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Festival of St. Matthias, Apostle

February 24th, 2014 2 comments

After the Ascension of Our Lord, Jesus’ followers at Jerusalem chose Matthias to replace Judas: “And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:26)” Apart from the information given in the first chapter of Acts (vv. 12-26), we know nothing about him. One extra-biblical account says that Saint Matthias was slain by cannibals in Ethiopia; another traditions claims that he was stoned and then beheaded by Jews in Jerusalem. This account lends itself to his customary symbol in religious art: The sword from his beheading is superimposed over a book or scroll representing Holy Scripture.

Scripture Readings for Today

Psalm 134
Isaiah 66:1-2
Acts 1:15-26
Matthew 11:25-30

Prayer

Almighty God, You chose Your servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve. Grant that Your Church, ever preserved from false teachers, may be taught and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Unremarkable Matthias

February 24th, 2014 1 comment

Unremarkable Matthias by Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Dearly Beloved:

Matthias is unremarkable. We have his feast on our Evangelical-Lutheran church year calendar simply because of this passage from Acts 1. From church history we know next to nothing of where he preached or what he did later. In Christian art he is often pictured with an axe, which means that Christians in ancient times believed that he was put to death by beheading, no doubt as a result of his bold confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of the one, true God, and his refusal to acknowledge and worship false gods. But our text tells us very little. We don’t learn anything about Matthias beyond his name. We even know more about the guy who wasn’t elected, since he has three names—Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus—while Matthias has only one name. Of course, we also know that Matthias accompanied the Lord Jesus and the Twelve and was a witness to the Lord’s resurrection. Matthias’ only claim to fame is that God chose him to be an apostle and sent him out to preach and administer sacraments and shepherd the flock of God. What can we learn from this? Not all of the men whom God chooses to preach, administer sacraments, and shepherd the church are remarkable. Most are pretty ordinary. Don’t be disappointed if your pastor is not the most dynamic or charismatic leader. Don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t have the business sense to manage a small corporation. Hold him to the qualifications set forth by Scripture. For the call of Matthias, what was important was that he have been a companion of Jesus and the Twelve from beginning to end, and that he be a witness of the resurrected Lord Jesus. For pastors today, their qualifications and duties are set forth in sufficient detail in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus. For that matter, we should learn from this to measure anyone in any God-given office by God’s standards in Scripture, not by whatever our emotions, eyes, or reason would require. Hold all church workers to the standards set forth in Scripture. Be satisfied with governmental leaders who are doing their duty. Fathers and mothers don’t have to be perfect, as long as they are doing what God sets forth in His Word.

Now, the treachery of Judas must have been a shock to the disciples. Here was one that the Lord Jesus had hand-chosen to be one of His inner circle. And yet he turned, betrayed the Lord, and ended his miserable life with an evil hanging of himself. It must have seemed like God’s plans were being thwarted by evil. But they were not. God knew what He was doing. In the same way, at the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, God already knew what He would do: send His Son to become a human being, to die and rise and redeem the world, winning them back for God. God’s plan was to create holy humanity to enjoy His blessings. Adam and Eve’s sin did not thwart God’s plan. He sent His Son to make it happen. So also here, at the treachery of Judas, God’s plan was not thwarted. The Lord’s plan was to have Twelve apostles, sent out to the twelve tribes of Israel, to be the foundation of the Church through their preaching of Christ. And even though Judas fell away, God’s plan was not thwarted. Peter and the other apostles studied the Old Testament Scripture, and they found a prophecy of Judas’ betrayal in Psalms 69 and 109. And the prophecy in Psalm 109 included the instruction, “let another take his office.” To us this seems obvious. If the pastor embezzels the congregation’s money or has an affair, he is removed from office and another pastor is called and installed. But it was probably not obvious to the apostles how they should deal with the fall of an apostle. What kind of an office was this? Was it like the Old Testament priesthood or kingship, in which the office could become vacant and passed on to others, or was it more like the Old Testament prophetic office, which God raised up when and where he pleased, and which did not automatically pass on to others, unless God said explicitly that the prophet’s student should become a prophet, too? (This happened with Elijah and Elisha.) Peter and the other apostles study Scripture, and they find this Scripture: “Let another take his office.” So it is an office, and it can be vacant, and someone else can take it. That may not have been obvious at first. We too, should search the Scriptures to find God’s will. Don’t look to your feelings and emotions, your fears and worries, or your reason and senses to determine God’s will for your life. If you want to know what God’s plan is, don’t look at success in the world, either. If doors seem to be opening to you, this might not be God’s will and plan. It might just be the path of least resistance. Instead, search the Scriptures. If you find it there, you know it is God’s will. If you don’t find it there, then don’t claim that it is God’s will and plan. Peter and the other apostles studied Scripture.

Finally, there’s something shocking about the “call committee” or “voters’ assembly” which was formed for the purpose of electing a new apostle. It’s not what we might expect. First, only men were present, or at least only they were being addressed by Peter (vv. 15–16). The Greek makes this clear, since Peter says not just “brothers,” but in the Greek, ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί, “men brothers.” Next, the qualifications for the new apostle were set forth by Peter, not by the congregation (vv. 21–22). The congregation did not go through a self-study process. They did not write up their own mission and ministry plan. They did not do a spiritual gifts inventory. Peter, as the leader, set forth the kind of man they were looking for, and clearly he was acting in accord with God’s will when he did so. Finally, nowhere does the text say that the congregation chose two out of many qualified candidates; in fact, Matthias and Joseph may have been the only two men qualified. It’s possible that this congregation of men did not nominate anyone. If they did, the text doesn’t make it clear. Finally, this congregation of men did not actually elect anyone either. The whole point of the passage is that the congregation did not choose, but God did.

