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Below are the readings for the First Sunday after Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, January 10, 2021.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

We have Moses’s account of the beginning of the world. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that word Moses used for God was Elohim, meaning ‘the great God, the God of Creation’.

Genesis 1:1-5

1:1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

1:2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

1:3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

1:4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

1:5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Psalm

Matthew Henry says that many Bible scholars think that David wrote this Psalm during a severe storm. While all around him were paralysed by fear, David wrote of his confidence that God, the ruler of nature, would let no harm come to them.

Psalm 29

29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.

29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Epistle

I hope that celebrants giving sermons on Sunday explain to their congregations that John the Baptist had many followers. During his ministry, a good number of those baptised were passing through the region then returned home to a distant land. As such, they had not heard of Jesus. Paul taught them about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Ephesus was in Asia Minor, a very long way away from the River Jordan.

Acts 19:1-7

19:1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples.

19:2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

19:3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.”

19:4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.”

19:5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

19:6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied

19:7 altogether there were about twelve of them.

Gospel

This is Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus. Our Lord did not need baptism, but as He did with Jewish law, again unnecessary for Him, he obeyed. In other Gospel accounts, John was understandably reluctant to baptise his relative, Jesus, but He insisted. The Holy Spirit and God the Father’s voice came from heaven after our Lord’s baptism (verses 10, 11). Note that John did not preach his message in Jerusalem, but, as was prophesied, in the wilderness.

Mark 1:4-11

1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

1:5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

1:6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

1:7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.

1:8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

I read on a notionally Christian website around 15 years ago that Baptism was not necessary for salvation. Perhaps, in certain cases. However, throughout His life, Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem, preached in the synagogue in Nazareth and obeyed the religious laws of His time.

He set the example for believers. Why would we not follow it by joining a good church and receiving the Sacraments?

Circumcision of Christ stained glassMay I wish all my readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Given our present circumstances in the West, we have much for which to pray in 2021, particularly health and prosperity.

For centuries, January 1 was known in the established denominations of the Church as the Circumcision of Jesus, the Circumcision of Christ or the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord:

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

The stained glass depicting this religious rite came from Cologne, Germany. It was made in the 15th century for a religious order known as the Crutched Friars. It now hangs in the Cloisters Museum in Manhattan:

New Year’s greetings — and the Feast of the Circumcision (2017, details on circumcision stained glass window)

Luke’s Gospel is the only one that mentions this ceremony, more about which below in the context of the life of Christ.

The readings for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus are in the next post:

Readings for New Year’s Day — the Holy Name of Jesus (all Lectionary years)

The Gospel is largely the same reading from Christmas Day, apart from the addition of verse 21 (emphases mine):

Luke 2:15-21

2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

2:17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;

2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

2:19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The shepherds went to see the Christ Child not once, but twice.

They were no ordinary shepherds, but rather shepherds who tended the animals destined for sacrifice at the temple. They were located at Migdal Eder, mentioned twice in the Old Testament. Micah 4:8 contains the prophecy of the Messiah; it would be the place where His presence would be declared first:

Migdal Eder: the shepherds provide a biblical key to unlocking the Christmas story

John MacArthur doesn’t mention Migdal Eder, but he has this to say about the shepherds’ return visit:

Hey, did you know that when you become a Christian and you’ve had the greatest imaginable transformation and you heard the revelation from God, you believed it and you’ve embraced Christ and you’ve begun to witness, when all of that has happened and you begin to think deeply about the profound realities of who God is, who Christ is and what the saving purpose of God is unfolding in the world. When you’ve come to that point you still have to go back to work. Life goes on, doesn’t it? Life goes on. And that’s analogous to what happens. You go back. Only you go back with a different attitude. You go back glorifying and praising God. That’s what they did. They went back glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen just as have been told them. It was exactly the way they were told by the angel, every detail was exactly accurate. And they went back with a whole new attitude.

