A Word about the Readings (Reflection #2)
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
The Trinity season describes in patient steps the process of our conversion. This is perhaps why the church’s ancient lectionary, which the Book of Common Prayer continues to preserve, has generally fallen out of favour, most modern lectionaries following a three-year, and less systematic approach to our hearing of Holy Scripture, Sunday by Sunday. It is an unattractive idea that we should be in a continual process of growing up into our faith, and that our progress toward a glorified Christian life is in continual need of help and guidance. We want to be assured of our success and outcome, now, we want to see a simple and immediate return on our investment of intention and purpose. Many protestant movements base their account of Christian experience on just this premise, that conversion, and therefore salvation, is an event which happens all at once, so that we may look back at our story and say, ‘on such and such a day, I was saved.’
Anglicanism, taking a characteristically more moderate approach to the Reformation, while thoroughly approving of the responsibility of each soul to embrace their Christian calling as individual members of Christ’s body—through the practice of private prayer, the hearing and study of God’s Word, and a habit of public worship and service to our fellow man—has been careful to preserve a catholic and ancient sense of Christian faith, in which our condition as God’s people in this mortal life is always in need of renewal and reform.
It is just this sense, for instance, which we find in the first epistle of Peter, exhorting us not to be discouraged as we experience the difficult, and sometimes painful, challenges to our faith, whereby we are tried and tested, in the course of growing up into our calling. We are meant to understand heaven, and not any earthly substitute, as the promised land of our salvation, and therefore, we must always take seriously the process of our pilgrimage toward that perfect and eternal goal.
It is just this perspective which we find spelled out in our lessons for this Sunday, as we make our way into the journey of Trinitytide: the world’s interests and goals must fall away, if we are to advance toward our heavenly object. “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you,” says St. John; our life and practice as the disciples and followers of Jesus will mark us as rebels to the world’s cause of self-interest and self-satisfaction.
The freedom to pursue our own ends, privately and without external limits, must be abandoned for the much harder and more profound freedom of answering the call of the Master: “go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
It is His purpose that must be learned, and His goods and blessings that must be received and embraced. We must learn to unlearn our satisfaction in worldly power and earthly riches. And while we may on the one hand find our hearts moved to call Jesus ‘Lord’, we may still on the other find it hard to follow Him on the hard road of suffering that is His mandate: remember the disciples on the night of His betrayal. Each of us must learn patiently what it means, to take up our cross, and make our way toward heaven. No one can do this for us, and it is never a path of easy compromise or self-gratification. But it is also the way that bears the gifts of God’s eternal love, the banquet of His Son, the Lamb, who offers to all who attend the feast of His goodness nothing less than His very body and blood.
May we all pray for and encourage one and other in this one worthy thing, ‘to have a perpetual fear and love of His holy name’, and so to be brought at last into His heavenly kingdom.