Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Septuagesima Sunday - 9 February 2020

My Friends,

Septuagesima


So far we have followed Our Lord from the manger in Bethlehem to His public life, to the time when, baptized by John, He began and carried out His preaching about the kingdom of God. But the hour is approaching, His hour of suffering and dying for the salvation of men. He teaches divine doctrine; He proves His origin, His mission, His sovereign domain over all creatures, His absolute right as God made man to impose upon men, now become His brothers, the way to follow so as to gain eternal life. He increases the number of His miracles of good will for the infirm, of mercy for sinners, so that it will be well established that He is the dispenser of life and the master of man’s destiny. He presents Himself in the full light of truth and goodness, in such a way that the words of the prophet are realized in all justice: “They have hated me with an unjust hatred.”

This recounting of Our Lord’s public life continues in the Sundays from Septuagesima to Easter. We follow the Master step by step. But the Church is already troubled. She knows that His days have been reckoned. She too counts them. Starting this Sunday, she tells herself, “Seventy days, again!” In seventy days this Divine Mouth will be closed! In seventy days this so good, so compassionate, so merciful Heart will no longer beat! In seventy days He who is so beautiful, so holy, so true, He will die on a cross! And so the Church’s heart is troubled; it is moved; it is already in mourning.

In union with sorrowful longing of the ages, during Advent the Church puts on violet vestments. The joyful feasts of Christmas have adorned her in the splendour of gold and silver or simple white finery, the symbol of joy. The priestly vestments for the Sundays and ferias after Epiphany and Trinity Sunday are green. Innocent III explained the meaning. He said that the colour green is an average colour, quite ordinary, common, indeed, it may be found in profusion all over the earth. Thus he inferred that this common colour is suitable for these Sundays of which the solemnity is comparatively inferior to those of Advent and those in preparation for Easter.

Therefore, beginning with Septuagesima Sunday — the first herald of the solemnities of the Passion of the Saviour and of His resurrection — the Church, absorbed by such sorrowful remembrances, puts on violet vestments.

Seventy days! Not that this number is absolutely exact. Rather, it is better to say, “in the seventh decade [of days], in Septuagesima,” because, in reality, there are no more than sixty-three days in the nine weeks between Septuagesima and Easter, but the last “decade” is at least begun. The Church uses this round number in remembrance of the seventy years Babylonian captivity of the Jews, symbol of the captivity of all of humanity under Satan’s empire. Easter is the day of final deliverance. And this is why on this Sunday that figuratively marks the beginning of this captivity, the liturgy counts seventy days until the triumph of Christ 1.

This usage is very old. It can be traced back to Rome in the 8th Century, and even earlier in the East. But the method for counting the days and, consequently, of celebrating these Sundays has not been the same everywhere.

The three Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima combine with Lent without taking on all the solemnity. They are the prelude for the preparation for Easter; they are not yet the preparation itself.

Nevertheless, starting with Septuagesima, signs of mourning are manifested throughout the liturgy; signs which become more and more numerous until the death of the Saviour. It is not only through the exterior ornaments that the liturgy joins from afar with Our Lord’s Passion, the texts themselves are impregnated with it. The joyful cry of the Alleluia is immediately removed, in all the offices and the Mass; the Gloria is also eliminated. Thus, beginning with Septuagesima, a shadow of sorrow shrouds the whole of the Divine Office. We follow the Master; we listen to Him, but in looking at Him, our hearts are moved to compassion. We know where He is going, and, like Him, we must “steadfastly set our faces” (St. Luke 9:51) to go up to Jerusalem. At the end is Calvary. Let us go with Him, without fear.

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston,
Tasmania
Australia






Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Candlemas - Sunday 2 February 2020

My Friends,

Reading: Saint Luke 2 v 29-32

A happy Candlemas! A beautiful feast day and a special day for me, i.e. the anniversary of my ordination to the Deaconate, which took place in Oxford, New Zealand.

“In honour of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.
Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.

The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendour, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendour.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.

By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honour.

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston, Tasmania
Australia


Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

My Friends,


Saint Matthew 8 v 1


“Speak the word only”
 
There is a wonderful richness to the Epiphany season. Everything is “charged with the grandeur of God”, it seems; “signs and wonders” abound. Epiphany is the season of miracles and in today’s gospel we are given a richness of miracles, not just one but two miracles, a double healing, the healing of the leper and the healing of the centurion’s servant. Jesus “puts forth his hand”. Jesus speaks. He is the healer.
 
