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, October 21, 2006

Questioning God: Habakkuk 1 with poem by Habakkuk, Wall Street, 600 B.C.

Daily Readings
Sirach 32:24-33:35, Jeremiah 44, Habakkuk 1, Baruch 5

Daily Text: Habakkuk 1

Questioning God
Habakkuk (1) is a man of a different stripe. Most prophets challenge the people they are sent to. Habakkuk, like Job, questions God [cf. 533:47]. He complains that those who are evil surround and oppress and make a mockery of justice. “Why,’ he asks? When God responds that he has engaged the Chaldeans to bring his own judgment on Judah, Habakkuk strikes back with a response that this is unsatisfactory. “Why (O, Lord) do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?” Having challenged God this second time, Habakkuk waits for YHWH’s answer (Hab. 2:1).

Verse 11 is a very difficult passage. Most translators treat it as if it were a continuation of the oracle, however, J. M. M. Roberts [531:90 ff] makes a strong case for the verse being the prophet’s response to God’s word. Robert’s translation is as follows:
Then the spirit passed on,
it departed, and I was astonished:
“This one (takes) his might as his god!”
Note that to be ‘astonished’ fits exactly with God’s prediction in vs. 5, the beginning of God’s words. Read that way, it becomes a transition for the prophet’s challenge to YHWH. What a man Habakkuk must have been. He faithfully presents God’s words to his people, and at the same time publically questions them. He must have been as terrified as he was courageous.

Wall Street, 600 B.C.

They take up all of them with the angle,
they catch them in their net,
and gather them in their drag;
therefore they sacrifice unto their net,
and burn incense unto their drag;
because by them their portion is fat,
and their meat plenteous.

Collect for the Day
O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all wo need human love and fellowship; narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.

Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-bock to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power. God make the door of this house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom

[286:73:211 on St. Stephen’s Walbrook, London. Bishop Thomas Ken, 1637-1711]

Friday, October 20, 2006

Virtually Slaves: Lamentations 5 with poem by George Sandys, Judah in Exile Wanders

Daily Readings
Ezekiel 30, Jeremiah 43:8-13, Lamentations 5, Baruch 4

Daily Text: Lamentations 5

Virtually Slaves
Lamentations 5 follows a more traditional poetic format with a balanced synonomous parallelism within the two line phrases [532:102]. Titled as a prayer, it primarily describes the national distress. Evidently, those who remained were forced to pay for the necessities of life, even though they acquired those necessities themselves. Babylonian officials, virtually slaves in their own system, were those who had control over the remaining Judeans. Rape, abuse, humiliation, and the loss of all joy were the common experience. Desolation was the rule. In the final prayer there is the plea for the LORD to restore them in order for them to be restored. This parallel phrase of great beauty is modified by the LORD’s willingness to do so, they know that he has rejected them and may continue to do so.

Judah in Exile Wanders
George Sandys

Judah in exile wanders,
Ah, subdued
By vast afflictions and base servitude,
Among the heathen finds no rest.

Ah! see how Sion mourns!
Her gates and ways
Lie unfrequented on her solemn days,
Her virgins weep, her priests lament her fall,
And all
Her sweets convert to gall.

Collect for the Day
O Merciful God, who answerest the poor,
Answer us,
O Merciful God, who answerest the lowly in spirit,
Answer us,
O Merciful God, who answerest the broken of heart,
Answer us.
O Merciful God,
Answer us.
O Merciful God,
Have compassion.
O Merciful God,
O Merciful God,
O Merciful God, have pity upon us,
And at a near time.

[286:279:847 Day of Atonement]

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

God-imposed Silence: Lamentations 3 with poem by John Donne, The Lamentations of Jeremy

The Feast of St. Luke
Daily Readings
Ecclesiasticus 38:1-14, Jeremiah 41:3-18, Lamentations 3, II Timothy 4:5-13

Daily Text: Lamentations 3

God-imposed Silence
Another acrostic, this one three verses beginning with aleph, three more with beth and on through the alphabet, the poet addresses the misery created by the Fall of Jerusalem. While there is scholarly debate about whether this is about that event, it is placed in the heart of these poems about that and there seems no good reason to doubt that this too is concerns the humiliation of the city of God in 587 B.C.

The speaker is an individual and that can be claimed throughout the poem, though again there is debate about that. Who the poet is cannot be answered, though this author would suggest the royal personage once again. Generally, the poem speaks for itself, but this outline is offered:
I. 3:1-21 Sufferer is lead through despair to hope.
II. 3:22-39 The basis of hope.
III. 3:40-41 A call for general repentance.
IV. 3:42-66 Acknowledging transgression, the author call on God.
Pointing out some beautiful images in this passage one is drawn to the image in Lamentations 3 verse 8 where the poet cries for help but God shuts out his prayer. This is followed up in verse 44 where the poet sees God as wrapping himself in anger, followed immediately by the image of his wrapping himself with a cloud, through which no prayer can pass. God has thus made herself inaccessible.

