Sermon for the Feast of All Saints

A briefer than normal sermon I preached in two places this morning, on the (transferred) Feast of All Saints, November 2nd, 2014.

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, one of the more important days in our Christian year. Christians have been celebrating this Feast, on this day for at least 1200 years, though it likely existed on different days even before that.

In our Christian year what we commonly call Halloween and the first few days of November that follow it are days that are dedicated specifically to remembering the dead and thinking about our own deaths. Many of you may know that Halloween is sometimes also called All Hallows’ Eve, which means the evening before All Hallows’ Day, or All Saints Day—yesterday. Today at this service we recognize All Saints’ Day as the greater feast, but also remember that November 2nd, today, is All Souls’ Day.

The Feast of All Saints is a day where we remember, honour, and offer our prayers for those saints—known and unknown—who have no specific feast day of their own in the Church year. Many of them died as martyrs in the early centuries of the church, nameless because of the great numbers of Christians who were being killed at that time.

We remember them with this day because their faith in and witness to the Truth of Jesus Christ is no less holy or part of the church universal just because their names are not known to us. Modern martyrs—those who even now give their lives for their faith—are part of that same witness. In fact you may have heard the phrase, “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” before, and these centuries of martyrs and saints, the dead, is exactly what that phrase refers to. Their faith brought about their death, but also brought them into the glory of Heaven and now they are part of the invisible church, the part of the church that we are being united to. As Jesus says in our Gospel today, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Likewise on the Feast of All Souls’ we remember all those who have joined into that Mystical Body of Christ through their death. We recall that their earthly death has separated us, and we should grieve that, but that they like the Saints we remember on All Saints’ Day, are now part of that invisible church. Think of the ways that we still connect with our dead loved ones; how many of us have been to the grave of a loved one in our lives? Planted flowers around it? Picked weeds? We pay someone to mow the lawns and maintain the cemetery grounds; some of us keep the cremated remains of our loved ones close to us. This is part of our grieving, but it is showing our joy too; it reminds us what is unique about our Christian faith from the largely secular world, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” St. Paul writes. This is to say: we should grieve death, but as Christians we also know that Jesus provided the means to overcome death, the Gospels show us that in death there is hope.

But aside from death there is life, and that is I think what All Saints’ Day points us to: the life and witness of saints. People who through their living, their faith, their witness, and their dying showed us true faithfulness. Their martyrdoms weren’t things written down, but things that happened—things that had to be seen by others, and those others shared their stories and many people came to a lively faith through it.

The saints became for us examples, role models if you will. We love characters like Batman and Spiderman because they do amazing things even though there is something impossible about them, but this is what captures our imagination.

I think the Saints appeal to us in a similar way. There is something totally impossible about the Saints. That Men and Women throughout the centuries of the Christian church would give up their own lives before they would renounce their faith in a God who loved his creation so much that he was willing to undergo crucifixion for us on a cross. Impossible though it may sound, those stories are true.

If the cross is a tree that bears fruit, then surely Saints are what is harvested and this day, All Saints’ Day, is the feast of thanksgiving we have after that harvest.

The Saints show us a glimpse of the perfection we are all striving towards. The perfection that comes through our salvation and place in the Kingdom of Heaven. We look to the Saints to see what human nature is like when it is perfected by God’s grace, we look to it and we pray that God may through his grace mold and work us into the same.

Amen.

Redeeming the Time

Colin:

This is a really great post on the importance and helpfulness of the Daily Offices for our devotional use.

I (we) pray the offices from the BCP and use the Eucharistic Lectionary as found in the BCP, but the importance of common, regular, rhythmic worship is important no matter what is used.

It’s a part of our tradition and faith that people view largely as a nuisance but also something that I feel people are thirsting for. Praying and promoting the Offices as a means for our ongoing conversion is something I think a great deal about and always keen to talk about.

Originally posted on Becoming A True Pilgrim:

     I come from a liturgical tradition (Anglicanism). In this tradition there are many ways we mark the passage of time. We have holidays, liturgical season, feast days, etc. One of the most important, if underutilized, ones is the Daily Office.