Epiphany season abounds in miracles. They belong to the larger purpose of the Epiphany season as the season of teaching. In other words, the miracles of Jesus teach us something about God and something about the divine will and purpose for our humanity. The miracles belong to the making visible of the glory of God. They are not for our entertainment but for our  enlightenment.
 
A miracle is, of course, a sign and a wonder. The healing miracles are a wonder. They awaken awe and wonder in us. Consider what we see in the miracles of healing. Simply the signs of the glory of God in the effects of what is said and done. Notice, too, the close connection between word and deed, between what is said and what is done. The miracles of the gospel are all about  the word in action, the word of Christ written in the very fabric of our humanity, redeemed and restored to wholeness. The wonder, really, is the wonder of Christ, the wonder of God with us. 
 
Christ heals a leper. Christ heals the paralyzed servant of the centurion. Christ speaks and Christ acts. There is healing. And important things are being taught to us about Jesus as God and about the nature of human redemption. These two healings, so closely juxtaposed, are within and beyond the spiritual boundaries of Israel, we might say. Through the history and meaning of Israel, the glory of God is not only made known to the world but is shown to be for the world. The leper, on the one hand, is healed within the context of the religious culture of Israel and is held to the requirements of the Law. “Go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.”
 
 The centurion, on the other hand, is from outside Israel. But Jesus responds to his request, saying “I will come and heal him”. But his own amazement to the centurion’s simple and direct response, “speak the word only”, shows us something more. Here is the wonder of faith which coming out of Israel transcends Israel. “I have not found”, Jesus says, “so great faith, no not in Israel”. And for both the leper and the centurion, Christ is the wonder. There is an epiphany and in the wonder of Christ we see something greater, namely God’s delight in us through our  taking hold of his word.
 
Christ is the wonder before he puts forth his hand, before he speaks. Yet, the healing miracles are, surprisingly, only part of the glory. They are the making visible of the glory that is present in Jesus Christ. He is the glory. And he is the glory that is somehow made known not just in his effects but in his person.
 
The leper came and worshipped him, saying, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean”. It is a petition, though expressed almost in the form of an imperious demand. It is a petition which finds its deeper heart of meaning in things like “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, and, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done”. These are the words of the one who says “I have come to do the will of him who sent me”. Such words carry us into the glory of the Son with the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit. The leper somehow knows the presence of the glory of God in Christ Jesus. His petition is his response to what he knows. The healing act which follows both confirms and illumines the glory. “Jesus put forth his hand and touched him saying, ‘I will, be thou clean’”. A window in Israel is opened to behold the glory of heaven on earth.
 
The glory is made visible in the will that has declared itself. That will is the love that made the heaven and the earth and all that therein is, “the love that moves the sun and the other stars”  [2], as Dante puts it.
 
The centurion also came and besought him with the simple statement about his servant’s condition. It, too, is a petition, straightforward and direct, though far less imperious. He, too, senses and knows something of the glory of Christ even before Jesus speaks and acts. The brief dialogue between Jesus and the centurion illumines that glory. Jesus says, “I will come and heal him”. But the centurion immediately replies with the most amazing and exquisite words of humility and faith imaginable, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed”. Such is the light of the glory of Christ shining in us and shining out into the world!
 
But the glory is made visible not just in the healing but in the words which precede it. “If thou wilt”, the leper says. “Speak the word only”, the centurion says. Jesus says to the leper, “I will; be thou clean”. Jesus says to the centurion,“I will come and heal him”, before being ‘blown away’ with amazement at the man’s statement of faith that is far more than anything that he has found in Israel. Vistas of glory in these simple scenes. Vistas of glory simply in what is said.
 
The Gospels do not show us the process by which the leper and the centurion come to such an insight into the presence of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. It is, of course, an operation of grace. They show us, perhaps, how as Evangelists, they have come to such a knowledge through the recollection of these events. They show us these things so that we, too, may come to know and grow into the greater knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Such is the mission of the Epiphany.
 
But something first has to be made known. It is made known in Christ. The light that irradiates the world illumines the souls of those seeking grace. It is there in the idea of the reality of Jesus Christ, God’s Word and Son, made known and proclaimed. Such is the mission of the Church, here and everywhere and at all times.
 
