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

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Siege Food: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 4 with poem by Yehuda Karni, Yerushalayim

Daily Readings
Psalm 75 Joshua 23 Ezekiel 4 James 3

Daily Text: Ezekiel 4

Siege Food
Ezekiel is in Chaldea or Babylonia on the Chebar Canal, but his message in Ezekiel 4 is of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was for Israel the center of the universe, the city that served as the lodestone of their lives. They would have been as affected by this word against the capital as the inhabitants would have been. Within this chapter are three signs: a model of siege works against the city, the immobilization of the prophet for a period of time representing Israel and Judah’s punishment and finally, a sign of famine in the severely restricted and unclean nature of Ezekiel’s food during this siege. Ezekiel’s fellow exiles would undoubtedly have been fascinated by his actions; his actions may well have become the focal of their lives throughout their course, that about which they could not stop talking, thinking, and fearing. This was not an act of magic creating in reality what Ezekiel is portraying figuratively. Rather, his enactment served only to let the people know how angry the LORD was with their communal disobedience. Could Ezekiel have lain on one side for 390 days? In one way or another we must accept that he did so. For to have received this word and communicated it, and then not followed it would have given the lie to God’s word and Ezekiel’s obedience. Neither is likely. Whether or not he was actually in one position for 24 hours a day for 390 and in another for 40 days is immaterial. It would have been carried out in a manner that spoke volumes both for God’s anger and Ezekiel’s obedience. Taken together the 390 and 40 days represent 430 years, the number of years that Israel was in Egypt and the approximate number of years of their life in the Promised Land up until this point. It appears that the number of years of sinning against the covenant God will be the number of years of punishment to be expected. Again exactness in all of this is difficult to demonstrate and essentially unnecessary. The implications are serious enough.

The siege food at famine proportions amounted to 176.29 grams or 8.06 ounces per day. One half pound of a mixed grain bread was not a lot of food. And add to that the restriction of a little over a pint of water a day, and you realize that the enactment of this message would be sobering indeed. If a picture is worth a 1000 words, this behavior may have been worth many more. Add to it that even with the modification from human dung to cow dung for fire fuel upon which the bread was baked, the departure for a priest from strict observance of the purity laws would in itself carry tremendous significance for observers. God was serious about cutting Jerusalem off from his pleasure. The loss of hope in this realization must have been of major proportions.

from Yerushalayim
Yehuda Karni


Would that I were a stone
like all the stones of Jerusalem,
and how blessed,
were my bones joined to the Wall!
Why should my body be spared more than
my soul, which endured
fire and water with my people?

Take me with the Jerusalem stone
and place me in the walls
and set me in with plaster,
and out of the very walls my bones
will sing,
that pine to greet the messiah.
477:49:42

Collect for the Day
O God, let not pride stiffen our necks, but help us to give you thanks and praise your name for ever, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. [476:803:Psalm 75 Psalm prayer]

Friday, June 02, 2006

What Price Greatness: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 3 with poem by Thomas S. Jones, Jr., Ezekiel

Daily Readings
Psalm 73 Joshua 22 Ezekiel 3:4-27 James 2

Daily Text: Ezekiel 3:4-27

What Price Greatness?
God warns Ezekiel of the difficulty of the task given him. The house of Israel is a hard-headed, stubborn-hearted people and to prepare Ezekiel for his work, God has made him outwardly just as hard-headed, tough like flint. But inwardly, Ezekiel is passionate, even angry, in Ezekiel 3:14, at what God is calling him to do. God is also requiring of the prophet that he be responsible for the actions of the people unless he repeats God’s warnings to them without any personal agenda. He is not allowed, as was Moses, to plead for the people. He is not allowed any softness toward them, no sympathy, no fellow feeling. To suggest that this was Ezekiel’s own nature is to miss the point of God’s hardening him. People will do what people will do, however, the prophet must become obedient without dissent, he must be subject to divine humiliation without recourse to personal preferences. There are times when one has the sense of an automaton. Ben Adam, son of man, go out into the valley. So he goes out into the valley and the glory of LORD is there. He falls on his face, what else can he do? The Spirit sets him on his feet. What else can he do? Then he is ordered bound within his house and struck dumb until God wants him to speak. And when he able to speak, he is to speak only what God tells him to. There is no room for alteration. A walk with God of such intensity carries with it impossible demands. But through this vessel of dust, this son of Adam, ben Adam, this mortal, comes some of the most exalted insights into the working of God with his people ever to be revealed to humankind. What price greatness? And shall our price be less?