I don’t know what their attitude was like before they had this incredible encounter with the revelation of God. But it certainly wasn’t like it is now. They may have been hopeful. They may have been worried and wondered and doubted and questioned and been wearied and all of that, but not anymore. They went back glorifying and praising God. And that too is analogous to what happens when a conversion takes place. There’s a revelation. We hear the revelation of God, we believe it, we go and we embrace Christ. There’s witness that follows. There’s a deep pondering about great divine truth as we deepen our knowledge of the Word of God. And there is also a life attitude of praise and worship to God that marks a believer.

Now by the time they got the whole story put together with the additional elements that Joseph and Mary would bring to bear on it, they were so filled with praise and thanks they were literally overwhelmed by it all. And they just went back glorifying and praising God for the whole thing. That’s the attitude that Christians should have

They knew that this child would be the Savior, the Christ, the Lord, fulfill the Davidic promise, Abrahamic promise and the promise of the New Covenant. They couldn’t restrain themselves. Their lives were just filled with praise.

In many nations where Christmas is observed as a public holiday, it lasts for 24 hours. For this reason, I am grateful we have Boxing Day. Now that my far better half and I are largely retired, we can celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas right up to Epiphany, January 6. It certainly deepens the Christmas religious experience.

With regard to circumcision, the mohel — the man who performs it — has a very sharp, small knife. It has to be very sharp so that the infant boy feels no pain. Just in case, tradition dictates that a drop of wine is placed on the child’s tongue to relax him.

If you’ve ever cut yourself with a really sharp knife, you don’t notice the wound until you see the blood. A blunt knife hurts. A really sharp one does not.

Luke’s Gospel shows us that Mary and Joseph obeyed Mosaic law, not only with this, but also with their visit to the temple once Mary had been purified through a ritual bath 40 days later. That is when Simeon and Anna appeared. See Luke 2:22-32 and Luke 2:33-40.

Where Jesus was concerned, circumcision was a foretaste of what would happen later in His earthly life: the Crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice and expiation for sin, despite the fact that He never sinned.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

Though it supposed him a stranger, that was by that ceremony to be admitted into covenant with God, whereas he had always been his beloved Son; nay, though it supposed him a sinner, that needed to have his filthiness taken away, whereas he had no impurity or superfluity of naughtiness to be cut off, yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would be made in the likeness, not only of flesh, but of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3. 3. Though thereby he made himself a debtor to the whole law (Galatians 5:3), yet he submitted to it; nay, therefore he submitted to it, because he would take upon him the form of a servant, though he was free-born. Christ was circumcised, (1.) That he might own himself of the seed of Abraham, and of that nation of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, and who was to take on him the seed of Abraham, Hebrews 2:16. (2.) That he might own himself a surety for our sins, and an undertaker for our safety. Circumcision (saith Dr. Goodwin) was our bond, whereby we acknowledged ourselves debtors to the law; and Christ, by being circumcised, did as it were set his hand to it, being made sin for us. The ceremonial law consisted much in sacrifices; Christ hereby obliged himself to offer, not the blood of bulls or goats, but his own blood, which none that ever were circumcised before could oblige themselves to. (3.) That he might justify, and put an honour upon, the dedication of the infant seed of the church to God, by that ordinance which is the instituted seal of the covenant, and of the righteousness which is by faith, as circumcision was (Romans 4:11), and baptism is. And certainly his being circumcised at eight days old doth make much more for the dedicating of the seed of the faithful by baptism in their infancy than his being baptized at thirty years old doth for the deferring of it till they are grown up. The change of the ceremony alters not the substance.

MacArthur says:

Why was Jesus circumcised? Somebody might wonder about that. Well, because He would obey the law of God. He would fulfill all righteousness. He would be a man in every sense and so He would fulfill all those prescriptions that are human and in Israel this was required by the law of God on all male children, and so it was done. That’s again another remarkable indication of Jesus fulfilling all righteousness. Even before He could consciously do it God made sure that all Old Testament requirements were fulfilled in His life, and as He grew in wisdom, and favor, and stature…wisdom, and stature, and favor with God and man, He personally fulfilled the law of God in its completion.

And again I remind you that He lived a perfect life. Even from His circumcision He fulfilled every aspect of God’s law so that His perfect life could be credited to your account. That’s what justification does. It puts your sin on Him and takes His perfect life and puts it on you.

