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.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Prayers for the Dead: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 12:2-45 with poem by George Macdonald, I Need Thee

Daily Readings
Proverbs 27, Joshua 17, II Maccabees 12:2-45, Ephesians 6

Daily Text: II Maccabees 12:2-45

Prayers for the Dead
In I Corinthians 15:29 St. Paul mentions a practice of baptizing the dead, but beyond that he speaks of a judgement of the dead. This is also found in I Peter 4 and Revelation 20. Most Christians interpret this straightforwardly. If one lived according to the example of Jesus then eternal life is theirs and if not eternal damnation. But Paul’s reference to baptism makes an argument for the interpretation given by II Maccabees 12(cf. 319:267). That interpretation essentially says that a God-fearer who sins and dies in his sin may have that sin confessed by the community and still be judged free of sin for the resurrection and life with God. For that community prayers for the dead were effective. The Mormon’s embrace this to such an extent that their entire practice of compiling genealogies is bent towards baptizing the dead and bringing those dead relatives into the Mormon heaven. Paul also states that not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). However, the Protestant community with its greater emphasis on individual responsibility avoids prayers for the dead. If you are shriven even at the last minute, all well and good. However, when your time is up, it is too late for the community to say further prayers.

I Need Thee
George Macdonald


My Lord, I have no clothes to come to thee;
My shoes are pierced and broken with the road;
I am torn and weathered, wounded with the goad,
And soiled with tugging at my weary load:
The more I need thee! A very prodigal
I stagger into thy presence, Lord of me:
One look, my Christ, and at thy feet I fall!

Collect for the Day
Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still: though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year, or two; but wallowed in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by thyself that at my death thy Son
Shall shine—as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done,
I fear no more.
[489:124:July 2 John Donne,1573-1631]

Friday, May 26, 2006

Letters of Peace: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 11 with poem by Nancy Byrd Turner, Let Us Have Peace

Daily Readings
Proverbs 26, Joshua 16, II Maccabees 11:1-12:1, Ephesians 5

Daily Text: II Maccabees 11

Letters of Peace
The appearance of the heavenly visitor with Maccabeus and his troops undid Lysias and his 80,000-100,000 man force. It was not simply the heavenly visitor, for the Judean troops certainly did their part, but it was by all accounts, a rout. The experience for Lysias convinced him that the Jews were invincible because God fought with them. So both sides were convinced, the one to their heartening, the other to their discouragement. Out of this experience, recorded in II Maccabees 11, came a kind of peace promulgated by Lysias, put in force by Antiochus V, who was a child-king mentored by his guardian, Lysias, and accepted by the Romans. Four letters of peace attest to the negotiations that ensued.

Let Us Have Peace
Nancy Byrd Turner

The earth is weary of our foolish wars.
Her hills and shores were shaped for lovely things,
Yet all our years are spent in bickerings
Beneath the astonished stars.

April by April laden with beauty comes,
Autumn by Autumn turns our toil to gain,
But hand at sword hilt, still we start and strain
To catch the beat of drums.

Knowledge to knowledge adding, skill to skill,
We strive for others’ good as for our own—
And then, like cavemen snarling with a bone,
We turn and rend and kill….

With life so fair, and all too short a lease
Upon our special star! Nay, love and trust,
Not blood and thunder shall redeem our dust.
Let us have peace!

Collect for the Day
May I be no man’s enemy, and may I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides.
May I never quarrel with those nearest me: and if I do, may I be reconciled quickly.
May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good.
May I wish for all men’s happiness and envy none.
May I never rejoice in the ill-fortune of one who has wronged me.
When I have done or said what wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others,
but always rebuke myself until I make amends.
May I win no victory that harms wither me or my opponent.
May I reconcile friends who are angry with one another.
May I, to the extent of my power, give all needful help to my friends and all who are in
May I never fail a friend who is in danger.
When visiting those in grief may I be able by gentle and healing words to soften their
May I respect myself.
May I always keep tame that which rages within me.
May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never by angry with people because of
May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good
men and follow in their footsteps.
[489:58:March 7 Eusebius, 3rd century]

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Marching Masses: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 10 with poem by Samuel Hanagid, War

Daily Readings
Proverbs 25, Joshua 15, II Maccabees 10, Ephesians 3

Daily Text: II Maccabees 10

The Marching Masses
Purification, at last. Purification of the Holy City, of the Holy Temple, of the Holy Place. After two years of desecration, once again the incense, the lamps, the shew bread, and the fire for sacrifice. In II Maccabees 10 Judas Maccabeus was victorious, but the war was not over, and with the advent of Antiochus Eupator the generals marshalled their armies and came on. Gorgias and his mercenaries, the Idumeans, the traitors of Judas’ own forces, Timothy, Chaereas, and Apollophanes, these were the ones in the forefront of the marching masses. .

