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, November 11, 2006

New People of God: II Esdras 1:1-2:9 with poem by Israel Zangwill, Moses and Jesus

Daily Readings
Psalm 128 Nehemiah 13 II Esdras 1:1-2:9 Revelation 1

Daily Text: II Esdras 1:1-2:9

New People of God
Scholarly research seems to concur that II Esdras 1:1-2:9, as well as the remainder of chapter two, were written in the middle of the second century A.D. by a Christian author. That author was familiar with the Greek text of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Septuagint. That is known because the list of the twelve minor prophets in 1:39-40 follow the Septuagintal order. It is supposed that chapters 1 and 2 were composed in Greek, though they have come down to us only through a Latin translation. Written as if Ezra’s call and prophecy were given directly by God and prior to the events described, this passage discusses classically the disobedience and rejection of Israel. Ezra ‘prophecies’ the coming of a new people that will replace Israel in God’s favor. They will have as their heritage the patriarchs and prophets. God’s judgement upon Israel is pronounced in the beginning verses of chapter two, and Sodom and Gomorrah are given as examples of nations that live contrary to God’s law.

II Esdras 1:28-32 express God’s care for Israel in sympathetic, even heart-rending terms and several of the references appear to be quotes from the synoptics, Matthew and Luke, and again from II Corinthians [cf. 539:85] . God as father may be seen in II Corinthians 6:16-18 and while there are Old Testament precedents they do not follow this form precisely. The reference to gathering them together as a hen gathers her brood is a close match with Matthew 23:37and Luke 13:34, while the reference to killing the prophets may well come from Matthew 23:34-36 and Luke 11:49-57. While these references alone do not make certain that the Church is the new people to inherit from defunct Judaism, it seems likely that this is intended by the author.

Moses and Jesus
Israel Zangwill

Methought on two Jews meeting I did chance—
One old, stern-eyed, deep browed; yet garlanded
With living light of love around his head;
The other young, with sweet, seraphic glance.
Round them went on the Town’s Satanic dance,
Hunger a–piping while at heart he bled.
Salom Aleikem mournfully each said,
Nor eyed the other straight, but looked askance.

Sudden from Church outrolled an organ hymn,
From Synagog a loudly chanted air,
Each with its prophet’s high acclaim instinct,
Then for the first time met their eyes swift-linked
In one strange, silent, piteous gaze, and dim
With bitter tears of agonized despair.

Collect for the Day
Gracious God, giver of life in its fullness, you take no pleasure in human want but intend your bounty to be shared among your children. Lead us in the ways of justice and peace, for Jesus Christ’s sake.

[476:887:128 Psalm prayer]

Friday, November 10, 2006

Epilogue: Judith 16:18-25 with poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Judith

Daily Readings
Psalm 126, Nehemiah 7:73b-8:18, Judith 16:18-25, Jude

Daily Text: Judith 16:18-25

Judith 16:18-25 serves as an epilogue to this account, and as in Job and canonical Esther, it is essentially a happy ending. God blesses Judith abundantly for her righteous service and she is honored and honorable throughout a life that lasts 105 years. Modeled after YHWH’s action with Israel, she also frees her slave, the young woman who accompanied her to the Assyrian camp. Interestingly, it appears that she did this not long before her death, which would imply that the maid lived as long as she did and longer enjoying her new freedom! That, of course, is not the point. The point is the incidental witness to the freeing of slaves, God’s will when possible. It is another of those ‘goods’ with which the texts of the ancients are peppered. Freeing slaves was a counter-cultural act, and only those with great influence could do so with wide-spread approval.

from Judith
Thomas Bailey Aldrich

So, by God’s and this one woman’s hand,
The tombs and temples of the Just were saved;
And evermore throughout fair Israel
The name of Judith meant all noblest things
In thought and deed; and Judith’s life was rich
With that content the world takes not away.
And far-off kings, enamoured of her fame,
Bluff princes, dwellers by the salt sea-sands,
Sent caskets most laboriously carved,
And cloths of gold, and papyrus scrolls, whereon
Was writ their passion; then themselves did come
With spicy caravans, in purple state,
To seek regard from her imperial eyes.
But she remained unwed, and to the end
Walked with the angels in her widow’s weeds.

Collect for the Day
Praise to you, god of our salvation. Your generous gifts surpass all that we can ask or imagine. You have delivered us from lthe exile of sin and restored us to new life in Jesus Christ our Saviour. Glory and honour and praise to you for ever and ever.

