Friday After Ash Wednesday – February 28, 2020

Read John 17:9-19

Jesus prays that the Father will “Sanctify them (His disciples and all who follow in their footsteps) by the Truth; Your Word is Truth.”  To sanctify something is to set it apart for holy purposes.  The thing sanctified then can never be used for anything else.  Holy water cannot be used to wash the dishes.  Consecrated wine cannot be used for the social gathering after church.  A clergyman’s stole cannot be used as a winter muffler.  Jesus is praying to the Father to set us apart for His purposes, for His Kingdom work.  And we are to be sanctified by the Truth.  Jesus is the Truth.  Thy Word is Truth.  Jesus is the Living Word—the Word of Truth!

In His high priestly prayer, Jesus tells the Father that He is not praying that the Father would take us out of the world, but that He would protect us from the evil one.  We are to be in the world, but by God’s sanctification, His setting us apart, we are to live differently from those who are of the world.  Jesus says, “I have given them your Word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world…”  That is a hard place for us to be.  We are set apart, sanctified, but that puts us at immediate odds with others with whom we live and work.  And they hate us for it.

But our separateness from those around us is not to be an occasion for judgment.  Jesus prayed that we may be set apart for Him, that we may be used by Him for the furthering of His Kingdom, bringing those who do not know Him to the knowledge and love of Him.  For He says to the Father, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”  Jesus was sent into the world that the world might be saved through Him.  And now He is asking the Father to sanctify us that His redeeming work may continue to be carried out through us—we who are set apart for Him.  

Thursday After Ash Wednesday – February 27, 2020

Read John 17:1-8

It is appropriate for us to begin our Lenten pilgrimage with a prayer.  And what better prayer is there than the one that Jesus Himself prayed to the Father on our behalf.  Over these next three days we will read the whole of our Lord’s high priestly prayer recorded in the Gospel of John.

It is incredibly comforting to know that, as St. Paul reminds us, Jesus Christ did not only pray for us on the last night of His earthly ministry, He “is at the right hand of God, and is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34).  We can come to Him with all of our petitions.  The curtain is open and we have been granted access to Him.  We can bring all of our concerns and lay them at His feet.  But even when we neglect to call upon Him, His constant prayer is that we will know Him, and continue to live eternally in relationship with Him.

In today’s pericope, Jesus defines eternal life.  “Now this is eternal life,” He says to the Father, “that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”  But what does it mean to know Jesus and the Father who sent Him?  To know, in the Biblical sense, is a deeply intimate, loving relationship, in the way a husband and wife know one another.  This is a relationship grounded in both the Word and the Spirit.  Twice in the preceding chapters Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15; 15:14).  Jesus says that those whom the Father has given to Him are “they who have obeyed Your Word…I gave them the words You gave Me and they accepted them…”  And in his first epistle, John writes, “Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete in them” (2:4-5).  The Word of God is Truth, and those who obey His Word dwell eternally with Him.  Jesus’ prayer is that we may know Him and the Father who sent Him.

Ash Wednesday – February 26, 2020

Read Luke 18:9-14

Though the focus of these meditations will be on the Gospel of Mark, with a smattering of Johannine passages, we begin with an encouraging and comforting word from Luke.  The story of the Pharisee and publican is found only in the third evangelist’s presentation of the Gospel, and the compilers of the lectionary recognized the importance and relevance of this parable to our day of penitence.  And for our study it is a word that relates well to the message of Mark and his personal experience.  Mark, as we shall see in the coming weeks, experienced a severe breaking.  He came up short in the eyes and expectations of a man he admired and wanted to emulate.  Later, however, he experienced the fruit of humble repentance.

In the parable of today’s lesson, Jesus contrasts two men, and two attitudes.  Luke says, “He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves…but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Mark fell short in his first attempt to evangelize, but under the tutelage of Barnabas and Peter, he humbled himself, and threw himself on the mercy of God.  God redeemed and restored him.  Jesus’ words in the parable could well have been uttered over Mark:  “…this man went down to his house justified…”

On this Ash Wednesday we are reminded that God is infinitely merciful.  “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our sins from us” (Psalm 103:12).  And for those who humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, they will be exalted, they will go down to their home justified.

There is no one more fervently rooting for us to succeed than Jesus Christ.  He died that we might live.  And as we shall see in the readings from John this week, He is continually making intercession for us at the right hand of the Father.