Now, I’m not pointing out these differences from today’s LCMS call committees to say that our call committees or voters’ assemblies should be like this assembly of men around the apostles, in all respects. On the contrary, especially with the casting of lots, this is not something we should imitate. This is the only time in the New Testament where the casting of lots is used to select an apostle or pastor. The apostolic church afterwards abandoned this practice. After Pentecost it was never used again, and it is also not commanded to us that we practice it.

The reason I have pointed out these differences is to underline the main point of this Bible reading: that God chose Matthias to complete the Twelve and to be a witness of the resurrection. Matthias went forth and preached that Jesus conquered death for you, Jesus obtained forgiveness for you. God’s plan for your salvation is not thwarted by Judas, not by Adam and Eve, not even by your sins. Repent of your sins and believe in Christ, the same Christ whom unremarkable Matthias proclaimed. To Him be glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Sexagesima: Scripture Alone

February 23rd, 2014 2 comments

On the second last Sunday before the start of Lent, Sexagesima, the focus is on God’s work through His Word. The Sower sows the seed of His Word (Luke 8:4–15). This Word is living and powerful (Heb. 4:9–13) to conceive new life in those who hear it. But the planting of Christ is attacked by the devil, the world, and the flesh. Satan snatches the Word away from hard hearts. The riches and pleasures of this life choke off faith. Shallow and emotional belief withers in time of temptation and trouble. But see how Christ bears this attack for us! Christ’s cross was planted in the hard and rocky soil of Golgotha. A crown of thorns was placed upon His head. Satan and His demons hellishly hounded and devoured Him. Yet, through His dying and rising again, He destroyed these enemies of ours. Jesus is Himself the Seed which fell to the ground and died in order that it might sprout forth to new life and produce much grain. In Him, the weak are strong (2 Cor. 11:19–12:9). He is the Word of the Father which does not return void (Is. 55:10–13) but yields a harvest hundredfold. Lesson summary source.

The Appointed Scripture Readings for Today
The Introit: Ps. 44:1–2, 7–8; antiphon: Ps. 44:23, 25a, 26a
The Psalter: Psalm 84 (antiphon: v. 4)
Old Testament: Isaiah 55:10–13
Gradual: Psalm 83: 18, 13
Epistle: 2 Corinthians 11:19—12:9
Verse: Psalm 60:1-2, 5
Gospel: Luke 8:4–15

Let Us Pray
O God, the Strength of all who put their trust in You, mercifully grant that by Your power we may be defended against all adversity; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Luther on Luke 8:4-15
Christ’s Word plainly states that only a fourth part of the seed bears fruit, and  his own experience (to say nothing of John’s and the apostles’ experience) exhibits the fact that not everyone was ready to believe and accept the Word. The majority of the people are and remain evil and without fruit; only a limited number, a fraction, repent and come to faith. Therefore, to fault the doctrine and say that it is no good, amounts also to saying that the seed which falls by the wayside, on the rocks, and among the thorns is also not good. But we must turn this around and not blaspheme God. His Word is the seed which is being sown. This Word in truth is pure and good, and by its very nature can do nothing but bear fruit. The fact, however, that it does not bear fruit everywhere is not the fault of God and his Word but the fault of the soil which is not good, and in which, as a result, the seed must remain unproductive and decay. For the blame does not lie with the Word but with people’s hearts. They are unclean and impure, and either despise the Word or fall away from it under duress, or are choked by the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life. So, let everyone learn from this parable that it will always be this way with the gospel: some will be converted but there are probably three times more who will take offense. Listen to God’s Word while you have it; the time may come when you would like to hear it, but it may not be there for you. Therefore, give ear to it diligently while you have it. For he who despises it is overcome by darkness (John 12:35). Source: Luther’s House Postils

Bach’s Cantata BWV 18 for this Sunday, with German/English words, is in the extended entry

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Septuagesima: Third Last Sunday Before Lent

February 16th, 2014 3 comments

The Scriptures Appointed for Septuagesima

Introit: Psalm 18:1–2a, 27, 32, 49; antiphon: Ps. 18:5–6
Psalter: Psalm 95:1-9 (antiphon: v. 6)
Old Testament: Exodus 17:1–7
Gradual: Ps. 9:9–10, 18–19a
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 9:24—10:5
Verse: Ps. 130:1–4
Gospel: Matthew 20:1–16

The people of Israel contended with the Lord in the wilderness (Ex. 17:1–7). They were dissatisfied with His provision. In the same way, the first laborers in the vineyard complained against the landowner for the wage he provided them (Matt. 20:1–16). They charged him with being unfair, but in reality he was being generous. For the Lord does not wish to deal with us on the basis of what we deserve but on the basis of His abounding grace in Christ. The first—those who rely on their own merits—will be last. “For they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:5). But the last, those who rely on Christ, will be first. For Christ is the Rock (1 Cor. 9:24–10:5). He is the One who was struck and from whose side blood and water flowed that we may be cleansed of our sin.

Luther on the Gospel Reading [see full comments below]

“When the Gospel comes and makes all alike, as Paul teaches in Rom 3,23, so that they who have done great works are no more than public sinners, and must also become sinners and tolerate the saying: “All have sinned”, Rom 3, 23, and that no one is justified before God by his works; then they look around and despise those who have done nothing at all, while their great worry and labor avail no more than such idleness and reckless living. Then they murmur against the householder, they imagine it is not right; they blaspheme the Gospel, and become hardened in their ways; then they lose the favor and grace of God, and are obliged to take their temporal reward and trot from him with their penny and be condemned; for they served not for the sake of mercy but for the sake of reward, and they will receive that and nothing more, the others however must confess that they have merited neither the penny nor the grace, but more is given to them than they had ever thought was promised to them. These remained in grace and besides were saved, and besides this, here in time they had enough; for all depended upon the good pleasure of the householder.”

We pray:

O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we, who justly suffer the consequence of our sin, may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The extended entry includes Bach’s Cantata BWV 92 for this day and Luther’s complete notes on the Gospel, from his Church Postil.

