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 18, 2006

Many Are Invited, But Few Accept: II Esdras 7:107-8:19a with poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Follow the Christ

Daily Readings
Psalm 138, Esther 3:1-13 [Apoc.] Addition B, 3:14-15, II Esdras 7:102-8:19a, Revelation 6

Daily Text: II Esdras 7:102-8:19a

Many Are Invited, But Few Accept
The existence of God is acknowledged and within His life, all life subsists. That seems to be recognized in 8:7. Still Ezra speaks out suggesting that it were better that humankind not be born than that it perish in torments. Ezra suggests that only one-ten thousandth of humankind may be saved! This number is not meant as an estimate or a cap, but a reality that those who serve God are rare among humankind. The great of mass of others may not even be interceded for on the day of judgment. Intercede continuously while they live in their mortal flesh, but once they pass into immortality, intercession is no longer possible. The pain Ezra feels over this is excruciating. In Christian literature this heart for those headed for perdition is given to each follower of Christ. But as in II Esdras, so in Matthew 22; the man not ready for the wedding feast is thrown into outer darkness without hesitation.

Follow the Christ
Alfred Tennyson
from: “Idylls of the King: Gareth and Lynette”

Man am I grown, a man’s work must I do,
Follow the deer? follow the Christ, the King,
Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King—
Else, wherefore born?

Collect for the Day
God of creation and fulfilment, help us to seek and discover your purposes, that we may become willing instruments of your grace, and that all the world may come to love and praise your name, in the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:896:138 Psalm prayer]

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Earth Renewed: II Esdras 7:45-101 with poem by James Montgomery, Well Done

Daily Readings
Psalm 136, Esther 2 [Apoc.], II Esdras 7:45-101, Revelation 5

Daily Text: II Esdras 7:45-101

The Earth Renewed
Ezra here begins to realize the implications of the final judgement for humankind. Only a few will be saved, while almost everyone who ever lived will be lost to final torment. Since the judgement was created by God before the earth, Ezra suggests that it might have been better if humankind had never been created. Uriel does not seem concerned at all. Precious in the eyes of the Lord are those who have served him faithfully. Like precious metals, gold, silver and bronze, their rarity creates the notion that they are precious. Iron, lead and clay, on the other hand, are so available that they are not prized. So it is with the righteous and the unrighteous. While God is imminently patient during a human being’s life, that patience will be reflected not at all in the judgment. Humankind makes up its own mind as to what it will do with the Torah and the reality of God during his or her lifetime. There is a suggestion here that both the present world and the world to come were created for the exercise of righteousness. That most ignore it and choose otherwise changes not the intent one whit. In that sense the righteous are the triumphant ones even in this world.

The world to come is not another world, it is this one renewed. The judgement separates the ‘two,’ for during the period of time after the last human dies and the judgment, the earth is to be renewed. During that time this passage details the torments of the wicked and the delights of the righteous, a series of psychological torments and delights, that have little or nothing to do with outer darkness, fire or isolation, but much to do with the realization and anticipation of loss and benefit. Such does not make either less helpful than some other characterization; they are sufficient. These descriptions in II Esdras 7:45-101 help make clear the background of Jewish-Christian expectations in the first century A.D.

Well Done
James Montgomery


Servant of God, well done!
Rest from thy loved employ:
The battle fought, the victory won,
Enter thy Master’s joy.
The pains of death are past,
Labour and sorrow cease,
And Life’s long warfare closed t last,
Thy soul is found in peace.

Collect for the Day
Maker and Sustainer of all things, Source of all life and goodness, help us always to love and serve one another, and to worship you with joy and gladness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:894:136 Psalm prayer]

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Adam's Sin: II Esdras 6:35-7:44 with poem by Geoffrey Hill, Genesis

Daily Readings
Psalm 135, Esther 1 [Apoc.] Addition A, II Esdras 6.35-7.44, Revelation 4

Daily Text: II Esdras 6.35-7.44

Adam’s Sin
After his preparation and aroused distress, Ezra in II Esdras 6:35-7:44, begins anew to question the Archangel Uriel, who speaks for God.

