Monday, December 24, 2012

A Love Song to the World - A Reflection for Christmas 2012

Dear friends in Christ,

“It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
from angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold.”

On a night over two thousand years ago, angels bent near the earth and shepherds heard their song.  It was a song whose words were so desperately needed, and whose melody soothed the souls of the deeply troubled.  It was a time, much like any other time:  there was conflict; there were wars and rumours of wars; the poor went unfed and the rich sat in lofty places; there were broken hearts and broken spirits.  But a song broke through it all and announced that into the lives of a people who had suffered long, with woe and strife, with sin and sadness, was coming a Saviour who would bring peace.  That message was desperately needed then, and it is no less desperately needed today. 

The words of that beloved hymn, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, penned by Unitarian minister Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876) remind us that the message of the angels is not simply a message that was sung in distant times to long-forgotten shepherds, it is a message that angels still sing to us today.  The angel strain has continued to roll amidst “two thousand years of wrong.”  It is still sung, Sears contends, but “man, at war with man, hears not, the love song which they bring.”  Yet, if we hush the noise, we may still “hear the angels sing.” 

So in these days which are “hastening on” we would do well do listen, for if we do, we shall surely yet hear that love song about which Sears wrote.  It is a love song sung by angels proclaiming the birth of Jesus Christ.  In fact, Jesus IS God’s love song for a broken and hurting world.  Jesus IS God’s love song to his weary and worn-out children.  Jesus IS God’s love song for you and for me.  It is Jesus that the angels proclaim in song and sacred melody.  Let us open our eyes to see them “touch their harps of gold,” let us open our ears to “hear the blessed angels sing,” and let us open our hearts to the one about whom they sing, that “the whole world might give back the song, which now the angels sing.”

A blessed Christmastime to each of you and your families,

The Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reading the Gospel of Luke - Introduction

We have just begun a new liturgical year.  As Anglicans, it has always been our tradition to draw our Sunday readings from a lectionary (i.e., a prescribed calendar of readings).  In modern times, many mainline denominations have adopted the Revised Common Lectionary, and ecumenical lectionary, and as such, if you attend an Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, United or Presbyterian church, we will all be using the same readings (with minor variations) on any given Sunday.  Our shared lectionary consists of a three year cycle in which we try to read most of Scripture.  During each of the three years we focus on one of three synoptic gospels (synopsis = "viewed together" i.e, the three gospels that share signficant verbal agreement, Matthew, Mark & Luke).  In year A, we read through Matthew; in year B, Mark (with bits of John scattered around); and in year C, Luke.  We are currently in Year C, and in our parish we will be meeting twelve times over the next twelve months to study particular aspects of St. Luke's gospel.  The question on our minds will be "what would we miss if we didn't have Luke's gospel?"  We shall also be searching out what particular themes Luke considers important to his telling of the story of Jesus, and most importantly, what is the "good news" according to Luke?

I will be posting on this site, from time-to-time, some background material and personal reflections on what I think is important in the study of St. Luke.  Please feel free to comment, respond and engage.  In session one, we will be looking at the introduction to the gospel and infancy narrative/nativity story (essential chapters one and two). 

In order to kick things off, I want to make a few general comments about The Gospel of Luke. These thoughts are not original to me; rather, they are culled from my own ongoing reading of Luke and much secondary literature.

Luke is widely considered to have been written in the last decade of the first century A.D.(as he has knowledge of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70). Like the rest of the New Testament, the original language of the book is Greek and Luke’s Greek is more elevated that what we find in many of the other New Testament documents. The Gospel is actually the first part of a two-volume series, the second installment being the Acts of the Apostles (Part one, the Gospel, tell us the story of Jesus, while part two, Acts, tell us the story of the Early Church). We may be inclined to ask, who was “Luke?” He may have been the “Luke the Physician” that we learn about from Acts and also from Paul, but this is disputed. It was not uncommon for writers to write under a respected pseudonym in those days. In any event, it is not likely that the author was an eyewitness of Jesus (although he may have had access to some eyewitness material). Where, then, did he get his material? It seems clear to most scholars that Luke used Mark’s Gospel as a source as we find much direct "lifiting" and reworking of  Mark's material. Luke also shares with Matthew a considerable amount of material, often verbatim with subtle changes, that is not found in Mark. Thus, it is concluded that and Matthew may have drawn on a now lost source, which scholars call “Q” (from the German quelle – meaning “source”) which is postulated to be a “sayings” collection based on the kind of shared material found in Matthew and Luke. However, a small group of scholars (and I am more and more inclined to agree with them) argue that Luke used both Mark and Matthew as sources, thus eliminating the need to postulate a “lost gospel” theory. (For a good review of these scholarly arguments visit Mark Goodacre’s Case Against Q website. I do also commend his excellent podcasts – more on these in future installments).