In the second section of the poem we find that soaring affirmation that “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” It is this recollection that leads to hope in the midst of despair. Linked to this insight is the acknowledged need to wait quietly before the LORD, to wait in the God-imposed silence, for there hope is to be found.

The Lamentations of Jeremy,
For the Most Part According to Tremelius
John Donne

How sit this city, late most populous,
Thus solitary, and like a widow thus!
Amplest of Nations, Queen of Provinces
She was, who now thus tributary is!
Still in the night she weeps, and her tears fall
Down by her cheeks along, and none of all
Her lovers comfort her; Perfidiously
Her friends have dealt, and now are enemy.
Unto great bondage, and afflictions
Judah is captive led; Those nations
With whom she dwells, no place of rest afford,
In straits she meets her persecutors’ sword.
Empty are the gate of Sion, and her ways
Mourn, because none come to her solemn days.
Her priests do groan, her maids are comfortless,
And she’s unto her self a bitterness.
Her foes are grown her head, and live at peace,
Because when her transgressions did increase,
The Lord struck her with sadness: Th’enemy
Doth drive her children to captivity.
From Sion’s daughter is all beauty gone,
Like harts, which seek for pasture, and find none,
Her princes are, and now before the foe
Which still pursues them, without strength they go.
Now in her days of tears, Jerusalem
(Her men slain by the foe, none succouring them)
Remembers what of old, she esteemed most,
Whilst her foes laugh at her, for what she hath lost.
Jerusalem hath sinned, therefore is she
Removed, as women in uncleanness be;
Who honored, scorn her, for her foulness they
Have seen; her self doth groan, and turn away.
Her foulness in her skirts was seen, yet she
Remembered not her end; Miraculously
Therefore she fell, none comforting: Behold
O Lord my affliction, for the Foe grows bold.
Upon all things where her delight hath been,
The foe hath stretched his hand, for she hat seen,
Heathen, whom thou commandst, should not do so,
Into her holy Sanctuary go.
And all her people groan, and seek for bread;
And they have given, only to be fed,
All precious things, wherein their pleasure lay:
How cheap I’m grown, O Lord, behold, and weigh.
All this concerns not you, who pass by me,
O see, and mark if any sorrow be
Like to my sorrow, which Jehovah hath
Done to me in the day of his fierce wrath?
That fire, which by himself is governed
He hath cast from heaven on my bones, and spread
A net before my feet, and me o’thrown,
And made me languish all the day alone.
His hand hath of my sins framed a yoke
Which wreathed, and cast upon my neck, hath broke
My strength. The Lord unto those enemies
Hath given me, form whom I cannot rise.
He under foot hath trodden in my sight
My strong men; He did company invite
To break my young men; he the winepress hath
Trod upon Judah’s daughter in his wrath.
For these things do I weep, mine eye, mine eye
Casts water out; For he which should be nigh
To comfort me, is now departed far;
The foe prevails, forlorn my children are.
There’s none, though Sion do stretch out her hand,
To comfort her, it is the Lord’s command
That Jacob’s foes girt him. Jerusalem
Is an unclean woman amongst them.
But yet the Lord is just, and righteous still,
I have rebelled against his holy will;
O hear all people, and my sorrow see,
My maids, my young men in captivity.
I called for my lovers then, but they
Deceived me, and my priests, and elders lay
Dead in the city; for they sought for meat
Which should refresh their souls, they could not get.
Because I am in straits, Jehovah see
My heart o’erturned, my bowels muddy be,
Because I have rebelled so much, as fast
The sword without, as death within, doth waste.
Of all which here I mourn, none comforts me,
My foes have heard my grief, and glad they be,
That thou hast done it; But thy promised day
Will come, when, as I suffer, so shall they.
Let all their wickedness appear to thee,
Do unto them, as thou hast done to me,
For all my sins: The sighs which I have had
Are very many, and my heart is sad.

Collect for the Day
In the beginning was God,
Today is God, Tomorrow will be God.
Who can make an image of God?
He has no body.
He is the word which comes out of your mouth.
That word! It is no more,
It is past, and still it lives!
So is God.