Ezra: You created the world, and you did so for Israel. Why has Israel not received the world as his inheritance?

Uriel: Ezra, why do you focus only on the present? Can you not see the promise of the world to come when the righteous shall be rewarded and the wicked punished? The difficulty in the present world has been made necessary by Adam’s sin and that of every other human being.

The Messianic kingdom and the end of the world will one day be revealed. My son the Messiah will then also be revealed with all who are with him. They shall rejoice 400 years. After that the Messiah will die as will all who draw human breath. The world will retreat to primeval silence for seven days, after which the world not yet awake shall be roused, the righteous to life and the corruptible to death. Compassion will no longer be available. Judgement will occur by the standard of truth alone. Paradise and hell shall be disclosed and the nations will see and understand in the light of the glory of the Most High. You alone, Ezra, are being shown these things.

Geoffrey Hill

Against the burly air I strode
Crying the miracles of God.

And first I brought the sea to bear
Upon the dead weight of the land;
And the waves flourished at my prayer,
The rivers spawned their sand.

And where the streams were salt and full
The tough pig-headed salmon strove,
Ramming the ebb, in the tide’s pull,
To reach the steady hills above.

The second day I stood and saw
The osprey plunge with triggered claw,
Feathering blood along the shore,
To lay the living sinew bare.

And the third day I cried: “Beware
The soft-voiced owl, the ferret’s smile,
The hawk’s deliberate stoop in air,
Cold eyes, and bodies hooped in steel,
Forever bent upon the kill.”

And I renounced, on the fourth day,
This fierce and unregenerate clay,
Building as a huge myth for man
The watery Leviathan,

And made the long-winged albatross
Scour the ashes of the sea
Where Capricorn and Zero cross,
A brooding immortality—
Such as the charmed phoenix has
In the unwithering tree

The phoenix burns as cold as frost;
And, like a legendary ghost,
The phantom-bird goes wild and lost,
Upon a pointless ocean tossed.

So, the fifth day, I turned again
To flesh and blood and the blood’s pain.

On the sixth day, as I rode
In haste about the works of God,
With spurs I plucked the horse’s blood.

By blood we live, the hot, the cold,
To ravage and redeem the world:
There is no bloodless myth will hold.

And by Christ’s blood are men made free
Though in close shrouds their bodies lie
Under the rough pelt of the sea;

Though Earth has rolled beneath her weight
The bones that cannot bear the light.

Collect for the Day
God of freedom, you brought your people out of slavery with a mighty hand and gave them a law of love and justice. Deliver us from every temptation to be satisfied with false imitations of your will: with talk of peace that masks the face of war, and thanks for plenty that leaves the poor unfed. We pray for the coming of your kingdom, founded in Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:893:135 Psalm prayer]

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

In the New Age: II Esdras 5:21-6:34 with poem by Gertrude Ryder Bennett, These Times

Daily Readings
Psalm 134, Nehemiah 9:38-10:39, II Esdras 5:21-6:34, Revelation 3

Daily Text: II Esdras 5:21-6:34

In the New Age
Prayer and fasting at the beginning of each of these visions, as in II Esdras 5:21-6:34, is an apocalyptic preparation for the divine revelation [539:136]. As he completes his seven days of fasting and prayer, Ezra renews his questioning of the Most High. And he does so by rehearsing the many natural metaphors God has used for his people and then asking, why it is that after choosing so specifically this one people God turns Jacob over to the many nations for punishment rather than administering discipline personally? Uriel, while not named in this vision, is the archangel who speaks for God.

Uriel: You’ll never understand Ezra. You are not suggesting are you, that you love Israel more than the Creator does?

Ezra: But if I can not understand there is no reason for living.

Uriel: Sorry, in the end God will discipline and judge personally, as in the beginning he created without intermediate cause.

Ezra: If so, why have the intermediate period? Why did you not create everyone at once and judge sooner?

Uriel: Because there is in creation a natural order of beginning and development and because the earth could not hold everyone from all generations at once, that is, there is an ecological necessity built into my universe.

Ezra: Then, how can everyone be judged at the end? What makes that different? And if there must be different ages, how can they be recognized?

