"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matthew 23:37)
Although, as St. Paul tells us, " Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Romans 15:4), sometimes a particular verse of Scripture almost leaps off the page for us because it addresses our time, place, or circumstances so well.
Obviously enough, we have to be careful not to treat the Holy Scriptures as if they were a book of disconnected fortune cookie messages that we can take or leave as we will, or as they strike our fancy. And the best protection against such a fundamental error in reading God’s Word is a lifetime of disciplined, daily study of the Bible, organized to include all of the Scriptures, since all of the Scriptures are the Word of God Written.
The Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are good examples of just this sort of Bible study, guided by prayer and grace, and that is why the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" confessed in the Creeds has used forms of Morning and Evening Prayer since the time that the Gospel was first preached. In our Anglican households of that one Church of Jesus Christ, the forms of Morning and Evening Prayer that we find in our Book of Common Prayer are the direct descendants, made available in our own native language, of the much earlier forms of the same Daily Offices in which Christians studied and prayed in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
In fact, the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are included in the Prayer Book precisely because they are "common" to every faithful Church and because they are essential to being a local church that knows and worships the Lord God who reveals himself in the Holy Scriptures by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, by the preaching of his prophets, and by the Gospel of his Son.
Thus, in the Anglican Way of following Jesus Christ, every member of the clergy is obligated as one of the duties of his office and order to follow the discipline of daily Morning and Evening Prayer every day of his life. Likewise, the members of the laity who desire to become full-blooded, three-dimensional, adult, and responsible Christians in their own right are expected to take up the discipline of the Daily Offices in their own lives, and in a very special way.
The point of providing Morning and Evening Prayer in the common tongue is not to turn the laity into ersatz clergymen, but to give every member of the Church, whatever his or her station in life or vocation, the same opportunity to share in the holy things of God that the clergy have been given, the same opportunity to grow up into the fullness of Jesus Christ.
In the Middle Ages and before the Reformation, the Daily Offices had become an exclusive clerical property. The clergy had taken too much upon themselves, and they had set aside too much for themselves in a sin called "clericalism." Today, however, if the same sin of clericalism appears among us, it is not the result of the clergy’s claiming too much, but of the laity’s claiming too little of their own dignity and opportunity as Christians. The Daily Offices are there, in the Book of Common Prayer, to be used by anyone. Even the instructions on how to use them are provided.
It’s fair to ask, though, what difference all this makes. It makes a big difference, for example, in the everyday life of the Church. The Biblical vocation of the men in holy orders is to preach, to bless, to administer sacraments, and to maintain a faithful spiritual household, all in the Name of Jesus Christ the Lord. Everything else that the Church can or should be doing is the "common" or "shared" vocation of the entire Body of Christ, as God gives each member in particular the grace to serve him.
Imagine, then, entire Christian households, parishes, dioceses, national churches, and communions in which the typical member did not think of himself as a kind of "customer" of religion but as an indispensable member of Jesus Christ in particular. Imagine churches in which the typical member lives a self-disciplined life of prayer and Scripture study, not to replace his or her other obligations, but in order to make every legitimate human activity an act of praise to God and his instrument for bringing eternal life to the dying world that surrounds us.
When we imagine such things, we are not imagining something new or outlandish. We are imagining the life that is laid out in the Book of Common Prayer. We are imagining the life proclaimed by the prophets and by our Blessed Lord Jesus in the Gospel. We are imagining the life that our Father in heaven intended for us at our creation. Such a life, then, is a prize beyond value or comparison, because it is a gift of eternal, self-aware, responsible, and productive fellowship with the Living God, beginning the very instant that we take it up with the help of God’s grace.
This sort of life begins to take shape with the Daily Offices, as we learn that all of Holy Scripture speaks to us, and as God’s grace opens our hearts to some particular verse that speaks to our particular needs or encouragement. Such a verse appears in today’s New Testament lesson at Morning Prayer: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"
This verse demonstrates why all the competing forms of "modernized Christianity" that we are offered almost every day must fail and end in tragedy. What these "modernized" or "updated" substitutes for Biblical Christianity have in common is their transformation of religion into a "consumer product" designed to appeal to the "market" of this fallen world. In the worst sort of clericalism, their clergy become entertainers, reassuring their people that the grim business of the world’s killing the prophets to resist God’s Word has nothing to do with them. That first half of this verse becomes "the clergy’s problem," so that all the people need to focus on is the image of the hen and her chicks in the second half of the verse.
But the two halves of this verse from the Gospel were not given by two "different Christs" with "two different religions" to offer, from which we may choose the one that we like, the one that corresponds to the secular world around us. At the extreme, the feminists and their feminized clergy have even claimed that our Lord’s comparing his love to that of a mother hen means that we can call God "Mother" or anything else that is pleasing to our culture. At the same extreme, the inventors of "new Christianities" go on to argue that if God is either "Father" or "Mother," then it doesn’t matter whether brides and grooms are male or female, or who represents Christ at the altar, as long as everyone is happy and finds a "God" and a "Christ" to his or her liking.
Yes, indeed, the love of God is very tender, but that tender love does not meet a like tenderness in this world. Jesus Christ said, "I would have gathered," and not "I have gathered," because those who came before him to proclaim the goodness of God were killed and stoned. Jesus Christ himself, who is the Living Word of his Father and the perfection of his Mercy, was crucified for delivering the Truth that only the Kingdom of God endures, and that all earthly cultures and their fads and fancies, pass away.
Of course, the fallen world and its slaves hate such a message, even if it is the greatest message of life and happiness that there could ever be, because sin is the hatred of life and happiness. All who take up the Truth of Jesus Christ and of his Father’s prophets must expect resistance and hatred. All who would even consider taking up this Truth must expect the world to lie to them in every way possible to keep them from giving themselves to the Truth once and for all.
The good news is that Jesus Christ has already defeated every enemy of God, whether those enemies will admit it yet or not. And God will not force them to admit it until the Last Day, when Jesus Christ will come to judge the world, because he still offers us the opportunity to take up the courageous life of his prophets and only-begotten Son. God honours us with his patience and expectations, and we accept the honour of such a calling when we take up a disciplined life in his Son. And the best entrance to God’s Truth and to the life of God’s Truth continues to be the daily order of prayer and Bible study that has been the mark of every faithful and successful local church since the Day of Pentecost.
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne