Collect for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
LET thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Daily Office Lessons are found on pp. xxxviii-xxxix.
Part 1: The First Lesson for Morning Prayer
The First Lesson for Morning Prayer continues our reading of 1 Samuel, this week 21-31. As we saw last week Saul had failed in his duty to kill Amalek and so Samuel had declared that the Lord had taken his kingdom and given it to another. Saul vents his wrath and jealousy because of his faithfulness and winsomeness; even Saul’s own children Jonathan and Michal loved David. This week’s lessons depict David as something of a Robin Hood: fleeing this way and that while the forces of the wicked seek him high and low. In one scene David and his starving men beg bread and weapons from the High Prest, Ahimelech. He gave them holy bread from the Tabernacle, a moment that will find its way into the Gospels when Jesus’ disciples were eating grain they had picked on the Sabbath day. It is with this in mind that it is worth considering how all of these chapters foreshadow the ministry of Jesus. David went about the country gathering the dispossessed and leaderless into a private army. Saul, insane with jealousy, kills the priests who helped David and his men. Even so, David spared Saul’s life when he sneaked into his camp in the middle of the night. So David is evidently the man after God’s own heart, and Saul continues to slip into paranoia and desperation. Without hope and advice, he seeks out his former mentor, Samuel, who had died. Saul had suppressed all who practiced divination and occult. Yet he went out into the pitch black seeking the assistance of the witch in the village of Endor. There she conjured the spirit of Samuel, who declared to Saul that he must surely die in battle. And so he does, along with all his sons and his army, killed by the Philistines on Mt. Gilboa.
Part 2: The Second Lesson for Morning Prayer
The Second Lesson for Morning Prayer continues our reading of Luke’s Gospel, this week from ch. 22. This chapter describes Jesus’ last night before his crucifixion. The Passover had come, and it was time for the Jews to sacrifice the Passover lamb. This was the moment when Jesus chose to institute the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The great victory that Yahweh had won for his people over the Egyptians was only a foretaste of the greater victory that Jesus would win in his crucifixion. Now the slaves to sin and death would go free, not by the blood of a lamb, but by the blood of Israel’s King, taking upon himself the punishment of the people. Jesus’ death would establish a new covenant, a new way of being, between God and humanity. Those who love Israel’s dying Messiah now find themselves bound up in the Kingdom of God. It is astonishing then that the disciples would dispute which of them was the greatest at this moment of intimacy. It was only when they had seen their master and friend give himself up to his enemies and rise again that they would understand how it could be that they would be great: by giving up their own lives testifying to his resurrection, and that he is the King of Heaven and Earth.
Part 3: The First Lesson for Evening Prayer
The First Lesson for Evening Prayer continues our reading of the Book of the Prophet Zechariah. The prophet warns the Jews that are returning from exile in Babylon that the Lord has roused himself up and that he is about to do a great thing. This great thing will be to vindicate his people before all the world. This is what the vision of chapter 3 relates. Joshua represent the Jews. They are filthy in their sins, and cannot stand before the Lord without shame. Satan, literally ‘the accuser’ stands before the divine throne and points out how rebellious God’s own people have been. But the covenant God replaces Joshua’s soiled robes for clean ones. He is now able to offer the sacrifices for the nation and the world. The Lord’s covenant faithfulness will conclude with sending ‘the Branch’, evidently a reference to David’s successor to Jesse’s tree. Chapter 4 then offers a liturgical view instead of a courtroom drama. The two olive trees feeding the golden lamp stand represent right worship of Almighty God. These two trees are faithful Jews whose testimony before the nations bring glory to God. It is not clear who they are, but it is probable that they are Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the governor. Chapter 6 introduces what John will develop as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. But these are four chariots. What are they for? When the temple is rebuilt, and when right worship is offered to the true God, then all the nations will enjoy the blessings of the Lord. The Spirit goes out and brings the nations in.
Part 4: The Second Lesson for Evening Prayer
The Second Lesson for Evening Prayer begins Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. The Reader may be forgiven for a bit of ‘theology fatigue’ after a six week trek through Romans. Yet, while Ephesians is much shorter than Romans, his exhilaration at what the Father has done in the death and resurrection of his Son is irresistible. The mystery of God’s will has been revealed in Israel’s Messiah. All of history looked forward to this moment. Everything in heaven and earth have been united in him. Now that he rules over all things, he has given that authority to the Church which is his body, filled with his divine life. Much like the argument in Romans, Paul quickly moves to acknowledge how broken and divided humanity has become as a result of men and women following their own whims and desires. Broken, because in following our own desires we fail to glorify God and serve him. Divided, because sin makes enemies of our neighbors. So Jews and Gentiles, and the nations at large, find themselves fractured, a community divided. But it is by God’s intervening grace that this corrupt and corrupting arrangement of our own making, is halted and rescued. God’s kindness and his grace take center stage. Despite our best efforts, human beings cannot do what is right, either for ourselves or for God. Destruction and death are the result, not as some kind of arbitrary punishment from a distant god suffering from a temper tantrum, but as the natural result of what we devote our lives to. As Ps. 109.17 so shockingly prays, ‘He loved to curse; let curses come upon him! He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him!’ But it is God’s grace and kindness, embodied in Jesus, that breaks into the cycle of decay. It is the Messiah, or King, of Israel that has fought the great battle against sin and death. But it is not only the Jews who are redeemed from slavery, but the Gentiles are released to new life, made one in Messiah. So the Jews and Gentiles are now fellow heirs of the mystery, partakers in Jesus the King. So Paul pauses to pray a prayer for the young church in Ephesus and all of us these millennia following, that we may be drawn up into the love of God, and in knowing the love of God all around us, have power to pour out that love in our lives. Why not pray that prayer for your wife, husband, children, co-workers, your enemies?