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, December 02, 2006

Angels on Horseback: IV Maccabees 3:19-4:26 with poem by Adelaide Anne Procter, Who is the Angel That Cometh?

Daily Readings
Isaiah 42, Daniel 7, IV Maccabees 3:19-4:26, Revelation 20

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 3:19-4:26

Angels on Horseback
Hadas [462:160] entitles this passage an ‘historical preamble’ to the narrative that will follow in coming chapters. The author’s historical accuracy is weak, even when his source, II Maccabees, has it correct. Seleucus Nicanor was the not king, he was a general fighting with Alexander the Great. The king in question was Seleucus IV Philopater, the predecessor to Antiochus Epiphanes who was his brother, not his son! Nonetheless in our story, God once again comes to the aid of his people in the form of angels on horseback with swords flashing and governors stricken to the ground.

The upshot of the preamble is that Antiochus Epiphanes comes to power and he recognizes few of the precedents followed in previous administrations. He removes the high priest and places a puppet in his place, a puppet who cannot even then please the master. So Antiochus Epiphanes comes to Jerusalem to enforce his will and is unable to. This sets the stage for what is to follow, the important material in this book.

Who Is The Angel That Cometh?
Adelaide Anne Procter
1825-1864

I
Who is the Angel that cometh?
Life!
Let us not question what he brings,
Peace or Strife,
Under the shadow of his mighty wings,
One by one,
Are his secrets told;
One by one,
Lit by the rays of each morning sun,
Shall a new flower its petals unfold,
With the mystery hid in its heart of gold.
We will arise and go forth to greet him,
Singly, gladly, with one accord;--
“Blessed is he that cometh
In the name of the Lord.”

II
Who is the Angel that cometh?
Joy!
Look at his glittering rainbow wings—
No alloy
Lies in the radiant gifts he brings;
Tender and sweet,
He is come to-day,
Tender and Sweet:
While chains of love on his silver feet
Will hold him in lingering fond delay.
But greet him quickly, he will lnot stay,
Soon he will leave us; but though for others
All his brightest treasures are stored;--
“Blessed is he that cometh
In the name of the Lord!”

III
Who is the Angel that cometh?
Pain!
Let us arise and go forth to greet him;
Not in vain
Is the summons come for us to meet him;
He will stay,
And darken our sun;
He will stay
A desolate night, a weary day.
Since in that shadow our work is done,
And in that shadow our crowns are won,
Let us say still, while his bitter chalice
Slowly into our hearts is poured,--
“Blessed is he that cometh
In the name of the Lord!”

IV
Who is the Angel that cometh?
Death!
But do not shudder and do not fear;
Hold your breath,
For a kigly presence is drawing near.
Cold and bright
Is his flashing steel,
Cold and bright
The smile that comes like a starry light
To calm the terror and grief we feel;
He comes to help and to save and heal:
Then let us, baring our hearts and kneeling,
Sing, while we wait this Angel’s swoerd,--
“Blessed is he that cometh
In the name of the Lord!”
407:1407

Collect for the Day
O everlasting God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant, that as thy holy angels alway do thee service in heaven, so by thy appointment they may succour and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[286:250:773 Book of Common Prayer]

Friday, December 01, 2006

To Deny Himself: IV Maccabees 2:24-3:18 with poem by William Wordsworth, Ode to Duty

Daily Readings
Isaiah 41:2-29, Daniel 6, IV Maccabees 2:24-3:18, Revelation 19

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 2:24-3:18

To Deny Himself
This passage begins with a reference to the topic introduced in 1:5, i.e., the impossibility of reason ruling its own emotions, those of the intellect, seem patently obvious to the author. He is likely having reference to Stoic notions of the relationships between the body and the soul [462:157]. The issue is that while reason cannot eradicate undesireable emotions it can direct them.

As an example, the author uses King David’s thirst, a story told in II Samuel 23 and I Chronicles 11. Longing for a drink from inside the enemies camp, two of his soldiers learning of this, steal through the enemy lines and bring to David a pitcher of the desired water. In II Samuel and I Chronicles the details are a little different, but the import of the story is the same. David recognizing that his men had risked their lives for his whim, decided not to drink their gift of water, but to offer it to the LORD. His reasoning may have been that only the LORD was worthy of such a life-threatening risk. At any rate his reasoning led him to deny himself the water, the whole point of the author. Point well-taken. This now is the transition from argument to example in our author’s treatise.

Ode to Duty
William Wordsworth

1770-1850

Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!
O Duty! if that name thou love
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring and reprove;
Thou who art victory and law
When empty terrors overawe;
From vain temptations dost set free;
And calm’st the weary strife of frail humanity!

There are who ask not if thine eye
Be on them; who, in love and truth,
Where no misgiving is, rely
Upon the genial sense of youth;
Glad hearts, without reproach or blot,
Who do thy work and know it not:
Oh! if through confidence misplaced
They fail, thy saving arms, dread Power,
around them cast.

Serene will be our days, and bright
And happy will our nature be,
When love is an unerring light,
And joy its own security;
And they a blissful course may hold
Even now, who, not unwisely bold,
Live in the spirit of this creed;
Yet seek thy firm support according
to their need.

I, loving freedom, and untried,
No sport of every random gust,
Yet being to myself a guide,
Too blindly have reposed my trust;
And oft, when in my heart was heard
Thy timely mandate, I deferred
The task, in smoother walks to stray;
But thee I now would serve more strictly, if I may.