Ezekiel
Thomas S. Jones, Jr.

He thunders from the cherubs’ glowing wheels,
And in proud cities shaken by the tread
Of Asshur’s horsemen cloaked in blue and red,
The leopard crouches and the gray wolf steals;
Before that voice the prince of Tyrus reels,--
His purple tissues deck the dark sea-bed
Where ships of Ophir rust, with sails outspread
And green gold dripping through the cloven keels.

He speaks, and captives of the willowed rim
Of Chebar hear the holy river run
Where idols stained their broken altar-stone,
And know that He who rides the cherubim
Above the fallen summits of the sun
Is Lord of Israel and God alone.
377:638



Collect for the Day
Most High, you know our faithlessness, and our blindness to the rewards of goodness. Guide us with your counsel and be the strength of our hearts, that we may not fall but rejoice in the life of your eternal city; through Jesus Christ our Mediator.
[476:800:Psalm 73 A psalm prayer]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Aweful Presence: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 2 with poem by Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven

Daily Readings
Proverbs 31, Joshua 21, Ezekiel 2:1-3:3 James 1

Daily Text: Ezekiel 2:1-3:3

The Aweful Presence
The call of God to the future prophet comes with a mighty hand. The Spirit that moved the great wheels in the last chapter, moves the man from being flat on his face to setting him on his feet in Ezekiel 2. The hand of God that is willing and ready to call his rebellious people to account wants and needs a prophet, one who speaks what he is told to speak whether or not the people listen. In this chapter the vision of the four creatures holding up the throne of God is revealed to be part and parcel of Ezekiel’s call. Its overwhelming note of holiness and presence rivals that of Isaiah’s call in Isaiah 6. ‘Rivals’ may be an inadequate word, ‘surpasses’ may be more appropriate. But comparing God with God is not to be, should not be. How can one compare the divine One with himself? Here, as in Isaiah, it is the word of God spoken that is important, not the response of the people to it. Assessing that phenonomen in the 21st century is more difficult. We seem to stand or fall by our success. Even the man of God is evaluated by whether or not he is heard. “Son of Man” says the voice of God, 93 times in Ezekiel he is addressed thus. No where else in the Hebrew Scriptures is this title used except once in Daniel 8 and that is taken from Ezekiel [503:61]. His mortality is thus emphasized and it takes no stretch of the imagination to realize that he, Ezekiel, was in touch with his mortality as he was so addressed. This call, this consecration, was not like that of Aaron, a celebration. It was rather a lonely calling in the aweful presence of Almighty God. So powerful was it that it immobilized the prophet for seven days—he was stunned and speechless for an entire week.

from The Hound of Heaven
Francis Thompson

1859-1907

Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness, piece by piece, Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten me to my knee;
I am defenseless utterly.
I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! must—
Designer Infinite!—
Ah, must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsèd turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
Be dunged with rotten death?
407:59:186

Collect for the Day
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. [BCP:236:Proper 28]

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Throne Room of God: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 1 with poem by Henry C. Spear, Spirit Versus Machinery

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Daily Readings
Zephaniah 3:14-18, Luke 1:39-48, Ezekiel 1, Philippians 3;16-4:1

Daily Text: Ezekiel 1

The Throne Room of God
One of the most difficult of all chapters in the Bible to interpret, still the imagery of Ezekiel 1, with some study, seems clear. The focus and the overarching imagery is that of the throne room of God. That throne sits on the dome of the world making use of the ancient conception of the concave nature of the heavens that separates the waters above the world from those beneath. Under the dome and supporting it are four creatures, by Sirach’s time thought to be cherubim (Cf. Sirach 49:8). These creatures ride a four-wheeled chariot, the wheels of which each is oriented toward North, South, East or West. So that depending on the direction of the creatures, they ride on two wheels as in a chariot. When not on the earth they fly on two wings each. These wings touch at the tips and are thus in unison, if they enable them to fly at all. The text does not say, though wings do seem to imply that. What the text does say is that they move as the spirit moves them.