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The Transfiguration of Our Lord

February 9th, 2014 Comments off

In Lutheran congregations that use the historic lectionary, this Sunday is the observation of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, because it is the last Sunday in the Epiphany season. On the three following Sundays we will be observing  “pre-Lent,” more on that later this week. At the end of this post, you can read details about  the how/why Transfiguration came to be observed at this time in the Epiphany season. Because this observance was not in place during Luther’s lifetime or territory, nor Bach’s a couple hundred years later, I’m afraid I do not have a Luther sermon or Bach Cantata to share with you this day. But I know you will appreciate the sermon for Transfiguration I am able to share here.

The Appointed Readings for Today

The Introit: Ps. 84:1–2a, 4, 10–11; antiphon: Ps. 77:18
The Old Testament Lesson: Ex. 34:29–35
The Psalter: Psalm 2 (antiphon v. 7)
The Epistle Lesson: 2 Peter 1:16–21
The Gospel Lesson: Matt. 17:1–9
The Gradual: Ps. 45:2a, 110:1
The Verse: Ps. 96:2–3

On this day the appointed readings from Scriptures focus our hearts and minds on the great miracle of our Lord’s transfiguration, when he allowed his disciples a glimpse of the glory that is His eternally as the Second Person of the Most Holy and Blessed Trinity, the Son of God. This glimpse of glory was important, for from the mount of Transfiguration, they went back down and our Lord set His face toward Jerusalem, where He would offer, and be offered up, as the atoning sacrifice for the of the world. The Lord appeared to Moses in the light of the burning bush (Ex. 3:1–14). Later Moses’ face would shine with the light of God’s glory when he came down from Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:29–35). At the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared with the One who is the Light of Light Himself (Matt. 17:1–9). Jesus’ glory as God shines with brilliant splendor in and through His human nature. By this epiphany, our Lord confirmed the prophetic word (2 Pet. 1:16–21), revealing that He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He manifested His majesty as the eternal Son of the Father, and He wonderfully foreshowed our adoption as sons (Collect). We who have been baptized into Christ’s body are given a glimpse of the glory that we will share with Him in the resurrection on the Last Day. Source for some of these notes: LCMS Commission on Worship.

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What’s a Gesima? The Church Prepares for Lent

February 7th, 2014 14 comments

In the traditional liturgical Church Year, this Sunday and the two following are known as “gesima” Sundays, and the three Sunday period we are now in, is known as pre-Lent. What is the meaning of “gesima” and why a three week “pre-Lent.” Here’s a great article by my friend Terry Maher explaining what’s going on at this point in the historic Church Year.

There’s been some joyous events these last few weeks — the birth of Jesus, his naming and circumcision, the first Gentiles to find him, and his baptism. On various dates and combinations from place to place through the ages, the Christian Church has offered its members celebrations of these things in its church year.

But a change is coming, one already present amid the joy. We know as we celebrate his birth that he was born for us so he could die for us. We know as his blood was spilled in circumcision, putting him under the Law, his blood would be spilled on the Cross, to redeem us from under the Law. We saw that the Gentiles who found him had to return by a different way, as the way of all who find him is different afterward. And after his baptism, Jesus will spend forty days in the desert before beginning his public ministry, wherein he will be tempted to make himself into the various false Messiahs into which Man makes him anyway so often. We will soon imitate those forty days for our own devotion with the season of Lent, on the way to the Cross, without which Easter is but another metaphor or myth. A change is coming.

So the church provides a transitional time between the first and second of its three great seasons, as the joyous events from preparing for his birth to his baptism, Advent-Christmas-Circumcision-Naming-Manifestation-Baptism, now turn to the literally deadly serious reason why they happened, sin and our redemption from sin. Just like with the Christmas related season, this has taken various forms in various places and times but within the same general pattern, and the universal practice of the Christian Church since ancient times (well, until 1960s Rome messed with it, but we’ll get to that) has been to provide a transition from the beginnings of Jesus’ earthly life to the end of it.

So, Septuagesima is 70 Days, Sexagesima is 60 Days, Quinqagesima is 50 Days. Simple. Right? Sure…but…what are all these “gesimas” about, pronounced “jeh-see-mah,” emphasis on first syllable. Glad you asked.

Septuagesima is simply another word for Seventy Days, that’s all. The modern English word is derived from Middle English in turn from Old French in turn from the actual Late Latin word septuagesima meaning seventieth day. The septua- part is the same prefix for seven or multiples by ten of seven seen in other English words — septet, an ensemble of seven; septuagenarian, someone in his 70s; the Septuagint, the translation into Greek of the Hebrew Scriptures by seventy scholars — and the -gesima part derives from the Latin for days, dies.

With the Seventieth Day, or Septuagesima, the change is apparent on various levels. The white vestments of Christmastime joy give way to purple or violet of repentance; the joyful exclamation Alleluia and other joyful expressions like the Te Deum and the Gloria (there ain’t no This Is The Feast) are not used, and the readings, especially if one follows the hours of prayer, the Divine Office, begin their way through the sorry history of Man from his creation and fall on, which the Holy Saturday liturgy will recapitulate.

On Septuagesima itself, the Gospel reading is Matthew 20:1-16, the story of the workers in the vineyard, wherein we see Man the same as from the start in Eden, trying to impose his ideas of what is right on to God’s, this time arguing over whether the same wage is fair for those who worked all day, those hired at the last, and everyone in between, as if we deserved anything from God and it were not his to give and not ours to presume or demand anyway. So we argue with God and each other over the denarius rather than taking in in gratitude from him who owed us nothing! Kind of the whole problem in a nutshell.

The Eastern Church uses the following on its five Sundays in the Pre Lenten Season: 1) the story of Zacchaeus, 2) the Publican and the Pharisee, 3) the Prodigal Son, 4) the Last Judgement, and 5) the Sunday of Forgiveness.