MacArthur points out Mary and Joseph’s obedience to the law:

Their devotion to obey the will of God is clear. They wanted to do what God had revealed for them to do and they did it with joy and faithfulness. The whole passage really features their dedication, it features their obedience. And as I said, in Luke’s continuing effort to mold the reader’s understanding of who Christ is, he shapes his narrative around the testimony of these uniquely righteous people. And, first of all, Jesus’ earthly family lead out in giving testimony.

MacArthur discusses the biblical origin of circumcision, necessary for centuries in terms of hygiene but also as a reminder of sin:

Now we all understand that the eighth-day circumcision was what was prescribed by Mosaic law. It is clearly recorded that this is to be done. Leviticus chapter 12 verse 3says on the eighth day the child is to be circumcised. Every male child born into Israel was to be circumcised on the eighth day. The circumcision was introduced by God to Abraham. In Genesis 17:1 to 14, Abraham was circumcised, he, however, was circumcised as an adult when God identified him as the father of the race. He was circumcised as an adult. And then every male that came from him and from those who came from him throughout all of the Hebrew people, every male child was to be circumcised on the eighth day. That was the sign and symbol of God’s covenant. Back in chapter 1 verse 59 regarding John, the prophet born to Zacharias and Elizabeth, “It came about on the eighth day they came to circumcise him.” That was just standard operating procedure on the eighth day.

Circumcision, just to give you a brief recap, circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant. It was a sign of God’s covenant. It identified a Jew. But God was saying something in circumcision. In the cutting away of that skin, God, first of all, was…was doing something physical, He was protecting the Jewish man from passing on infections and bacteria to his wife. That’s why in ancient times, not today because we have so much hygiene, but in ancient times Jewish women had the lowest rate of cervical cancer in the world and it was better when men and women came together circumcised in terms of cleanliness and protection than not. And therefore God preserved His people that way. He was definitely committed to preserving His people since they are the center of redemptive history clear to the end of the world. And so God protected them and that was one way physically that God protected them from illness. He also protected them, of course, by giving them monogamous laws and calling for their purity and sanctifying one man-one woman for life so that they were not subject to the devastating plagues of venereal disease which destroyed whole peoples.

But circumcision was more than a physical protection. It was a symbol of a need for spiritual cleansing. And that’s why the Bible talks about circumcise your hearts. God was showing them through this symbol that they needed to be cleansed because they not only passed on sin potentially physically they passed on sin heart to heart, soul to soul. When they had a child they got a sinner because they were sinners. They needed a cleansing at a deep, deep level of their souls. That’s why God said circumcise your heart, circumcise your heart. Every circumcised male child then, every time that operation took place, it was a symbol of how deeply sinful people were and how greatly they needed a heart cleansing.

If you look at Judaism, just look at Judaism, the message that God was sending to His people was about their sin. You could take the law of God and all the law of God did was, break them and crush them. The law of God laid out before for the Jew rendered him a sinner … So the Sabbath then became a contemplation point for violation of the law of God

On top of that, life was a bloody mess because all those violations called for sacrifice. That’s why we’ve said that priests were nothing but butchers. They were, you know, chin deep in blood slaughtering animals, because sin just kept coming and coming and with it came sacrifice and sacrifice. And the whole of Judaism, the whole of Judaism was one massive effort on God’s part to call those people to a recognition of how sinful they were. Every time a baby was born into the world, circumcision on the eighth day was a reminder of the depth of sin, that they were so deep in sin they needed a cleansing at the deepest level.

Again, Jesus personally did not require cleansing, but His circumcision was done for us. Furthermore, as an adult, He continued to be obedient to His Father and asked John the Baptist to baptise Him. He did not need to do that either, but He did:

Jesus was born under the law and Jesus was going to obey every aspect of God’s law whether He obeyed it as a baby passively or whether He obeyed as an adult actively when He went to the river Jordan and He said to John, “You need to baptize Me.” And John said, “I don’t need to baptize You, You’ve got to be kidding me. You need to baptize me.” And John was saying, You don’t need cleansing so why the symbol? And Jesus responded in Matthew 3:15 and said, “I must fulfill all righteousness. Whatever the law requires, I do that. I do that.”