Uriel: There are different ages, but they are seamless. As Jacob’s hand on Esau’s heel, so it will be in the Messanic age with the Messiah’s hand on Rome’s heel. Both Esau and Rome continue simultaneously with the beginning of the new age, but in the end evil will be blotted out and truth revealed more effectively than the giving of the Torah changed forever the way the world experienced the LORD. This is so, because in the new age human hearts will be changed.

These Times
Gertrude Ryder Bennett

Our motors pierce the clouds. They penetrate
The depth of oceans. Microscopes reveal
New worlds to conquer, while we dedicate
Our intellects to strength of stone and steel.
We are as proud as those who built a tower
To reach to heaven. Recklessly we rear
Our lofty Babels, arrogant with power.
How dare we boast of cities while we hear
The nations groping through the dark along
The road of life? What right have we for pride
Till Truth is steel, and Faith is iron-strong,
Till God and man are working side by side?
Then let our prayers and labors never cease;
We act the prologue of a masterpiece.

Collect for the Day
God our creator and redeemer, give us grateful hearts and willing hands, that we may worthily praise your name and build your kingdom among all people, to the glory of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ.

[476:891:134 Psalm prayer]

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Weight of Fire: II Esdras 4:1-5:20 with poem by Alfred Tennyson, Flower in the Crannied Wall

Daily Readings
Psalm 131, Nehemiah 9:1-37, II Esdras 4:1-5:20, Revelation 2

Daily Text: II Esdras 4:1-5:20

The Weight of Fire
In this section of the second vision, II Esdras 4:1-5:20, the archangel Uriel maintains that God’s ways are beyond comprehension. Ezra, holding up his side of the dialogue, cannot agree, for life is not worth living if one has the faculty of understanding without the information to make that faculty whole. Clever are the stratagems offered by the author, e.g., tell me the weight of fire, giving his theological understanding in the words of Uriel, and perhaps the tension of human struggle in the questions of Ezra [cf. 540:180].

Flower in the Crannied Wall
Alfred Tennyson

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Collect for the Day
God of earthquake, wind, and fire, may we know you also in the voice of silence. Teach us the way of quiet, that we may find our peace in your presence, in the pattern of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

[476:889:131 Psalm prayer]

Monday, November 13, 2006

Law and the Evil Root: II Esdras 3 with poem by Ibbie McColm Wilson, The Sentinel of the Ages

Daily Readings
Psalm 130, Ezra 10, II Esdras 3, I Esdras 8:91-9:36

Daily Text: II Esdras 3

Law and the Evil Root
The crux of II Esdras 3 is the struggle the prophet sees in the hearts of men, that is within them is planted God’s Law and the evil root, side by side. The perplexity he experiences implicitly holds God responsible for this condition, for God does not hinder the human being from choosing to live out the evil and to ignore the good [cf. 540:181]. Adam lived in paradise with eternal life as his right, but being given one prohibition, he transgressed it and the Lord immediately appointed death as the result. The issue here is that righteousness leads to life and sinfulness leads to death. Following Adam all human beings participated in his transgression and repeatedly God tried to start over in different ways—the flood, choosing Abraham, Jacob, and David. The result was always the same and God always punished his people. Ezra is struggling with what seemed the reality that Israel, following God’s command imperfectly, suffered, while the remainder of the nations following God’s Torah not at all, flourished. Where’s the justice in this?

Chapters 3-14 are a manuscript to themselves, that is, chapters 1 and 2, 15 and 16 were added to the main body of this work. This work, 3-14, was probably written originally in Hebrew around 100 A. D. Ezra himself did not live until the 5th century, so he could not have been around in the 6th century, 557 B.C., as suggested in verse 1. It is likely that the book is coded to speak of Rome’s depredations on Jerusalem in 70 A.D., not Babylon’s in 587 B. C. Like in the book of The Revelation of Jesus to John, Babylon is a code word for Rome. Ezra’s struggle with sin is the same struggle Paul was having in Romans and that we have in our own day.