The world, which has ever had its early Spring celebrations, has in many lands timed them on Lent, so pre-Lent attains a nature as opposite from its Christian meaning as Advent has become the gift buying and partying season before Christmas. At the beginning of Lent, fasting in some form is observed, usually involving abstaining from meat, and the most likely origin of the the name for the worldly face of all this, carnival, is a farewell to meat (flesh), from the Latin root carne- for meat or flesh (as in carnivore) and vale, good-bye (as in valedictory). In most but not all places, Septuagesima is the start of carnival season, to end just before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. As the church prepares for the penitential season of Lent the world enjoys the flesh, in all senses of the word.

In the Western Church, in most denominations that follow a liturgical calendar, the transitional pre-Lenten period has been abolished altogether! And not only is this important transition dropped, the period of time it formerly took is simply counted as Ordinary Time. That would be bad enough if ordinary here meant what ordinary ordinarily means. Ordinary here means the literal meaning of ordinary, which is, something that has no particular name or identity but is simply numbered. So in the novus ordo and the various adaptations of it, this significant time of transition from the Christmas cyle to the Easter cyle simply ceases to exist, in numbered anonymity, in the face of nearly two millennia of Christian observance in varying forms, and the continuing observance of those who do not follow suit. Well, when you’re the Whore of Babylon, you do stuff like that, maybe even have to do stuff like that. Not a lead for the church of Christ to follow.

Actually, at first in English Lent itself followed the Gesima pattern and was called Quadragesima, meaning forty days, the duration of Lent in the West, which was also the name of the first Sunday in Lent, a word that then just meant Spring. This still survives in other languages. For example in Spanish the word is Cuaresma for Lent. No word yet on whether Rome can get languages like Spanish to quit calling Lent after a pattern it has abolished. The world, though, seems securely attached to its traditions; Carnival season will endure though Pre-Lent is done in. Who knows? Maybe the next council can get Ash Wednesday moved to the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, for “pastoral reasons” of course, like they jacked around the date of Epiphany, or move it to the Monday after and call it reclaiming our ancient Greek roots.

The Eastern Church still has its Pre Lenten Season.

In the Western Church, the earliest Septuagesima can fall is 18 January and the latest 22 February. This year, 2009, it’s 8 February. Join the Christian Church, East or West, in this transition, whatever your church body may have chosen to do, as we turn to the preparation for Lent, the observance of that for which he whose birth we recently celebrated came to die and then rise again, and the Easter and Pentecost joy to follow in anticipation of the eternal joy of heaven!

We start with learning from the workers in the vineyard not to haggle over the denarius but understand whose it is and that it is a gift, or, from the call of Jesus to Zacchaeus, who collected taxes for the foreign oppressors, that he doesn’t have to climb a tree to see him, that he is coming to his very house — which btw produced more grumbling about what is right and just — after which Zacchaeus repented and made restitution to his brethren. The Son of Man has indeed come to seek and save the lost — don’t worry about being seeker-sensitive, HE is the seeker — whether that be those who cast aside their own people for power or those who are idle because they are not hired, as we all seek our own gain first by nature and are all “unemployable” before the justice of God, who shows us mercy instead in Christ Whom He has sent.

Here are the readings for the three Sundays of Gesimatide. It has been noted that the three correspond with the three “solas” of the Lutheran Reformation.

Septuagesima Sunday, “70 Days”.

Introit.
Psalm 18:5,6,7. Verse Psalm 18:2,3.
Collect.
O Lord, we beseech Thee favourably to hear the prayers of Thy people that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by The goodness, for the glory of Thy name, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Saviour, who liveth etc.
Epistle.
1 Cor 9:24 – 10:5.
Gospel.
Matthew 20:1-16. The Workers in the Vinyard. Sola gratia, by grace alone.

Sexagesima Sunday, “60 Days”.

Introit.
Psalm 44:23-26. Verse Psalm 44:2.
Collect.
O God, who seest that we put not our trust in anything that we do, mercifully grant that by Thy power we may be defended against all adversity, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, who liveth etc.
Epistle.
2 Cor 11:19 – 12.9
Gospel.
Luke 8:4-15. The Sower and the Seed. Sola scriptura, by scripture alone.

Quinquagesima Sunday, “50 Days”.

Introit.
Psalm 31:3,4. Verse Psalm 31:1.
Collect.
O Lord, we beseech Thee, mercifully hear our prayers and, having set us free from the bonds of sin, defend us from all evil, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Our Lord, who liveth etc.
Epistle.
1 Cor 13:1-13.
Gospel.
Luke 18:31-43. Healing the Blind Man. Sola fide, by faith alone.

The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple

February 2nd, 2014 8 comments

It comes as a surprise to some of our fellow Christians that a number of the traditional Marian Festivals were preserved and retained in historic Lutheranism. It is interesting however to note how they changed from their former focus entirely on Mary, and instead, focused on Christ, since whatever is Biblically associated with Mary, is precisely because of Jesus. This day, in particular, effectively brings to an end our observation of the great events of Christmas and Epiphany, and appropriately, gives us to ponder a somewhat obscure event in our Lord’s life, the occasion of his mother’s purification according to Old Testament law and His presentation in the Temple. The beautiful song of Simeon is featured in the readings these days. I encourage you to pay particularly close attention to the lovely Bach Motet based on the words of Simeon, which he composed early in his career for the funeral of the daughter of one of the pastors in Muhlhausen, where Bach was working at the time. The Cantata is titled God’s Time is Always the Best Time. I’ve put it in the extended entry, with the performance first, followed by the words in German and English.

The Presentation of Our Lord at the Temple, one of the Christological feasts of the Christian Church, is Scripture’s final infancy narrative concerning Jesus. After the Presentation, the Bible says nothing more about Him until His twelfth year.