Key Themes in the Gospel of Luke:

The following is a list several key themes and concepts that are widely accepted as major aspects of the Lucan Narrative. The list (a summary of: Joseph Fitzmyer S.J., The Gospel According to Luke I-X, Anchor Bible 28, New York: Doubleday, 1982– p. 145), is not comprehensive but provides a useful starting point for us. As you read through the Gospel of Luke, consider some of these themes and the questions they raise.

1. The Lukan kerygma (Greek for “proclamation,” and by this we mean proclamation both by and about Jesus) in Luke/Acts takes a particular form. See if you can recognize the unique nature of Luke’s proclamation by and about Jesus. Hint: consider to whom the words of Jesus are directed and what the Early Church’s preaching about Jesus does to upset the world order.

2. Luke draws on his source material (Mark’s Gospel, and other possible sources, either a lost“sayings of Jesus” source, or directly from Matthew’s Gospel) in a way that advances the particular themes of his own narrative. As we examine key passages, use a tool called a “Gospel Parallel” or simply compare parallel passages in Mark and Matthew to see how Luke handles the same episode. What does Luke’s unique handling of the episode tell us about the story of Jesus he wishes to communicate?

3. Geography is crucial to theological message – throughout the Gospel the narrative moves geographically toward Jerusalem, whereas in Acts it moves outward from Jerusalem to Rome (to the “ends of the earth”). Consider what this geographical movement says about the proclamation of the Gospel, from Luke’s perspective.

4. Christ in History – Luke roots the “Christ-event” in history as a means to illustrate the inauguration of a new era of human history. What is the meaning of the new era coming into being? How does it relate to the previous era? How does Luke establish the “Christ-event” in time and space?

5. Christology (the understanding and interpretation of Jesus AS Messiah) – Luke invests particular meaning in the titles he uses for Jesus, especially with respect to salvation history. What are some of Luke’s titles for Jesus? What do these titles say about the meaning of Jesus for Luke?

6. Role of the Holy Spirit – Luke has a very unique role for the Holy Spirit in Luke/Acts, especially with respect to conversion and baptism. Pay special attention to references of to the Holy Spirit throughout Luke and Acts. Consider the role of the Spirit as a "character" in the narrative.
7. Eschatology (concern for the end-times) – As Luke’s Gospel was written toward the end of the first century, he has to deal with what scholars call “the delay of the parousia” (parousia = the second coming/return of Christ). Observe what Luke does and does not say about the end-times, in comparison with the other gospels.
There is much to think about here as we begin our journey into St. Luke. These are but a few of the key themes in his story of Jesus; we could (and in the installments ahead, will) add many more themes and strands. At this point, it might be easy to feel overwhelmed at all of these things to consider. In the months ahead we will walk through some interesting passages in the Gospel and I will draw your attention to recurring themes, patterns and ideas. The above themes are mentioned only to provide you with a bit of a guide of what to watch for as you read through the text. So as you read, think of things like the role of geography in the story; the role of the Holy Spirit; talk about the end times (and the delay of the end times); the titles applied to Jesus; and think of comparing familiar passages in Luke to parallels in Mark and Matthew and see how Luke tells the story a little differently. Each of these things will prompt questions about “why did Luke tell it this way?” I believe that as we journey together, examining some of these questions in Luke's Gospel and their possible answers, a portrait of Jesus will emerge that can still enliven our faith today.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

People Look East! - A Reflection for Advent, 2012

“People look east, the time is near!”

The season of Advent (from the Latin, adventus, literally, “coming”), is one of preparation.  However, in recent years we have become obsessed with the concept of “waiting” during Advent.  While “waiting” does form a part of the Advent narrative, we should not lose sight of the richness of the Advent season as a season of preparing for the Lord’s coming.  During Advent we concentrate on the Lord’s coming in two different ways: his coming as a child in Bethlehem many years ago (ritually re-enacted in our Christmas liturgies); and his end-times coming when God’s kingdom shall finally “come on earth, as it is in heaven.”  Thus, our Advent Scripture readings look forward both to Jesus’ birth and to his return – the inauguration of the new order and its completion.  It is not a time to sit quietly and wait, but it is a time to prepare. 
 
Perhaps I am not so concerned as others about the frenzy of activity and preparation that comes at this time of year.  The old collect that fell on the Sunday before Advent (now used in early September), which begins “Stir up the wills, O Lord, of your faithful people…” was a call to action.  These words were the cue for many to begin “stirring up” the Christmas pudding.  This is more than just a “cute” take on a meaningful collect.  At a deeper level, all the excitement and preparation for the family gatherings and banquets that take place during this time of year are our way of saying that we are participating in the preparation of banquet to end all banquets – the one we shall enjoy when our Lord finally returns.  Amidst all of this activity and preparation is joy, and with that joy, comes excitement and anticipation.  So sing your carols, I say.  Stir up your puddings.  Gather with family and friends and celebrate.  Make haste. Prepare.  Just do not forget the Good News for which we are preparing.  Do not forget our Lord.  Forget not to celebrate our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the alpha and omega, the first and the last, the one who was, and is, and is to come.

A blessed Advent to all.

Fr. Dan