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

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Weight of Judgment: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 24 with poem by Barbara Miller Macandrew, Ezekiel

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 8 Judges 19:1-20:7 Ezekiel 24 John 3

Daily Text: Ezekiel 24

The Weight of Judgment
Ezekiel 24 divides into two major sections: the parable of the cooking pot and the death of Ezekiel’s wife. The cooking parable has two themes; the first has to do with boiling meat that represents bloodshed committed by the citizens of the city themselves, and the second with God attempting to cleanse this rusty pot of a city by heating it red hot. In the first theme, those who shed blood don’t even try to hide it in the acceptable way by covering it with earth, they simply dump it out on bare rock for all to see. The rusty pot theme suggests such advanced deterioration that not even the hottest fire will scour the pot of its rust.

In the second part of the chapter, God’s announcement to Ezekiel that the delight of his life, his wife, will die suddenly reminds us of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. God asks the complete sacrifice for the sake of his name and the sake of his people. And Ezekiel’s response is commanded. He may mourn inwardly, but not publically. Rather he shall go on with his life without comment! And he does, that is he does until one who escapes the siege of Jerusalem arrives and he is given permission to speak to him of his grief and then share it with the other exiles. The exiles are to follow Ezekiel’s example. Whew! The weight of judgment. Judgement is tough; when the hammer falls its weight is felt.

from Ezekiel

“Also the word of the Lord came unto me saying, Son of man, behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke; yet neither shalt thou mourn nor weep, neither shall thy tears run down. Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead….So I spake unto the people in the morning: and at even my wife died.”

Barbara Miller Macandrew

He knew my soul, He knew she was in truth,
My heart’s desire; and I had none on earth
But only her. Upon my troubled life
She gently shone, as shineth some fair star
Upon tempestuous wasters, as this night
Upon the swellings dark of Jordan shines
The Summer-Moon.
It was a time
Of tumult and reproach, when God, who clothed
My soul with thunders, bade me utter them
To all the people, whether they would hear
Or would forbear. When I who stood between
An angry God and angry nations, felt
The shock of their dread warfare, till my soul
Reeled with the clangour—then she came to me,
Walking in white, and bearing in her hand
A cup of blessing. As the waters cool
Which flow from Lebanon, to meet the hot
And thirsty valleys, so she came to me;
And from that day she was my heart’s delight
And comfort for a while, a little while,--
Until God took her.
And she had sung to me
Her last sweet song,--for she was strangely calm
And lifted me up. She did not weep, nor lean
On me, as she had done at other times,
For strength to bear His will; she seemed to lean
Immediately upon the arm of God,
And need no other aid. But in that hour
My strength gave way: the gentle voice that sang
Its last, last song so sweetly, seemed to steal
My manhood from me; and the wistful smile
That strove to comfort me,--the smile so soon
To be eclipsed in death,--did pierce my soul
As with a sword.

“It is not hard to die,”
She said, with that fair smile, “for God’s sweet will
Makes bitter things most sweet. In my bright youth
He calls me to His side. It is not hard
To go to Him.” But in my haste I said,
With aching heart,--“It is not hard for thee—
I know it well. The captive-exile hastes
To leave the exile-land. But it is hard
To stay behind alone, when our one star
Is quenched for ever. Morn or eve shall bring
No word of thee to me, and days and nights
Shall make one empty night.”
I must fulfill
My stormy day; once more the clouds of God
Do compass all my path, with visions dread
Of gloom and glory. By my ruined home
I stand to speak for God, and stretch my hand,
Emptied of their sweet treasure, in God’s name
To all the people. And the Lord alone
Himself doth comfort me.

Collect for the Day
God give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things that should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
489:210 Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971]

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Flat Depiction: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 23 with poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne, Aholibah

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 7 Judges 18 Ezekiel 23 John 2

Daily Text: Ezekiel 23

Flat Depiction
There is very little of interest in Ezekiel 23. This is not a carefully worked out story of growth and development even towards sin. Rather there is a flat depiction of two sisters, harlots, whom God marries while they are in Egypt. This was enough to set the people of Israel on edge for they were proud of their heritage. But there is nothing in Ezekiel’s recital for them to be proud of. Oholah, Samaria leads the way, and Oholibah, Jerusalem, follows. As it was with Samaria so it is with Jerusalem. Oholibah will drink the same cup, or destiny, as her sister and Samaria is no more! So, too, it will be for Oholibah. For us the pertinent lesson is that through the Lord’s judgement, Jerusalem will learn that the Lord is in truth the Lord.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

In the beginning God made thee
A woman well to look upon,
Thy tender body as a tree
Whereon cool wind hath always blown
Till the clean branches be well grown.