Whatever Jesus did on this mortal coil, He did for us:

Why did He have to do that? So that perfect life could be credited to your account. You see, in the doctrine of substitution, on the cross God treats Jesus as if He lived your life so He could treat you as if you lived His. And there has to be a perfect life to be put to your account, and His is it. That’s why He was circumcised and everything else.

As millions of us across the world are shut up at home on what is normally a day of celebration, we have time on New Year’s Day 2021 to contemplate the meaning of Christ’s obedience throughout His earthly life. Everything He did, He did for us.

I am always on the lookout for obscure paintings of shepherds to illustrate the Christmas story.

Thanks to someone who posted it on another site, here is The Shepherds and The Angel, oil on copper, which the Danish artist Carl H Bloch painted in 1879:

Shepherds and the Angel Carl H Bloch Denmark

That painting was posted in the comments to an excellent post elsewhere about a place called Migdal Eder, which translates to ‘tower of the flock’.

The post refers to the original article, ‘The Tower of the Flock’, by Dr. Juergen Buehler. He wrote it in 2012.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

We are all familiar with the angels’ and the shepherds’ role in the Christmas story, as detailed in Luke 2. An angel, followed by many more, appeared to the shepherds to say:

Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

It was a first declaration of the euangelion, the Good News of the redemptive Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is remarkable to see that this first declaration made to Israelites outside the immediate family of Jesus was not given to the religious or political rulers of Israel but to shepherds keeping their flocks.

The shepherds’ fields outside Bethlehem, to this day, play a central role in the Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land.

How did Jesus describe Himself during His earthly ministry? As the Good Shepherd.

The Bible makes many references to the Lord’s elevation of the lowly. This was a great manifestation of it, to be sure.

Dr Buehler writes that one of the earliest historians of the Church and great Bible scholar, Eusebius, linked the fields just outside of Bethlehem that the shepherds were in to a biblical location, Migdal Eder:

The church historian Eusebius linked these fields to a unique biblical location called Migdal Eder, which translated means the “tower of the flock”.

The first time Migdal Eder is mentioned in the Bible is in the account of Rachel, who died after giving birth to Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob. “Then Israel [Jacob] journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder”, records Genesis 35:21.

This area on the outskirts of Bethlehem is also mentioned in the Talmudic writings. According to the Talmud, all cattle found in the area surrounding Jerusalem “as far as Migdal Eder” were deemed to be holy and consecrated and could only be used for sacrifices in the Temple, in particular for the peace and Passover sacrifices. There was thus a special, consecrated circle around the city of Jerusalem.

This means the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem who first heard the Good News from the angels were not ordinary shepherds but served the sacrificial system of the Temple. These men served the Mosaic covenant, a foreshadowing of the new covenant. And these men were now confronted with the reality of the eternal light to which their ministry had been pointing all these centuries. It was declaring a new era of salvation!

There is another mention of Migdal Eder in the Bible:

The Hebrew prophet Micah also refers to Migdal Eder. “And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8)

Long ago, Jewish scholars wrote learned studies of Scripture, creating what is known as the Midrash. Based on Micah’s prophecy, the Migdal Eder would figure significantly in the story of the Messiah:

Based on that prophecy, prominent Jewish writers concluded in the Midrash that from all of the places in Israel, it would be the Migdal Eder where the arrival of the Messiah would be declared first.

That means when the angels appeared that night to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, it was not just a declaration of the Good News to simple shepherds. It was a powerful prophetic sign to all of Israel. The news of that night must have spread like wildfire through the surrounding villages.

This is why people in the vicinity marvelled at the news:

Luke records: “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:17-18)

Buehler gives us several lessons from this regarding Christ’s earthly birth:

1) First, it is always beneficial for the Church to see that Jesus did not arrive into a vacuum, but was born into an entirely Jewish context. When Christ came in the flesh, he was born first-and-foremost to the Jewish people but would then also bring his favour and good pleasure to all men. Even though the celebration of Christ’s birth has become a feast marked almost exclusively by the gentile Church, it is important for us to see it in its historic and biblical context – as a message intended to give hope to Israel. As Zacharias prophesies at the birth of John the Baptist, this all happened to “perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham…” (Luke 1:72f).