[476:885:126 Psalm prayer]

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cunning and Vulnerability: Judith 15:8-16:7 with poem by Swithun, Judith

Daily Readings
Psalm 127, Ezra 8, Judith 15:8-16:17, III John

Daily Text: Judith 15:8-16:17

Cunning and Vulnerability
Judith 15:8-16:17 complete the tribute to Judith by the high priest and the people and lead rhythmically into dance and song in procession to Jerusalem. The text of 15.9 has often been used in the centuries since the appearance of Judith to praise the Virgin Mary and more recently, Joan of Arc [534:246]. Surely, these words of Joakim could devolve no greater praise upon Judith than they do. He pronounces as in benediction the pleasure of God for Judith’s behavior and the Almighty’s blessing accompanies these words.

From the plunder of the Assyrian encampment Judith is brought as gift all that belonged to the erstwhile Holofernesl. One can almost visualize these treasures being passed down through Manasseh’s family as heirlooms, with stories attached to many of the pieces of furniture and the dinnerware. But no, in the Epilogue she gives them to the temple in Jerusalem. The climax of these honors comes from the women who surround and include and join Judith in her song and in a dance that wends its graceful way from Bethulia to nearby Jerusalem. The song celebrates Israel’s God, rehearses the movements of the war, describes the Lord’s exploits and Judith’s decisive role:
Her sandal ravished his eyes,
her beauty captivated his mind,
and the sword severed his neck!
All of this is quick and to the point. These musical phrases tell the story in compressed fashion. Cunning and vulnerability complement each other in the telling detail.

from Judith
Swithun, Bishop of Winchester

Then the whole people,
Preëminent race, for all a month’s space,
Curly-locked conquerors, carried and led
To the glorious city, gleaming Bethulia,
Helmets and hip-swords, hoar-grayish burnies,
Brave ones’ battle-gear embellished with gold,
Ornaments grander than any man living,
Though never so wise, could name or could tell of;
So much did the men-of-war mightily ‘complish
Bold under banners on the battle-field gory
Through the wise, clever counsel of Judith,
Mood-valiant woman. For her meed brought they,
Spear-brave earlmen, from the journey fetched, then,
Holofernes’s battle-grim blade and blood-gory helmet,
His war-burnie spacious and splendid, sparkling and shining
And red with its gold, and all that the ruler of heroes,
Arrogant, of treasure did own or of heirlooms a-precious,
Of rings and rarest of gems, they this to the radiant Judith,
To the wise-of-counsel did give. For all this gave, then, Judith
Glory to the Lord God of Hosts, who had given her honor,
Worship ‘mid men of this world, and, likewise, reward in the
Meed in the mansions of glory, for keeping unminished her faith
On the Almighty fixed for aye; forsooth, at the end she doubted not
The reward that she long had wished for. For this to the
well-lovèd Lord God
Be glory for ever and ever, who made the air and the wind,
Firmament and far-spreading wolds, and, likewise,
the foam-dashing waters
And the raptures of heaven by his own great mercy.

Collect for the Day
Gracious Father, watch over the Church, built on the foundation of your love. Help us so to live and proclaim the gospel that many may find life in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Power of Witness: Judith 14:1-15:7 with poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Judith

Daily Readings
Psalm 125, Ezra 7, Judith 14:1-15:7, I Esdras 8:1-67

Daily Text: Judith 14:1- 15:7

Power of Witness
In Judith 14.1-15.7 Judith has earned her chevrons. She issues order to the men making careful consideration of the psychological impact of the beheading on the Assyrian and mercenary forces. So she instructs the military to make a show of attack without actually carrying out the attack until the troops discover Holofernes demise and begin to flee before little Israel in panic. In due time that happens and Jewish soldiers throughout the country are called to play their part in destroying the defeated army. As is so often the case when God wins a victory, the mopping up exercises are left to his people. This is as true post-resurrection in the New Testament, as it was at Bethulia in this story.

