The Annunciation: To Feast or Not to Feast????

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annunciation-John Collier

The Annunciation by John CollierΒ 

 

Last week I was visiting the FB page for a conference I’m helping to organize for June of this year.

In the midst of commiseration discussions surrounding the stress and anxiety that Lent can provoke, my attention was caught by the following thought from one of my colleagues and fellow event-organizer:

Having a baby in the middle of Lent kind of throws off the tone. Hard to be penitential and abstain when there is so much to celebrate.

Indeed! πŸ™‚

Having a baby often turns lives upside down. Everyone is excited to welcome the newest family member. People take time out of their schedule to visit the hospital, to bestow adorable onsies, gifts, kisses and smiles and hugs all around. If ever there was a time to say Alleluia! I’m pretty sure this is it. πŸ˜€

The regular rhythm of life for the family is also interrupted. If there are kids already in the picture, they now become siblings. Mom and Dad are now instantly “on call.” Diapers must be changed, cries attended to, and feedings to provide at all hours of the day or night. Sleeping patterns are temporarily dashed to pieces…..and a whole new way of life begins.

Which brings me to a reflection about the Feast of the Annunciation. This day in our Christian calendar–when Mary finds out that she is carrying a precious baby boy–typically falls in Lent.

The Good News which we remember and celebrate today, is the message of a child who will not only provide the Blessed Virgin’s family with love and fulfillment…..but will in fact carry that love and grace to the whole world; becoming our brother, our friend and our Saviour.

During the 40 day fast, it is customary to bury the Alleluia altogether. Mind you, I have seen parishes in which the custom is to break out the “A” word for this feast and also for the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19th)

So……what is a young priest to do??? πŸ˜›

The Feast of the Annunciation is all about the unexpected. Can you imagine being a 13 year old girl who has an angel show up at your doorstep??? Not only that…..but this scary-ass angel is telling you that you’re PREGNANT?!? :P…….

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Mary’s life was forever changed…….whatever way she hoped to observe the Jewish calendar probably fell apart, especially on account that being pregnant meant that she could not fast, even on Yom Kippur.

After getting over the initial terror and shock…..I can picture tears of joy coming from Mary’s eyes……crying Hallelujah! as she goes to immediately share the Good News with her cousin Elizabeth. Excitement and anticipation accompanying every step….. as her soul magnifies the Lord and rejoices in God her Saviour.

Just like Mary, our lives and our plans are interrupted. Our initial intention to observe the fast thrown out the window….at least for today. Today we praise God, the maker of heaven and earth. Alleluia! ❀ +

Ash Wednesday: Facing Our Mortality

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Shrove Tuesday: Cutting Away All the Fat

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Mmmmmmm…..pancakes /drool

Today is one of my favourite feasts in the Church Year. Reason a) We get to have breakfast food for dinner…..always a plus! and b) It is a chance to reflect on where we have been, where we are, and where we are going as we head in to Lent.

The verb to shrive means to cleave, or to cut off. Traditionally, Fat Tuesday was the last opportunity to enjoy meat, eggs, and dairy products before the period of fasting 40 days before Easter.

The idea of getting rid of all decadence from one’s food, also came–in time– to apply to the soul as well.

Sin–that is, the times when we “miss the mark” and seperate ourselves from God– has been understood (especially by medieval theologians) as adding weight to one’s immortal self.

Any time we indulge in pleasure, like gluttony, lust, and pride…it was thought to shield the heart from God’s presence…covering it instead with a weight of guilt and shame, dragging it slowly to Hell……

Actually, if you think back to a certain Christmas story we see this idea still prevalent in English literature and theology:

Jacob Marley’s ghost, weighed down by his greed confronts Scrooge

So….if we fast to clean out our bodies, what can we do for our souls???? The answer lies in the ancient practice of Confession.

In Anglican services, the Sacrament of letting all our past sins go is usually a general affair, and is an integral part of almost every liturgy we celebrate. Sometimes though, something a little more personal is needed.