Many liturgical calendars name this the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, emphasizing its Marian connection. Still another term used is Candlemas, drawing the name from the tradition of blessing the coming year’s church candles on this day.

Saint Luke is the only one of the Evangelists to describe the event (see Luke 2:22-40), something likely unfamiliar to most of his Gentile readers. According to the Gospel, Mary and Joseph took the Baby to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth to consecrate Jesus to God and to complete the ritual purification of Mary, both because of the command of God’s Law (Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16; Leviticus 12).

Upon entering the temple, the family encountered the devout and holy Simeon. Luke records that he was promised that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:26)” Simeon took Jesus into his arms, prayed the prayer that would become known as the Nunc Dimittis, or Canticle of Simeon, blessed the parents, and prophesied regarding Jesus and Mary.

The prophetess Anna (2:36-38) was also in the temple. She, too, offered prayers and praise to God for sending the Savior.

In the Western liturgical calendar, the Presentation of Our Lord falls on 2 February because this is forty days after Christmas, the celebration of His birth. It is the last festival determined by the date of Christmas and thus shows that the Epiphany season is drawing to a close. Most churches in the East observe the occasion on 14 February since they celebrate Christ’s Nativity on 6 January.

The Scripture Readings:
Old Testament: 1 Samuel 1:21-28
Second Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
Gospel: Luke 2:22-32

We pray:
Almighty and ever-living God, as Your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, grant that we may be presented to You with pure and clean hearts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Martin Luther’s Hymn: In Peace and Joy I Now Depart
Luther wrote this hymn to put Simeon’s words in the form of a hymnic setting. It is a beautiful prayer, that makes for a lovely homily for us to ponder on this day:

In peace and joy I now depart
At God’s disposing;
For full of comfort is my heart,
Soft reposing.
So the Lord hath promised me,
And death is but a slumber.

’Tis Christ that wrought this work for me,
My faithful Savior,
Whom Thou hast made mine eyes to see
By Thy favor.
Now I know He is my Life,
My Help in need and dying.

Him Thou hast unto all set forth
Their great Salvation
And to His kingdom called the earth,
Every nation,
By Thy dear and wholesome Word,
In every place resounding.

He is the Hope and saving Light
Of lands benighted;
By Him are they who dwelt in night
Fed and lighted.
He is Israel’s Praise and Bliss,
Their Joy, Reward, and Glory.

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Third Sunday After Epiphany: Christ’s Word is For All

January 26th, 2014 5 comments

We hear God’s Word:

2 Kings 5:1–15a
Romans 1:8–17
or Romans 12:16–21
Matthew 8:1–13

We pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities and stretch forth the hand of Your majesty to heal and defend us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lectionary Summary: Jesus Came for Gentiles, Too

The Gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Gentile (Rom. 1:8–17). Even in the Old Testament, the Gentiles were beneficiaries of God’s saving power. Though unimpressed at first with the Word of God, a Syrian commander is persuaded to receive that Word, and in the water he is cleansed and brought to faith in the God of Israel (2 Kings 5:1–15a). Evil is overcome by good (Rom 12:16–21). So also in the New Testament, a Roman centurion demonstrates great and humble faith in the Lord (Matt. 8:1–13). All he needs is the Word of Christ, for he trusts that Jesus’ Word of healing has authority to accomplish what it says. And indeed it does. The centurion’s faith is praised by our Lord above that of any Israelite. For the last shall be first, and the first last. Apart from faith in Christ, there is no salvation—not even for a Jew¬—but only weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Source).

Bach Cantata for the Third Sunday after Epiphany BWV 72

1. Chorus (S, A, T, B)

All things but as God is willing,
Both in joy and deepest grief,
Both in good and evil times.
God’s own will shall be my solace
Under cloud and shining sun.
All things but as God is willing,
This shall hence my motto be.(1)

2. Recit. (A)

O Christian blest who always doth his own will
In God’s own will submerge, no matter what may happen,
In health and sickness!
Lord, if thou wilt,(2) must all things be obedient!
Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst bring me contentment!
Lord, if thou wilt, shall vanish all my pain!
Lord, if thou wilt, will I be well and clean!
Lord, if thou wilt, all sadness will be gladness!
Lord, if thou wilt, I’ll find midst thorns a pasture!
Lord, if thou wilt, will I be blest at last!
Lord, if thou wilt, (let me express in faith this sentence
To make my soul be quiet!)
Lord, if thou wilt, I’ll perish not,
Though life and limb have me forsaken,
If to my heart thy Spirit speaks this word!(3)

3. Aria (A)

With ev’rything I have and am
I’ll trust myself to Jesus;

      E’en though my feeble soul and mind

 

      The will of God not fathom,

 

      Still may he lead me ever forth

 

    On roads of thorns and roses!

4. Recit. (B)

So now believe!
Thy Savior saith: “This will I!”(4)
He shall his gracious hand
Most willingly extend thee
When cross and suff’ring thee have frightened;
He knoweth thy distress and lifts the cross’s bond,
He helps the weak
And would, the humble roof
Of poor in spirit not despising,
Therein deign graciously to enter.

5. Aria (S)

My Jesus will(5) do it, he will thy cross now sweeten.
E’en though thy heart may lie amidst much toil and trouble,
Shall it yet soft and still within his arms find rest
If him thy faith doth grasp! My Jesus will do it.

6. Chorale (S, A, T, B)

What my God will, be done alway,
His will, it is the best will;
To help all those he is prepared
Whose faith in him is steadfast.
He frees from want, this righteous God,
And punisheth with measure:
Who trusts in God, on him relies,
Him will he not abandon.

