Items of General Interest about liturgy, the liturgical calendar, church customs and culture, our unique “Episcopal vocabulary,” the intersection of faith and culture, and all other items not fitting into the other categories (or fitting into multiple categories).
A prayer that survivors of loved ones lost to violence may become a tribute to their memory.
For Survivors of School Shootings
You who have endured this grievous loss, You who have mourned and lamented, Surely sorrow pierced your heart When murder raged, Staining your memory red with blood. Let love bind your wounds. Let tears sooth your soul. Let your life be a tribute To the memory of the lost.
Alden Solovy spreads joy and excitement for prayer. A liturgist and poet, his work has been used by people of many faiths throughout the world. He’s written more than 900 pieces of new liturgy, offering a fresh Jewish voice, challenging the boundaries between poetry, meditation, personal growth, storytelling, and prayer. He’s a teacher, a writing coach, and an award-winning essayist and journalist. Alden is the Liturgist-in-Residence at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. More about Alden.
Light is a universal metaphor for Divine energy, a symbol for holiness, truth, radiance, eminence, love. To pray is to summon Divine light into our lives. To bless is an attempt summon that light and then to bend it toward holy purpose, including consolation, joy and healing. Communion is the attempt to journey into the light of holiness, awe and wonder. And so, prayer is an act of summoning light. Blessing is an act of bending light. Communion is the act of entering light. More: Bending Light
What does love smell like? What does hope smell like? What does resurrection smell like? On this fifth Sunday of Lent, as we draw closer to Jesus’s final week, and prepare to contemplate his suffering, we’re invited into a story of the senses. A story of love enacted in fragrance.
All four Gospels tell it — the story of a woman who kneels at Jesus’s feet, breaks an alabaster jar filled with priceless perfume, and dares to love Jesus in the flesh.
Consider Debie’s reflection on the embodiment of love provided by Mary of Bethany to you and me all these centuries later:
What happens between Jesus and Mary in this narrative happens skin to skin. Mary doesn’t need to use words; her yearning, her worship, her gratitude, and her love are enacted wholly through her body. Just as Jesus later breaks bread with his disciples, Mary breaks open the jar in her hands, allowing its contents to pour freely over Jesus’s feet. Just as Jesus later washes his disciples’ feet to demonstrate what radical love looks like, Mary expresses her love with her hands and her hair. Just as Jesus later offers up his broken body for the healing of all, Mary offers up a costly breaking in order to demonstrate her love for her Lord.
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.
These words are the first stanza of a poem by George Herbert (1593-1633). See the complete poem and a short essay about George Herbert on the Journey with Jesus website (one of my favorites sites for inspiration). The Episcopal Church remembers and commemorates George Herbert annually on February 27th.
Take a moment to simply listen …
Hymn 487 in (The Episcopal) Hymnal 1982
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
such a way as gives us breath;
such a truth as ends all strife;
such a life as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
such a light as shows a feast;
such a feast as mends in length;
such a strength as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
such a joy as none can move;
such a love as none can part;
such a heart as joys in love.
Text: George Herbert
Music: The Call by Ralph Vaughn Williams
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Romans 10:12-13 NRSV
As we come to the end of the week that began on the First Sunday in Lent, Year C, March 6, 2022, we recall that the Church read from Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 10:8b-13, see also Galatians 3:28).
At our best we continue to live the wisdom of Paul, making no distinction that separates us who “call on the name of the Lord” rather we promote union in “one great fellowship of love.” In Christ there is no East or West we celebrate this kinship:
Hymn 529 in (The Episcopal) Hymnal 1982
In Christ there is no East or West,
in him no South or North,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.
Join hands, disciples of the faith,
whate'er your race may be!
Who serves my Father as his child
is surely kin to me.
In Christ now meet both East and West,
in him meet South and North,
all Christly souls are one in him,
throughout the whole wide earth.
Text: John Oxenham, 1852-1941 (alt.)
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. … When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Luke 4:1-2, 13 NRSV
On the First Sunday in Lent, Year C, March 6, 2022, the Church read the account of the Temptation of Jesus according to Luke (Luke 4:1-13). Lord who throughout these forty days is a hymn for the season of Lent and, really, for every season of our lives as we walk with Jesus.
