FROM THE RECTOR: BIBILICAL INCLUSION
The Prayer Book gives permission to lengthen any lesson at the Daily Office. Reading the Bible and being honest about all of what it says and doesn’t say, I believe, is the greatest defense our minds and hearts can have against fundamentalism in all its forms. So, at Saint Mary’s we omit nothing from the New Testament at the Office. The Old Testament, however, presents different challenges.
It was relatively easy to reintroduce New Testament passages omitted or bracketed in the lectionary here, although 1 Peter required some arrangement so that the omitted verses about wives and husbands (1 Peter 3:1–12) could be included without making the readings on any one day excessively long. We now include passages in 1 Corinthians and in 1 Timothy about the position and conduct of women within the community of believers. Other omissions, if memory serves, were about slaves and their enslavers, homosexuality, and widows. Hearing them may make us uncomfortable, but that is no reason not to know them. Again, I believe this knowledge is a way the Holy Spirit helps us keep ideological temptations at bay.
The Old Testament is not only much larger, but different in many ways from the New Testament. There are many Old Testament passages that we don’t really need to hear at the Daily Office. For instance, it is often quite appropriate to omit passages that include genealogies or explanations of certain geographical matters. That said, there are also quite a few passages that have not been appointed to be read in church because of their content, and not all of them are easily included because of the length of the other lessons on the days closest to the omissions.
There is no straightforward way to include the second of the two stories in Genesis where Abraham pretends that his wife is only his sister. She was, in fact, his wife and his half-sister. (They had the same father.) The first story, Genesis 12:10–13:1, is early in the narrative of their lives—before God’s covenant with Abraham, when he is Abram and his wife is Sarai. The second and more interesting story, Genesis 20:1–18, reminds us that his wife, now Sarah, was also Abraham’s half-sister, a fact omitted in the first story. In a time when so-called “biblical marriage” continues to be a theologically important discussion, I think it’s helpful to put as much of the biblical record as possible on the table, as it were.
Last year, when I realized that the Daily Office lectionary omitted the first four verses of the First Book of the Kings, I expanded the appointed passage to include the following verses:
Now King David was old and advanced in years; and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm. Therefore his servants said to him, “Let a young maiden be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait upon the king, and be his nurse; let her lie in your bosom, that my lord the king may be warm.” So they sought for a beautiful maiden throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Ab'ishag the Shu'nammite, and brought her to the king. The maiden was very beautiful; and she became the king's nurse and ministered to him; but the king knew her not.
The footnotes to The Oxford Annotated Revised Standard Version (1977) note only that “the king knew her not” means that he “did not have marital relations with her.” The note in The New Oxford Annotated New Revised Standard Version (2001) has quite a different take:
Virility and the ability to govern were connected in antiquity (see 2 Sam. 16:22 where Absalom sleeps in public with David’s wives to show that he is the new king). The strategy of David’s servants to revive his vigor fails . . . Despite Abishag’s integration into David’s harem, the old king is unable to have sexual relations with her.
Two recent additions to our lessons: (1) 2 Samuel 5:13–21: David gets new concubines and wives after he conquers Jerusalem and defeats the Philistines; (2) 1 Kings 2:5–46: a passage in which David tells Solomon, his chosen heir, to dispose of certain enemies after his death; and then the passage goes on to describe exactly how Solomon goes about following his late father’s orders. We also learn that Solomon also has his oldest brother executed, the brother who had competed with him for the throne. I confess that reading this passage reminded me of scenes from The Godfather (1972) where the character Vito Corleone instructs his son Michael about who will need to be killed once Vito dies.
The lectionary does not omit the story of David having Uriah the Hittite killed because Uriah’s wife was pregnant by David (2 Samuel 11:1–27). To punish David, the Lord “struck the child” with sickness, and despite David’s pleas, the entirely innocent child dies (2 Samuel 12:15b–18). We also hear how David does nothing to punish his eldest son Amnon when he rapes his half-sister Tamar, who is David’s daughter (2 Samuel 13:1–22).
It is probably clear by now that I’m not a fan of David and his prominent place in the Old and New Testaments. I’m happy to know Jesus as the Son of God and the Son of Mary. Though I understand the reasons why the evangelists stress Jesus’ Davidic lineage, with respect, knowing what I know about David and his descendants on throne in Jerusalem, this doesn’t help my faith. I wasn’t really surprised, but I was disappointed, and saddened, to learn, by the appointed reading at the Noonday Office last Friday, that Saint Ambrose (c. 339–397) wrote a Treatise in Defense of the Prophet David. I confess that the passage will probably not be read again while I am your rector. One might say that the culture of “cover-up” regularly shows itself among us human beings.