The idea of ritualization of time goes back at least as far as Exodus 29:38-42, where God instructs Moses on how to make daily offerings. The Didache (written in the late First Century) gives instruction on which days to fast on and on how to recite the Lord’s Prayer at least 3 times per day. By the time the New Testament Canon was established in the Fourth Century, there was a set pattern of prayers throughout the day. When St. Benedict established his monastic system in the seventh century, it revolved around the regular schedule of prayers throughout the day. The examples continue to the present…

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Pastoral Care, Pastoral Comfort

During the last three months I have been taken up with an intensive internship as a hospital chaplain. It is part of our training and preparation for ordination in the Anglican Church of Canada, and has us situated in a clinical setting for three months ministering to those in the unit you are attached to. Weekly, the group of students meets to hone listening skills and recap our week of clinical work.

I was placed in one unit (~25 people) at a Veteran’s hospital where all of the residents were veterans of either WWII or Korea, had been in action, and were in the hospital due to terminal illnesses and functional decline. The word palliative is not thrown around a lot at the hospital, though it is the care they provide; instead their mandate and work is to provide comfort. All of the vets will die there, and most know that. Dementia in some stage or another was the common thread between all of them and was often the focus of my visits with them. My days were spent going from room to room visiting, listening, talking, sometimes praying, but overall being a presence with these people that was not there to poke, prod, feed, or clean.

The spiritual needs were vast. Most struggled with things they had seen and done during the war and that often became the topic of our conversation, others were more concerned with the afterlife and what death means for them. Only a handful were “practicing” Christians, many others were listed as having a denomination but in reality had fallen away from it long ago. This made my work as Chaplain challenging–I thought, “How will I minister to those who have no faith?” or “How will I minister to those of a different denomination than me?”

The days came and went and the weeks passed by. Some of those I met with passed away, others continued to decline, and some few defied all odds and recovered from close shaves with death. As I continued to meet with and get to know the Veterans on my unit I came to understand more about ministering directly to people.

The first thing is that we are not always going to have answers, and sometimes it’s best to make that clear.

One Vet wrestled with the fact that he had killed many people during the war and couldn’t reconcile that with the faith he was raised with, “How do you put those two together, Padre (they called me)? Killing and religion?” In the beginning I was scared of the question, I had no idea how to answer that, I hadn’t thought much about it for myself. I went in prepared one day to face the same discussion and thought, “surely he can take solace in the words of scripture,” and I talked to him about forgiveness, about remorse, about God’s love–but still the question persisted, “how can you reconcile those things? Killing and religion?”

The change occurred when I realized my own fear about that question, and saw that my answer was the same that had been given to this Vet since the day he stepped back on Canadian soil, “1 John 1:9!” some would say to him or, “Acts 3:19!” It’s not that these aren’t true, but they weren’t patching over the deep wounds this man bore, so what would? I listened to him for weeks, and again he asked that familiar question. I looked at him one day and said, “Jim. I don’t know how we can reconcile those two things, but I think that’s okay. I’ll remember you in my prayers and one day we might know the answer to that question.”

Time and again with other vets I realized that I couldn’t heal their wounds, answer their questions, stop their nightmares, or make sense of all they had seen and done, but I could sit with them. Listen to them. Empathize. Pray with or for them. And help bear some of the weight of the burdens they carry, and when I began to do this the change was palpable.

The other thing I learned is how foundational this idea of presence is to all pastoral care, no matter how sacramental in nature (confession, communion, etc) or how mundane. This I learned most clearly from those Veterans who had no faith. Prayer was not an option, talking about scripture was out, and religion was not a topic of conversation, yet that didn’t dissuade them from welcoming me each time I spoke with them.

Visitation for its own sake, especially parochially, is something which is not as understood as it once was. When I worked in a parish for three Summers and spent a good deal of time visiting I was always met with open arms by the older (and) or rural folks, while city-dwellers and younger people treated my call with a great amount of suspicion, “You want to visit? What for?” they would ask.

Like the Vets I would simply be with them, talk to them, ask them how they are doing, show them that I care about what they are saying, that I am listening. If they were upset or distressed prayer was not always appropriate, but it was something I could take with me to pray for at Evensong each night.

Too often I have heard about rural parishes whose numbers decline because the new Rector doesn’t visit as much as the old. I heard Vets gripe about past chaplaincy students because they wouldn’t come in every week. Maybe they only talked about the weather, maybe the visit lasted only 5 minutes, maybe the student only knocked on the door and was rebuffed–but the Veterans took note and remembered because the chaplain’s presence offered something unique.