[286:14:33 a pygmy hymn]

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Deconstructing Jerusalem: Lamentations 2 with poem by Haya Gaon, Sweet Death

Daily Readings
Sirach 32:1-23, Jeremiah 40:1-41:3, Lamentations 2, Baruch 2

Daily Text: Lamentations 2

De-constructing Jerusalem
Each of the poems was probably written soon after 587 B.C., the Fall of Jerusalem. This second one in Lamentations 2, is far more logical and less psychological than the first one. Following Delbert Hillers [532:42] the primary theme is that the LORD was responsible for the Fall and its aftermath. The LORD himself has thrown Israel down from the heavens to the earth. He has cut off Israel’s pride and power, become himself the warrior and become like an enemy. He destroyed his own dwelling place and deliberately de-constructed Jerusalem (2:8).

Beginning in 2:11 the poet or the King speaks and is completely upset, bitter, his own bile flowing out of him for the infants and babies are crying in the streets for bread and wine. He agonizes as to how he can comfort them for their ruin is vast and he knows not who can bring healing. There is, in his address a flashback, one that suggests that the prophets had whitewashed Judah’s iniquity, rather than pointing it out, even though pointing it out could have served to lead to repentance and the restoration of their fortunes. He goes on to describe the way the neighboring countries are mocking the Judahites, they and their ‘perfect’ city, their fountain of joy. Their enemies rejoice for the day they have longed for has come and the LORD has done what he purposed.

In the third division of this poem the poet points the people in the right direction. He encourages their tears of repentance and confession. Pour out your heart, your emotions, before God, he suggests and beg for the lives of your little ones.

In the final section the Poet-King, beginning with verse 20, addresses the LORD asking who it is to whom he has done all of this? Should women eat their children, LORD? Should priests be killed in the LORD’s sanctuary? Should you have done this, he implies. He points out that young and old are dead in the streets at the hands of his enemies, those that the LORD had invited from all over to attack and bring Judah down. No one escaped, he laments, ‘those whom I bore and reared my enemy has destroyed.’

Sweet Death
Haya Gaon

Yes, the bitterness of death is past,
and death is far sweeter than honey,
but not for all nations,
not for all races.
There is only one people to whom death is pleasant—the people of god
the offspring of the three patriarchs,
Abraham, Isasac, and Jacob,
who wait for death but it does not come.
Not even this wish is granted them.
They have been allotted a long life,
so that no sorrow shall escape them.

This is the people that is as though it had never been.
every mouth devoured it;
it was scattered to the corners of the earth,
plundered by all nations.
Before Media toppled it,
Babylon consumed it;
Greece swallowed it up,
Ishmael did not spew it out.
Why do You make its yoke heavier;
why do You multiply its misery?
It has neither weapons nor strength;
it can no longer bear the burden.

Make haste, go up to my Father and say to Him:
‘Your son is about to die.
Will You not come to visit him?
Speak to the earth
and it will tell You how he has wandered to its limits.
Its dust will inform you how it was kneaded with his blood.
Go to the wilderness
and see how it was drenched with his tears.
The blood of Your murdered people
has made the desert bring forth grain.’

Get up, call on your God,
gather all your dead and say to Him:
‘O Lord, You are compassionate and gracious,
after all this, will You hold back?
You have ravaged them,
You have ridiculed them.
You have paid them no heed.
You have given them up to be butchered like sheep
and till now You have shown them no pity.
Is it so hard for You to have mercy
even on the widowed city
which was once so full of people?
Will you refuse to comfort her with Your love?

Collect for the Day
O my God, thou art very near, in my heart and about my way; yet often thou dost seem very far off and my soul fainteth for looking after thee: thou dost lead me through dark places and withdrawest thyself from me. in the desolate time when I feel perplexed and forsaken, I would think upon the cross of my Saviour and his dreadful cry, that my faith may hold fast in his faith and that despair may not seize me. Help me to remember the days of vision and sure confidence, guide me to stay my soul in the revelations of thyself which thou hast given me in time past through all thy prophets and servants, and bring me out of the valley of the dark shade once more into the light of thy persence, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[286:129:434 W. R. Matthews, 1881-1973]

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Royal "I": Lamentations 1 with a poem by Kenneth Rexroth, Wednesday of Holy Week, 1940

Daily Readings
Sirach 31, Jeremiah 39, Lamentations 1, Baruch 1

Daily Text: Lamentations 1

A Royal “I”
Lamentations is a series of five poems, the first four of which are acrostic, having 22 verses each as does the Hebrew alphabet. The fifth poem has 22 verses and thus fits the format without its being an acrostic poem. Within the four acrostic poems the patterns vary.