2) Second, already from the moment Jesus entered the world the ultimate reason for his arrival was alluded to. These were the shepherds who took care of the sheep and cattle offered in the Temple – in particular the Passover sacrifices. And it was they who were confronted with the announcement that the ultimate sacrifice, which would carry away not only the sins of Israel but of the whole world, was born. Just thirty three years later, no further sacrifice was to be needed, as all those who believe in him have been “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

3) The angelic announcement gave these simple shepherds a profound revelation of who this Messiah would be. He was proclaimed to be both King (born in the city of David) and Priest. That he was both Christ and Lord, the son of man but also the son of God. He would be the saviour of humanity but also the shepherd of all those who would follow his voice.

The shepherds visited the Christ Child then proclaimed the Good News:

… the mere knowledge of this news is not enough. They needed to act upon it and they did. They went personally to see that child and then proclaimed his birth wherever they could.

We should carry forth that same enthusiasm in proclaiming the same Good News today. Let us evangelise in whatever way we can, not only during the Christmas season but beyond:

Let us follow the example of the shepherds of Bethlehem and rededicate our lives afresh to that great saviour who was born in Bethlehem. He is the shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) who died for our sins and who redeems us to reign and rule with him for eternity! This is Good News indeed!

Migdal Eder is yet another scriptural and historical key pointing the way to the Messiah, our blessed Saviour, the Good Shepherd: Jesus Christ.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear next Sunday.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 27, 2020.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

During this particular festive season, there are two Sundays after Christmas Day. That doesn’t happen very often. Therefore, if you enjoy Christmas carols, get to church, coronavirus restrictions permitting.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies God’s deliverance of His people but also the fulfilment of the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. Gentiles — ‘the nations’ — will also be saved. In the version of the Bible that Matthew Henry used, Isaiah 62:2 reads as follows:

And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.

Now on to the reading:

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Psalm

This is one of the Praise Psalms (145-150). Matthew Henry’s exposition on it is nothing less than stunning and well worth reading, especially during the Christmas season.

Psalm 148

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Paul tells the Galatians that those who follow Jesus are no longer ‘slaves’ to Mosaic law but adopted children of God. Various judaizers beset the Galatians with worries about legalism, saying that they must obey Mosaic law even as Christians. Paul’s verses are a beautiful summary of the Christmas story.

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Gospel

Perhaps I am getting old, but the more I read the account of Simeon and Anna seeing the Christ Child at the temple, the more moving it becomes. One cannot imagine what they must have experienced at that moment. Both were elderly. Both devoted their lives to God. The Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. When Simeon says ‘dismissing’ in verse 29, he means that he can now pass from this life ‘in peace’. This took place 40 days after Mary gave birth and had her ritual bath allowing her to resume public worship. The Anglican Communion has a similar ceremony, without the ritual bath, in the Churching of Women. My post makes reference to this chapter in Luke’s Gospel:

The Churching of Women — misogynist or not?

Luke 2:22-40

2:22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

2:23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),

2:24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

2:26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

2:27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,

2:28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

2:29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;

2:30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,

2:31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

2:32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

2:33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed

2:35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,

2:37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

2:38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

2:39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.

2:40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Contrast Simeon and Anna’s godly reactions to the judgemental bile and wilful hatred that the Sanhedrin — the notional spiritual shepherds of the Jews — heaped upon Jesus during His ministry. Jesus — all divine, all human — knew from the beginning everything that would happen. His inner experience amongst mankind is impossible to put into words.

Below are the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Either the Psalm or its alternative below, The Magnificat, may be read.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

David desperately wants to build a temple to house the Ark of the Covenant. However, God had other plans for David. Solomon would be the one to build the first temple. The Lord tells Nathan the prophet, David’s confidant, that His promises to David and his descendants are secure. I am disappointed that verse 12 is excluded, so I have included it in red. Verse 12 relates to Solomon, however, it also relates to Christ (see Matthew 1), as Matthew Henry’s commentary states, and introduces verse 16.