St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor: January 26

January 26th, 2014 1 comment

A disciple and companion of St. Paul to whom the great saint addressed one of his letters. Paul referred to Titus as “my true child in our common faith”. Not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, he was noted in Galatians where Paul writes of journeying to Jerusalem with Barnabas, accompanied by Titus. He was then dispatched to Corinth, Greece, where he successfully reconciled the Christian community there with Paul, its founder. Titus was later left on the island of Crete to help organize the Church, although he soon went to Dalmatia, Croatia. According to Eusebius of Caesarea in the Ecclesiastical History, he served as the first bishop of Crete. He was buried in Cortyna (Gortyna), Crete; his head was later translated to Venice during the invasion of Crete by the Saracens in 832 and was enshrined in St. Mark’s, Venice, Italy. Here is where Titus is mentioned in the New Testament:

2 Corinthians 2:132 Corinthians 7:6-142 Corinthians 8:6-232 Corinthians 12:18Galatians 2:1-32 Timothy 4:10Titus 1:4

The appointed Scripture readings for today are:

Acts 20:28-35

Titus 1:1-9

Luke 10:1-9

We pray:

Almighty God, You called Titus to the work of pastor and teacher. Make all shepherds of Your flock diligent in preaching Your holy Word so that the whole world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Festival of St. Paul’s Conversion to the Faith

January 25th, 2014 1 comment

The Conversion of St. Paul by Peter Paul Rubens

Can there be a more magnificent example of the love, grace and mercy of God than the conversion of our father in Christ, St. Paul? From persecutor to preacher, from murderer of the saints, to the merciful lover of all souls. The Scripture readings appointed for today are:

Acts 9:1-22

Galatians 1:11-24

Matthew 19:27-30

So today, in thanksgiving to God, we pray:

Almighty God, You turned the heart of him who persecuted the Church and by his preaching caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world. Grant us ever to rejoice in the saving light of Your Gospel and, following the example of the apostle Paul, to spread it to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Here are St. John Chrysostom’s thoughts on St. Paul:

“Though housed in a narrow prison, Paul dwelt in heaven. He accepted beatings and wounds more readily than others reach out for rewards. Sufferings he loved as much as prizes; indeed he regarded them as his prizes, and therefore called them a grace or gift. Reflect on what this means. To depart and be with Christ was certainly a reward, while remaining in the flesh meant struggle. Yet such was his longing for Christ that he wanted to defer his reward and remain amid the fight; those were his priorities. Now, to be separated from the company of Christ meant struggle and pain for Paul; in fact, it was a greater affliction than any struggle or pain would be. On the other hand, to be with Christ was a matchless reward. Yet, for the sake of Christ, Paul chose the separation. But, you may say: “Because of Christ, Paul found all this pleasant”. I cannot deny that, for he derived intense pleasure from what saddens us. I need not think only of perils and hardships. It was true even of the intense sorrow that made him cry out: Who is weak that I do not share the weakness? Who is scandalised that I am not consumed with indignation? I urge you not simply to admire but also to imitate this splendid example of virtue, for, if we do, we can share his crown as well. Are you surprised at my saying that if you have Paul’s merits, you will share that same reward? Then listen to Paul himself: I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth a crown of justice awaits me, and the Lord, who is a just judge, will give it to me on that day – and not to me alone, but to those who desire his coming. You see how he calls all to share the same glory. Now, since the same crown of glory is offered to all, let us eagerly strive to become worthy of these promised blessings. In thinking of Paul we should not consider only his noble and lofty virtues or the strong and ready will that disposed him for such great graces. We should also realise that he shares our nature in every respect. If we do, then even what is very difficult will seem to us easy and light; we shall work hard during the short time we have on earth and someday we shall wear the incorruptible, immortal crown. This we shall do by the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom all glory and power belongs now and always through endless ages. Amen.”

This excerpt from a homily by St. John Chrysostom (Hom. 2 de laudibus sancti Pauli: PG 50, 480-484)

Festival of St. Timothy: Pastor and Confessor

January 24th, 2014 4 comments

Jan.26-St.Timothy_151122

My name is Paul Timothy McCain. Many people always assume my parents named me Paul after my father, who is also named Paul, but I came to learn the reasons for my name were much deeper than that. My father, Paul, wanted his son, Paul, to have the kind of father/son relationship that St. Timothy had with St. Paul, as summed up in these verses, from 2 Timothy 3: “Timothy, my son, you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, my sufferings, what befell me at Antioch, at lconion, and at Lystra, what persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

My dad would often reference these verses on a birthday card, or in a letter, or on a gift book. I cherish the gift of the name my parents gave me and so any day in the Church Year set aside to commemorate and remember St. Paul and/or St. Timothy are special and unique for me, in a variety of ways; even more so now that my earthly father is with my heavenly father for all eternity, with St. Paul and St. Timothy and all the faithful pastors, confessors and all the saints.

Pastor Randy Asburry had a nice blog post today for St. Timothy some time back and I offer it here to you for your consideration:

Today the Lutheran Service Book calendar thanks God for St. Timothy, Pastor and Confessor. It’s more than just a “Commemoration”; it’s a full “Feast and Festival” with three readings appointed for the Divine Service. Here are some reflections on those readings.

Acts 16:1-5: In the first reading for this feast day, we read how St. Paul first met Timothy and how he recruited Timothy to join him in the service of preaching the Gospel. Timothy was “the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.” How interesting that Timothy came from a family of one pious parent and one parent who was, well, we just don’t know, aside from his nationality. For whatever reason, most likely his father’s will, Timothy was not circumcised. So as St. Paul recruited Timothy into the service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he chose to circumcise Timothy in order that the Gospel might have a hearing among the Jews. From this reading we see that God most certainly can and does use us weak, earthen vessels, with all of our family and personal baggage – actually, despite all our baggage! – to proclaim His goodness and mercy in Christ Jesus crucified and risen. After Timothy joined St. Paul’s missionary entourage, “the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.” A great testimony to the Messiah and the message that St. Timothy was called to preach!

