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

Yeames, Wyclif Giving “The Poor Priests” His Translation of the BibleArtwork: William Frederick Yeames, Wyclif Giving “The Poor Priests” His Translation of the Bible, c. 1910. Illustration from ‘The Church of England: A History for the People’ by H.D.M. Spence-Jones.

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

Stothard, Martyrdom of 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 to 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

“Rachel weeping for her children, And would not be comforted,
because they are not”

There is no more disturbing and troubling image than the deaths of the little ones whether as here in the witness of the Scriptures or in the horrendous pictures of the suffering children of the world – in Calais, in Aleppo, in Kenya and elsewhere. We live in a world where children are not only commodities but collateral damage in the pursuit of power and dominance. There is no innocence, it seems.

There is blood in Bethlehem. To be sure, we have already seen blood, as it were, in the martyrdom of St. Stephen who was stoned to death confessing Christ and in imitation of the sacrificial sufferings of Christ. But that was in Jerusalem. Here we have the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, as they have been called, in Bethlehem, killed as a policy of infanticide in Herod’s effort to eradicate a potential rival to his kingdom. Herod’s policy to kill all the little ones, two years and under in Bethlehem, echoes the policy of infanticide by Pharaoh to control the population of the Hebrews in Egypt out of which came the birth of Moses. Thus we are made aware of a deeper theological idea, the idea that God and God alone can make something good out of the machinations of human evil.

“Never that which is shall die”, a famous fragment from the Greek poet, Euripides, avers. In a way, the Christian story both challenges and confirms his poetic insight. Christ, the everlasting Son of the Father, comes to redeem and save by dying for us. His rising to life again though is testament to the greater power and truth of God who ever is, the God who negates the negation, as it were. The death of death itself is accomplished in the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Never that which is shall die” because it dies and lives again for it is what lives forever. Love conquers all because love never dies.

This is all part of the dark mystery and wonder of the disturbing Christmas feast of the Holy Innocents. They are innocent because in truth they are unable to harm and yet they are seen as a threat to Herod just by virtue of being infants like the child king sought by the Magi. They are already viewed as in Christ and that is the deeper wonder that redeems the horror and their slaughter. Their deaths, like the deaths of the little ones throughout history, are not without meaning. They share in the infancy of Christ and so in the purpose of Christ’s coming.

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The Innocents’ Day

The collect for today, The Feast of the Holy Innocents, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):

O ALMIGHTY God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths: Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith, even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lesson: Revelation 14:1-5
The Gospel: St. Matthew 2:13-18

Fra Angelico, Massacre of the InnocentsWhen wise men from the East visited King Herod in Jerusalem to ask where the king of the Jews had been born, Herod felt his throne was in jeopardy. So, he ordered all the boys of Bethlehem aged two and under to be killed. On this day, the church remembers those children.

The Massacre of the Innocents is recorded only in St Matthew’s Gospel, where it is said to be fulfillment of a prophecy of Jeremiah.

The church has kept this feast day since the fifth century. The Western churches commemorate the innocents on 28 December; the Eastern Orthodox Church on 29 December. Medieval authors spoke of up to 144,000 murdered boys, in accordance with Revelation 14:3. More recent estimates, however, recognising that Bethlehem was a very small town, place the number between ten and thirty.

This episode has been challenged as a fabrication with no basis in actual historic events. James Kiefer has a point-by-point presentation of the objections with replies in defence of biblical historicity.

This is an appropriate day to remember the victims of abortion.

Artwork: Fra Angelico, Massacre of the Innocents, c. 1450. Tempera on wood, Museo di San Marco, Florence.