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

7:1 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him,

7:2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.”

7:3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the LORD is with you.”

7:4 But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan:

7:5 Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?

7:6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.

7:7 Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

7:8 Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the LORD of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel;

7:9 and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.

7:10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly,

7:11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.

12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.

7:16 Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

Psalm

The Psalmist, whose identity is unclear, is hopeful for the covenant that God made with David, considered as a type of Christ, in theological terms. ‘Selah’ is an emphatic word, synonymous with ‘pay close attention’.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

89:1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.

89:2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

89:3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David:

89:4 ‘I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.'” Selah

89:19 Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: “I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people.

89:20 I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him;

89:21 my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.

89:22 The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him.

89:23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him.

89:24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted.

89:25 I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers.

89:26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’

Alternative to the Psalm

The Magnificat will be familiar to many. Indeed, the Song of Mary is included in Anglican and Lutheran Evening Prayer services and is often sung.

Luke 1:46b-55

1:46b “My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Epistle

These are the closing verses of the Book of Romans, celebrating the glory of God.

Romans 16:25-27

16:25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages

16:26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

16:27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

Gospel

The angel Gabriel announces that Mary will be giving birth to the Christ Child, conceived by the Holy Spirit. These verses from Luke’s Gospel precede The Magnificat, the Song of Mary (see above). Her relative Elizabeth, barren and past her childbearing years, was expecting John the Baptist at the time. Note that Joseph was descended from the house of David. Even more reason to have included 2 Samuel 7:12 (see above)!

Luke 1:26-38

1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,

1:27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

1:28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

1:29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

1:30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

1:31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.

1:32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.

1:33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

1:34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

1:35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

1:36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.

1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”

1:38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

These readings build us up for Christmas perfectly — and beautifully.

May you have a blessed week ahead.

Pentecost2Below are the readings for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Pentecost, the final Sunday in Eastertide, is regarded as the Church’s birthday.

The first Pentecost coincided with the Jewish feast of Shavuot, which explains why there were so many witnesses to the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples, as we will see in the reading from Acts 2 below:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

The following posts have more on this important day in the Church calendar:

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

Outside of the Psalm, the readings below have more than one option.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Option One

If this is not read as the first reading, it must be chosen for the Second Reading/Epistle.

This is the dramatic account of the Holy Spirit descending on the 70 disciples in Jerusalem. Many onlookers saw this, as the Jews had gathered for the Feast of Shavuot:

Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

2:5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.

2:6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

2:7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?

2:8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

2:9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

2:10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

2:11 Cretans and Arabs–in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

2:12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

2:13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

2:14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

2:15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.

2:16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

2:17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

2:18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

2:19 And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

2:20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.

2:21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Option Two

The Holy Spirit rested upon two men in the Israelites’ camp, and they began to prophesy. Far from silencing them, Moses wished there were more like them. Note that 70 elders received the Spirit, just as there were 70 disciples who received Him at the first Pentecost.

Numbers 11:24-30

11:24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent.

11:25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

11:26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.

11:27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

11:28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!”

11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

11:30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Psalm

David praised God’s majesty and power, present in all of His creation.

Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

104:25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.

104:26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

104:27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

104:28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

104:30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.

104:31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works

104:32 who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke.

104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.

104:35b Bless the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Option One

If the aforementioned passage from Acts 2 has not already been read, then it must be read as the Epistle.

Option Two

If the passage from Acts 2 has been read, then this option will be the Epistle, wherein Paul describes the great power and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some, e.g. tongues, miracles and healing, were particular to the Apostolic Era, which established the early Church.

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

12:3b No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;

12:5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;

12:6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.

12:7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

12:8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,

12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,

12:10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

12:11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

12:13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Gospel

Option One

This encounter between Jesus and His disciples took place just after His resurrection.

John 20:19-23

20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

20:20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

20:21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

20:22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Option Two

Jesus spoke these words during the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. Note that John explains the Spirit would not descend until Jesus returned to Heaven, glorified.

John 7:37-39

7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

7:38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

7:39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Pray for continuing grace so that we may make all use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Have a blessed Pentecost!