Samuel Hanagid

War is at first like a beautiful girl with whom all men long to play,
but in the end like a repulsive hag whose suitors all weep and ache.

Collect for the Day
To you, Creator of nature and humanity, of truth and beauty, I pray:
Hear my voice, for it is the voice of the victims of all wars and
violence among individuals and nations.
Hear my voice, for it is the voice of all children who suffer and will
suffer when people put their faith in weapons and war.
Hear my voice when I beg you to instill into the hearts of all human beings the wisdom of peace, the strength of justice and the joy of fellowship.
Hear my voice and grant insight and strength so that we may always
respond to hatred with love, to injustice with total dedication to justice,
to need with the sharing of self, to war with peace.
O God, hear my voice, and grant unto the world your everlasting peace.
[489:226:December 15 Pope John Paul II]

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Retributive Justice: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 9 with poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Judas Maccabaeus

Daily Readings
Psalm 16, Joshua 14, II Maccabees 9, Ephesians 3

Daily Text: II Maccabees 9

Retributive Justice
The predictions of retributive justice were made by Eleazar and the seven brothers, and now they are borne out, according to the author of II Maccabees 9. On his way to avenge himself of Judas Maccabeus, Antiochus IV doubles over in pain and subsequently dies recognizing the hand of the Hebrew God. He appoints his son Antiochus Eupator and writes a letter to the Jews essentially telling them of his about face toward them. It is all too late for Antiochus, but the tenor of his death must be cheering for Judas and the Jews.

Judas Maccabaeus
Act V, Scene II
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

PHILIP (reading). “We pray thee
hasten thy return. The realm
Is falling from thee. Since thou hast
gone from us
the victories of Judas Maccabæus
for all our annals. First he overthrew
the forces at Beth-horon and passed on,
and took Jerusalem, the Holy City.
And then Emmaus fell; and then Bethsura;
Ephron and all the towns of Galaad,
And Maccabæus marched to Carnion.”
ANTIOCHUS. Enough, enough! Go
call my chariot-man;
we will drive forward, forward without ceasing,
until we come to Antioch. My captains,
my Lysias, Gorgias, Seron, and Nicanor
are babes in battle, and this dreadful Jew
will rob me of my kingdom and my crown.
My elephants shall trample him to dust;
I will wipe out his nation, and will make
Jerusalem a common burying-place,
And every home within its walls a tomb!

Throws up his hands, and sinks into
the arms of attendants,
who lay him upon a bank.)

PHILIP. Antiochus! Antiochus! Alas!
The King is ill! What is it, O my Lord?
ANTIOCHUS. Nothing. A sudden and sharp spasm of pain,
As if the lightning struck me, or the knife
Of an assassin smote me to the heart.
‘T is passed, even as it came. Let us set forward.
PHILIP. See that the chariots be in readiness;
We will depart forthwith.
ANTIOCHUS. A moment more.
I cannot stand. I am become at once
Weak as an infant. Ye will have to lead me.
Jove or Jehovah, or whatever name
Thou wouldst be named,--it is alike to me,--
If I knew how to pray, I would entreat
To live a little longer.
PHILIP. O my Lord,
Thou shalt not die; we will not let thee die!
ANTIOCHUS. How canst thou help
it Philip? O the pain!
Stab after stab. Thou hast no shield against
This unseen weapon. God of Israel,
Since all the other gods abandon me,
Help me. I will release the Holy City,
Garnish with goodly gifts the Holy Temple.
Thy people, whom I judged to be unworthy
To be so much as buried, shall be equal
Unto the citizens of Antioch.
I will become a Jew, and will declare
Through all the world that is inhabited
The power of God!
PHILIP. He faints. It is like death
Bring here the royal litter. We will bear him
Into the camp, while yet he lives
Into what tribulation am I come!
Alas! I now remember all the evil
That I have done the Jews; and for this cause
These troubles are upon me, and behold
I perish through great grief in a strange land.
PHILIP. Antiochus! my King!
ANTIOCHUS. Nay. King no longer.
Take thou my royal robes, my signet-ring,
My crown and sceptre, and deliver them
Unto my son, Antiochus Eupator;
And unto the good Jews, my citizens,
In all my towns, say that their dying monarch
Wisheth them joy, prosperity, and health.
I who puffed up with pride and arrogance,
Thought all the kingdoms of the earth mine own,
If I would but outstretch my hand and take them,
Meet face to face a greater potentate,
King Death—Epiphanes—the illustrious! (Dies.)

