Monday, February 28, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Monday

Read: Hebrews 10:32-39 and Psalm 104

When we become disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to begin putting our own things aside and choosing things of God. Sometimes this means releasing our possessions and even our freedom. While here in the US people aren’t imprisoned for being believers, in many other places they are.

The writer of Hebrews talks about how we need to endure to the end. If we do, there will be rest and reward. If we fall away, there will be consequences. We need to hang on.

When we hear or read the phrase “hang on”, our first impression is often a passive one. “Well, if I can just resist that old devil and just hang on I can go to heaven someday.” We think we can just hunker down and sit there until Jesus comes to rescue us.

We’re missing the point.

God wants his Church to be on the move. He doesn’t want us being passive. He wants us to be active. The Kingdom of God is not about going to heaven someday. Jesus plainly said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17). It is within arm’s reach. It is here. It is now. (Besides, the idea most Protestants have of heaven is a form of Gnosticism, and borders on heresy. It was invented in the mid-nineteenth century.) The truth is that Jesus wants us to be active here and now. He wants us love God enough that we love others (our neighbors), and he wants us to love others enough that we serve them. Love God, love others, serve the world. That is the Kingdom of God. Not the sweet by-and-by.

As you are encountering opposition this week, and every week, hang on to the promise of rest. Don’t be passive, though. Be active. Love God with all that you have. Love others as yourself. Reflect God’s love by serving those around you. Ask God to help you see how to put this all together. You may find the following prayer helpful:

Almighty God, you have commanded us to love you with our whole being, and to love others as much as we love ourselves: Grant us grace that we might reflect your love for all people by being the servant of all, in the example of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sing-Along Wednesday -- And Can it Be

For the past month, Charles Wesley’s “And Can It Be?” has been ringing through my head. It goes something like this:

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

‘Tis mystery all: th’ Immortal dies!
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
to sound the depths of love divine.
‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
let angel minds inquire no more.
“Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
let angel minds inquire no more.

He left his Father’s throne above
(so free, so infinite his grace!),
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
for O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th' eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Since the mid-nineteenth century this hymn has been paired with the tune Sagina (which you can find here and here), though before that it was often sung to Crucifixion.

On the evening of May 21, 1738, Charles Wesley (who reportedly was physically sick, as well as struggling spiritually) spent a few hours reading his Bible. Around midnight he wrote the following in his journal:

“At midnight I gave myself to Christ, assured that I was safe, whether sleeping or waking. I had the continual experience of His power to overcome all temptation, and I confessed with joy and surprise that He was able to do exceedingly abundantly for me above what I can ask or think.

“I now found myself at peace with God, and rejoiced in hope of loving Christ. I saw that by faith I stood.”

Two days later, he wrote in his journal that he had begun writing a hymn – most likely “And Can It Be”. This hymn, along with “Where Shall My Wondering Soul Begin” were the first of more than 6000 hymns that he wrote.

Three days later, on May 24, 1738, his brother John also had a conversion experience*. He reportedly sang “And Can It Be” that evening, possibly to the tune Crucifixion – the tune that John put with the hymn in the Foundry Tune Book, which he published in 1742.

“And Can It Be” was first published in John Wesley’s Psalms and Hymns in 1738, then in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739. From middle of the nineteenth century on, “And Can It Be” has been set to Sagina. Today we find it in the United Methodist Hymnal as number 363.

* “In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” – John Wesley’s Journal, May 24, 1738.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sing-Along Wednesday -- The Canticle of Simeon

Every Wednesday, my friend Sherill Clontz posts this as her Facebook status: “It’s Sing Along Wednesday! What are you singing today?” In the same spirit, I have decided to post a reflection on a different song each Wednesday.

Since today is also The Presentation of our Lord (also known as Candlemas), I have decided to begin with the Canticle of Simeon, or the Nunc Dimittis. From the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church:

Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel.

This is taken from Luke 2:29-32. The asterisks are for help in chanting (more on that later). It is usually followed by the Lesser Doxology, the Gloria Patri (Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.), just like the Psalms.

The Latin version is also fun:

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.

To which the Gloria Patri is added:

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

So what exactly is Candlemas, and why do we care?

Glad you asked. The larger context of the story is Luke 2:22-38. Jesus had been circumcised, but Mosaic law required that after forty days the baby had to be brought to the Temple to complete Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn, in obedience to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12 and Exodus 13:12-15). St. Luke writes that Joseph and Mary take the option provided for poor people (those who could not afford a lamb) in Leviticus 12:8, sacrificing “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Wikipedia has the following to say about the feast:

Traditionally the Western term “Candlemas” referred to the practice whereby a priest blessed beeswax candles for use throughout the year, some of which were distributed to the faithful for use in homes

The Feast of the Presentation is among the most ancient feasts of the Church. There are sermons on the Feast by the bishops Methodius of Patara, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory the Theologian, Amphilochius of Iconium, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom, dating from as early as AD 317.

The earliest reference to specific liturgical rites surrounding the feast are by the intrepid nun Egeria, during her pilgrimage to the Holy Land (381–384). She reported that 14 February was a day solemnly kept in Jerusalem with a procession to Constantine I’s Basilica of the Resurrection, with a homily preached on Luke 2:22 (which makes the occasion perfectly clear), and a Divine Liturgy. This so-called Itinerarium Peregrinatio (“Pilgrimage Itinerary”) of Egeria does not, however, offer a specific name for the Feast. The date of 14 February indicates that in Jerusalem at that time, Christ’s birth was celebrated on 6 January, Epiphany.

Originally, the feast was a minor celebration. But then in 542 the feast was established throughout the Eastern Empire by Justinian I. In 541 a terrible plague broke out in Constantinople, killing thousands. The Emperor, in consultation with the Patriarch of Constantinople, ordered a period of fasting and prayer throughout the entire Empire. And, on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, arranged great processions throughout the towns and villages and a solemn prayer service (Litia) to ask for deliverance from evils, and the plague ceased. In thanksgiving, the feast was elevated to a more solemn celebration.

Within the Roman Catholic Church, since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, this feast has been referred to as the Feast of Presentation of the Lord, with references to candles and the purification of Mary de-emphasised in favor of the Prophecy of Simeon the Righteous. Pope John Paul II connected the feast day with the renewal of religious vows.

So there you go. It commemorates Simeon’s prophecy, and it gives us a unique connection with Christians of centuries past.

Take a few moments to reflect on Simeon’s song. Memorize it, if you can. How does it speak to you?