I have a cassette tape (somewhere) of a sermon given by the late bishop of Massachusetts, Thomas Shaw (1945–2014), while he served as superior of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist. It was called, “The Hard Sayings of Jesus”—one of which was Jesus’ words on divorce and remarriage. I’m wondering, as I finish this article, what a newsletter article called “The Easy Sayings of Jesus” might include. I wonder if the following words would make the list: “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ ” (John 8:31–32). —Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Penny, Lily, Anne, Adoni, Jessica, Sally, Donna, Julie, Abraham, Dominique, Chandra, Charlie, Carolyn, Jean, Barbara, Juliana, Margaret, David, Dolly, Sharon, Heidi, Catherine, Sally, Donald, Sam, Burton, Toussaint, Dennis, Arpene, Takeem, Sidney, deacon, Horace, Paulette, David, Gaylord, Harry, Louis, priests, and Russell, bishop; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark and Nicholas; and for the repose of the souls of Sagan Lewis and Marian Winborn . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . August 14: 1896 Philena Margaret Vrooton; 1914 Elsie Catherine Schnorr; 1915 Marie Louise Whitney Sanford.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is Monday, August 15, 2016. As is our custom, there will be a Sung Mass at 12:10 PM. Mr. Stephen Rumpf will play an organ recital at 5:30 PM. The music at the Solemn Mass at 6:00 PM will include Missa ‘Assumpta est Maria’ and a motet of the same name, both by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525–1594). A reception in the parish hall follows the Solemn Mass . . . On Saturday, August 20, we commemorate Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), Cistercian monk, abbot, preacher, spiritual writer, theologian, and, since 1830, “doctor of the church.” Bernard’s reputation has become a matter of some controversy in modern times because of his promotion of the European Crusades to the Holy Land and because of his controversy with Peter Abelard. Still, he was a remarkable teacher and author. He is remembered for his abilities as a leader and spiritual guide, his eloquence, his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his role as a monastic theologian. Many of his sermons survive, the most famous of which are his Sermons on the Song of Songs . . . On Wednesdays, the daily 12:10 PM Eucharist is a Sung Mass; on Thursdays the daily 12:10 Eucharist is a Mass with Healing Service.
A SPECIAL GIFT . . . A longtime friend of Saint Mary’s, Elizabeth Lowell, has donated some furniture to the parish. Some will recognize her name. Her last position before retirement was as director of development of the Episcopal Church. She had been a philanthropic fundraiser for many years and helped us reorganize our stewardship in 2004. One piece of furniture had a special place in her life. She wrote:
Now about this dining room table. It is a treasure trove of wonderful and loving memories. My father [the Reverend Howard Marshall Lowell] bought it for $25 from the estate of John W. Davis, who was a parishioner at St. John's of Lattingtown. (My Dad [his rector] buried him.) He had been the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, was the Democratic Presidential candidate in the election which took Calvin Coolidge to office, founded the NYC law firm of Davis, Polk, Wardwell.
My parents were the consummate hosts, so every Sunday morning after the 8:00 service, the acolytes and lay readers joined us for breakfast. Not fancy, but scrambled eggs, toast, coffee and orange juice. (My mother hated to cook!) It was all about the relationships . . . Church School teachers (and spouses) gatherings, all the holiday meals, etc. were all around this table. And for 36 years, I continued the tradition. So, it is rich with "felt history"; and I rejoice that it is going to your Rectory. I can see it in place now and know that you will honor it. Forgive me for going on so about a "thing," but of all the items in my home, this is the most treasured. Knowing that you will have it brings me great joy!
For the moment, the table is in Saint Joseph’s Hall. I’m sure we and our guests will welcome and treasure the gift, too. —S.G.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Our annual Assumption Appeal was mailed to members and friends of the parish this week. We invite you to consider the appeal prayerfully and to be generous . . . Parishioner Penny Allen had knee surgery in the spring and has been at home recuperating and dealing with some other orthopedic issues. She is having another knee surgery later this month. Please keep her in your prayers . . . Parishioner Abraham Rochester has been transferred to Burke Rehabilitation Hospital, White Plains, New York, for several weeks of physical and occupational therapy. Please keep him and his family in your prayers . . . Altar Flowers are needed for the following Sundays and holy days: Sunday, September 4; Thursday, September 8 (Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary); Sunday, September 18; Thursday, September 29 (Saint Michael and All Angels); and Sunday October 9, 16, and 30. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the Parish Office . . . Attendance: Transfiguration 46; Last Sunday 143.
PERSONAL NOTE . . . I have developed a stress fracture in my right foot. So, I will be bowing, and not genuflecting, at the customary moments in the liturgy for about two months. I had this kind of fracture in this foot before, sometime in the 1990s. It’s entirely manageable, but an annoying reminder of how precious are the gifts and blessings of health. —S.G.