There was none like thee in the land;
The girls that were thy bondwomen
Did bind thee with a purple band
Upon thy forehead, that all men
Should know thee for God’s handmaiden.

Strange raiment clad thee like a bride,
With silk to wear on hands and feet
And plates of gold on either side:
Wine made thee glad, and thou didst eat
Honey, and choice of pleasant meat.

And fishers in the middle sea
Did get thee sea-fish and sea-weeds
In colour like the robes on thee;
And curious work of plaited reeds,
And wools wherein live purple bleeds.

And round the edges of thy cup
Men wrought thee marvels out of gold,
Strong snakes with lean throats lifted up,
Large eyes whereon the brows had hold,
And scaly things their slime kept cold.

For thee they blew soft wind in flutes
And ground sweet roots for cunning scent;
Made slow because of many lutes,
The wind among thy chambers went
Wherein no light was violent.

God called thy name Aholibah,
His tabernacle being in thee,
A witness through waste Asia;
Thou wert a tent sewn cunningly
With gold and colours of the sea.

God gave thee gracious ministers
And all their work who plait and weave:
The cunning of embroiderers
That sew the pillow to the sleeve,
And likeness of all things that live.

They garments upon thee were fair
With scarlet and with yellow thread;
Also the weaving of thine hair
Was as fine gold upon thy head,
And thy silk shoes were sewn with red.

All sweet things he bade sift, and ground
As a man grindeth wheat in mills
With strong wheels always going round;
He gave thee corn, and grass that fills
The cattle on a thousand hills.

The wine of many seasons fed
Thy mouth, and made it fair and clean;
Sweet oil was poured out on thy head
And ran down like cool rain between
The strait close locks it melted in.

The strong men and the captains knew
Thy chambers wrought and fashioned
With gold and covering of blue,
And the blue raiment of thine head
Who satest on a stately bed.

All these had on their garments wrought
The shape of beasts and creeping things
The body that availeth not,
Flat backs of worms and veinèd wings,
And the lewd bulk that sleeps and stings.

Also the chosen of the years,
The multitude being at ease,
With sackbuts and with dulcimers
And noise of shawms and psalteries
Made mirth with the ears of these.

But as a common woman doth,
Thou didst think evil and devise;
The sweet smell of thy breast and mouth
Thou madest as the harlot’s wise,
And there was painting on thine eyes.

Yea, in the woven guest-chamber
And by the painted passages
Where the strange gracious painting were,
State upon state of companies,
There came on thee the lust of these.

Because of shapes on either wall
Sea-coloured from some rare blue shell
At many a Tyrian interval,
Horsemen on horses, girdled well,
Delicate and desirable.

Thou saidest: I am sick of love:
Stay me with flagons, comfort me
With apples for my pain thereof
Till my hands gather in his tree
That fruit wherein my lips would be.

Yea, saidest thou, I will go up
When there is no more shade than one
May cover with a hollow cup,
And make my bed against the sun
Till my blood’s violence be done.

Thy mouth was leant upon the wall
Against the painted mouth, thy chin
Touched the hair’s painted curve and fall;
Thy deep throat, fallen lax and thin,
Worked as the blood’s beat worked therein.

Therefore, O thou Aholibah,
God is not glad because of thee;
And thy fine gold shall pass away
Like those fair coins of ore that be
Washed over by the middle sea.

Then will one make thy body bare
To strip it of all gracious things,
And pluck the cover from thine hair,
And break the gift of many kings,
Thy wrist-rings and thine ankle-rings.

Likewise the man whose body joins
To thy smooth body, as was said,
Who hath a girdle on his loins
And dyed attire upon his head—
The same who, seeing, worshipped,

Because thy face was like the face
Of a clean maiden that smells sweet,
Because thy gait was as the pace
Of one that opens not her feet
And is not heard within the street—

Even he, O thou Aholibah,
Made separate from thy desire,
Shall cut thy nose and ears away
And bruise thee for thy body’s hire
And burn the residue with fire.

Then shall the heathen people say,
The multitude being at ease;
Lo, this is that Aholibah
Whose name was blown among strange seas,
Grown old with soft adulteries.

Also her bed was made of green,
Her windows beautiful for glass
That she had made her bed between:
Yea, for pure lust her body was
Made like white summer-coloured grass.

Her raiment was a strongman’s spoil;
Upon a table by a bed
She set mine incense and mine oil
To be the beauty of her head
In chambers walled about with red.

Also between the walls she had
Fair faces of strong men portrayed;
All girded round the loins, and clad
With several cloths of woven braid
And garments marvellously made.

