King David wrote, ‘Seven times a day do I praise thee; because of thy righteous judgements’. (Ps. 119.164) The Jewish tradition has long been to offer prayers three times a day. But in the Christian monastic tradition of the west, St. Benedict followed David’s words to the letter and established seven daily times of prayer. But Abp. Thomas Cranmer reformed those monastic rites to two: Morning and Evening Prayer. These services are composed of a set of prayers, praises (‘Canticles’) and lessons taken from the Psalms, the Old Testament, and the New Testament.
To the untrained eye, this may seem very complicated. But on further examination the practice of the ‘Offices’ (from the Latin ‘officium’ meaning ‘duty’ or ‘service’) has an internal logic that depends entirely on the Lectionary calendar at the front of the Book of Common prayer (REC, pp.xvi-liii). These pages contain the appointed readings throughout the year arranged according to the liturgical week of the year. An easy way to determine the current week would be to consult a website like http://www.commonprayer.org/calend/cl_sun19.cfm . Once the liturgical week has been determined, the Psalm, Old Testament and New Testament lessons are easily found in the Lectionary. The Psalms are to be read thru once a month. The New Testament is read thru twice a year and much of the Old Testament once a year, with special attention given to the great prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.
It is my hope that God will bless the reading of his word thru this ancient tradition and that the Church may again claim the truth which is written in the Scriptures.
The lessons of the week following the Fourth Sunday After Trinity take us thru the early chapters of Judges, Luke, Jeremiah and begins St. Paul’s greatest letter, his Epistle to the Romans:
- At Morning Prayer we hear the account of how the Israelites continued to fall into idolatry. In response the Lord sent pagan neighbors to oppress them until they repented and called to the Lord to save them. In his covenant faithfulness he sent men and women to defeat the pagan powers and restore the Israelites in the land. Deborah, Barak, Gideon and Jephthah all win the victory for God and his people. How do these stories relate to our understanding of God’s promises to Abraham, that thru his family all the nations will be blessed?
- At Morning Prayer we read the 12th chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. The theme throughout is that there is a terrible time of judgment coming upon Israel and that if the disciples and the crowds will listen to him they can avoid it. The Scribes and Pharisees were attempting to destroy Jesus (ch. 11) but he warns the crowds not to listen to them – they were the same ones that had tormented the prophets like Jeremiah (Evening Prayer). Instead, they should follow Jesus’ warning, trust confidently in the protection of their heavenly father, provide for the poor and come quickly to a solution with anyone who accused them of anything. In our lives today, in the wealthiest, most powerful nation the world has ever known, are we happy? Do we feel confident and fulfilled? Or are we anxious for the future? How is it that we can offer a word of peace to our community that suffers from such discontent?
- At Evening Prayer we read of the great suffering of the prophet Jeremiah. In the year 587BC the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar encircled the city of Jerusalem and demanded that Zedekiah the king and all his counselors surrender and open the gates. The counselors demanded that Zedekiah refuse and maintain their defense of the doomed city. All the while, Jeremiah continued his message to the people of Jerusalem that the Lord had given their city over to the Babylonians, and that they must surrender and go into exile for their years of wickedness. It was only in a foreign land that they would find redemption and forgiveness. How does Jeremiah suffer in these chapters? Who are his tormentors? Who saves him? Who speaks for God?
- At Evening Prayer we begin Paul’s letter to the Romans. In these lessons we read how God has sent his son, the King of Israel, to fulfill all God’s promises made to his people. The Gospel ‘good news is the powerful proclamation to the world, both Jew and Greek, that God is trustworthy and that he will vindicate all those who have faith in his son Jesus. How does Paul describe the condition of the Gentiles? The Jews? How had the Jews failed in their commission? Is God’s world redeeming plan in jeopardy because the Jews haven’t been faithful to the covenant?