The Sentinel of the Ages
Ibbie McColm Wilson

Under shining, under shadow,
At the gates of every land,
All adown the lengthening ages,
Men have seen a Sentry stand;
Looming grandly on the beauty
Of the blue day’s crystal light,
Then anon, in darkness blending
With mystery of night;
It is not for his defection
That the Jew has met the sword:
Christians slay their fellow-Christians,
In the name of their own Lord.

Has he sinned—this Jew immortal?
Ay; but he is not alone;
Christ is crucified forever
In the House He calls His own.
Multitudes bow down before Him
And profess to own his sway,
While their hearts are filled with idols,
And they, Judas-like, betray
Him who comes, as their Messiah,
And their fealty would claim;
But they pierce His soul with sorrows,
Shouting praises to His name.

Sinned the Jew? Well; he has suffered.
When he saw his judgment come
He bowed meekly to his sentence;
Like the shorn lamb, he was dumb:
Bearing shame, contempt, revilings,
Grief and anguish, pain and death;
Only saying: “God is holy;
He is One,” with latest breath.
Like to Christ, in his submission
He has met a martyr’s fate.
But his resurrection cometh;
Though it tarry, he can wait.

Yes! Already we perceive him,
Rising up on every hand;
Gliding into power and station,
With the world’s wealth at command.
In the forum, in the senate,
Lo! he wins immortal fame,
Halls of learning, marts of commerce,
Ring with echoes of his name,
On each plane of high endeavor
He is foremost in the strife
Culling everlasting laurels
From the battlefields of Life.

So God’s ancient, chosen people
As His Sentinel still stands
With the standard of Jehovah
In the strong, uplifted hands;
With his jewelled breastplate gleaming
On his proudly heaving chest;
And a lamp forever burning,
On his helmet’s lofty crest;
While he welcomes the down-trodden
To his hospitable shores,
And in streams of richest bounty
Blessings on his brethren pours.

Standing thus, as great exemplar
To the world, the Jew appears;
Bringing hope, as well as warning,
To Humanity’s late years,
Showing how, as King, God ruleth,
When mankind would test His sway,
Yet is tender as a Father
When, as children, they obey.
Prophet, statesman, warrior, scholar,
Israel’s glories shall increase,
When he claims his royal birthright;
Brother to the prince of Peace.

Collect for the Day
Rescue us, O God for whom we wait, from the depths of depression and despair. May we trust in your mercy, know the fullness of your redemption, and share in the glory of your kingdom; through our Saviour Jesus Christ.

[476:888:130 Psalm prayer]

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Pause and Be Quiet: II Esdras 2:10-48 with poem by Charles Poole Cleaves, Rest Where You are

Daily Readings
Psalm 129, Ezra 9, II Esdras 2:10-48, I Esdras 8:68-90

Daily Text: II Esdras 2:10-48

Pause and Be Quiet
Verses 10-48 of Chapter 2 turn to what appears to be the Church. Israel’s privilege is given to her. Addressed as the ‘Mother’ in verses 15-32, with a short parenthesis referring to her as ‘nurse’, the Church is encouraged to shepherd her flock for she will be assisted by God who will send Isaiah and Jeremiah, the twelve minor prophets and the twelve apostles as resources. She is to care for the vulnerable and the dead, and God will in the end, raise them up. Ezra though rejected by Israel finds the Church responsive to his message.

Reference to Isaiah 30:15 seems to be made with the passage ‘Pause and be quiet’ because your rest will come (vs. 24). Turbulent seems to be the watchword of the world this author inhabits, but his signature seems to claim a peace that is provided by God in the middle of it all. Such words came in Genesis on the 7th day and in Hebrews as an eternal promise. In that sense this author is centered in Hebrew thought.

Rest Where You Are
Charles Poole Cleaves

When spurred by tasks unceasing or undone
You would seek rest afar
And cannot, though the rest be fairly won,
Rest where you are.
Not in event, restriction, or release,
In journeys near or far,
But in the heart lies restlessness or peace,
Rest where you are.

Collect for the Day
Save us, gracious God, from the dark forces that threaten the lives of your people, in nations and societies and in the human spirit. Deliver us from cynicism and violence, from jealousy and indifference, from fear and despair. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.

[476:887:129 Psalm prayer]