Therefore the wrath of God shall be
Set as a watch upon her way;
And whoso findeth by the sea
Blown dust of bones will hardly say
If this were that Aholibah.

Collect for the Day
O God of infinite mercy and boundless majesty,
whom no distance of place
nor length of time
can part from those for whom you care;
be with your servants everywhere, who trust in you,
and through all the ways in which they are to go,
be pleased to be their Guide and their Companion.

May no adversity harm them,
no difficulty oppose them;
may all things turn out happily and prosperously for them;
that by the help of your right hand,
whatever they have reasonably asked for,
they may quickly receive a good response;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
[489:67 Gelasian Sacramentary, 5th century]

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Judge the Bloody City: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 22 with poem by George Macdonald, Oneness With Him

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 6 Judges 17 Ezekiel 22 John 1

Daily Text: Ezekiel 22

Judge the Bloody City
Every kind of immorality is noted in Ezekiel 22: personal, sexual, legal, economic and religious. Jerusalem is a cesspool in the eyes of God. Named are the princes, the priests, the officials, the prophets, and the whole people. Nowhere does God find the holy man or woman, even the one who has the city’s welfare at heart enough to repair damage to the walls, to the simple defense of the city. Dross are they, says God, no good metal here. Judge the bloody city, Ezekiel, judge it!

Oneness With Him
George Macdonald

I take a comfort from my very badness:
It is for lack of Thee that I am bad.
How close, how infinitely closer yet
Must I come to Thee, ere I can pay one debt
Which mere humanity has on me set!
“How close to Thee!”—no wonder, soul,
thou art glad!
Oneness with Him is the eternal gladness.

Collect for the Day
Lord Jesus Christ,
King of kings:
you have power over life and death,
you know even that which is not clear, but hard to understand,
what I think and feel is not hidden from you.
Therefore, cleanse me from my hidden sins,
for you have seen the wrong I have done.

As each day passes,
the end of my life becomes ever nearer,
and my sins increase in number.
You, Lord, my Creator, know how feeble I am,
and in my weakness, strengthen me;
when I suffer, uphold me,
and I will glorify you,
my Lord and God.
[489:64 Ephraem of Syria, c. 306-73]

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Song of the Sword: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 20:45-21:32 with poem by Gilbert K. Chesterton, O God of Earth and Altar

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 5 Judges 16 Ezekiel 20:45-21:32 Tobit 14

Daily Text: Ezekiel 20:45-21:32

Song of the Sword
In Ezekiel 20:45-21:32 the prophet claims that his fellows accuse him of making allegories and God responds by giving him an interpretation that turns the riddle of fire in the non-existent forests of the Negeb into the sword falling upon Jerusalem. Note that the two prophecies are linked by the mirror images of 20:46 and 21:2. The song of the sword is as beautiful as it is frightening if the singer is the object. The image of the two roads beginning from a wye somewhere in Babylonia with a signpost pointing to Riblah in one direction and to Jerusalem in the other has a ring of reality. Archaeological finds have included such signs. At the wye Nebuchadnezzar reads the omens and the lots fall on Jerusalem. The two allies, Ammon and Judah will both fall, but Jerusalem will fall first. In Jerusalem, Zedekiah, the king, is singled out for explicit scorn as a vile and wicked prince whose day is come. All will be turned upside down in the invasion and the Davidic dynasty will end ‘until he comes whose right it is: to him I will give it' (italics added, vs. 27). Such a messianic promise is found in the midst of destruction prophecied for Jerusalem, Riblah and eventually Babylon (vss. 30-32)!

O God of Earth and Altar
Gilbert K. Chesterton

O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not Thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honor and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
The priest and prince and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to Thee.

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 instil (sp.) 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 Pope John Paul II]

Monday, June 19, 2006

For the Sake of My Name: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 20 with poem by Christina G. Rossetti, Despised and Rejected

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 5 Judges 16 Ezekiel 20:1-44 Tobit 14

Daily Text: Ezekiel 20:1-44

For the Sake of My Name
This ‘history’ is one with pathos and anger mixed. Over and over God recites to the exiles who come to consult him through the prophet, the history of their ancestor’s and their own duplicity. For they always have wanted to worship gods of wood and stone (vs. 32). This, the LORD says, has been true since the day I chose you in Egypt. Repeatedly, I wanted to destroy you, but did not for the sake of my Name in the eyes of the nations. So for that alone I continued to lead you out into the land promised. But nothing has ever changed. You are back in ‘egypt’ again, in exile again, and nothing ever changes. And because of that, I refuse to be consulted.

