The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Monday, November 07, 2005


With today being in the Octave of All Saints’ Day and also the 24th Sunday after Trinity, three great themes are placed in front of us: faith, suffering and sanctification.

In the case of contemplating the lives of the Saints, as we did this past Tuesday on All Saints’ Day, our thoughts concerning them often dwell on their sanctification – that they all reflected one or more of the virtues that were most perfectly displayed in the Blessed Life and Death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. But equally, and this falls into the category of being such a safe assumption that we give it no thought, equally there is the “given” that Saints in particular all had a lively faith. However, thus pondering only their individual paths to ever increasing holiness, for that is what sanctification means, and the safe assumption of their faith, our focus is perhaps too narrow.

As we just heard read in the Lesson from Revelation, if John’s vision of those assembled in front of the throne of God, clad in white robes, washed in the blood of the Lamb, represent those whom we call Saints today, we must remind ourselves of the words that accompany their thus being blessed by finding themselves in the Nearer Presence, “These are they which came out of great tribulation.” Now some may argue that this only applies to those who died a martyr’s death. However, there is no such specific reference; and, we also might be reminded that our English word “martyr” comes directly from the Greek word  - “witness.” Which is to say, the original meaning of the word was not restricted to those who were put to death for their faith in Jesus.

Very many of the Saints, even those who died a natural death, suffered in one form or another. Indeed, suffering, which we fear so much in our society, was viewed very differently by the early Church. Just a few weeks ago, we read, during the course of the Daily Offices, the first Epistle General of St. Peter, in which suffering for righteousness is viewed very much as a good thing. Thursday morning past, we read of the episode of the second imprisonment of the Peter and John following Pentecost. At the end of the episode, following, as least in part, the inspired advice of Gamaliel, the Sadducees released Peter and John, “when they had called the Apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the Name of Jesus, and let them go” (Acts 5.40). And here is where the translation into the English of the King James actually gives a more accurate impression of the circumstance, I feel, than the original Greek does. A more accurate translation of the Greek would say, “And they (the Apostles) departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonoured on behalf of His Name.” King James, acknowledging that they had just been beaten, renders it “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.”

Living, as we do, in a society and time of human history where both medical advances and the general wealth of the population have resulted in a healthy aversion to suffering of any sort, I suppose that it is not surprising that even the Church here in the west has adopted the same collective mindset. Suffering of any kind is not only to be avoided, we actually pray, individually and in groups, for this or that suffering to be alleviated, sometimes it seems, forgetting to add that all important caveat of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane as He had already begun to suffer the physical anguish of His Passion, “nevertheless, not My will, but Thine, be done.”

It is important to make a distinction here, and this is where perhaps our language is impoverished in having only one word. As we know, our Blessed Lord was moved with compassion towards those who were suffering from illness or disease. Were we to have read the propers for Trinity 24 this morning, we would have encountered two examples of this, and also one of the other three themes I mentioned at the beginning – that of faith. The woman who had suffered the “issue of blood for twelve years” exhibited great faith, and she was healed. The ruler whose daughter had just died, risking the scorn of his contemporaries, came to Jesus with perhaps even greater faith – that Jesus could bring his daughter back to life – which He did. Aside from the wonderful examples of faith, these episodes also certainly show us our Lord’s compassion, but we should also be reminded that in some cases He did make the point that the illness was the result of sin. In the case of the paralytic, Jesus healed him of his physical suffering by telling him that his sins were forgiven – but to flesh that thought out more completely is a separate sermon in itself.

Illness, disease are certainly forms of suffering, and faithfully to pray for healing of those thus afflicted is, and always has been, good and right. But there are many other forms of suffering, and it is those, to which I was referring in my observation, that many parts of the modern Church, especially in the west, have an aversion: torture, beatings, imprisonment, persecution, vicarious sacrifice and so on. Certainly, none of these is pleasant; aversion to them seems quite natural.

However, neither our Lord, nor His followers in the early Church attempted to avoid them. Peter and John rejoiced in having suffered for His Name; Peter’s message to the young Church, “For this is thankworthy … suffering wrongfully …for even hereunto are ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.” And so did the young Church; many records survive that describe how they counted it all joy to partake in the sufferings of Christ – often being put to death for their fidelity, their faith in Him.