The four creatures each has four faces: human, eagle, lion and ox. These images are picked up by the Church and related to the Evangelists: Matthew, man; Mark, lion; Luke, ox; and John, eagle. They are also utilized in Revelation 4:1, described differently, but with the same elements. Greenberg comments that “the most lordly of creatures are merely the bearers of the Lord of lords” [502:56]. The cherubim with wings are reminiscent of the Holy of Holies in the Ark and in the Jerusalem Temple. Undoubtedly, this gives those in exile with Ezekiel, the priest, comfort that God’s presence can be anywhere, even on the bank of the Chebar Canal in Chaldea. This allowed the exiles to begin proving faithful even though they were far from the temple precincts. It also gives the priest-prophet renewed and enhanced authority to instruct them from the vision and the Word that follows.

So the four creatures can be seen to be riding in a single chariot and carrying the throne of God. And in the center of the storm theophany, vs. 4 there is a fire, gleaming like amber, that reflects the fire that is seen in the person of the divine image, vs. 27. That fire in the heavenly presence is described as an appearance of splendor all around, like the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day (vs. 28). But more important, is the reassurance that the fire, as well as the cloud, resides on the earth as well as in heaven, and it reminds us of that similar imagery in Moses’ day as the children of Israel are led from slavery in Egypt to the promised land. There is no way that the exiles would not have interpreted Ezekiel’s vision in a similar fashion, taking great hope from its implications.


Spirit Versus Machinery
Henry C. Spear


The spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.—Ezekiel 1:21

We build machines to do the work of man;
We organize a framework for each task;
We think that anyone can work a plan
And run machines and never questions ask.
We’ve standardized and mechanized life’s road,
So people have become mere bolts and cogs,
The human elements we see corrode,
The masses rise and shout, “We are not dogs.”
We must put living spirit in the wheels,
And humanize the avenues of trade,
So daily tender sympathy man feels,
And longs to give to others loving aid.
God breathed His living spirit into man,
We ought to keep that spirit, and we can.
377:718

Collect for the Day
You keep us waiting.
You, the God of all time;
Want us to wait
For the right time in which to discover
Who we are, where we must go,
Who will be with us, and what we must do.

So, thank you…for the waiting time.

You keep us looking.
You, the God of all space,
Want us to look in the right and wrong places
For signs of hope,
For people who are hopeless,
For visions of a better world which will appear
Among the disappointments of the world we know.

So, than you…for the looking time.

You keep us loving.
You, the God whose name is love,
Want us to be like you—
To love the loveless and the unlovely and the unlovable;
To love without jealousy or design or threat;
And, most difficult of all,
To love ourselves.

So, thank you…for the loving time.

And in all this,
You keep us.
Through hard questions with no easy answers;
Through failing where we hoped to succeed
and making an impact when we felt we were useless;
Through the patience and the dreams and the love of others;
And through Jesus Christ and his Spirit,
You
Keep us.

So, thank you…for the keeping time.
And for now,
and for ever.
[489:218:December 2 John Bell]

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

To The Faithful: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 15 with poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Judas Maccabaeus

Daily Readings
Proverbs 30, Joshua 20, II Maccabees 15, Philippians 3:1b-4:1

Daily Text: II Maccabees 15

To the Faithful
There has been a question as to whether this Nicanor was the same Nicanor of chapter 8. One would think not, however, since the same description is used of both that he is ‘thrice-accursed’ (cf. 8:34; 15:3), ultimately one must conclude that the Nicanor in chapter 8 and chapter 15 is the same man. Obviously, he learned his first lesson poorly, that one cannot oppose the Lord of Heaven. Not only has he not learned it, he sets himself up as a sovereign in opposition to the same Lord of Heaven, vs. 5. Before the battle is over, Nicanor is lying in full armor, dead on the field.