The light of Epiphany opens us out to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The hand that is “put forth” is the hand of glory; the voice that speaks is the voice of glory. It goes forth to effect our healing, our salvation. But our healing, our salvation, is about nothing more than the effect of God’s glory upon our lives. Christ is the glory. He puts forth his hand; he speaks his word and only so are we healed. We enter into the glory of his presence, here and now, in the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated. “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed”.
 
Such words evoke Christ’s wonder but as well his judgment, a judgment upon Israel and upon us, for if we do not receive the word that is spoken in our midst then we are like “the children of the kingdom” who are “cast out into outer darkness” because we have ignored and denied the light of the word spoken.
 
The centurion’s words are words of “great faith” and words that challenge us. They have their application for us as a prayer, especially at the time of receiving communion: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed”. The glory is present and proclaimed. It has only to be received in us. “Speak the word only” is the condition of our participation in Christ’s glory.
 
  “Speak the word only”
 
 
 
  Father Ed Bakker,
  Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
  Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
  Launceston, Tasmania,
  Australia




Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany - 19 January 2019

My Friends,


Saint John 2.1
“Mine hour has not yet come”
 
This, too, is part and parcel of the Epiphany, the making known of the essential divinity of Jesus Christ which contains as well the making known of the will and purpose of God for our humanity. And, perhaps, no epiphany story better concentrates and encapsulates both the essential divinity of Christ and the divine will and purpose for our humanity so gently and so joyously.
 
It is such a pastoral, rustic, and ordinary scene. The setting is a country wedding, “in Cana of Galilee”, but in the midst of the ordinariness of this ordinary scene extraordinary things occur. They are things for us to ponder, to wonder and adore.
 
There is the discovery of the limitations and the poverty of our humanity, pointed out ever so poignantly and yet so directly by Mary, “they have no wine”. There is the divine provision for our joy, water turned to wine, and not just ordinary wine but the best wine, “the good wine [has been kept] until now”.
 
It is, we are told, the “beginning of signs” which Jesus did. “This beginning of signs”, this first of a series has a greater significance than the mere start of a linear progression of events. “This beginning”, as it were, contains the essential meaning of all the signs of Jesus. In a way, they only make sense through this story.
 
The miracles of Jesus are ultimately signs – things that are done – which teach and manifest purpose. They show the power of God in Jesus, the power of the Creator who is the Redeemer without which our humanity would remain in its wounded and broken state of sorrow and sin: blind and deaf, dumb and lame, lacking the means of lasting joys within ourselves; in short, dead and dying.
 
What are the miracles of Christ really all about? Two things. There is the power of the Creator from within the created order – “what manner of man is this”, say the storm-tossed sailors, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?” There is the power of the Redeemer present in the compassion of Christ who seeks the healing and the restoration of our humanity, both soul and body.
 
But why? For what end or purpose? The gospels show Jesus giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, cleansing the lepers – and, by extension, to all who suffer from the contagion of disease – giving movement to the paralysed and the lame, even life to the dead and buried. Indeed, all these signs have a signal purpose. They speak to us about the hope of transformation and healing, the hope of being made whole in the fullness of our humanity. In a way, the healing miracles of the Gospel are all about death and resurrection, the death and resurrection of Christ in us. But again, why? For what end or purpose?
 
Simply for praise. Simply for the act of worship and adoration. Simply for joy, holy joy.
 
The teaching church does not exist first and foremost as a world-improvement society. All the things which Paul reminds us about and exhorts us to be in the epistle for today are testimonies and witnesses to the meaning of our life in Christ. Our work and our actions are to be the signs of the love of Christ alive in us. We reach out to others out of that love, seeking his face in the poor and the lonely, the sick and the dying of the world; in short, providing for others in need out of the love of Christ. Our works must be signs of our faith. That is always the challenge.
 
God seeks the very best for us and that very best has to do with our joy and blessedness, a joy and blessedness that can only come from him to us, even more, a joy and blessedness that must be Christ in us, sacramentally and practically speaking, by way of what we hear and see, by way of what we do out of what we are given to hear and see in the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments celebrated, in lives of holiness and service, in lives of sacrifice and commitment.
 