One of Judith’s orders involves summoning Achior to herself. He could give unequivocal identification of Holofernes and he does so by passing out in a dead faint. Aroused he gives obeisance to Judith and praise to God. It is God who has done this, and it is to God Achior turns. He is converted, circumcised and made part of the household of God. The power of witness is always important, no less so here. Judith carries the human responsibility, but obviously she gives all the credit to God. Achior does not mistake this. The statement that he continued as part of the Israelite people “to this day” suggests that the writing of the account of Judith follows not more than one generation after these events. Scholars generally disagree that this is borne out by the textual evidence. Again, the question of historicity is in play. In spite of the fact that many scholars do not treat this as an historical text, in the sense that it actually happened, still it is so convincingly written that one is drawn into considering it as genuine reportage.

from Judith
Thomas Bailey Aldrich


The hours dragged by, and in the Assur camp
The pulse of life was throbbing languidly.
When from the outer waste an Arab scout
Rushed pale and breathless on the morning watch,
With a strange story of a Head that hung
High in the air above the City’s wall,--
A livid Head with knotted, snake-like curls,--
And how the face was like a face he knew,
And how it turned and twisted in the wind,
And how it stared upon him with fixt orbs
Till it was not in mortal man to stay;
And how he fled, and how he thought the Thing
Came bowling through the wheat-fields after him.
And some that listened were appalled, and some
Derided him; but not the less they threw
A furtive glance toward the shadowy wood.

Bagoas, among the idlers, heard the man,
And quick to bear the tidings to his lord,
Ran to the tent, and called, “My lord, awake!
Awake, my lord!” and lingered for reply.
But answer came there none. Again he called,
And all was still. Then, laughing in his heart
To think how deeply Holofernes slept
Wrapt in soft arms, he lifted up the screen
And marvelled, finding no one in the tent
Save Holofernes, buried, as it were,
Head foremost in the canopies. He stoopt,
And drawing back the damask folds, beheld
His master, a grim torso lying dead.

As in some breathless wilderness at night
A leopard, pinioned by a falling tree,
Shrieks, and the echoes mimicking the cry,
Repeat it in a thousand different keys
By lonely heights and unimagined caves:
So shrieked Bagoas, and so his cry was caught
And voiced along the vast Assyrian lines,
And buffeted among the hundred hills.
Then ceased the tumult sudden as it rose,
And a great silence fell upon the camps,
And all the people stood like blocks of stone
In some deserted quarry: then a voice
Blown through a trumpet clamored:
He is dead!
The Prince is dead! The Hebrew witch hath slain
Prince Holofernes! Fly, Assyrians, fly!

As from its lair the mad tornado leaps,
And seizing on the yellow desert sands,
Hurls them in swirling masses, cloud on cloud:
So, at the sounding of that baleful voice,
A panic seized the mighty Assur hosts,
And flung them from their places. With wild shouts
Across the hills in pale dismay they fled,
Trampling the sick and wounded under foot,
Leaving their tents, their camels, and their arms,
Their horses, and their gilded chariots.
Then with a dull metallic clang the gates
Of Bethulia opened, and from each
A sea of spears surged down the arid hills
And broke remorseless on the flying foe,--
Now hemmed them in upon a river’s bank,
Now drove them shrieking down a precipice,
Now in the mountain-passes slaughtered them,
Until the land, for many a weary league,
Was red, as in the sunset, with their blood.
And other cities, when they saw the rout
Of Holofernes, burst their gates, and joined
With trump and banner in the mad pursuit.
Three days before those unrelenting spears
The cohorts fled, but on the fourth they past
Beyond Damascus into their own land.

Collect for the Day
Lord, surround your people with your presence. Do not let us stretch out our hands to evil deeds, or be destroyed by the snares of the enemy, but bring us to share the land prepared for the saints in light, where you live and reign, God, now and forever.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

O Praise Him: Judith 13:10b-20 with poem by James Montgomery, Sonnet

Daily Readings
Sirach 51, Nehemiah 12:27-47, Judith 13:10b-20, II John

Daily Text: Judith 13:10b-20

O Praise Him
Reminiscent of Elizabeth’s words to Mary in Luke 3, Uzziah the elder in Bethulia says essentially, “Blessed are you among women” in addressing Judith upon her return. Even more exciting than the adulation of her people, is Judith’s ringing declaration as she approaches the gates of the city with Holofernes’ head in the food bag. Those words were, “Open, open the gate! God, our God, is with us, still showing his power in Israel and his strength against our enemies, as he has done today! [13:11] It is that recognition that we need to raise up in our daily lives, in the lives of the continuing people of God. We want and need to recognize that our God continues to demonstrate his love and his power in our lives. The Israelites had essentially forgotten that God could and would defend them until Judith stepped out on faith, even risking her life, to follow YHWH. She is a living reminder to them that God continues alive and well. And she can be a living reminder to us as well. When by faith we expect God to work, and by faith we step out in radical obedience of his leading in the smallest of matters, he will see us through and lead us on to matters not small at all. Expectation, faith, obedience and praise are thus intimately connected. Then we can say with Judith, “Praise God, O praise him! Praise God, who has not withdrawn his mercy from the house of Israel”, but has accomplished our prayers by our hand this very night!