Thy Word is Truth

Introduction: Sanctify them by the Truth.  Thy Word is Truth. —John 17:17

“Thy Word is Truth” (John 17:17).  “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the Word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12).  “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

The Word of God is Truth.  It is Good News.  The meditations which follow are based on the Gospel readings in the daily lectionary found in the Book of Common Prayer, and the Simplified Liturgy of the Hours which I compiled.  The weekday readings for weeks one through five are from the first ten chapters of the Gospel of Mark.  The Sunday readings and those during the week of Ash Wednesday are from the Gospel of John.  But the primary focus of our meditations will be on Mark.  Why?  Mark was the first of the Gospel writers.  Mark was enthusiastic about the message of Good News, and yet, his Gospel is the most simple and straightforward of the four Biblical Gospels.  Mark’s focus is the Passion of our Lord—Jesus’ sacrifice that brought salvation to mankind.  Fully one third of his Gospel, chapters 11-16, is dedicated to the events of the final week of our Lord’s incarnate life.  But the first ten chapters describe Jesus’ three-year ministry and preparation for His Passion.  It is upon these chapters that we will concentrate.  Why?  Because Mark has something to say to each one of us.  He is speaking the Word of Truth.  His is a message of hope and redemption.

The message, though, can never be divorced from the man.  God has chosen to make known His revelation to mankind through fallible human messengers.  The Gospels are no different.  The four Gospel narratives we have in our Bible each reflect the personality and experiences of the four evangelists.  Mark was a man who failed in his early ministry, but by grace experienced redemption.  The loving care of our Lord, through the leadership of the Church, informed and influenced Mark’s presentation of the Gospel.  His message has something to say to each one of us.  Both Barnabas, his cousin, and Peter, who himself knew failure and redemption, helped Mark overcome his early failings.  And as we shall see, these first ten chapters of his Gospel are most probably reflections of the stories that he heard from his mentor, St. Peter.  

In the meditations which follow, we will examine not only the Word, but the man who brings us the Word.  Each Sunday we will look at an aspect of the life and experience of Mark.  These early chapters of his Gospel are an expression of his experience of our Lord’s redemption, and have been a hallmark of faith for Christians in every century.  We have much to learn from Mark.

The lessons during the week of Ash Wednesday, as noted above, are from John’s Gospel.  They lay a very good framework for us to enter into meditation upon Mark’s Gospel.  And reference will be made to the Johannine lessons each Sunday.  But our focus will be on the Word of Truth made manifest in the first ten chapters of Mark’s Gospel.  If you want a meditative study of the final six chapters of Mark, I wrote a booklet of Lenten meditations on the Passion in Mark’s Gospel in 2013.  If you would like a copy of those meditations, please let me know and I will e-mail a pdf copy to you.  

Mark presents Jesus as always looking to and journeying toward Jerusalem.  In these readings and meditations, let us join Him as we make our Lenten pilgrimage, journeying to the New Jerusalem.

Thy Word is Truth

Meditations on the Daily Lectionary Readings of the Gospel

Lent begins day after tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. The Daily Lectionary may be found in the Book of Common Prayer, in the Simplified Liturgy of the Hours which I compiled, or on the ICCEC web site at: https://iccec.org/prayerandreadings/Prayer-Individual/ In the lectionary, there are lessons appointed for each day from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and Gospel, together with a portion of the Psalter. We will concentrate on the Gospel readings. Each day during Lent I will post a meditation on the Gospel appointed for that day, with a notation of the Biblical citation at the beginning of the meditation.

Tomorrow, Shrove Tuesday, I will post the introduction to these meditations. Please check it out.

I would welcome hearing from you during the season. Any feedback you wish to offer would be appreciated. Please comment, or you can write directly to me via e-mail. I would enjoy the interaction about these Gospel readings.

Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 73

To be read: April 30, August 31, December 31

Now, we have written this Rule that, observing it in monasteries, we may show that we have acquired at least some moral righteousness, the beginning of the monastic life. 2For the one who is hastening on to the perfection of the religious life, there are the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leads a man to the height of perfection. 3What page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament is not a true guide for human life? 4Or, what book of the holy Catholic Fathers does not loudly proclaim how we may go straight to our Creator? 5So, too, the collations of the Fathers, and their institutes and lives, and the rule of our holy Father, Basil—6what are they but the monuments of the virtues of exemplary and obedient monks? 7But for us, who are slothful, unobservant, and negligent monks, they make us blush for shame and confusion. 8You, therefore, who are hastening to the heavenly home, with the help of Christ keep this little rule written for beginners; 9and then you shall, with God’s help, attain at last to the greater heights of knowledge and virtue which we have mentioned above. 

G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”  The Christian life is demanding.  And it is sometimes hard for us to discern and to know how to live according to the Gospel.  That is why we have tools like the Rule of St. Benedict to help us.  Living according to the Rule helps us make space for God to do His transforming work in us.  Living by the Rule helps us to know how to fight the fight and live more closely in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Benedict concludes his Rule with these encouraging words:  “You…who are hastening to the heavenly home, with the help of Christ keep this little rule written for beginners; and then you shall, with God’s help, attain at last to the greater heights of knowledge and virtue which we have mentioned above.”

