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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Father Carl Reid's sermon for Trinity XX

“Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’” (Matt. 22.1). Most Sundays there is at least one very obvious theme that binds together the readings appointed for the day. Some, such as today, offer more than one theme for us to contemplate.
By my initial quote, we might be lead to assume that the theme is the kingdom of heaven - which is fair enough, as Jesus was often talking about the kingdom of heaven, especially in Matthew’s record - “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field … is like a grain of mustard seed … is like unto leaven,” and so on. Important as this topic is, it is not the clearest binding theme for today.

A helpful little book from England that I have, “The Eucharistic Year” by Harold Riley, published in 1951, offers, week by week, concise descriptions of the themes contained within not only the Collect, Epistle (or Lesson) and Gospel, but also the minor propers - Introit, Gradual, Offertory and Communion verses. For today, Riley suggested that the primary theme is the contrast between the vanity of the world and the joy to be found in accepting God’s will. Fair enough.

The Prayer Book Commentary from St. Peter Publications in Charlottetown suggests that the binding theme is that of cheerful obedience and service to God - only slightly different than that of Riley. Fair enough as well.

There is however a word that appears in both the Collect and Gospel, and while the actual word is not used there, it is described in the Epistle - a word that I should like us to contemplate today - “ready,” which, as we shall discover, brings us back around to the theme of the kingdom of heaven.

“Ready.” The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “with preparation complete; in fit state” and so on, but those first two fit quite well with the presumed intent in today’s readings.

In the Collect, after asking for the safeguard of the Divine protection, we pray that we might be “ready both in body and soul” so that we might “cheerfully accomplish those things” that God would have done. In a very short Collect, our minds should be prompted to think very deeply of the implications of the prayer. In praying that we might be ready - in fit state - both in body and soul, we are acknowledging the need for preparedness both physically and spiritually. Which is to say, our entire being is to be in fit state, with preparation complete to carry out God’s will, or as the Collect states, “that we … may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done.”

And is this something that we do, say, on Sunday mornings only, or when we visit the sick and shut-in in hospitals and retirement homes, or assist at the Shepherds or the Mission? No, the prayer is not qualified in terms of any sort of 9 to 5 occupational commitment.

This is underlined by St. Paul in the Epistle, “See then that ye walk circumspectly,” - which is to say, taking everything into account, even wary - “not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” This might seem to be aimed at a slightly different mark than the Collect, until we continue, “Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” In another of his well-beloved, sometimes very stark contrasts, St. Paul urges Christians to live the life of the wise, not of fools. The world, alienated from God, lives in vanity and sin; Christians are urged to “redeem the time” by using it to fulfill God’s will. St. Paul is encouraging us, no less than the Collect, to be in a state of constant readiness, almost like a sentinel on night watch, to maintain our focus on God’s will, avoiding distracting or even evil influences.

Both the Collect and the Epistle therefore, in their respective calls for us to be in fit state, taking everything into account, encourage us to be intent on the fulfilment of God’s will. In so doing, and quite properly without really thinking about it, we shall be participating in the earthly manifestation of the kingdom of heaven.

Which brings us to not only one of the aforementioned themes for this Sunday, but also the question of whether the parable as presented by Jesus in the Gospel reading refers just to the heavenly kingdom of the afterlife, or to the kingdom of heaven on earth, or to both. Some will maintain that, in his use of clear, easily visualized earthly analogies, people and situations, Jesus was primarily referring to the kingdom of heaven on earth in today’s parable, even perhaps intending that the parable would prompt his Jewish listeners to think of the call of Israel, interpreting the servants as the Prophets of God. The extension of the invitation to the marriage to anyone the servants could find meant the extension of God’s call to the Gentile world.

As with so many of His teachings, the earthly symbology has eternal implications, no less in this parable than in many others. I daresay that most of us, 2,000 years later, would think primarily of the heavenly kingdom of the afterlife when we read this parable, and I say, fair enough.

Variations of this passage come up twice yearly in our course of Sunday readings. Luke’s account of the same parable is on the Second Sunday after Trinity. There are three notable differences in the two accounts: first, in Luke’s account, we are told that the originally invited guests all just made excuses, whereas in Matthew’s account, as we heard today, on top of making excuses, some of those who had been invited took the messenger servants of the master and treated them so badly, even killing some of them, that the master exacted punishment on those ungrateful guests. Consider what impact that must have had on the Jewish listeners in term so their being the Chosen People, the originally invited guests!

Second, at the end of Luke’s account, after relating the same situation that the invited guests found excuses to not come, and that the house, even after the servants had invited all that they could find, was still not full, the master says, “None of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.” In a purely earthly interpretation, that would imply that unbelieving Jews were shut out. Against that, in Matthew’s account, the master concludes with the statement, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Without reading the passage again, we know that in fact all were called, but few chose to respond. Even though the two accounts end differently, the essential message is the same: there is room in the kingdom of heaven for everyone, and the master calls all of us to join in that heavenly banquet.