The healing miracles are about far more than the healing of our physical selves. They are about far more than our mental sense of well-being. They are much more radically about our life with God. The end and purpose of our humanity is found in God. We have an end with God. And something of what that means appears in the imagery of a wedding feast. After all, the kingdom of heaven is often imaged in terms of the marriage feast, the feast to which we have been invited. And while there are things that, quite rightly, are required of us as guests and participants in the wedding, marriage is fundamentally of God’s doing, whether we speak of the union of man and woman in holy matrimony, that divine estate “instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency”, as the marriage service in The Book of Common Prayer (Cdn.) so wonderfully puts it, or whether we speak spiritually and metaphorically of the union of God and man in Jesus Christ, a union which preserves in the fullest possible way the distinctiveness of the divine and the human. Such is the challenge for our church and age.
 
There are, as an old medieval hymn puts it, our “social joys”, the joys which belong to our fellowship in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, come what may, whether it be persecution or sorrow, frustration or failure. How can that be? Because of the radical meaning of this Gospel story. There is this extraordinary thing which Jesus says to Mary, “mine hour has not yet come”. What does he mean? He means that the very things which God seeks for us, our good and our joy as found in him, are bought with a price, the price of his sacrifice, his death and resurrection, the hour of his crucifixion and triumph. Somehow “this beginning of signs” points to what is present in all of the healing miracles of Christ. They all belong to his passion. In a way, they all participate and share in his passion by which our humanity finds healing and salvation. The end – the goal or purpose - is joy and blessedness. But only through “his hour”, the hour which gathers all the things of time into the eternal purposes of God.
 
The point is wonderfully captured in the opening phrase of one of the reformed catechisms, the Westminster Shorter Catechism. “What is the chief end of man?”, it is asked, to which the answer is given, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever”. Our reformed liturgy, especially in this Gospel story, suggests something of what that means. We live in Christ through his Word and Sacrament. But we can only partake of Christ through his body broken and his blood out-poured, through the things “of his hour”. Such is his love for us, the love that is agony and joy. For “love”, as one of our poets and divines, George Herbert, puts it, “is that liquor sweet and most divine, / which my God feels as bloud; but I as wine”. The wine of divinity graces us with the social joys of heaven and signals the salvation of our humanity; all because “mine hour has not yet come”.

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston
Tasmania,
Australia




Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Frist Sunday after the Epiphany - 12 January 2020

My Friends,


Romans 12.1


“Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed 
by the renewing of your mind.”
 
The twelve days of Christmas end with the Feast of Epiphany, the last and great festival of Christmas. Epiphany is, as it were, the Christmas of the Gentiles, for in the journey of the Magi-Kings, the birth of Christ is made known to all the nations of the world. As a 17th century Anglican divine, Bishop John Cosin of Durham puts it: “[Christmas] has been indeed a feast of joy to us all this while … but our fullness of joy comes not [until] now, for the Angelic tidings of joy came first to the shepherds, to Israel, to those near at hand, but upon this feast it is omni populo (to all people), news which the star brought to all the world, and to us too, that now salvation was come unto the Gentiles”. Joy increases to fullness of joy and light blazes forth into fullness of light.
 
Epiphany means more than just the ending blaze of Christmas, however. It also inaugurates a season of teaching, the season of Epiphany.
 
The word Epiphany means  manifestation or shining forth, and refers to the manifestation of God’s glory in the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus. Epiphany raises our minds from  the paradise of Bethlehem to the heaven of Jerusalem. In a way, we move from meditating upon “His coming in the flesh that was God”  to “His being God that was come in the flesh”; in short, “to turn ourselves from his humanity below to his divinity above” (Cosin). For that reason, too, the Epiphany season abounds with the stories of the miracles of Jesus, told, however, as teachings about the divinity of Christ, the very thing which grounds all worship.
 
The manifestation of the divinity of Christ is Epiphany’s theme. In the words and deeds of Christ, God is revealed and revealed in ways which open out to us the true nature of God. What is made manifest is not something arbitrary, tyrannous and willful. No. Epiphany in every way is pregnant with purpose, the purpose of God. Epiphany celebrates in St. Paul’s words, the making known of “the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord”(Eph.3.11). Thus, the First Sunday after the Epiphany signals the manifestation of Christ as the Wisdom of God, the epiphany of the divine wisdom, the true source of all teaching and every learning. 
 
Education is often about the discovery of things which were previously hidden from our view. Here, in the only Gospel story that treats the boyhood of Christ, Jesus is found in the temple at Jerusalem, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions”. The initial picture is Jesus as the student but “all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers”. Jesus the exemplary student is also Jesus the Teacher among the teachers. 
         