Lamentations 1 begins in the 2nd person singular, as if the poet is describing the city’s plight. In verse 11c the pronoun becomes1st person singular as if the poet is referring to himself. Most commentators suggest that it is Zion, the city or nation that suddenly takes over and speaks for itself at that point. This author would suggest a different image, that of the king who might well speak with a royal “I”, the king, that is one who represents the whole people. The poet then would be viewing this tragedy through the eyes of the leader, the one who is ultimately responsible for the welfare of the city, of the state and of the populace. The loss whether described corporately or personally is incredible. All security, all hope, all personal, economic, political, and religious referents are destroyed in the moment the city falls. But the poet does not describe this loss objectively; rather he paints it in terms of misery, sorrow, hunger, pain, depression, weakness, and fear. His descriptions are meant to wring the heart of the reader. And all of this loss could have been avoided if the people had only faithfully served their God.

Wednesday of Holy Week, 1940
Kenneth Rexroth

Out of the east window a storm
Blooms spasmodically across the moonrise;
In the west, in the haze, the planets
Pulsate like standing meteors.
We listen in the darkness to the service of Tenebrae,
Music older than the Resurrection,
The voice of the ruinous, disorderly Levant:
“Why doth the city sit solitary
That was full of people?”
The voices of the Benedictines are massive, impersonal;
They neither fear this agony nor are ashamed of it.
Think…six hours ago in Europe,
Thousands were singing these words,
Putting out the candles psalm by psalm…
Albi like a fort in the cold dark,
Aachen, the voices fluttering in the ancient vaulting,
The light of the last candle
In Munich on the gnarled carving.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
Return ye unto the Lord thy God.”
Thousands kneeling in the dark,
Saying, “Have mercy upon me O God.”
We listen appreciatively, smoking, talking quietly,
The voices are coming from three thousand miles.
On the white garden wall the shadows
Of the date palm thresh wildly;
The full moon of the spring is up,
And a gale with it.

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 has 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]

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Last Four Kings: II Chronicles 36 with poem by Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, Sion Lies Waste

Daily Readings
Ezekiel 19, II Kings 24:18-25:30, II Chronicles 36, Jeremiah 52

Daily Text: II Chronicles 36

The Last Four Kings
The last four kings of Judah are covered quickly, deliberately, and leaving Josiah’s memory rather fresh. Each of these four go into exile. Each of the four did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. Each of these four was subservient to either Egypt or Babylon. Each of these four reflect the fulfillment of Huldah’s prophecy [cf. chapter 34]. Each of these four add to the sin of Judah, the ignoring of the Sabbath and temple observance. Each of these four illustrate the need for the land to observe sabbath in the Levitical sense of the land lying fallow for a time—in this case for a long time, ten sabbath years. Each of these four is a prelude to Exile and rebuilding following the approximately 70 years of exile.

II Chronicles 36 ends by a reference to Cyrus and Persia the conditions that set up the political reality experienced by the Chronicler. This same ending is the beginning of the book of Ezra, and leads smoothly into the next chapter of our story.

Sion Lies Waste
Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke

Sion lies waste, and thy Jerusalem
O Lord, is fallen to utter desolation.
Against thy prophets and thy holy men
The sin hath wrought a fatal combination:
Profaned thy name, thy worship overthrown,
And made thee, living Lord, a God unknown.

Thy powerful laws, thy wonders of creation,
Thy word incarnate glorious heaven, dark hell,
Lie shadowed under man’s degeneration,
Thy Christ still crucified for doing well.
Impiety, O Lord, sits on thy throne,
Which makes thee, living light, a God unknown.

Man’s superstition hath thy truths entombed,
His atheism again her pomps defaceth;
That sensual unsatiable vast womb
Of thy seen church thy unseen church disgraceth.
There lives no truth with them that seem thine own,
Which makes thee, living Lord, a God unknown.

Yet unto thee, Lord, mirror of transgression,
We who for earthly idols have forsaken
Thy heavenly image, sinless, pure impression,
And so in nets of vanity lie taken
All desolate implore that to thine own,
Lord, thou no longer live a God unknown.

Yet, Lord, let Israel’s plagues not be eternal,
Nor sin forever cloud thy sacred mountains,
Nor with false flames, spiritual but infernal,
Dry up thy mercy’s ever springing fountains.
Rather, sweet Jesus, fill up time and come
To yield the sin her everlasting doom.

Collect for the Day
O Merciful God, who answerest the poor,
Answer us,
O Merciful God, who answerest the lowly in spirit,
Answer us,
O Merciful God, who answerest the broken of heart,
Answer us.
O Merciful God,
Answer us.
O Merciful God,
Have compassion.
O Merciful God,
O Merciful God,
O Merciful God, have pity upon us,
And a near time.

[286:279:847 Prayer in Darkness of Spirit,
Day of Atonement]