But in the last half of the last section, Ezekiel 20:39-44, the Divine One begins to sound notes of renewal. And he promises that all that are double minded will be weaned out of the land of Israel and scattered to the nations. And those in exile who are faithful will be brought back to the land. In the end there will yet be a faithful remnant living in holiness in real time upon God’s holy mountain. That time is still before us twenty-six centuries later.

Despised and Rejected
Christina G. Rossetti

My sun has set, I dwell
In darkness as a dead man out of sight;
And none remains, not one, that I should tell
To him mine evil plight
This bitter night.
I will make fast my door
That hollow friends may trouble me no more.

“Friend, open to Me.”—Who is this that calls?
Nay, I am deaf as are my walls:
Cease crying, for I will not hear
Thy cry of hope or fear.
Others were dear,
Others forsook me: what art thou indeed
That I should heed
Thy lamentable need?
Hungry should feed,
Or stranger lodge thee here?

“Friend, My Feet bleed.
Open thy door to Me and comfort Me.”
I will not open, trouble me no more.
Go on thy way footsore,
I will not rise and open unto thee.

“Then is it nothing to thee? Open, see
Who stands to plead with thee.
Open, lest I should pass thee by, and thou
One day entreat My Face
And howl for grace,
And I be deaf as thou art now.
Open to Me.”

Then I cried out upon him: Cease,
Leave me in peace:
Fear not that I should crave
Aught thou mayst have.
Leave me in peace, yea trouble me no more,
Lest I arise and chase thee from my door.
What, shall I not be let
Alone, that thou dost vex me yet?

But all night long that voice spake urgently:
“Open to Me, still harping in mine ears:
“Rise, let Me in.”
Pleading with tears:
“Open to Me that I may come to thee.”
While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:
“My Feet bleed, see My Face,
See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,
My Heart doth bleed for thee,
Open to Me.”

So till the break of day:
Then died away
That voice, in silence as of sorrow;
Then footsteps echoing like a sigh
Passed me by,
Lingering footsteps slow to pass.
On the morrow
I saw upon the grass
Each footprint marked in blood, and on my door
The mark of blood forevermore.

Collect for the Day
We let the world overcome us; we live too much in continual fear of the chances and changes of mortal life. We let things go too much their own way. We try too much to get what we can by our own selfish wits, without considering our neighbour. We follow too much the way and fashion of the day, doing and saying and thinking anything that comes uppermost, just because there is so much around us. Free us from our selfish interests, and guide us, good Lord, to see thy way and to do thy will. [489:164:September 11 Charles Kingsley, 1819-75]

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Personalism: Bible Comment on Ezekiel 18 with poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, Destiny

Daily Readings
Ecclesiastes 3 Judges 14 Ezekiel 18 Tobit 12

Daily Text: Ezekiel 18

The original understanding of responsibility was communal. That is, everyone participated in the community and children followed the behavior of their parents. The community was judged as one. But in exile this belief creates a crisis because what is happening there affects Jerusalem and what happens in Jerusalem affects the exiles, so “The parents eat sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge!” God responds with a “No more” edict. The community is still primary, but in the eyes of God sin and righteousness have their own reward. Individuals within the community make up its constituent parts, and will be judged individually, not collectively. Eichrodt terms this understanding as ‘personalism,’[503:241] and it must have aroused hope in Babylon and it must have aroused hope in Jerusalem as well.

Eichrodt recognizes that this does not have clearly in view the kingdom of God, but it does show “a deepened ethical understanding of the inward connection between all ethical decisions, and of how progress in the moral life can be made a real growth” [503:242]. The distinction made here by Ezekiel 18 is primarily pastoral rather than theological. In our own time we have moved to understand this as theology, each of us standing and falling on our own merits, but that is to lose sight of the community of God, the house of Israel of Ezekiel’s time, the church of our time. A kernel or an of corn may be described, but who ever heard of a field of corn with one kernel or one stalk? It would indeed, as a field of corn, be useless. So it is with the kingdom of God. Righteousness must be pursued individually, but it is supported by the community for the sake of the community. Sin, likewise, has its communal nature, but it may not be related at all to the behavior of parents or offspring. The upshot of this teaching is hope, hope for the present and hope for the future.

John Greenleaf Whittier

We shape ourselves the joy or fear
Of which the coming life is made,
And fill our future’s atmosphere
With sunshine or with shade.

The tissue of the life to be
We weave with colors all our own,
And in the field of destiny
We reap as we have sown.

Collect for the Day
Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,
my staff of faith to walk upon,
my scrip of joy, immortal diet,
my bottle of salvation,
my gown of Glory, hope’s true gage
and thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.
[475:519 Sir Walter Raleigh]