Judas in encouraging his men to fight with confidence, relays to them a dream or a vision that he has had of the former high priest, Onias III, with Jeremiah, showing approval to the troops and supporting their cause. This is probably some indication that Judas did not support Alcimus’ claim to the chair of the high priest. Ultimately, Judas reminds his troops that the battle is not to the strong, but to the faithful and prays publicly before them, calling on the Lord to send a good angel and strike down those who oppose the people of God. In II Maccabees 15:36 there is a tie-in with the Greek book of Esther, Nicanor being compared to the wicked Haman (also ‘thrice-accursed’) and the battle taking place on the day before Mordecai’s day. This is evidence that our author knew the book of Esther and likely the day of celebration, the 14th of Adar was the same for both Mordecai and Judas, otherwise known as the Feast of Purim. They both fought and won on the 13th of Adar and celebrated on the 14th, at least, that seems to be the implication.

from Judas Maccabaeus
ACT III, Scene IV (fragment)
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow1807-1882

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 exceeding glorious,
With hoary hair, and of a wonderful
And excellent majesty. And Onias siad:
“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 is 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!
JUDAS. Hark! I hear the trumpets
Sound from Beth-horon; from the battle-field
Of Joshua, where he smote the Amorites,
Smote the Five Kings of Eglon and of Jarmuth,
Of Hebron, Lachish, and Jerusalem,
As we today will smite Nicanor’s hosts,
And leave a memory of great deeds behind us.
CAPTAINS and SOLDIERS. The Help of God!
JUDAS. Be Elohim Jehovah!
Lord, thou dist send thine Angel in the time
Of ezekias, King of Israel,
And in the armies of Sennacherib
Didst slay a hundred fourscore and five thousand.
Wherefore, O Lord of heaven, now also send
Before us a good angel for a fear,
And through the might of thy right arm, let those
Be stricken with terror that have come this day
Against thy holy people to blaspheme!
411:1108

Collect for the Day
Grant us, Lord, the vision to see and the courage to do Your will. Imbue our hearts with the fidelity of Mordecai and the devotion of Esther, that we may never swerve from the path of duty and loyalty to our heritage. Endow us with patience and strength, with purity of heart and unity of purpose, that we may continue to proclaim Your law of love and truth to the peoples of the earth, until all have learned that they are one, the children of the Eternal God. Amen. [471:403 A prayer for the Feast of Purim]

Monday, May 29, 2006

Denial of Hope: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 14 with poem by Edmund Spenser, Death

Daily Readings
Proverbs 29, Joshua 19, II Maccabees 14, Philippians 2:1-3:1a

Daily Text: II Maccabees 14

Denial of Hope
Two men are contrasted in II Maccabees 14, Alcimus the high priest and Razi, the patriot, called father of the Jews. Alcimus dissembled to feather his own nest, and like Menelaus before him created much of the unrest between the Jews and the reigning monarchs, whether Antiochians or Seleucids. Razi, on the other hand, put his people before himself, and in the end when betrayed to Nicanor he took his own life. What the motivation was for betraying him is unknown. Did he know the whereabouts of Judas? Was he one of the leading Hasideans? Or was it because he was Jewish first and always, opposing all dominion by the Seleucids? Verse 38 says that he was accused of Judaism! This must have meant that he refused to recognize any authority not of the Jews own making. It may have related to the office of high priest and some refusal to recognize a high priest appointed by the reigning monarch. We will probably never know. What we do know is that rather than be taken by Nicanor he committed suicide.