Presence is not the end of pastoral care but the beginning, the foundation. I underestimated the value that sitting in a room and talking about the weather, or the sport on TV that I don’t follow, or the quality of the hospital food could have for a lonely person, but it was valued highly. Whether they knew it or not, I tried my best to lighten the burden of each of their crosses, to listen to them, share and laugh with them, and be a friend to them.

Pastoral care, just like a shepherd is with his sheep, is nothing without an abiding and comforting presence, even if that presence is simply sitting in silence together in the shade.

 

“Be Silent, O All Flesh”

On the eve of the Nativity, the birth of Christ, I offer these two excerpts from the already brief lessons for the First Evensong of Christmas this evening,

And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee.

And the Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again.

Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation.

Zechariah 2:11-13

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.

For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Hebrews 2:14-18

The O Antiphons: Advent Devotions

It’s been just over a year since I began this blog, my first post being on the Feast of St. Andrew (Nov. 30th).  I have been pretty neglectful with updating it regularly, which is too bad because I am always grateful when I have the chance to write and reflect on some of things I enjoy posting, but in the summers I work full time as a student-assistant in a Parish and have now started at Seminary, so free-time is hard to find.

Some of my first significant entries here last year were a reminder of the real spiritual depth this time in the calendar brings us to. Too often, even in my own life growing up, we are taken up into the hub-bub excitement of the pre-Christmas preparations which really (sadly) begin in early November and carry through to December 25th, often with very little distinction between Advent and Christmas. Then, as quickly as it always seems to come upon us, Christmas ends with us laying immobile on our couches, too stuffed to move from the turkey dinner, remarking at how quickly another year has come and gone.

This neglects the important days of remembrance and celebration which follow Christmas, and prepare us for the Feast of the Epiphany and beyond.

But I’ve said that already. Here I wish to bring up a devotional practice which might be helpful for those observing Advent, and for those seeking to enter more deeply into what the Advent season is really all about.

frieze

The

O

 (or, Great; Greater; Advent) Antiphons are short prayers in chant form used during the seven or eight days preceding Christmas Eve (16/17th-23rd).

The discrepancy in their starting date is due to an early 9th century addition by the scholar Amalarius of the final O Antiphon, O Virgo Virginum. This alteration was never added to the Roman Breviary and never became part of regular Roman Tradition, but was taken up into the Sarum Rite and thus found a place in English tradition. In England, as in the Book of Common Prayer the Calendar still marks the 16th as the beginning of this time of devotion.

The Antiphons can be a great help to our Advent devotions. They lead us towards the Nativity in those final days of Advent, each one of them looking back to the Old Testament prophecy of the coming Messiah. They remind us each day that Christ’s coming was already foretold and is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophecy.

In a liturgical context these would normally be sung (or said) before and after the Magnificat in Vespers or Evening Prayer; but I put it out there that strictly speaking they don’t need to be. Use them in devotion, recite them in the morning and the evening of each day–alongside other prayers or alone, you may even wish to make the old testament scripture from which these come your devotional reading for the day. Meditate on them or even just listen to them when you wake, carry them with you through the whole day and let them help prepare you for God’s coming into the world.

As you pray them, notice the beginning and the end of each. Notice that each title is a prophetic name ascribed to Christ, notice that each ends with a simple hope that looks forward to the coming incarnation. For example, see today’s O Sapientia (O Wisdom):

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

reaching from one end to the other,

mightily and sweetly ordering all things:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.

There is really so much more that can be said of these devotions but I’ll leave that for others. Below is a list of some articles and links which I have found beneficial this Advent season:

This article (which may require an account at academia.edu) gives a simple and brief historical background and some commentary on the O Antiphons themselves.

Burlin, Robert. The Old English Advent: A Typological Commentary. New Haven: Yale, 1968.

Old Testament prophecy found in the O Antiphons

Thurston, Herbert, “The Great Antiphons, Heralds of Christmas,” The Month, CVI (1905), 616-631.

St. Nicholas, Bishop

Colin:

A post I made a year ago containing a lovely little song for the Feast of St. Nicholas. Take that, Arius!

