The Epiphany 2014 Newsletter from the Prayer Book Society of Canada, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island Branch, featuring a meditation by Fr. David Curry, is posted here (pdf).
“They fell down and worshipped.”
There is nothing more foreign to our contemporary world than the idea of worship, and yet, that is exactly what the Magi-Kings are all about. What is worship? The honouring and commitment to what is greater than yourself. There is no more wonderful an illustration and story of that than in the story of the end and the beginning of Christmas, what we call the Epiphany.
It signifies the Christmas of the Gentiles, to be sure, but even more it speaks to the deeper meaning of Christmas itself. It is about the real significance and meaning of the birth in Bethlehem. Christ is God with us. The Magi-Kings intuit and understand this. Their gifts are “sacred gifts of mystic meaning.” They are gifts that teach us about the radical meaning of Christmas.
They saw, they came, they worshipped. They are moved to a long and arduous journey, “the ways deep and the weather sharp, the worst time for a journey.” But isn’t that the point? We are all on a journey in and through the weather sharp and deep realities of our world and experience.
Epiphany awakens us to the splendour and glory of the Child Christ. The light now shines from within the world and not just from without. That will be the recurring theme of Epiphany, the theme of school and teaching that illumines the seeming meaningless of human life.
“They fell down and worshipped.”
Fr. David Curry
Short Meditation for Epiphany
January 6th, 2014
This is the second of two Advent Meditations on the theme “Mary in Holy Waiting”. The first is posted here.
“Blessed are those servants, whom their lord when he cometh shall find watching”
Watching and waiting are the spiritual activities of the soul in the season of Advent. They signify our looking towards God, our looking expectantly at the coming of God’s Word and Son. Mary in Advent is in Holy Waiting; a waiting upon the fullness of time, upon the birth of God’s Word and Son through her. Her waiting is the watching and waiting of the Church upon the motions of God’s Word coming to birth in us.
Tonight also marks the commemoration of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch and martyr. His commemoration complements our Advent programme about Mary in Holy Waiting. One of the Apostolic Fathers, that is to say, one of the early figures of the Christian Church who, whether they knew the Apostles personally or directly (some may have, some may have not), nonetheless preserved and transmitted “the apostolic teaching and tradition between the time of the Apostles themselves and the latter years of the second century” (Max Staniforth, To A.L.M. (Intro) to the Apostolic Fathers). Ignatius was martyred, c. 115, after an episcopal career of some forty years. A figure of great renown, we actually know very little about him apart from his character that is revealed in his seven remarkable epistles written on the road to his martyrdom in Rome. We do not even know the exact charge which led to his martyrdom.
His epistles bring out, I suggest, the essential Marian quality of watching and waiting upon the Word and Will of God. Three things stand out in his epistles: his embrace of martyrdom; his insistence upon the three-fold ministry of the Church, especially episcopacy; and his emphasis upon the doctrine of the Incarnation against the Jews and the Docetists – the latter being the term for the earliest heresy of the Church, already attacked in the epistles of John, that claims that the human life of Christ is all a kind of play-acting, a sham, a mere appearance in contrast to reality since the idea of God becoming man is abhorrent where matter is seen as evil and spirit as good and pure.
In many ways, Ignatius’ epistles already point in the direction of a creedal understanding of the Christian faith that will emerge more explicitly in the fourth century. The key doctrine for him is the Incarnation which leads to his conviction about martyrdom and about the ordered life of the Church. His epistles breath that positive spirit of living for and with Christ already signified in Mary’s fiat mihi, “be it unto me according to thy word,” the idea of our life with God because of God’s embrace of our humanity. For Ignatius this wonder contributes to a new sensibility, a conviction about immortality such that martyrdom is the necessary witness to the truth of Christianity, a martyrdom which he enthusiastically accepts like Mary’s “be it unto me according to thy word.” In a world of suicide bombers, this may trouble us but if we look more closely we can see how different this Ignatian/Marian sense of commitment and witness is from these contemporary acts in which martyrdom is really an act of terrorism for political purposes to which religious concepts have been sadly twisted and perverted.
This is the first of two Advent Meditations on the theme “Mary in Holy Waiting”. The second is posted here.
“I waited patiently for the Lord, / and he inclined unto me
and heard my calling” (Ps. 40.1)
Pondus meum amor meus. My love is my weight. A powerful phrase from Augustine, it has shaped the medieval and reformation churches’ understanding of human redemption. The question is about what weight of meaning it might have for the contemporary church in all of our confusions and disarray. Augustine’s image captures a significant theological theme which, on the one hand, counters and, on the other hand, complements the inarticulate loneliness of a culture which has abandoned God. Yet it is there for us to think again.