These teachers have the humility to be astonished, to be amazed and full of wonder. As Jesus will say to an anxious Mary and Joseph who had “sought [him]”, as Mary said, “sorrowing”, so, too, he says to us “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Which only heightens the wonder.
 
It is a curious phrase and one which is variously rendered as being “about my Father’s business” or “in my Father’s house”, έν τοίς τοϋ πατρός μου, in any event, underscoring the connection between the boy Jesus and the heavenly Father in the place of teaching, the temple at Jerusalem. It suggests something of God’s will and purpose for us.
 
Epiphany makes known to us the twofold purpose of the coming of Christ. He comes to reveal divinity and to redeem humanity. He is the eternal Word made flesh, true God and true Man, as orthodox Christianity rightly and firmly insists. As Athanasius, the Father of Orthodoxy says, “without forsaking what He was, namely God, he became what He was not, namely man”. Divine wisdom is fully present at every stage in the true course of his real humanity, the unchanging in the midst of the changing, from the unspeaking babe in Bethlehem to the agonizing words of the crucified Christ at Calvary. “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature”, humanly speaking, that we, too, may grow up into wisdom provided we are attentive to Christ.
 
Like Mary and Joseph, we, too, must find him in the temple with the priests and doctors of the Law, the place for those who seek God. And what could be more appropriate than that he should be in their midst in the study of God’s Holy Scripture? He who reveals divinity among those who would have divinity revealed? What could be more fitting than that a school boy’s innocent simplicity and directness of insight should be the vehicle of the manifestation of God’s wisdom? 
 
And yet, there is the astounding wonder of the thing precisely because it runs so completely counter to our expectations. “Be not conformed to this world”, St. Paul says in a similar fashion, for Christ’s coming runs counter to all human expectation, to all worldly calculation. It confounds our schemes and designs, as it must, for it all about grace, God’s grace and our engagement with him. Epiphany shows us that God is the teacher through the wonderful paradox of the child Christ among the doctors.
 
Christ’s coming opens out to us a new vision and a new perspective. He opens out to us the kingdom of God, the place of human perfection, and he opens out to us the form of our participation by grace in that kingdom. In no small measure, it has to do with our being taught. “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds”, St. Paul says.
 
This, too, is a wonderful phrase. It signals the hope of transformation through our being changed and our being changed fundamentally in terms of our outlook, in terms of our thinking. This renewal of our minds requires our attentiveness to God’s revelation of himself, to the means of his engaging us through the words of Christ in the witness of the Scriptures and through the sacrament of his body and blood, the revealed and given means of his being with us. This renewal of our minds requires our turning away from “being conformed to the world”. Conformity, as something static and confining, contrasts with the dynamic of our being transformed by our attention to the high things of God unveiled in our midst. The vain pursuit of every passing fad and fancy afflicts contemporary culture and alienates us from the dynamic of God and thus from ourselves and one another. To be transformed means to attend to Christ in the places where his Word is proclaimed and his Sacraments celebrated. Only so can we be what we behold in Christ. 
 
“You must therefore seek him there in the Temple, seek him in the Church, where you will find the Word and the Wisdom of Christ”, as an older wise man and theologian, Origen, once said. Nothing could be more profoundly counter-culture even as it shapes and defines cultures. Ultimately, we are what we contemplate. We become what we behold. The Church must be the place where we behold Christ in his revelation of himself to us; only so can we find him in one another. “Trasumanar”, transhumanised, as that wise poet, Dante says, coining a word in Italian to capture the wonder of our being transformed into what we shall be according to will and purpose of God.
 
The collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany sets the logic for the Epiphany season and for our lives. We seek the wisdom of God that “we may both perceive and know what things we ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same”. There is a kind of logical priority given to our reasoning, the sense of the logos of God undergirding all rightful action. That sensibility goes to the very meaning of education, to the idea of our being led out of the prisons of ourselves in conformity to the whims and dictates of our world and day and our being led into the wisdom of God which alone is transforming. Only by contemplating the wisdom of God made manifest in Christ, in his Word proclaimed and his Sacraments celebrated, can we hope to grow up into wisdom. The meaning of the Epiphany, it signals the journey of our lives to God and with God.
 
“Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed 
by the renewing of your mind.”

Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province,
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne,
Launceston
Tasmania
Australia