The third notable difference between Luke’s account and Matthew’s is something that only appears in Matthew’s and that is directly related to today’s theme of readiness - that almost nightmarish scenario of the poor fellow that responded to the call, came in, and then was quite unceremoniously chucked out. We might even say that the situation around him is a parable within a parable. At the beginning, I mentioned that the word “ready” appears twice in the Gospel passage, but it doesn’t refer to readiness on our part, such as we pray for in the Collect, or St. Paul exhorts in the Epistle. Rather, the word in the Gospel is used in terms of the wedding banquet being ready.

Still, in terms of things being “with preparation complete; in fit state” the readiness of the wedding banquet, and its symbolism as the kingdom of heaven, is well and truly of importance as it relates to our personal state of walking circumspectly and always being ready both in body and soul.

We might suspect that there is something very special about that figure in the parable who accepted the invitation, and came - but was thrown out. To the original hearers, the scene would have been well-known; they would have recognized that he had no excuse for coming improperly dressed. Had he been in need, the king's generosity would have taken care of that. Indeed, there was a tradition at earthly marriage feasts that the guests were actually provided with a garment to wear to the occasion. Jesus’ original hearers of this parable would have known that, and quickly concluded that there must also be something very symbolic about that man. Mere attendance, says Jesus, commenting on the attitude we might hear today expressed as “God has to take me the way I am”, well, Jesus tells us that isn’t enough.

Something else must happen to any of us who presume to respond to the invitation, and that is nothing less than the transformation of our lives in order for us to be welcome guests. As Christians, we all know that of prime importance, in this exercise that we call Church, is salvation. We all stand in need of God's saving grace: personally, individually. Upon responding to that grace, accepting the invitation to the heavenly banquet, if we would say, "Well, my mere presence is enough," then this second parable within a parable today should be fair warning that we are in fact not ready either in body or soul, not with preparation complete and in a fit state. There must be conversion, the change of clothing representing a change of heart, “casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armour of light,” as St. Paul tells us in the 13th chapter of his letter to the Romans, and as he states just a few lines later in the same letter, “put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
When we place all of this within the larger context of Jesus’ warnings that the day will come upon us unexpectedly, the Lord will come as a thief in the night, we should take to heart the importance, at all times and in all places, of clothing ourselves in the righteousness that is Jesus Christ so that, both in body and soul, we shall be in a fit state, ready, to be welcomed to His heavenly banquet.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Feast of Dedication 2006

Among the different celebrations that a given parish might celebrate relative to its own particular existence as part of the Body of Christ, His Church militant here in earth, are a few different feasts. Most often thought of might be the patronal festival of a parish, although this is almost universally confused with that which is correctly called the feast of title.

The feast of title is the feast of that Divine Person, saint, mystery, or event, after which the church is named. It is sometimes, but incorrectly, called the patronal festival. Every church, whether it is consecrated or not, keeps its feast of title as a first-class feast. The title of a new church is formally agreed upon between the founders and the Bishop at the time of the laying of the foundation stone. In our case, where we in the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada most often acquire a church building that was erected by others, the title is chosen at the time when a given parish takes possession of the building. Sometimes, therefore, a particular parish may change its feast of title. The original name for our first parish in the country in Victoria, BC was St. Athanasius. When they acquired their own building, they changed their title to St. John the Evangelist. We, here in Ottawa, kept our title of The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary when we acquired this building, and that means that we keep our feast of title on March 25, the date of that feast, being exactly nine months before Christmas Day.

So what is the patronal festival? The Patron Saint is the Saint which a society of people have chosen to be, as it were, their special representative in the heavenly places and to plead for them before the Throne of Grace. Consequently, only a Saint can be a Patron – not, that is, a Mystery or event; nor on the other hand the Blessed Trinity or One of the Persons of the Godhead. A parish does not have a patron saint, this being merged in all cases with the feast of title; but a diocese, city, or nation may have a Patron Saint (e.g., the Diocese of Canada and the Dominion of Canada have St. John the Baptist as their Patron).

There is a third such festival, which we in this parish have glossed over for far too many years. It has its own Collect, Epistle and Gospel in the Book of Common Prayer; its own set of propers (Introit, Gradual etc.). It is the Feast of Dedication, which is the anniversary, or the day observed by custom as the anniversary, of the consecration of the church building. It should be kept each year on the actual anniversary day; but should this fall on a day which is regularly unsuitable – as, for instance, if a church were consecrated on Christmas Eve – then it would be in order for the Bishop to permit some other day to be observed as the dedication festival. Moreover, Convocation in the year 1536 ordered the keeping of this festival on the first Sunday of October, instead of the actual date. In the case of newly-consecrated churches, it is for the Bishop at the time of consecration to decide what day shall be observed as the dedication festival; in such case, as an aside, it would not be out of order for a votive Mass of Thanksgiving to be said on the anniversary of the opening of the church. The dedication festival has no connection whatever with the title under which the church is dedicated. The dedication festival is a festival in the honour of our Lord; for this local church is a microcosm of the church catholic, which is the Body of Christ. If the date for a particular church is unsuitable, or unknown, as in our case, then the feast is often kept either on the last Sunday in Trinity (the Sunday before Christ the King), or as mentioned, on this first Sunday in October.