1:1 Confession is not a grocery list of sins, and saying a multitude of prayers to make up for our mistakes. At it’s best, the Sacrament of Reconciliation not only allows us to drop the chains which keep us tied down to worry, anxiety, and hopeless consumption, but to receive Spiritual Direction and healing.

In offering counsel to the penitent, the priest aims not to instill piety, but to guide each individual in such a way that helps avoid future chains. It also offers hope that even though we have fallen, we ALWAYS get another chance.

If there is anything which has you down, I would encourage you to try out Confession with a priest you are comfortable with, and would ask that as we walk with Christ together, you might pray for me, a sinner. +

Evening Prayer: March 30th (Combo Post)

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Psalms: 119:97-120, 81, 82
Old Testament: Jeremiah 8:18-9:6
New Testament: Romans 5:1-11
Gospel: John 8:12-28
Patristic Reading: An excerpt from the writings of St. Theophilus of Antioch

I take my cue for reflection from the Patristic reading again tonight:

A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.
But if you will you can be healed. Hand yourself over to the doctor, and he will open the eyes of your mind and heart. Who is to be the doctor? It is God, who heals and gives life through his Word and wisdom.

In one of the companion readers to Eastern Orthodox theology on my shelf, I read an essay written by Nonna Verna Harrison which focused on Creation and the Fall of Man.

It forever changed the way I thought about the Incarnation and the Atonement and is certainly not a very Protestant view; but the beauty about being Anglican is that I can tread a middle road :)….so hopefully what I m about to say next makes at least a little bit of sense and doesn’t offend too many readers πŸ™‚

The essay is entitled “The Human Person as the Likeness and Image of God.” In it, Harrison says that the Likeness and Image of God are actually two distinct characteristics. The Likeness of God refers to the way in which we resemble God…in our free choice, in our dominion over creation, in our capacity to create, the ability to act justly.

The Image of God is simply our identity as a created being….given the breathe of life from our Creator, and of our need to live in community and mutual love.

Unlike the Western model of total depravity, in which the human being can do no good at all, Harrison points out that the Orthodox understood the transgression of Adam differently.

The disobedience of Man caused forgetfulness…..a kind of amnesia……in which we forgot our true origins as “good” and reflecting the glory of the Father. Both our image and likeness to God were covered up by the dirt and grime of sin.

With the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection….all of that changed! πŸ˜€

In winning the victory for us over sin…..Jesus removed the veil from our eyes, and the dirt from our souls. We were able to see–as if for the first time–who we really are: Sons and Daughters of the Most High God.

In promoting a time of fasting, cleansing, and repentance, Lent seeks to remove all of the filth that resides in us. To purge those things which keep us out of touch of our true selves.

Perhaps even more importantly, this process of healing and purification allows us to see God’s holiness reflected not only in ourselves…..but in everything and everyone all over the world.

I pray that as we continue our journey to the Passion of our Lord, our hearts might be touched and given a clean slate to see Christ in all his glory, and to truly rejoice as we remember the One who made us, and invites us to new life through his Body and Blood. Amen. +

Evening Prayer: March 29th

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Psalm: 78:40-72
Gospel: John 7:37-52
Patristic Reading: An excerpt from a sermon of St. Peter Chrysologus

Peter Chrysologus offers us the follwing reflection tonight:

To make [prayer and fasting] acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

It took me a while to grasp the whole mercy thing. Normally, I’m all for justice and restitution….I want to see the world as a fair place…….and yet we have a God whose fundamental message is one of forgiveness and grace…….of people getting exactly what they do not deserve; perfect pardon and peace.

Without getting into too many specifics or airing my laundry in the blogosphere…..I will say that a few years ago, there was a pretty significant rift in my family over an affair that was had. Virtually everyone close to me was affected by it in some way, and I was really angry at the perpetrator. πŸ˜›

I couldn’t understand how–despite this betrayal–the couple stayed together. At first, it seemed like they were ignoring the issue and pretending that it never happened.