Originally posted on Dispatches From the Manor:

A less Iconic, but certainly more familiar depiction of St. Nicholas

There’s been a good run of Feast/Saint days on Thursdays for the past month, which means they have landed on the day of the weekly Solemn Eucharist at the College–always nice to recognize the Feast on the actual day. Today is no exception, there’s ample places to learn about St. Nicholas, including David Mosley’s post at Letters From Nottingham

Here’s a French folk song about St. Nicholas and the butcher:

Three little children sought the plain
Gleaners of the golden grain.
They lingered past the angel-song,
And dewy shadows swept along.

‘Mid the silence of the wood
The butcher’s lonely cottage stood,
“Butcher! lodge us for the night,
Lodge us till the morning light.”
“Enter in, ye children small,
I can find a place for all.”

The butcher seized a knife straitway,
And did the little creatures slay.
He…

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Autumn & Her Ember Days

While the green is still in the trees, the herbs on the deck pickable, and the ocean still somewhat swimable, the air has begun to chill here. The evenings are beginning to smell of woodsmoke, and the last major storm we had blew away what I hope is the last of the Summer humidity.

In the calendar this past week were a few days I have not paid much attention to over the past few years, but seeing that it was on the horizon early last week I decided to read and write a little bit about it. Wednesday was the beginning of the Autumn Ember Days. The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following Holy Cross Day (Sept. 14) constitute the Autumn Ember Days, also known as the Michaelmas Embertide. Ember Days occur at other points throughout our year as well: following the first Sunday in Advent (Advent Embertide), following the first Sunday in Lent (Lenten Embertide), and following Pentecost (Whit Embertide).

Abel Grimmer (1607)

Abel Grimmer (1607)

The origins of the name Ember are somewhat disputed. Some explanations point towards a derivation of the Latin Quatuor Temporum, or Four Times, in reference to their occurrences through the year while others look to Anglo-Saxon roots. I rather like Ember, and don’t pay much heed to the origins of the name.

There’s a few things that may be immediately noticeable about Ember Days. The first, is that they always occur following important days in the church calendar (Holy Cross, Advent 1, Lent 1, Pentecost). Perhaps even more obvious though, is that they occur, generally speaking, near the beginning of the natural seasons–although really at the beginning of the seasons measured astronomically.

During the Church year, ordinations both to the Diaconate and to the Priesthood (typically) take place on the Embertide Saturday; historians think that this has been ongoing since Gelasius I (AD 494). About the Embertide Collect, John Henry Blunt writes, ‘The Ember-day Collect is a continual witness before God and man of the interest which the whole body of the Church has in the ordination of the Clergy who are to minister in it’ (The Annotated Book of Common Prayer, J.H. Blunt D.D., 1892). While the general Embertide collect beseeches the Almighty to, ‘Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to all those who are to be called to any office and administration in the same’ (Canadian BCP, 1962), the Autumn Embertide collect is is befitting of the season, ‘Prosper all those who maintain the industries of this land; and give them pride in their work, a just reward for their labour, and joy both in supplying the needs of others and in serving thee their saviour…’ (Candian BCP, 1962)

Despite being near to the Harvest season for us, the Autumn Ember Days, like all other Ember Days, are days of penitential fasting. The Embertides are seen as times of renewal, discernment, penitence and contemplation. Due as well to their relation to the natural seasons, they are also times of contemplation and stewardship of and for the natural world, ‘We will consider now the special intentions of the Church in the institution of the Ember Days. They are intended to consecrate to God the four seasons of the year; to implore the Divine blessing upon the fruits of the earth, and thank almighty God for their safe harvesting’ (A Pulpit Commentary, H.G. Hughes).

The days remain yet mysterious but lovely times in our calendar, to me, but there will be three more occasions upon which to think and write on them. I close with a poem about the Autumn season we’re now entering (my favourite time)

When the Frost is on the Pumpkin

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bare-headed, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pitcur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries –kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below — the clover overhead!
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is getherd, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’ ‘s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage, too!
I don’t know how to tell it — but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me
I’d want to ‘commondate ‘em — all the whole-indurin’ flock –
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

As a note: Most of the research for this post was not done by me; much of the information as well as the poem was borrowed from here. A great resource for thoughts upon the Ember Days.