Mary in Advent is Mary in Holy Waiting. The image relates to the Augustinian phrase. What defines Mary is her waiting upon the will of God. Far from a kind of passive acquiescence, Mary’s waiting is an holy activity, a kind of attentiveness to the pageant of God’s Word revealed in the Law and the Prophets and now, on Angel’s wings, it seems, opening us out to the wonder and the marvel of God’s coming to us through her. To what extent are we in her? For Mary, to use Irenaeus’ poignant and potent phrase is the pure womb which gives birth to that purity which Christ himself has made pure: “that pure one opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God and which he himself made pure.”
It is impossible to think of Mary apart from Christ and so it is of interest the way in which she quietly and patiently intrudes her presence upon our meditations and thoughts. Mary is an inescapable feature of the landscape of Advent. She plays a critical and crucial role in our understanding of Christ’s coming to us, our Emmanuel, God with us. Through Mary we begin to discover how our humanity is totally and inescapably bound up with the will of God towards us; in short, his advent.
“But Jesus turned him about”
A Meditation on the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity
This year the Trinity Season runs to twenty-five Sundays, just one shy of the longest it can be. Its length depends on the date of Easter. Trinity Season and the Epiphany Season push and pull one another accordingly with a variable number of Sundays for each season. If the one is short, the other is long. This year, November 10th, is the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity. All this is but preamble to the readings which we have on these last Sundays of Trinity because we don’t always have them every year for the reason just stated.
That brings us to an important consideration, however: the idea of an established pattern of Scripture readings. For some Christian traditions, this is anathema as being too formal and too restrictive. The irony is that if left to ministers or even parochial spiritual committees the range and choice of Scripture readings is often quite constrained and limited. At issue, too, is who chooses and upon what basis? What are the principles that determine the pattern of scripture readings called a lectionary?
One feature of the contemporary church and its confusions is the jettisoning of a very ancient tradition of reading the Scriptures embodied in the Eucharistic lectionary, the readings at Holy Communion. Not only ancient, it was also the most ecumenical lectionary, historically speaking. Developed from the fifth century onwards, it was the pattern of reading common to the Western Church throughout the medieval period and into the modern; post-reformation, mutatis mutandi, it remained the common property of Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans, for instance. This alone is suggestive and compelling. In jettisoning it, we have been left with a rather confusing array of lectionaries which all bear a common shape – three readings rather than two at Holy Communion, for instance – and which claim a kind of ecumenicity.
Despite the attempt at achieving a Common Lectionary, it hasn’t happened. But there is a further problem, the question of what are the principles that inform the pattern of readings. What are the themes and ideas that determine the choice of passages? For the older ecumenical lectionary (wonderfully present in our 1962 Canadian Book of Common Prayer, albeit with some changes to be sure), the principles are inescapably creedal. In other words, the pattern of reading relates to the Creeds, to the foundational and formative principles of the Christian Faith.
The collects for today, Harvest Thanksgiving Day, from The Book of Common Prayer (Canadian, 1962):
O ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who crownest the year with thy goodness, and hast given unto us the fruits of the earth in their season: Give us grateful hearts, that we may unfeignedly thank thee for all thy loving-kindness, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O LORD, we pray thee, sow the seed of thy word in our hearts, and send down upon us the showers of thy grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit, and at the great day of harvest may be gathered by the holy angels into the heavenly garner; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Thanksgiving is a special and wonderful celebration. It seems to speak to a deep-seated spiritual sensibility in us even in our confusions, uncertainties, and denials of all things religious and spiritual. I would argue that it is fundamentally and essentially spiritual, especially in the Christian understanding.
Thanksgiving embraces at once Harvest Thanksgiving and National Thanksgiving, our thanks for the bounty of the harvest (whether or not there has been one!) and for the rational and spiritual freedoms that we enjoy (however much we ignore them!) in our nation and country. Those ‘thanksgivings’ are raised into the great thanksgiving, the eucharist of the Son to the Father, re-enacted, recalled, and re-presented in “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” in the service of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus tells us he is the “bread of life.” That life is spiritual life that gathers into the life of God all that belongs to creation and to our humanity.
If a pumpkin could talk, what would it say? Yea, God! We are more than pumpkins (pumpkin regattas notwithstanding!) and we have the privilege and the freedom of the highest sort in giving articulate praise to God for the harvest, for the nation, for our communities, and for one another and, above all, for God himself.
Fr. David Curry
A set of Good Friday readings and meditations based on Christ’s Seven Last Words from the Cross, can be downloaded here (pdf document). The meditations are by Fr. David Curry.
Fr. David Curry has compiled his four Lenten meditations on The Kiss of Judas: Themes of Betrayal and Forgiveness in the Scriptures into a booklet, complete with selected artwork. Click on the cover image below to download the pdf document.
This is the last in a series of four Lenten devotional reflections given by Fr. David Curry on The Kiss of Judas: Themes of Betrayal & Forgiveness in the Scriptures. The first is posted here, the second here, and the third here.