As I learnt more however, I realized that the person who was cheated on, kept the relationship going because she thought it was in the best interests of the family. Ironically, my anger then switched from the perpetrator to the victim.

So much so that I told her that I would not forgive her. 😦 My mercy was far from exemplary on that day πŸ˜›

Luckily, we have since been reconciled…..but that was the first time I actually had to forgive someone for anything bigger than a white lie, or stealing some inconsequential property.

Mercy is a cool thing to talk about…a piece of theology that is lovely to speak about……but one of those doctrines that is incredibly difficult to live out in praxis. :S

One thing about mercy and forgiveness though, is that it has the potential to heal both the offender and the offended. It doesn’t mean that the scars disappear, or that the pain is nonexistent……but it does mean that the pain is not crippling…..and leads us to empathy for all of our sisters and brothers who have just as many broken relationships, and unresolved emotions as we do. +

Evening Prayer: March 28th (Combo Post)

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Psalms: 80, 77
Old Testament: Jeremiah 7:1-15
New Testament: Romans 4:1-12
Gospel: John 7:17-36
Patristic Reading: An excerpt from a sermon of St. Basil the Great

Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come (John 7:30)

In John’s gospel we always get references to Jesus’ “time”. We first get a hit of it in chapter 2, in which Jesus tells his mother that his “time has not yet come” whilst at the wedding in Cana.

We get it again in chapter 4 with the Samaritan woman at the well; in which Jesus tells her the time is coming and is now here that God will be worshipped not on mountains, but in Spirit and truth.

It is especially poignant in John 12 in which Jesus responds to some Greeks who wish to see him. At that moment, God declares:

I have been glorified, and I will be glorified again. (John 12:28)

So what is the glory that is to be revealed??? it is the crucified and resurrected Christ.

It is for this event that we wait for during Lent. Of the great Paschal drama of betrayal, Cross and victory. More importantly it is a glory in which we share through our baptism.

So what do you do in the meantime…….we fast, we pray, and we repent……in the hopes that our lives will be changed. That our hearts and minds might be transformed and renewed so that we do not judge by appearances, but by what we know to be the Truth. +

Morning Prayer: 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 27th)

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Psalm: 93, 96
Old Testament: Jeremiah 6:9-15
New Testament: 1 Cor 6:12-20

Do you not know that your body is a temple* of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (Romans 6:19-20)

One thing that I find kind of shocking in the wording here is that Paul tells us that we have been bought. This seems to fly in the face of virtually every modern sensibility. Generally, in North America, we don’t tend to think of any human being as property that can be purchased or sold. Didn’t abolition rid us of that???

While that might hold true for us, the society in which Paul found himself was working out of a very different mindset. Wealthy individuals could own vast tracts of land and countless numbers of slaves. We must not forget that the original authors of the text, didn’t necessarily intend to speak to a 21st century audience.

With all of that said….look at some of the implications of what Paul says. If we are not our own person…..if we don’t have full ownership rights. who does????

The answer (as is so often the case in Churchland) is Jesus ;).

In our baptismal right, after the candidate has been cleansed with water, we mark them with holy oil saying:

I sign you with the cross, and mark you as Christ’s own forever.

It is Jesus himself who adopts us as his own. We are bought by his Blood to be saved from our sins, and given a visible sign of that promise in baptism.

One of the things that I have learned in the past few years is that living the Christian life is about slowly realizing this call. That our bodies and minds are not to be used lightly…but rather to be respected, loved, and nurtured. It is to be nurtured because it is not simply our individual needs that need to be satisfied, and we are not the only ones with a stake in our actions.

God too is affected by the way in which we take care of ourselves in all aspects of life; physically, emotionally and spirituality. We are the hands and feet of God in this frail world…let us take that responsibility seriously. πŸ™‚ +

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