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Second Sunday After Epiphany: The First of His Signs

January 19th, 2014 1 comment

When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, it was “the first of His signs,” by which He “manifested His glory” (John 2:11). It pointed to His coming “hour,” when He was lifted up on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins and the life of the world (John 2:4; 12:23–32). The glory of the cross is incomprehensible apart from the Word and Spirit of God, but disciples of Jesus recognize that glory in the signs of His Gospel, and so they believe in Him. Jesus does not wait for His disciples to discover Him on their own, but He seeks out the forsaken and the desolate and unites them to Himself. He adorns them with His own beautiful righteousness and delights in them “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride” (Is. 62:4–5). Purified by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism, His disciples confess that “Jesus is Lord,” and they return thanks to Him “in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3), as they drink the good wine that He pours out for them, which is the new testament in His blood.

Readings Appointed for Today

Introit: Ps. 66:1–5, 20; antiphon: Ps. 66:4, 92:1
Old Testament: Ex. 33:12–23 or Amos 9:11-15
Psalmody: Psalm 67 (antiphon: v. 1) or Psalm 111 (antiphon: v. 9)
Epistle: Ephesians 5:22-33 or Romans 12:6-16
Gradual: Psalm 107:20-21
Verse: Psalm 148:2
Gospel: John 2:1-11

From Luther’s Church Postil on the Gospel for Today

“Hence the highest thought in this Gospel lesson, and it must ever be kept in mind, is, that we honor God as being good and gracious, even if he acts and speaks otherwise, and all our understanding and feeling be otherwise. For in this way feeling is killed, and the old man perishes, so that nothing but faith in God’s goodness remains, and no feeling. For here you see how his mother retains a free faith and holds it forth as an example to us. She is certain that he will be gracious, although she does not feel it. She is certain also that she feels otherwise than she believes. Therefore she freely leaves and commends all to his goodness, and fixes for him neither time nor place, neither manner nor measure, neither person nor name. He is to act when it pleases him. If not in the midst of the feast, then at the end of it, or after the feast. My defeat I will swallow, his scorning me, letting me stand in disgrace before all the guests, speaking so unkindly to me, causing us all to blush for shame. He acts tart, but he is sweet I know. Let us proceed in the same way, then we are true Christians. … Observe, God and men proceed in contrary ways. Men set on first that which is best, afterward that which is worse. God first gives the cross and affliction, then honor and blessedness. This is because men seek to preserve the old man; on which account they instruct us to keep the Law by works, and offer promises great and sweet. But the outcome is stale, the result has a vile taste; for the longer it goes on the worse is the condition of conscience, although, being intoxicated with great promises, it does not feel its wretchedness; yet at last when the wine is digested, and the false promises gone, the wretchedness appears. But God first of all terrifies the conscience, sets on miserable wine, in fact nothing but water; then, however, he consoles us with the promises of the Gospel which endure forever.” Source.

St. Peter’s Confession: The Church’s Bedrock of Faith

January 18th, 2014 3 comments

Today we remember and give thanks to God for the blessed confession of St. Peter. I can think of no better commentary on what Peter’s immortal words, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God” mean than those offered in the Lutheran Confessions, specifically, in the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope.

“The ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places and persons as the Levitical ministry, but it is dispersed throughout the whole world, and is there where God gives His gifts, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers; neither does this ministry avail on account of the authority of any person, but on account of the Word given by Christ. [Nor does the person of a teacher add anything to this word and office; it matters not who is preaching and teaching it; if there are hearts who receive and cling to it, to them it is done as they hear and believe.] And in this way, not as referring to the person of Peter, most of the holy Fathers, as Origen, Cyprian, Augustine, Hilary, and Bede, interpret this passage: Upon this rock. Chrysostom says thus: “Upon this rock,” not upon Peter. For He built His Church not upon man, but upon the faith of Peter. But what was his faith? “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Hilary says: To Peter the Father revealed that he should say, “Thou art the Son of the living God.” Therefore the building of the Church is upon this rock of confession; this faith is the foundation of the Church.” Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, par. 26-29.

And so, today we pray:

Heavenly Father, You revealed to the Apostle St. Peter the blessed truth that Your Son Jesus is the Christ. Strengthen us by the proclamation of this truth that we too may joyfully confess that there is salvation in no one else; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

First Sunday after The Epiphany: The Lord Visits His Temple

January 12th, 2014 Comments off

Sitting in Midst of the Doctors. James Tissot, c. 1895

The Glory of the Lord Returns to the Temple in the Boy Jesus

Introit: Ps. 100:1–5; antiphon: Is. 6:1, Rev. 19:6
Psalter: Psalm 50:1-15 (antiphon: v. 15)
Old Testament: 1 Kings 8:6–13
Epistle: Romans 12:1–5
Gradual: Ps. 72:18, 3
Verse: Ps. 100:1–2a
Gospel: Luke 2:41–52

In the days of Solomon, the Lord dwelt among His people in the temple. The glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord in the form of a cloud (1 Kings 8:6–13). Now Jesus, who is the glory of the Lord in the flesh, enters the temple to show that He Himself is the everlasting temple and dwelling place of God (Luke 2:41–52). Our young Lord, true man, subject to Mary and Joseph, reveals Himself also to be true God, whose father is not Joseph but the Almighty Father in heaven. Jesus does this at the time of the Passover. For He came to be the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Even as He was found by his parents after three days, so He would later rise from the dead on the third day that the favor of God might rest also upon us. It is by these mercies of God that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God through Christ (Rom. 12:1–5).

Here is one of Bach’s Cantatas for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, BWV 154. The anxious sense of loss experienced by Jesus’ parents is transferred to the Christian who feels at times that he has lost Jesus, only to be assured that Jesus was never lost, and that through His Word, our Lord always keeps us close to Himself. The texts follows the video, in the extended entry.