ADULT EDUCATION . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class begins its fall semester on Wednesday, September 21, at 7:00 PM, after the evening Mass, in Saint Joseph’s Hall. This year we will be reading Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The class will be led by Father Jay Smith. No prerequisites are necessary and drop-ins to the class are welcome. No homework is required, but if you would like to receive a copy of a short commentary on the letter, please contact Father Smith. The full schedule of adult-education classes will be announced shortly.
AN ICON OF THE ASSUMPTION . . . Saint Mary’s resident iconographer, Zachary Roesemann, has recently completed striking icon of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. Zach writes, “This icon of the Assumption of Mary is unusual in several ways. It is not a traditional Orthodox image. Nor is it a traditional Western depiction of Mary rising into heavenly bliss. It is instead based on a little-known thirteenth-century fresco in the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi by the Italian artist Cimabue (1240–1302). He was one of the first Western artists to relax the formal strictures upon traditional icons, and the result in this image is both powerful and moving. The intimacy of Mary resting on her son’s shoulder, with her leg crossing his knee, is a poignant reversal of the ‘Mother of Tenderness’ icon image, in which the baby Jesus presses his face against his mother’s cheek. Christ and Mary are surrounded by a starry and rainbow-colored mandorla, a symbol of the uncreated divine light of God’s glory. While holding his mother, Christ looks out as if in invitation to the viewer—a promise that when the time comes he will embrace and welcome us as well.”
MUSIC NOTES . . . The cantor at the Solemn Mass on Sunday is soprano Sharon Harms. During the administration of Communion Ms. Harms will sing L’épouse, the fifth of the nine-movement song cycle Poèmes pour Mi by Olivier Messiaen (1908–1992). Messiaen composed this cycle in 1936-37 and dedicated it to his first wife, Claire Delbos, whom he called “Mi.” It was first performed in a version for soprano and orchestra but was also published in a piano edition. The composer is also the poet, whose own words are animated by one of the most distinctive musical vocabularies of twentieth-century Western music. Sunday’s organ voluntaries also are drawn from the French musical culture, but from an earlier time. Jean Adam Guilain's exact dates are not known and his national origin was actually German, but he acquired a fine reputation in Paris as an organist, harpsichordist, and teacher. In 1706, he published his Pièces d'orgue pour le Magnificat. This collection contained a suite of seven pieces for each of the first four church modes. Typical of French organ suites of the time, the movements are designated by the organ stops intended to be used. The first two movements of Guilain’s Suite on the second tone will be played as the Prelude, and the sixth movement will be the Postlude. —David Hurd
LOOKING AHEAD . . . Wednesday, August 24, Saint Bartholomew the Apostle, Sung Mass 12:10 PM and Mass 6:20 PM . . . Monday, September 5, Labor Day, Federal Holiday Schedule . . . Sunday, September 11, 2016, 6:00 PM, Choral Evensong on the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Attacks of September 11, 2001. The service will be sung by the Charter Choir of Homerton College, Cambridge, England . . . Wednesday, September 14, Holy Cross Day, Sung Mass at 12:10 PM and 6:00 PM. The Rev. Alison Turner will preach at 6:00 PM.
A GENTLE REMINDER . . . As you have read in countless church bulletins, “Our costs do not decrease during the summer months. There are still bills that must be paid.” We urge all those who have made financial pledges to the parish to do their best to stay current with their pledge payments in order to prevent cash-flow problems. We are grateful to all those who continue to support Saint Mary’s so generously.
A NEW WAY TO SUPPORT SAINT MARY’S . . . If you are a frequent shopper on Amazon, you can choose to donate—painlessly and automatically and at no cost to you—0.5% of your purchase price to a charity of your choice, including the Society of the Free Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. Detailed instructions are available on the Amazon website. You may contact the parish office for more information.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . In anticipation of the inevitable arrival of colder weather, we are collecting warm clothing (coats, jackets, scarves, hats, and gloves). We are also collecting packets of socks and underwear, jeans and T-shirts (useful all-year round), and dress shirts (useful for job interviews). All of these will be distributed here at the parish to those in need. Please bring donations to the parish kitchen on Sunday or contact Father Jay Smith or Sister Monica Clare, C.S.J.B. Sister Monica and parishioners Clint Best and Grace Fernandez have been organizing the clothing in recent weeks in order to expedite distribution. If you would like to volunteer some time to this ministry, please contact Clint Best . . . We continue to collect nonperishable food items for our outreach partner, the Food Pantry at Saint Clement’s Church, 423 West Forty-sixth Street. —Jay Smith
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . At the Morgan Library and Museum, Rembrandt’s First Masterpiece: Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver, June 3–September 18, 2016. The Museum is located at 225 Madison Avenue at Thirty-sixth Street.