UPDATE (22 Mar.): The four addresses have been compiled into a booklet, which can be accessed here.
“Judas, betrayest thou me with a kiss?”
There are no greater betrayals than the betrayals of intimacy, the betrayals of trust and love. And indeed, the larger biblical witness to the ‘kiss of Judas’ as the archetype of all betrayal features precisely those themes of intimacy betrayed. At the same time, they become the occasions of a greater love, the redemptive love of God. Forgiveness is the greater theme that arises most profoundly out of the betrayals of the intimacies of love.
Our focus is upon the themes of betrayal and forgiveness in the Scriptures. There is, of course, a further story that belongs to the history of reflection upon the wisdom of the Scriptures. One has only to note Dante and Shakespeare, medieval and modern, so to speak, to realize how profoundly the themes of betrayal and forgiveness have shaped our literary, philosophical and political culture. Dante’s Divine Comedy explicates with a wonderful and powerful philosophical logic poetically expressed the dynamics of betrayal and forgiveness. Shakespeare, too, in a different timbre of expression but with no less insight undertakes to explore the very power of forgiveness precisely through the betrayals of trust. One only needs to consider The Merchant of Venice, where “mercy seasons justice,” or Measure for Measure, where the one who has been wronged seeks mercy for the wrong doer who himself wishes death and destruction for his sin. And, then, there is The Tempest, a play which in some sense puts love, the love that is greater than the burden of our remembrances, at the heart of the political and social order.
Powerful stuff, we might say. And yet all of it springs if not entirely at least mightily from the witness of the Scriptures. It will not do to focus simply on the New Testament for there is nothing in the witness of the New Testament that is not a reflection upon some story or theme or idea in the Old Testament. And with respect to the kiss of Judas, perhaps no story illumines so much of the dynamic of Christ’s redemptive love than the love-prophet of the Old Testament, Hosea.
The text is graphic. Hosea takes his personal situation in all of its vulnerability and wonder as the lesson of human betrayal and divine forgiveness and restoration. It is, perhaps, not by accident that the last two chapters of this book of prophecy are read in Holy Week in the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. The whole book itself, of course, is rich and suggestive about the deeper meaning of the pageant of Holy Week.
This is the third in a series of four Lenten devotional reflections given by Fr. David Curry on The Kiss of Judas: Themes of Betrayal & Forgiveness in the Scriptures. The first is posted here, and the second here.
UPDATE (22 Mar.): The four addresses have been compiled into a booklet, which can be accessed here.
“Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?”
There are kisses and there are kisses. One has only to think of the sensual imagery of the kiss to realize how profound the very idea of a kiss as betrayal really is. And yet, it takes the larger view of the biblical panorama in all its complexity, and, dare I say, confusion, to bring home to us the radical nature of betrayal that in turn can be so simply and yet profoundly captured in a kiss.
The pageant of Holy Week immerses us in the theme of betrayal. In a way, it seeks to concentrate our minds on the ways in which we all participate in the kiss of Judas, the archetype of all betrayal. That may seem very distant and dismal, rather dark and disturbing, but the point is quite the contrary. Our being awakened to the awareness of betrayal in each of our hearts is the spring that catapults us into the freeing grace of Christ. The paradox is that we can really only come to that by way of the horrendous spectacles of betrayal. Two stories stand out in the Old Testament view of things that illumine so much of the later New Testament perspective.
The two stories that I have in mind are the stories of the Levite’s Concubine and the story of David’s betrayal of God. The one is told in the Book of Judges, the other in the books of Samuel and First Kings. The story of the Levite’s Concubine is probably, I am afraid to say, completely unknown to you. It does not figure in the Church’s public reading of Scripture. You can only know it from your own reading of Scripture or perhaps from the odd and curious reference from some preacher, no doubt odd and curious too! And there is very little about the story in the older commentary tradition either.
The story of the Levite’s Concubine is the most disturbing story of the whole of the Old Testament. It is at once complex and confusing yet quite compelling about the nature of a kind of inchoate form of betrayal, of betrayal avant la lettre in a way and yet as illuming après la lettre something of the deeper aspects of betrayal. The story appears at the end of the Book of Judges, a book which is buttressed by the telling theme that “in those days there was no king in Israel.” The idea of a king in Israel raises intriguing and compelling questions about authority. That the Book of Judges raises the question about Kingship in this way signals a kind of change and a problem. The problem is about how to give expression to our commitment to things spiritual and intellectual – to God and the soul, as it were. The whole Book of Judges is taken up with the problem of how the people of God are to be governed and organized under the ultimate authority of God. In other words, how are the transcendent principles of the Kingdom of God to be translated into the practical life of the people of God? Ultimately, it is a question about mediation, the mediation of authority.