Benedict says that this Rule was written for beginners.  This is a theme which is reiterated throughout this chapter and throughout the Rule.  In the first and eighth verses of this chapter he says that by keeping this Rule we have “the beginning of the monastic life”, and that “this little rule [was] written for beginners”.  And from the opening verses of the Rule, Benedict says:  “In the first place, each time you seek to begin a good work, earnestly pray that He will perfect whatever good you begin…” (Prol. 4).  We are all beginners.  We all are taking classes in the School for the Lord’s Service.

As in any school there are many facets to a complete curriculum.  The Rule of St. Benedict is but one source of learning for the beginners.  Benedict provides a nice list of other helpful literature available to us.  He says, “For the one who is hastening on to the perfection of the religious life, there are the teachings of the holy Fathers…the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament…the holy Catholic Fathers…the collations of the Fathers, and their institutes and lives, and the rule of our holy Father, Basil…”  That is quite a collection of instruction.  We would do well to pay attention to this suggestion.

The Rule is an intense and earnest manual for the practical living out of a life consecrated to God.  Benedict’s goal was always to be pointing elsewhere and onward, to fix the monastic’s eyes on Christ.  Our formation into the likeness of Christ (Imago Christi) is a lifelong process, enabled by a lived familiarity with formal disciplines, and involving ever more whole-hearted inner receptiveness and response to God’s Spirit.  The Rule began with an exhortation earnestly to engage in such a life, and that exhortation is renewed here at the end.  Even the words of this chapter are echoes of and invitations to deepen the words of the Prologue.  So the work of the consecrated life is like that of a spiral.  No matter where we are, we are always just beginning in the journey with Christ.  It may seem like we are wandering in circles, but as we assess our progress we can recognize that yes, we have gone around, but we are now on a slightly higher plane.  Thanks be to God.  And, thank you Father Benedict for showing us a better way.

Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 72

To be read: April 29, August 30, December 30

Just as there is a harsh and evil zeal which separates us from God and leads to hell, 2so there is a virtuous zeal which separates from vice and leads to God and life everlasting. 3This is, therefore, the zeal which monks must pursue with most ardent love: 4“that they should be the first to show honor to one another” (cf Rom 12:10), 5that they bear, with the utmost patience, with one another’s infirmities, whether of body or mind, and let them vie with one another in obedience. 6Let no one follow what he thinks useful to himself, but rather to another. 7Let them practice brotherly charity with a chaste love; 9and to God, loving fear; 10and to love their Abbot with sincere and humble affection. 11Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, 12and may He lead us all together to life everlasting. 

We come to the penultimate chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict, but substantively, the final chapter of instruction and direction.  So here are Benedict’s final words to us on the consecrated life, his summary of what we are about.  It is often as interesting what Benedict does not say, as what he does.  If we were to set forth a statement of “good zeal”, that is, the eager and earnest desire of our hearts which will lead us to God, what might we say?  Very likely we would frame some statement about loving God with our whole being.  Unquestionably that is what Benedict intends, but he understands it to be lived by showing respect for one another.  It is about relationship:  our relationship with God, and our relationship with one another in community.  Once again Benedict directs our thought to something that seems very simple but which is profoundly transforming if we begin to live it.  For Benedict, God brings “us all together to life everlasting”; salvation is not an individual project, but one which we undertake with and among our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We work out our salvation not only individually in fear and trembling, but also in community.  It is in our care for, and interaction with, one another that we become the Body of Christ, now and forever.  That is why Romans 12:10, referenced above, and the other ethical portions of Paul’s letters and Matthew’s Gospel and the Old Testament “wisdom literature” are so central to Benedict’s thought and the Rule.  

Preferring Christ is something we are able to do in hundreds of ways, each and every day, because we have zeal for life lived together under the rule and reign of Christ.  And the discipline of the Rule of St. Benedict helps us focus on these Godly precepts.  We are given daily choices to accept the love present implicitly in every portion of the created world, by abandoning our self-will in favor of that purity of heart which knows itself to be the recipient of God.  The movement toward Christ in heart, mind, and spirit within the daily round is the whole goal and the whole longing of the Rule.

As seeking Christians living in the secular world, but not of the secular world, we can apply these teachings to our lives in communion with one another and in the larger community of the Church and world by showing mutual respect.  The keys that Benedict points to are deference and charity.  If we listen deeply when another is talking, disagree with charity and gentleness, letting go of ego, self-will, and entrenched opinion, we will be able to hear the other—his or her heart as well as his or her voice.  We need to learn to respect another’s new ideas, new insights, and practice an objective perception.  All of this will eventually help us toward the goal of chapter 72, the exercise of “virtuous zeal”.  Benedict assures us that there is a “virtuous zeal which separates from vice and leads to God and life everlasting”.  But how is this zeal made manifest?  “The zeal which monks must pursue with most ardent love [is] ‘that they should be the first to show honor to one another’ (cf Rom 12:10)…”  That is a zeal for which we should all strive—the monastic and those of us outside the cloister.

Let us strive to live together in mutual obedience and respect.  For the world is dying to see Christ manifested in those who are called by His Name.