Index Page of “words” offered by the SSJE Brothers
“Advent Birmingham is a diverse group of musicians who lead worship services in song on Sundays at Cathedral Church of The Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. They also write and record modern hymns of their own and set ancient Christian hymns and songs to modern settings.” (YouTube description) Here is their modern offering of this Lenten hymn:
I encourage you to read more about the “Queen of Ukraine” in Harris’ article. As she notes, “It is quite common for Christians, and even people of other faiths, to ask Mary to intercede on their behalf during hardship.” Let us pray.
When Jesus and his disciples were in the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked them “Who do they say the Son of man is?” Discussions and teachings followed “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking to him.” (Matt. 17:1-3)
In Transfiguration, Christ is in a white robe with outstretched arms and, as appropriate, is the central figure . In addition, Fra Angelico has placed him on a pedestal-like rock above everyone, and by design he is larger than the other figures. Christ is surrounded by a mandorla (a body halo) and his head is surrounded by a traditional cruciform halo.
In this painting, Moses and Elijah are each presented in bust form, not as full figures; Moses, on the left with light emanating from his forehead represents the law and Elijah on the right represents the prophets. [In some paintings of the Transfiguration, Moses is holding the Ten Commandments and a scroll is placed in the hands of Elijah.]
Below Moses, on the left, is the Virgin Mary with her hands crossed over her chest and to the right, below Elijah, is Saint Dominic. [In 1435 the Monastery of San Marcos was turned over to the Dominican order.] He is standing with hands together in a position of prayer. Dominic’s mother reported that she saw a star on his chest when he was born and sometimes (as here within his halo) he can be identified by a star placed above his head. Of course, Mary and Dominic were not present at the Transfiguration, but it is not unusual for artists to use creative license to include non-participating figures on the sidelines as observers of an important event. In the foreground are Peter, James, and John. They have just heard God’s voice say: “This is my son. Hear him” and “…they fell on their faces and were filled with awe.” (Matt. 17:5-6)
In 1407, Guido di Pietro joined the Dominican order in Fiesole, Italy (near Florence) and at his vows took the name Giovanni. Thus he became known as Friar Giovanni da Fiesole (Brother John of Fiesole). Artist and historian, Giorgio Vasari, referred to him as Brother John the angelic one and today he is known simply as Fra Angelico. His life as an artist was devoted to the Church and at the monastery of San Marcos in Florence; he painted the walls of the cells (prayer and meditation rooms) with scenes from the life of Christ. Fra Angelico’s Transfiguration is in cell number six.
In Europe, during the early part of the fifteenth century, medieval art was still a presence, but the City of Florence was at the heart of the Renaissance. Fra Angelico was fully aware of the trend toward humanism that was influencing the art of his time. The changes that were taking place are reflected in his paintings.
The actual site of the Transfiguration is not known; accounts in the Gospels do not name a specific mountain. Mt. Tabor is the traditional site but Jesus and the disciples were in the district of Caesarea Philippi prior to the Transfiguration and the closest and highest mountain there is Mount Hermon. It is the highest mountain in Israel and this may have been the mountain noted in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
When Jesus passed through Samaria (John 4.3-42) he stopped at Jacob’s Well in Sychar, a well that the patriarch Jacob had left to his son Joseph. Sitting by the well to rest, the Lord asked a Samaritan woman who came to the well to draw water to give him a drink. The request violated cultural taboos — a man speaking privately with a woman, and a Jew speaking to a Samaritan — anticipating the theological insight of Galatians 3:28. Their brief encounter is one of notable theological depth in which Jesus makes the first of several important “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. The Samaritan woman had been married five times and was living with a man to whom she was not married. Whether this was through her own fault or due to unfortunate circumstances beyond her control the text does not indicate. However, she has the distinct honor of being the first person to whom Jesus reveals his Messianic title and the first person to preach the gospel that Jesus is the Christ.