On Judith Returning To Bethulia
With The Head of Holofernes In Her Hand
James Montgomery
, 1771-1854
from the Italian of Giovanni Battista, Felice Zappi, 1667-1719

She held the head all-horrible with gore;
Nor of the woman in that act was seen
Aught save the alluring locks and beauteous mien:
“Hail, heroine, hail!” all voices cried before.

At the glad news, the damsels came with speed;
Some kissed her feet and some her garment’s hem,
None her right-hand, for terrible to them
Was the remembrance of that fatal deed.

A hundred prophets sang the matron’s fame;
“Fly round the world, thine everlasting name!
The sun through all his march shall tell thy story.”
Great from that dread achievement though she rose,
Greater she stood at this triumphant close,
For she was humble in the height of glory.

Collect for the Day
Almighty God, by whose grace thy people gain courage through looking unto the heroes of faith: We lift our hearts in gratitude to thee for all who have lived valiantly and died bravely that there might be truth, liberty, and righteousness in our land. Help us to prize highly, and to guard carefully, the gifts which their loyalty and devotion have bestowed upon us. Grant us the joy of a living and vigorous faith, that we may be true as they were true, loyal as they were loyal, and serve thee and our country selflessly all the days of our life, and at last receive the victor’s crown; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Beheading: Judith 12:10-13:10a with poem by Swithun, Judith

Daily Readings
Sirach 49, Nehemiah 11:1-12:26, Judith 12:10-13:10a, I John 5

Daily Text: Judith 12:10-13:10a

The focus here in Judith 12:10-13:10a is the killing, the beheading, but prominent in the middle of that focus is once again a prayer. The author has Judith praying from the beginning of her sortie right through its execution (perhaps we should say, Holofernes execution) and final celebration. Twenty-first century sensitivities outside of the theater of our wars would not celebrate Judith’s act. Remove it from us and place it back in the Middle East and we are happy to embrace bloodletting politically as long as we don’t have to look at it except via the television screen. We haven’t changed much except that we do not celebrate death, we simply deal it out.

But in Judith’s centuries, human life was not prized culturally as it is today. That is probably due to the influence of Jesus, but never mind that. Even most of us Christians don’t recognize that he stands for peace not war, for negotiation not violence, for punishment without retribution, for crucifixion with a “Father forgive them.” Not so in Judith’s time and so prayer for the aid of God was not at all contradictory. In Judith 13:20 she is praised as “walking in the straight path before our God” [cf. 534:234]. Obviously, her people had no difficulty with the ethical implications of doing something good by immoral means. The end clearly justified the means in this story.

from Judith
Swithun, Bishop of Winchester
, 836 [1]

“Oh, God of Creation and Spirit of Comfort,
Oh, Son of the Highest, I beseech thee hear me,
Oh, Might of the Trinity, and thy mercy grant me,
So sorely needing it. Mightily my heart is
Stirred up within me and anxious my spirit,
Exceedingly troubled with sorrows; grant me, Sovereign of Heaven,
Victory and faith unswerving, that I with this sword may be able
To slay this dispenser of slaughter; safe do thou keep me,
Puissant Prince of Heroes: ne’er had I more pressing need of ‘
Thy all-protecting mercy: avenge now, mighty Lord,
Splendid Dispenser of Glory, the pain that my spirit endureth,
The grief that gnaweth my heart.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Then, the curly-locked lady
With flashing falchion smote the foeman detested,
The hostile-hearted one, that she half cut through, then
Severed his neck, that swooning he lay there
Drunken and wounded. Not dead was he yet, now,
Nor gave up the ghost: again vehemently,
With might and main, the mood-valiant woman
Smote the heathen hound that his head whirled rapidly
Forth on the floor; lay the foul carcass
Lifeless behind, his spirit departed
Down ‘mid the damned in dire abasement,
Ever thereafter in agony fettered,
With serpents bewound, in torments bound,
Firmly fastened in the flames of perdition,
When death took him off. Not e’er might he hope, now,
Encompassed with darkness to come away thence,
Leave that dragon-hall, but shall dwell in its horrors
Forever and ever, in endless perdition,
In that horrid home, hopeless, wretched.


1Attributed to Swithun by A.S. Cook. Others suggest Caedmon or Cynewulf [cf.537:3].