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The Epiphany of Our Lord – Prayer, Scripture, and Bach Cantata

January 6th, 2014 4 comments

A blessed and happy Epiphany to you all. The Epiphany of our Lord was, in the ancient church, a day that was set aside to commemorate not only the visitation of the Magi, but the Lord’s Baptism, and his first miracle. The season of Epiphany was developed to offer separate meditation and reflection on each of these events in our Lord’s ministry, so on this day, the focus is on the visit of the Magi. Many churches observed Epiphany last Sunday, using the custom of observing a major feast falling on a week day, on the Sunday immediately preceding it.

The historic readings for this day are:
Introit: Ps. 72:1–2, 10–11; antiphon: Liturgical text
Old Testament: Is. 60:1–6
The Psalm: Psalm 24 (antiphon: v. 7)
The Epistle: Eph. 3:1–12
The Gospel: Matt. 2:1–12
The Gradual: Is. 60:6b, 1
The Verse: Matt. 2:2b

The Lord God Is Manifested in the Incarnate Son

The Feast of the Epiphany centers in the visit of the Magi from the East. In that respect, it is a “Thirteenth Day” of Christmas; and yet, it also marks the beginning of a new liturgical season. While Christmas has focused on the Incarnation of our Lord–that is, on God becoming flesh–the season of Epiphany emphasizes the manifestation or self-revelation of God in that same flesh of Christ. For the Lord Himself has entered our darkness and rises upon us with the brightness of His true light (Is. 60:1–2). He does so chiefly by His Word of the Gospel, which He causes to be preached within His Church on earth–not only to the Jews but also to Gentiles (Eph. 3:8–10). As the Magi were guided by the promises of Holy Scripture to find and worship the Christ Child with His mother in the house (Matt. 2:5–11), so does He call disciples from all nations by the preaching of His Word, to find and worship Him within His Church (Is. 60:3–6). With gold they confess His royalty; with incense, His deity; and with myrrh, His priestly sacrifice (Matt. 2:11).

Thus, we pray today:

O God, by the leading of a star You made known Your only-begotten Son to the Gentiles. Lead us, who know You by faith, to enjoy in heaven the fullnesof Your divine persence; through the same Jesus Christ, or Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Bach Cantata for Epiphany

 

 
Here is the text for the Cantata Bach wrote for Epiphany, BWV 124

BWV 123 – “Liebster Emmanuel, Herzog der Frommen”

Cantata for Epiphany
1. ChorLiebster Emmanuel, Herzog der Frommen, Du, meiner Seelen Heil, komm, komm nur bald!Du hast mir, höchster Schatz, mein Herz genommen,So ganz vor Liebe brennt und nach dir wallt.

Nichts kann auf Erden

Mir liebers werden,

Als wenn ich meinen Jesum stets behalt.

(“Liebster Emmanuel, Herzog der Frommen,”

verse 1)

1. ChorusDearest Emmanuel, ruler of the righteous,You, salvation of my soul, come, come soon! You have taken, highest treasure, my heart from me,which burns utterly with love and yearns for You.

Nothing on earth

can be dearer to me,

than to cherish my Jesus all the time.

2. Rezitativ ADie Himmelssüßigkeit, der Auserwählten LustErfüllt auf Erden schon mein Herz und Brust,Wenn ich den Jesusnamen nenneUnd sein verborgnes Manna kenne:

Gleichwie der Tau ein dürres Land erquickt,

So ist mein Herz

Auch bei Gefahr und Schmerz

In Freudigkeit durch Jesu Kraft entzückt.

2. Recitative AThe heavenly sweetness, the joy of the chosenalready fills my heart and breast on earthwhen I recite the name of Jesusand recognize His secret manna:

just as dew refreshes a desert land,

so my heart

even in danger and pain

is enraptured with joy through Jesus’ power.

3. Arie TAuch die harte KreuzesreiseUnd der Tränen bittre SpeiseSchreckt mich nicht.Wenn die Ungewitter toben,

Sendet Jesus mir von oben

Heil und Licht.

3. Aria TEven the harsh journey of the Crossand the bitter meal of tearsdoes not frighten me.If storms rage,

Jesus sends me from above

rescue and light.

4. Rezitativ BKein Höllenfeind kann mich verschlingen,Das schreiende Gewissen schweigt.Was sollte mich der Feinde Zahl umringen?Der Tod hat selbsten keine Macht,

Mir aber ist der Sieg schon zugedacht,

Weil sich mein Helfer mir, mein Jesus, zeigt.

4. Recitative BNo fiend of hell can devour me,the wailing conscience falls silent.What if the hosts of the enemy surround me?Death itself has no power;

the victory is already conceded to me,

since my Helper, my Jesus, has shown this to me.

5. Arie BLaß, o Welt, mich aus VerachtungIn betrübter Einsamkeit!Jesus, der ins Fleisch gekommenUnd mein Opfer angenommen,

Bleibet bei mir allezeit.

5. Aria BLeave me, o world, out of scornin troubled loneliness!Jesus, who has come in the flesh,and accepted my sacrifice,

will stay with me all the time.

6. ChoralDrum fahrt nur immer hin, ihr Eitelkeiten,Du, Jesu, du bist mein, und ich bin dein;Ich will mich von der Welt zu dir bereiten;Du sollst in meinem Herz und Munde sein.

Mein ganzes Leben

Sei dir ergeben,

Bis man mich einsten legt ins Grab hinein.

(“Liebster Emmanuel, Herzog der Frommen,”

verse 6)

6. ChoraleTherefore be gone always, you vanities,You, Jesus, You are mine, and I am Yours;I will prepare myself for You away from the world;You shall be in my heart and my mouth.

My entire life

shall be dedicated to You,

until one day I am laid in the grave.

“Liebster Emmanuel, Herzog der Frommen,”
Ahasverus Fritsch 1679 (verses 1 and 6 – mov’ts. 1 and 6; source
for the other movements)
©Pamela Dellal

 

What follows is a lengthy description of the Festival of Epiphany, from the Catholic Encyclopedia. I found it both interesting and helpful, as you may also.

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