While unnamed in the Johannine text, Orthodox Christian tradition has it that the woman was baptized by the Apostles on the first Pentecost and given the name Photini, “the enlightened one” (Svetlana, in the Russian Church). Celebrated in the Orthodox Church as an Evangelist, “Equal to the Apostles,” a significant hagiography developed around her. She, her sisters, and her children are said to have been cruelly tortured and martyred at the command of the emperor Nero.
Over the centuries many churches have been built at the site of Jacob’s Well, where Jesus held discourse with the Samaritan woman; the present church building within Bir Ya’qub Monastery was built in 1893 by order of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and consecrated to St. Photini.
O Almighty God, whose most blessed Son revealed to the Samaritan woman that He is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the World; grant us to drink of the well that springs up to everlasting life that we may worship you in spirit and in truth through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As fighting and violence escalate in Ukraine Ashley McKinless and James Martin, SJ, explore our inclination to pray, or not, in this moment. What is the point to utter prayers in the face of such an event? The essay is a thoughtful and honest exploration of prayer as a response to current events and I commend it to you: Praying for peace in Ukraine (America Magazine website)
Matthias is named only once in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:21-26). The rest of his story is obscure and sometimes fanciful in the Christian tradition. Nonetheless, it is important to note that he apparently fit Peter’s requirements that to become an apostle with the remaining 11 the man should “have accompanied us (the apostles) during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” Acts 1:21-22A
After acknowledging the hand of God in selecting and blessing Matthias to be an apostle, we ask that we—the people of God—may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors.
What role do we play in supporting and encouraging and caring for the faithful and true pastors by whom we are guided and governed as God answers our prayer?
The Collect for the Commemoration
Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In the nine days of waiting between Jesus’ Ascension and the Day of Pentecost, the disciples remained together in prayer. During this time, Peter reminded them that the defection and death of Judas had left the fellowship of the Twelve with a vacancy. The Acts of the Apostles records Peter’s proposal that “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21–22). Two men were nominated, Joseph called Barsabbas who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. After prayer, the disciples cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias, who was then enrolled with the eleven. (See Acts 1:21-26)
Scripture does not relate anything further about Matthias, but gives him as an example to Christians of one whose faithful companionship with Jesus qualifies him to be a suitable witness to the resurrection, and whose service is unheralded and unsung.
There are, however, several early Christian accounts of his mission and ministry, such as the second century text The Acts of Andrew and Matthias in Cannibal City. According to this account, immediately after the selection of Matthias, the apostles cast lots to determine which of them would take responsibility for which part of the world, and the unlucky Matthias was dispatched to a city of cannibals! Although an unabashedly fictionalized account, it is nevertheless an inspiring tale that shows Matthias being dealt the worst possible lot, and yet nevertheless responding to his call with equanimity, competence, and grace, which are the same qualities we see reflected in the canonical account that is given by Scripture.
Saint Matthias The Apostle in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, Revision 2018
Lots in the Ancient World
Ancient peoples used lot-casting as a form of cleromancy—a type of divination in which the random outcome was believed to reflect divine will. Ancients commonly used small stones labeled to reflect the possible outcomes of the decision (Lindblom, “Lot-casting,” 168). The Bible contains no description of the specific procedure for casting lots, undoubtedly due to the commonplace nature of the practice. Based on etymology, Kitz suggests the Israelites likely placed marked stones into a container, which was then shaken in such a way as to “cast” out a deciding stone (Kitz, “Terminology,” 207–14). Hittite and Akkadian texts also indicate that the casting of stones was used to determine an oracular answer to a series of questions (Kitz, “Urim and Thumim,” 401–10).
Usage in the New Testament
The New Testament contains few references to the use of lots. However, the attested uses reflect the Hebrew mindset regarding divine involvement with the decision:
Zechariah was chosen by lot for a rotation in the temple service (Luke 1:9)
Peter used lots and prayer to determine a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:15–26).
Soldiers cast lots to divide Jesus’ garments after His crucifixion (John 19:24). This is perhaps the most secular use of lots in the Bible.
Source: Rob Fleenor, “Lots,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).
Matthias (Great Cloud of Witnesses website curated by The Rev. Ken Howard)