A festival in honour of our Lord. Our first hymn, “Christ is made the sure foundation,” and our Offertory hymn which we shall sing in a few minutes, “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, Her Lord” certainly serve well to underline that which not only this particular feast of dedication is all about, but more importantly, what the Church itself is all about.

Any Sunday, indeed any time we come to church at all, is always a good time for each of us to be asking ourselves why we come here. If our focus is on seeing friends, singing hymns, listening to a gripping sermon, enjoying fellowship after the services, or, perish the thought, being focussed on avoiding others with whom we might harbour a lack of understanding or willingness to forgive, then we aren’t really coming to church for the right reason at all, are we?

The reason we come here is Jesus Christ. He is the building. When we speak of the Body of Christ, we might think perhaps of His physical humanity, or the Sacrament of the Altar, or, within the context of today’s message, His Church. This building, as part of that Body of Christ, is dedicated to Him, and to Him alone. When we come to participate in the services of His Body, the Church, our entire focus should be on Him to whom not only this building, but everyone who has been baptized into Him as the Mediator of the new covenant established by Him, are dedicated.

Fr. David Marriott, one of Fr. Michael Shier’s assistants in the Vancouver area has just returned from leading a mid-September pilgrimage to Walsingham in England, where the group had the pleasure of seeing Bishop Mercer again. In the just issued newsletter from the Vancouver parishes, Fr. David writes, “In a very intense week at Walsingham, the highlight of our retreat was the three presentations made by Bishop Mercer.

“He started out by speaking of what it is we worship: it must be God, not an idol; but what is an idol? In our society, it could be a building, a church, vestments, or even one’s own self-importance. All these are to be condemned, as there is only One worthy of worship.

“‘Where is God?’ This lead to a discussion of the temple, from the tent at Shiloh through the temple of Solomon and the various re-buildings of the temple. But all these were replaced by the person of Jesus Christ: there is no need of a place or a building. He has now fulfilled the purpose of the building in His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection.

“The temple was a meeting-place between God and man, but emphasizes separation: between God and man, Jew and Gentile, man and woman. Jesus, as temple, is very different. He brings reconciliation: between God and man, in that He has removed the veil [and is the new Temple Himself where man meets God]; between Jew and Gentile, in that we are One in Christ; between man and woman, in that both are seated in the Hand of God.”

Even though this brought back memories of a similar, perhaps the same, talks that Bishop Mercer delivered to us here on a Quiet Day in Advent or Lent some years ago, I would have loved dearly to hear again the entire content of those talks; but I think that Fr. David captured the essence of them; and, how curiously wonderful that they fit so well with that which this feast of dedication begs us to ponder.

We do not need a building; we need only Him. If we have a building, such as we are privileged to possess, we must constantly be on guard against the distractions that encumber ownership. If we are regular churchgoers, as most of us are, we must constantly be on guard against our attendance and participation here becoming too “routine” in the sense that we might be distracted by a multitude of trivialities, or perhaps lulled into a sort of complacence in that we recite the prayers by memory without really thinking about them. Also, as regular churchgoers, all members of His one Body the Church, may each of us approach that Holy Table to receive His precious Body and Blood, never, as we heard read in both St. Peter in today’s Epistle reading and in our Second Lesson at Mattins from Hebrews, never in the gall of bitterness and anger, but rejoicing as repentant and forgiven sinners, receiving the grace that flows from His one, all-sufficient sacrifice.

If our hymns today and Bishop Mercer’s comments remind us that Jesus, in being “all in all” has actually replaced the temple insofar as that which connects us to God, then the Epistle reading for the Feast of Dedication urges us, each of us who have been baptized into Him, to carry those thoughts even deeper. Using temple imagery himself, St. Peter tells his readers, “The Lord (Jesus) … to whom you come, as unto a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, and are built up yourselves into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable unto God through Jesus Christ.”

Twice in the past week, last Sunday in the Second Lesson at Evensong, and yesterday evening, we read the same particular Lesson - one of those coincidences that happen occasionally in our yearly Bible readings when a feast such as this, which has its own special Lessons that fall outside of the regular lectionary, occurs within days of our having read the same Lesson during the regular course of the year. In this particular Lesson, we hear perhaps even more striking imagery, than that of St. Peter in today’s Epistle, from St. Paul in his first letter to the Church at Corinth. Verses 9 - 11, “Ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Then after issuing a solemn warning to those who are called to build up the Body of Christ His Church, he continues in verses 16 and 17, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”

Both St. Peter and St. Paul are reminding us, as did Bishop Mercer, that Jesus, in His Incarnate form, replaced the Temple; and, since His Ascension, by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit, we are, each of us, temples to God.

“Christ is made the sure foundation.” “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ Her Lord.”

Why do we come to Church? What is it that we worship?