Collect for the Day
Gracious God, we bless your holy name for the heritage you have given us. Show us the path of life, that we may follow it in hope, and come to know the joy of the resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ. [476:720:16 Psalm prayer]

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Resistance: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 8 with poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Judas Maccabaeus

Daily Readings
Proverbs 24, Joshua 13, II Maccabees 8, Ephesians 2

Daily Text: II Maccabees 8

Amazing how the explanations for God’s action change with the circumstances. Judas Maccabeus organizes resistance and the author notes: “As soon as Maccabeus got his army organized, the Gentiles could not withstand him, for the wrath of the Lord had turned to mercy” [II Maccabees 8:5]. This might be summarized ‘Act justly and God acts with you.’
But of course, life is not so simple, cf. Eleazar in chapter 6 and the seven brothers in chapter 8. Judas, however, is a remarkable leader. He plans strategically, he learns from his experience and he also prays and treats the people in an honorable manner. Life begins to be altered, though their enemies will never cease to be, and never be unready to aggress again and again.

from Judas Maccabæus
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Act III. Scene IV.

CAPTAINS. Lead us to the battle!
JUDAS. And let our watchword be
“The Help of God!”
Last night I dreamed a dream; and in my vision
Beheld Onias, our High-Priest of old,
Who holding up his hands prayed for the Jews.
This done,in the like manner there appeared
An old man,and exceding glorious,
With hoary hair, and of a wonder
And excellent majesty. And Onias said:
“This is a lover of the Jews, who prayeth
Much for the people and the Holy City,--
God’s Prophet Jeremias.” And the prophet
Held forth his right hand and gave unto me
A sword of gold; and giving it he said:
“Take thou this holy sword, a gift from God,
And with it thou shalt wound thine adversaries.”
CAPTAINS. The Lord is with us!

Collect for the Day
The story, Lord, is as old as history,
as remorseless as man:
Man the raider, the plunderer, the terrorist,
the conqueror,
Defiling the light of dawn with
The conspiracies of night,
Perverting to evil the fine instruments of nature,
Dealing fear among the tents and the homesteads
Of the unsuspecting or the weak,
Confiscating, purloining, devastating.

The passions are more subtle in our time—
The fire-power of bombs for the dust-clouds of cavalry,
Napalm and incendiary and machines in the skies,
Devices for war decrying the stars,
New skills with the same curse of destruction,
The sanctity of mankind in the jeopardy of techniques,
Gracelessness against the majesty on high.

By the truth of the eternal exposure,
By the reckoning of the eternal justice,
By compassion upon kin and kind,
By the awe of thy sovereignty,
Turn our deeds, O good Lord,
Repair our ravages,
Forgive our perversities.
O God, give peace, grateful peace.
[489:222:December 8 Kenneth Cragg]

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

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.

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]

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Pretend: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 6 with poem by James Russell Lowell, The Present Crisis

Daily Readings
Proverbs 22, Joshua 11, II Maccabees 6, Colossians 4

Daily Text: II Maccabees 6

The two mothers and the group observing the Sabbath secretly in the cave were not making statements; rather they were under impossible conditions attempting to be faithful. There is, embedded in this history, the cant that Antiochus was simply trying to reform the Jewish religion. Some reform! Throwing mothers and their babies off the equivalent of the Tarpeian Rock and burning unresisting Sabbath observers! The argument of the text that this is God’s way of disciplining his own rings hollow. Those mentioned are not the impious, but the pious! While the larger meaning may be valid, its examples leave something to be desired. Rather it is reminiscent of the lesson in Job, that God does not always interfere with the suffering of his own.

Eleazar’s martyrdom is more instructive. Here is one who is respected, even loved by those who torment him. One gets the impression that his persecutor’s are his compatriots, ones who have given up the Jewish religion and embraced the Greek gods, though that is never made explicit. They give him an out, ‘bring your own meat’. Pretend that you are eating swine’s flesh; we will not insist that you actually do so. Eleazar saw through their mercy to the personal shame and its eventual affect on the young among his people. The record in II Maccabees 6: 24-28 of his response as he went to his death is worthy of every person’s consideration: “Such pretense is not worthy….Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty.”

from The Present Crisis
James Russell Lowell


Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ‘twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,--
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

Collect for the Day
God, let me put right before interest,
Let me put others before self,
Let me put the things of the spirit
before the things of the body.
Let me put the attainment of noble ends
above the enjoyment of present pleasures
Let me put principle above reputation.
Let me put thee before all else.
[489:205 John Baillie, 1886-1960]