Through no disturbance of my soul,
Or strong compunction in me wrought,
I supplicate for thy control,
But in the quietness of thought.
Me this unchartered freedom tires;
I feel the weight of chance-desires:
My hopes no more must change their name,
I long for a repose that ever is the same.

Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead’s most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens, through thee,
are fresh and strong.

To humbler functions, awful Power!
I call thee; I myself commend
Unto thy guidance from this hour;
Oh, let my weakness have an end!
Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
The confidence of reason give;
And in the light of truth thy bondman let me live. 407:1214

Collect for the Day
O God, help me to victory over myself, for difficult to conquer is oneself, though when that is conquered, all is conquered.

[286:298:908 Jain Scriptures]

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Reason to Rule: IV Maccabees 2:1-23 with poem by Shakespeare, How All Occasions

Daily Readings
Isaiah 40:1-41:1, Daniel 4, IV Maccabees 2:1-23, Revelation 17

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 2:1-23

Reason To Rule
In chapter 2:1-23 the author addresses some examples of reason ruling emotion in the matters of sexual passion, greed, leniency in favor of the law with those one loves, and the ‘more violent emotions’ listed as lust for power, vainglory, boasting, arrogance, malice and above all anger. The essay closes with the observation that the emotions, gentle and violent, are gifts from God, and rational judgement is given to control them, not to destroy them, to rule, not to be ruled by them.

How All Occasions
from Hamlet iii.iv.32
William Shakespeare

How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unus’d.
413:436:15

Collect for the Day
Almighty God, create in us a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within us, that amid the din and confusion of this noisy world we may always choose the more excellent way. Through Christ. Amen.

[479:247]

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rational Judgment: IV Maccabees 1 with poem by Joseph Addison, In Reason's Ear

Daily Readings
Psalm 149, Daniel 2, IV Maccabees 1, Revelation 15

Daily Text: IV Maccabees 1

Rational Judgment
This work was written about 40 A.D. by an Hellenized person in commemoration of the death of the martyrs (cf. 1.10) [462:115]. The philosopher author is at pains to discuss the sovereignty of reason over human emotional life, and he sets about to describe it and illustrated it in clear Greek prose. He describes this ‘reason’ as rational judgment or ‘prudence’ if we may use the word used later in history, as well as in Wisdom 8:7, meaning right judgment or action. Perhaps the most helpful matter in this discussion is the relationship of reason to wisdom. Rational judgment, according to our author, prefers the life of wisdom, defined as the knowledge of divine and human matters. Education is thus part of wisdom, that may come in four kinds. They are rational judgment, justice, courage and self-control. Without elaborating the author suggests that these four kinds wisdom inform and support each other, so that the courage faced by the martyrs whom we will meet in chapter 4 and beyond, has a component of self-control that allows rational judgment to continue functioning in the face of the most terrible and painful persecutions. The emotions themselves are listed as gluttony, lust, malice, anger, fear, desire, delight, sorrow and the most comprehensive of all pleasure and pain. It is at times difficult to read IV Maccabees and remember through the examples given that this is a treatise about reason. Its importance for our own time is perhaps obvious, for our contemporary tendency is to suggest that emotions simply are and to allow the individual the right to express them even in their unbridled forms. That self-control and prudence are possible under even the most trying situations is important knowledge, knowledge that might lead to some wisdom even today.

In Reason’s Ear
Joseph Addison
1672-1719

In Reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious Voice,
For ever singing as they shine,
‘The Hand that made us is Divine.’
413:2:28

Collect for the Day
Accept our praise, God of justice, defender of the oppressed. Give us grace to join in this your holy work, that all the world may see your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:909:149 Psalm prayer]

The Pathos of Lonliness:II Esdras 16 with anonymous hymn, Hymn from Qumran

Daily Readings
Psalm 148, Daniel 1, II Esdras 16, Revelation 14

Daily Text: II Esdras 16

The Pathos of Lonliness
Chapter 16 of II Esdras encompasses calamities or tribulations that will come to the entire Roman Empire, and later in the reading, to the people of God. For those nations that are ungodly, there is no escape. Death will be so widespread that individuals will long to see another human being, will long to simply hear a voice other than their own.

For the people of God these same calamities will be visited upon their heads partly because they fear the Lord. And the Most High recommends that they sit loose with their usual vocational pursuits, for no outcome will be predictable as long as these disasters continue. Regardless of their provocation they are to be steadfast in their belief in the Lord, and above all they are not to deny their iniquity. The Lord knows the thoughts and intentions of their hearts for he made them. And any denial of sin will call down upon them his anger. Rather, admit sin, and steadfastly put it away in service to God. In that way God will see them through this difficult time.

Written late in the 3rd century this Christian tract recalls for both Christians and Jews the need to put God first and to trust in his promises.

Hymn from Qumran
transl by G. Vermes

‘The torrents of Satan shall reach
to all sides of the world.
In all their channels
a consuming fire shall destroy
every tree, green and barren, on their banks;
unto the end of their courses
it shall scourge with flames of fire,
and shall consume the foundations of the earth
and the expanse of dry land.
The bases of the mountains shall blaze
and the roots of the rocks shall turn
to torrents of pitch;
it shall devour as far as the great Abyss.’
539:295


Collect for the Day
Blessed are you, Lord our God, creator of heaven and earth; you open our eyes to see the wonders around us, and our hearts and mouths to praise you. Now give us strength for loving service, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

[476:908:148 Psalm prayer]