While this might seem foolish to us today – our mindset here in the west seems to have decided conclusively that all such imposed suffering is not only evil, but also to be avoided on our part by judicious use of diplomacy and common sense – there are many parts of Christ’s Body, the Church, that today are undergoing the same kind of persecution and suffering as did the early Christians. In his work with those parts of the Church, our own Fr. Peter has had to adjust his preconditioned western mindset when said persecuted Christians ask for us in the west to stop praying that the persecution will end. In fact, they are praying, while under persecution themselves, that we in the west might also begin to share with them in Christ’s sufferings. Fr. Peter will also observe that the most spiritually healthy parts of the Church today, are those very parts that are thus undergoing persecution.

In recognizing this, are we perhaps lead to a conclusion that suffering for our faith in Jesus Christ is an important part, some might even argue an essential part, of sanctification? In the Epistle to the Hebrews, an interesting phrase comes up in Chapter 2.10, “For it became Him, for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” This should certainly strike us a just a little strange. Jesus, the captain of our salvation, is God Incarnate; isn’t it just a little unseemly to conclude that God Himself would require a process of perfecting that was brought about through suffering?

We’ve all heard many sermons, and the Prayer Book reminds us during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist that Jesus suffered for us, suffered death upon the Cross to be a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. His suffering was not only all-embracing, it was also necessary as it could be the only perfect offering for the sins of all mankind. And that is the gist of the passage from Hebrews. It is not that Christ needed to suffer to attain perfection Himself; but that His suffering, in its completeness, achieved the perfect atonement – our means to be made at one with God. The verses around it make it clear that it is not simply a passive issue of our thus being restored to fellowship with God through the perfect suffering and the Blood of the Cross; but that we are to be enlisted under the banner of that Cross, the captain of our army being Jesus Himself. And, rather than doing our utmost to avoid suffering, we must expect to suffer hardship as good soldiers of Christ. St. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy makes the statement that, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

There are many aids to prayer that help to remind us that not all suffering in the form of persecution and hardship is evil. If the Bible teaches us to expect the same, then we should not do our utmost to avoid that which may in fact serve to effect our own sanctification. One of my constant companions for many years has been John Baillie’s “A Diary of Private Prayer,” which provides a combination of profound, joyful, convicting, thankful prayers for each morning and evening of the month. In the context of our thoughts today, on the twentieth morning, part of the prayers say, “When Thou callest me to go through the dark valley, let me not persuade myself that I know a way round.”

But most apropos today’s themes, I should like to share with you the entire prayers for the twenty-seventh morning:
“Grant, O most gracious God, that I may carry with me through this day’s life the remembrance of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ my Lord.
For Thy fatherly love shown forth in Jesus Christ Thy well-beloved Son:
For His readiness to suffer for our sakes:
For the redemptive passion that filled His heart:
I praise and bless Thy holy Name.
For the power of His Cross in the history of the world since He came:
For all who have taken up their own crosses and have followed Him:
For the noble army of martyrs and for all who are willing to die that others may live:
For all suffering freely chosen for noble ends, for pain bravely endured, for temporal sorrows that have been used for the building up of eternal joys:
I praise and bless Thy holy Name.
O Lord my God, who dwellest in pure and blessed serenity beyond the reach of mortal pain, yet lookest down in unspeakable love and tenderness upon the sorrows of earth, give me grace, I beseech Thee, to understand the meaning of such afflictions and disappointments as I myself am called upon to endure. Deliver me from all fretfulness. Give me a stout heart to bear my own burdens. Give me a willing heart to bear the burdens of others. Give me a believing heart to cast all burdens upon Thee.
Glory be to Thee, O Father, and to Thee, O Christ, and to Thee, O Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Faith, suffering, sanctification. Thanks be to God for the example of the faith of the woman who had suffered an issue of blood twelve years, and who was made whole, holy, sanctified by Jesus. Thanks be to God for the faith of the ruler who had suffered the loss of his daughter whom Jesus restored to life, prefiguring the resurrection of all sanctified believers who put their trust in Him. Thanks be to God for the example of the lives of Saints, those whose faith, maintained through any and all kinds of both personal suffering and suffering on behalf of others – following the example of Christ – moved them along the path of sanctification, leaving us an unbroken trail of bread crumbs throughout Christian history to Him Who is the perfect and only Captain of our salvation.