Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving | The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

You have heard me say that I try to live a life of thanksgiving. The short version of the story is that I realized, in a time of some personal crisis, that thanksgiving was a consistent element that had been missing from my life. I undertook a discipline of giving thanks that I follow to this day.
Of course, one might say, that thanksgiving is supposed to be a mark of a Christian. Yes. However, how often do we find ourselves trapped by guilt or sorrow or fear and forget to give thanks? Our Sunday worship should never be anything less than a joyous occasion of thanksgiving—that’s what the word eucharist means—that allows us to give thanks, even in the midst of international crises like Ebola or ISIS, even as we follow the trajectory of events from Ferguson, Missouri, even as we live with unemployment, ill health, or death.

There are several prayers of thanksgiving in The Book of Common Prayer. The most familiar is the one that concludes Morning or Evening Prayer. There is a collection of thanksgivings in the BCP that begins on page 836. My favorite is the first one, “A General Thanksgiving.” It begins, “Accept, O Lord, our praise and thanks for all that you have done for us.” That is not a bad mantra or repeated prayer. It is a great way to begin or close a day. It might be a good thing to write on a slip of paper and keep in your wallet or purse.What are you thankful for? How do you remember to be thankful? And, how do you express thanksgiving in your life?

Note: before the section of thanksgivings is a small collection of graces—thanksgivings—to be used before meals. Consider using any of these as you gather to give thanks this week.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Christ: The King?!? | The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

In this part of the Church Year the lectionary carries some dark tones as we enter the darkest time of the year. The Gospel themes are focused on the Christ who is the King, culminating in the King’s birth at Bethlehem. This coming Sunday is the Last Sunday after Pentecost (25 weeks ago!), also known as the Feast of Christ the King. The Gospel reading begins, “Jesus said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.’”

In America’s democratic society it is difficult for us to reinterpret the Biblical language of kingship. Perhaps reflecting on the trouble the Jews had with their kings can help. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel consider the base and corrupt late kings of Judah and contrast them with a good shepherd who indeed “controls” the sheep but does so in a way that ensures their well-being. The kings use their power for personal gain and glory but bring only trouble and destruction to their people,; the shepherd uses his power and knowledge for the good of the flock. The kingship of Christ is monarchy subverted.

In the Gospel reading the king is enthroned, but turns the kingly power on its head: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew gives us this remarkable picture of the Final Judgment in which one group is left out of paradise because they did not know that their king was in fact the poor and needy among them. “But we didn’t know!” they cry! “You do now!” responds their king. And now we know it as well.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Symbolism in our Symbols

You may have noticed that St. Mary's has recently transitioned from using the fleur-de-lis to using the Episcopal Shield as our primary symbol on our website, facebook, newsletter, and service bulletin. But you might be wondering: "Why the change?"

While the fleur-de-lis will continue to be an important symbol for St. Mary's, the Episcopal shield helps visitors quickly associate our congregation with the Episcopal Church, and the 80 million member, Anglican Communion.

The shield is also richly symbolic: The most distinctive part of the image is the red cross placed over a white background. The white represents the purity of the Christian faith that moves us all to do good; while the red cross represents the sacrifice of the martyrs, and more importantly, the Son of God. Together these are a reminder of our salvation in Christ, and the dedication of the saints who have come before us.

In the upper left hand corner of the shield there are nine white crosslets arranged on a madonna blue background. The background color is associated with Mary, as she is traditionally adorned in blue by artists. The nine crosslets represent the nine original Episcopal diocese in America. Together these remind us of the history of our faith, from it's beginnings with the incarnation of God, to it's more recent history, with the establishment of the Anglican Church in America.