Below are the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

This particular Sunday is also known traditionally as Exaudi Sunday, so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’. It is said to be the saddest Sunday of the church year, because the disciples were at a loose end after Jesus ascended to Heaven. They missed Him and were unsure as to what the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost would mean.

You can read more about it in this post:

Exaudi Sunday: between the Ascension and Pentecost

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

On Ascension Day, we had the reading from Luke’s Gospel about our Lord’s return to His Father. Here we have Luke’s other version — as he was the author of Acts — from Acts 1. Note that, even at this stage, the Apostles still expected a temporal return of Israel to glory.

Acts 1:6-14

1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”

1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.

1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.

1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.

1:13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.

1:14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Psalm

It is probable that David wrote this Psalm after he was no longer besieged by enemies. It is a Psalm of praise and thanks to God for His goodness and mercy.

Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35

68:1 Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him.

68:2 As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before the fire, let the wicked perish before God.

68:3 But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy.

68:4 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds–his name is the LORD– be exultant before him.

68:5 Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

68:6 God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land.

68:7 O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah

68:8 the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain at the presence of God, the God of Sinai, at the presence of God, the God of Israel.

68:9 Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad; you restored your heritage when it languished;

68:10 your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

68:32 Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; sing praises to the Lord, Selah

68:33 O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.

68:34 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel; and whose power is in the skies.

68:35 Awesome is God in his sanctuary, the God of Israel; he gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

Epistle

Readings from 1 Peter conclude. Peter exhorted his converts to be Christlike in everything, despite their persecution. He also encouraged them to avoid temptation at all costs.

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

4:13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.

4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.

5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.

5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.

5:9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.

5:10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

5:11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel

Jesus said these words, The High Priestly Prayer, at the Last Supper. John’s Gospel is the only one that carries the full complement of Jesus’s final messages to the Apostles, from John 14John 17: four stunning chapters. Note verse 9 below, in particular: not all will be saved, only those whom God has given to Jesus.

John 17:1-11

17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

17:5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

May God increase our faith through His grace daily. Jesus Christ will reign for ever and ever.

For those fortunate enough to be able to return to church this Sunday, please pray for the rest of us that our leaders will see fit to open our church doors, too. Thank you.

Thursday, May 21, 2020, commemorates the Ascension of the Lord.

Our Lord’s disciples saw Him ascend to Heaven to return to His Father, where He sits at God’s right hand forever.

These posts have more about this significant day in the Church calendar:

Readings for Ascension Day (same regardless of Lectionary year)

A Reformed view of the Ascension (Christ as prophet, priest and king)

Ascension Day 2016 (John MacArthur on Acts 1-11)

Acts 1:9-11 on the Ascension (addresses errors of preterism)

The disciples rightly marvelled at the Ascension and were full of joy. It is impossible to imagine the glory they witnessed at that moment.

Later, they were also understandably at a loose end in the days that followed. It was a bittersweet time. They missed their Friend, their Teacher, their Saviour. They had no idea what the first Pentecost would be like ten days later.

Some of us who adhere to events in the Church calendar might share the disciples’ feelings. I know I do.

Therefore, the following posts, citing resources from James A Fowler’s Christ In You Ministries site on what he calls Resurrection Theology will help revive the joy we felt at Easter. I have also included a Lutheran resource on the same principle:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

These help us to keep the joy of the Resurrection alive in our hearts long after Eastertide ends.

Readings follow for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2020.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Peter’s first sermon at the first Pentecost continues.

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

2:14a: But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,

2:36 “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

2:37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”

2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

2:39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

2:40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

2:41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

Psalm

David penned this psalm of general thanksgiving to God; He hears and answers all those who are in distress.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

116:1 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.

116:2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

116:3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.

116:4 Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, I pray, save my life!”

116:12 What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?

116:13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD,

116:14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.

116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.

116:16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.

116:17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD.

116:18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,

116:19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Readings from 1 Peter continue. The converts were persecuted. He gives them spiritual encouragement during their time of temporal difficulties.

1 Peter 1:17-23

1:17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.