Collect for the Day
Purge the heart and mind and soul of this thy servant, we beseech thee, O Lord, of all that is unworthy of thy Presence, and grant that he, being purified of all earthly dross, may be counted worthy to serve thee among thy redeemed; through our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

New Intelligence: Judith 11:1-12:9 with poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Judith

Daily Readings
Sirach 48, Nehemiah 7:4-73a, Judith 11:1-12:9, Esdras 9:37-55

Daily Text: Judith 11:1-12:9

New Intelligence
The level of honest dialogue between Holofernes and Judith in chapter 11 is relatively sparse. Holofernes promises Judith about anything, even allowing her to conspicuously serve her own God, while prohibiting everyone else. Judith, likewise, says what she thinks is needed to trick the man into trusting her. She does defend Achior and his knowledge of the strength of the Judeans. But, she suggests, she has knowledge that they are momentarily ready to sin, something Achior could not have known. This is new intelligence, and Judith claims to have means of knowing when they do commit their sin against the Lord. That means is communication from the Lord God, and she is to receive that communication in the night within two or three days. So she receives permission to go out each night for communing with her deity, and ‘providentially’ providing her own escape route when she commits the murder for which she has come. ‘Murder’ is a little harsh, assuredly, for Holofernes is at war with Bethulia and Jerusalem. Judith sees herself as one of the Lord’s warriors, and certainly the commander is a worthy and acceptable target for a soldier—even if it is an assassination Without God’s intervention through Judith, all of Judea would probably have been destroyed, in story and to the extent of the historicity of this account, in fact.

from Judith
Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Before his tent, stretched on a leopard-skin,
Lay Holofernes, ringed by his dark lords,--
Himself the prince of darkness. At his side
His iron helmet poured upon the grass
Its plume of horse-hair; on his ponderous spear,
The flinty barb thrust half its length in earth,
As if some giant had flung it, hung his shield,
And on the burnished circuit of the shield
A sinewy dragon, rampant, silver-fanged,
Glared horrible with sea-green emerald eyes;
And as the sunshine struck across it, writhed,
And seemed a type of those impatient lords
Who, in the loud war-council here convened,
Gave voice for battle, and with fiery words
Opposed the cautious wisdom of their peers.
So seemed the restless dragon on the shield.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . .Judith, who knew all the mountain paths
As one may know the delicate azure veins,
Each crossing each, on his belovèd’s wrist,
Had stolen between the archers in the wood
And gained the straggling outskirts of the camp,
And seeing the haughty gestures of the chiefs,
Halted, with fear, and knew not where to turn;
Then taking heart, had silently approached,
And stood among them, until then unseen.
And in the air, like numerous swarms of bees,
Arose the wondering murmurs of the throng,
Which checking, Holofernes turned and cried,
“Who breaks upon our councils?”
But drinking then the beauty of her eyes,
And seeing the rosy magic of her mouth,
And all the fragrant summer of her hair
Blown sweetly round her forehead, stood amazed;
And in the light of her pure modesty
His voice took gentler accent unawares:
“Whence come ye?”
“From yon city.”
“By our life,
We thought the phantom of some murdered queen
Had risen from dead summers at our feet!
If these Judæan women are so shaped,
Daughters of goddesses, let none be slain.
What seek ye, woman, in the hostile camps
Of Assur?”
“This is he.”
“O good my lord,” cried Judith, “if indeed
Thou art that Holofernes whom I seek,
And seeking dread to find, low at thy feet
Behold thy handmaid, who I fear has flown
From a doomed people.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Then the crowd fell back,
Muttering, and half reluctantly, because
Her beauty drew them as the moon the sea—
Fell back and lingered, leaning on their shields.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The fame of Judith’s loveliness had flown
From lip to lip throughout the canvas town,
And as the evening deepened, many came
From neighboring camps, with frivolous excuse,
To pass the green pavilion—long-haired chiefs
That dwelt by the Hydaspe, and the sons
Of the Elymeans, and slim Tartar youth;
But saw not her, who, shut from common air,
Basked in the twilight of the tapestries.

But when night came, and all the camp was still,
And nothing moved beneath the icy stars
In their blue bourns, except some stealthy guard,
A shadow among shadows, Judith rose,
Calling her servant, and the sentinel
Drew back, and let her pass beyond the lines
Into the valley. And her heart was full,
Seeing the watch-fires burning on the towers
Of her own city: and she knelt and prayed
For it and them that dwelt within its walls,
And was refreshed—such balm there lies in prayer
For those who know God listens
Straightway then
The two returned, and all the camp was still.

Collect for the Day
O Saviour of the world, who by thy Cross and precious Blood hast redeemed us, Save us, and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.

[286:246:755 Good Friday liturgy, Western Rite]