Suicide was sometimes acceptable in Judaism, particularly in cases like Razi’s, where he was to be humiliated and made an example to intimidate the Jewish population. On the other hand, at times Jews forbade it. In Christianity only the Donatists (cf. 499:493) were known for suicide and they took Razi as their example. But overwhelmingly the Christian church has condemned suicide. In most cases suicide is a personal declaration of an irrevocable loss of hope, else why take one’s own life. Suicide flies in the face of Christian hope and it creates a ravaging and destructive effect in the lives of those who love the one dead by his own hand. It has thus been seen as a denial of the very Christ who himself died for us to make peace and hope possible. However, in Razi’s case suicide was not a denial of hope, for he died embracing the hope of resurrection. His denial was that of being completely subject to Nicanor’s perfidy. Such a distinction must be considered in suicide. Can this distinction be extended to include a terrible and debilitating disease? As in all ascetic judgements, cases probably should be considered one at a time. Hopefully, the Lord works that way. Judas’ Iscariot’s suicide could not qualify, but Razi’s would.

Death
Edmund Spenser

1552?-1599

What if some little paine the passage haue,
That makes fraile flesh to feare the bitter waue?
Is not short paine well borne, that brings long ease,
And layes the soule to sleepe in quiet graue?
Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas,
Ease after warre, death after life does greatly please.
407:1842

Collect for the Day
O God that art the only hope of the world,
The only refuge for unhappy men,
Abiding in the faithfulness of heaven,
Give me strong succor in this testing place.
O King, protect thy man from utter ruin
Lest the weak faith surrender to the tyrant,
Facing innumerable blows alone.
Remember I am dust, and wind, and shadow,
And life as fleeting as the flower of grass.
But may the eternal mercy which hath shone
From time of old
Rescue thy servant from the jaws of the lion.
Thou who didst come from on high in the cloak of flesh,
Strike down the dragon with that two-edged sword,
Whereby our mortal flesh can war with the winds
And beat down strongholds, with our Captain God.
[489:110:June 6 Bede, 675-735]

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Dust Thou Art: Bible Comment on II Maccabees 13 with poem by George Chapman, Knell

Daily Readings
Proverbs 28, Joshua 18, II Maccabees 13, Philippians 1

Daily Text: II Maccabees 13

Dust Thou Art
Antiochus V enters the pages of II Maccabees 13 enraged. There is some question about whether or not this is an accurate description of his temper for several reasons. He is still a minor with his guardian, Lysias, accompanying him. We do not have any real information on what has provoked this invasion so soon after he signs a covenant with the Jews. During the invasion he faces Judas surprise attack at night, and responds logically, thoughtfully,and carefully, approaching Jerusalem by way of Beth-zur, rather than through the mountains. This does not sound like an enraged man, but one who is listening to thoughtful, if not wise, counsel. Twice he faces setbacks at Beth-zur and then he hears that Philip has revolted in Antioch—the capital named for his ancestor. Immediately, he decides that he cannot ignore this threat in his rear and he makes peace with Judas. Notice that again Judas is very willing to live in peace, having the welfare of his countrymen at heart. War is not his first choice. The king deals so thoughtfully with Judas his being ‘enraged’ suggests that the text amplified his true feelings.

Early in the invasion, Menelaus joins the king and his party urging him to attack Maccabeus. His was not an attitude that held the people’s welfare at heart, as it never was. Lysias, ever influential with Antiochus, his ward, warned him that Menelaus was a figure of some controversy and very likely responsible for much of the unrest in Antiochus’ father’s time as well as his own. The king doesn’t hesitate. He sends him to Beroea for a particularly unsavory sort of death—that is being dropped into a pit of ashes to suffocate. The author notes that it is a fitting end for one who as high priest had committed many sins against the Lord’s altar of fire and ashes. Might we say, dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return?‘

Knell
George Chapman

1559?-1634

Dust is the end of all pursuit,
Ash and worm the doom of faces,
Quakes and holes the fate of places—
Yes, hounded like a wounded brute,
At last with all his worldly loot
Man is caught by what he chases.
407:863



Collect for the Day
Most holy and merciful Father:
We confess to you and to one another,
and the whole communion of saints
in heaven and on earth,
that we have sinned by our own fault
in thought, word, and deed;
by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
[BCP 267 Opening of Litany of Penitence for Ash Wednesday]