1:18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold,

1:19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

1:20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.

1:21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

1:22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.

1:23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Gospel

Last week’s reading was the end of John’s Gospel. We now turn to Luke’s Resurrection story of the road to Emmaus, more about which in this post:

The road to Emmaus — a great Easter story

Luke 24:13-35

24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,

24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,

24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

24:17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

24:19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,

24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.

24:21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,

24:23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.

24:24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

24:25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!

24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”

24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.

24:29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.

24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

24:32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.

24:34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”

24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Eastertide is the best time of the Church year. Embrace it. Enjoy it.

May this season lift our hearts and minds, even if we cannot gather together for worship.

Today, the Anglican church I attend used the readings for Candlemas, which is always on February 2, 40 days after the birth of Jesus.

It was appropriate for them to be read rather than the regularly scheduled Lectionary readings as February 2 falls on a Sunday this year.

Candlemas

Candlemas recalls the presentation of our Lord in the temple with Mary and Joseph providing their ritual sacrifice as part of the purification rite and redemption of the firstborn:

This took place 40 days after His birth and was a normal Jewish ritual of the day. Mary would have gone through her own private ritual cleansing beforehand. She was now ready to worship again and circulate freely once again after childbirth. The Christian equivalent is the Churching of Women ceremony, popular in the Anglican Communion for centuries, as it welcomed recent mothers back into the congregation for regular worship.

The following posts of mine discuss Candlemas, so called because, traditionally, it was the day when the faithful brought their candles to church to be blessed:

February 2 is Candlemas

Jesus presented at the temple (Part 1)

Jesus presented at the temple (Part 2)

Candlemas: the prophetess Anna

The guest clergywoman — not sure if she was a deacon or a priest — gave a biblical and considered sermon on both Simeon and Anna. They were both elderly, although some scholars are not sure if Simeon was quite that old. In any event, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, ‘the consolation of Israel’. After seeing the infant Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, he spoke the words that comprise the Nunc Dimittis, said at Evening Prayer:

Luke 2:22-32

Jesus Presented at the Temple

22And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31     that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Anna had been a widow for most of her life, sadly. Yet, she remained faithful to God and devoted her life to fasting and praying every day at the temple.

After Anna saw Jesus that day, she spoke of Him to all who awaited ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’:

Luke 2:33-40

33And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

 36And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

 39And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

The clergywoman giving today’s sermon said that this ceremony with Simeon and Anna attending provided a ‘bookend’ with a man and a woman of advanced years ending the Christmas story, which started with the first ‘bookend’ featuring two other aged people: Mary’s three-month stay with her relative Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, who was temporarily struck dumb because he doubted the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:5-25).

Mary told Elizabeth that she was carrying the Christ Child in her womb. Elizabeth was also expecting; the baby who would be John the Baptist began stirring in her womb when Mary greeted her. Mary then gave her praise to God, known as The Magnificat, also said or sung during Evening Prayer.

From Luke 1:

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[g] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.

Today’s palindrome date

On a secular note, February 2, 2020 is a symmetrical palindrome when represented numerically. The media are making it out to be a rare occurrence, but there will be others before the next century:

There have been other similar dates in recent years, too: 20011002 (October 2, 2001) and 20111102 (November 2, 2011).

St Blaise Day — February 3

Back to matters religious now. February 3 is the feast day of St Blaise, who was a physician, bishop and martyr. He died in 316 when a local pagan governor had his flesh ripped with iron combs. Blaise had an equal affinity with animals as he did with humans. He cured the illnesses of both. His last miracle was said to be not long before his death, when he was being led to prison. A desperate mother presented her son to him. The lad was choking to death on a fish bone. The mother set the boy at Blaise’s feet and he was cured straightaway.

You can read more about St Blaise here:

St Blaise’s feast day and the blessing of throats

The Catholic Church continues to bless congregants’ throats on February 3 or the closest Sunday — i.e. today — to ward off ailments to that part of the body. Interestingly, the blessing is done with two candles. They used to be lit, now the priest simply places the candles in an x-shaped cross and lightly presses them to the person’s throat, reciting a short blessing.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear tomorrow.

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