffe Reading His Translation of the Bible to John of Gaunt, 1847-61. Oil on canvas, Bradford Art Galleries and Museums.

Thomas Becket, Archbishop

The collect for today, the Feast of St. Thomas Becket (1117-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr (source):

O Lord God,
who gavest to thy servant Thomas Becket
grace to put aside all earthly fear and be faithful even unto death:
grant that we, caring not for worldly esteem,
may fight against evil,
uphold thy rule,
and serve thee to our life’s end;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Epistle: 1 Timothy 6:11-16
The Gospel: St. Luke 12:37-43

Southwark Cathedral, St. Thomas BecketThomas Becket was a close personal friend of King Henry II of England and served as his chancellor from 1155. When the archbishop of Canterbury died in 1162, Henry, seeing an opportunity to exercise control over the church, decided to have his chancellor elected to the post. Thomas saw the dangers of the king’s plan and warned Henry that, if he became archbishop, his first loyalty would be to God and not the king. He told Henry, “Several things you do in prejudice of the rights of the church make me fear that you would require of me what I could not agree to.” What Thomas feared soon came to pass.

After becoming archbishop, Thomas changed radically from defender of the king’s privileges and policies into an ardent champion of the church. Unexpectedly adopting an austere way of life in near-monastic simplicity, he celebrated or attended Mass daily, studied Scripture, distributed alms to the needy, and visited the sick. He became just as obstinate in asserting the church’s interests as he had formerly been in asserting the king’s.

Thomas rejected Henry’s claim to authority over the English Church. Relations with the king deteriorated so seriously that Thomas left England and spent six years in exile in France. He realised that he had return when the Archbishop of York and six other bishops crowned the heir to the throne, Prince Henry, in contravention of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s rights and authority.

He returned to England with letters of papal support and immediately excommunicated the Archbishop of York and the six other bishops. On Christmas Day 1170 he publicly denounced them from the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral. It was these actions that prompted Henry’s infamous angry words, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”

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Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Innocents

“Herod … was exceeding wroth; and sent forth and
slew all the children that were in Bethlehem”

So much for the idea that Christmas is for children! Could there be a more disturbing scene than this? But then we have only just recently had to contemplate the slaughter of students at a School in Peshawar, Pakistan, at the hands of Taliban jihadis. Sadly we could extend the litany of the deaths of the little ones in a myriad of ways whether as the victims of the convenience of others or as expendable causalities in the pursuit of one agenda or another.

Be that as it may be, it must still trouble us to find such a feast as Holy Innocents and such a troubling story as part and parcel of the mystery of Christmas. It should trouble us, to be sure, but even more it should make us think more deeply upon the Christmas mystery. In a way, I like the way this story troubles our sensibilities because it suddenly makes the Christian mystery that much more real and redeems it from all of the comfortable and cozy sentiments that clog and cloy our thinking.

The story underscores the radical meaning of Christ’s holy birth. He comes to redeem a sad and broken world where the slaughter of the innocent ones belongs to the folly and wickedness of human power which overextends itself in tyranny and destruction. Matthew provides an insight into the character of Herod – his rage – but elsewhere in the Gospels we are made aware of another motive that moves Herod’s policy of infanticide, namely, the fear of another king who will displace him. Wrath and fear – a deadly combination for persons in positions of power.

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Nine Lessons for Christmas

The First Lesson
God announces in the Garden of Eden that the
seed of woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.

(Genesis 3.8-15)

And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

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