Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Monday, May 22, 2006

Life Beyond Life: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 7 with poem by George Eliot, O May I Join the Choir Invisible

Daily Readings
Proverbs 23, Joshua 12, II Maccabees 7, Ephesians 1

Daily Text: II Maccabees 7

Life Beyond Life
Why is this happening? Because of the sin of the nation. What could they do? Be faithful to the Torah. Was their any hope? Resurrection. (Cf. Goldstein 499:292) As almost always is the case, ‘sin’ as a reason for suffering is only partially true and often targeting the wrong individuals. But ‘individuals’ were not the focus in biblical times; the focus was the behavior of the nation as a whole and explicitly related to its leadership. In II Maccabees we have already seen some of the leadership problems, particularly those surrounding the office of High Priest.

This story of seven brothers and their mother bring to the forefront unimaginable commitment to God and his word, loyalty almost beyond belief and the steadfast love of a mother that sees objectively that death with honor now will lead to life beyond life with God in the immediate future. These are concepts never terribly well developed in the Hebrew Scriptures, though in Ezekiel, Daniel and a few of the prophets the concept of resurrection has been embraced and begun to be developed. Here in the inter-testamental literature of the second century B.C.E., it is pretty much full-blown.

In the confrontations with Antiochus IV, which are drawn so deftly in II Maccabees 7, individual responsibility and reward are also given clear delineation. If a brother is faithful, he will be rewarded, and though he die at the hands of the king, the king will himself be held accountable for an irremediable evil in the final judgement.

O May I Join the Choir Invisible
George Eliot
1819-1880

O, may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence: live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge man’s search
To vaster issues.

So to live is heaven:
To make undying music in the world,
Breathing as beauteous order that controls
With growing sway the growing life of man.
So we inherit that sweet purity
For which we struggled, failed and agonized
With widening retrospect that bred despair.
Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued,
A vicious parent shaming still its child,--
Poor anxious penitence,--is quick dissolved;
Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies,
Die in the large and charitable air;
And all our rarer, better, truer self,
That sobbed religiously in yearning song,
That watched to ease the burthen of the world,
Laboriously tracing what must be,
And what may yet be better,--saw within
A worthier image for the sanctuary,
And shaped it forth before the multitude,
Divinely human, raising worship so
To higher reverence more mixed with love,--
That better self shall live till human Time
Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky
Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb,
Unread forever.

This is life to come,
Which martyred men have made more glorious
For us who strive to follow. May I reach
That purest heaven; be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love;
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty,
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense!
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world.
407:1927

Collect for the Day
O Lord, you have feed us from the fear of death. You have made the end of our life here into the beginning of true life for us. You give rest to our bodies for a time in sleep, and then you awaken them again with the sound of the last trumpet. Our earthly body, formed by your hands, you consign in trust to the earth, and then once more you reclaim it, transfiguring with immortality and grace whatever in us is mortal or deformed. You have opened for us the way to resurrection, and given to those that fear you the sign of the holy cross as their emblem, to destroy the enemy and to save our life.

Eternal God, on you have I depended from my mother’s womb, you have I loved with all the strength of my soul, to you have I dedicated my flesh and my soul from my youth until now. Set by my side an angel of light, to guide me to the place of repose, where are the waters of rest, among the holy Fathers. You have broken the fiery sword and restored to Paradise the thief who was crucified with you and implored your mercy: remember me also in your kingdom, for I too have been crucified with you. Let not the dread abyss separate me from your elect. Let not the envious one bar the way before me. But forgive me and accept my soul into your hands, spotless and undefiled, as incense in your sight.
[489:62:March 16 Macrina, 4th century]

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