FROM THE RECTOR: MYSTERY OF GOOD
Some years ago I realized I would always be learning something about the Bible that I didn’t know before. This kind of discovery can happen while I am reading an academic commentary. More often it happens when I am listening to lessons being read at Morning or Evening Prayer. Just this morning I heard again the story of King David arranging the murder of Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11:1-27). I heard something new. I heard in a new way how David plotted to do evil, to become a murderer.
This new king, born a shepherd, had many wives, many concubines and many, many children. None of that is a problem or a sin in the Old Testament narrative. But adultery and murder were sins, both punishable by death (Leviticus 20:10, 24:17).
One day David sees a woman, Bathsheba, bathing while he walked on the roof of his house. He sends for her. Her husband Uriah is away, fighting in David’s army. When she becomes pregnant, David sends word for Uriah to return to Jerusalem.
David tries to cover up the pregnancy, first by sending Uriah home for the night so Uriah can be with his wife. Instead, Uriah spends the night with his fellow soldiers. The next night David goads Uriah to drink so much that Uriah becomes drunk. Uriah still did not return home to his wife. Finally, David writes a letter to his army commander and sends Uriah himself back to the army with the letter. In it David ordered that Uriah be put in the front of the fighting, and he orders that once the battle has started the commander is to pull back so that Uriah on the front line will be killed. Uriah is killed. It is a murder by a king. Before the baby was born David married Bathsheba.
David and Bathsheba are punished in this way: Nathan the prophet announces to them that their son will die after he is born. And so it happens. But it gets worse, at least to my sense of right and wrong. When the child dies, “David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon” (2 Samuel 12:24). Even more so than with Cain (Genesis 4:1-16), God continues greatly to bless David.
I confess that I don’t understand the continuing charm, if you will, of David. I note that The New Oxford Annotated Bible: An Ecumenical Study Edition  labels the story of this murder in this way: “Second campaign against Ammon; David wrongs [my emphasis] Uriah.” Wrongs? I just don’t get it. But it is the kind of world view, ancient and modern, into which another king was born, the child of Mary.
We know far more about David’s life than we do about Jesus or Mary’s life. Into this unknowing, the Church has continued to grow in faith before the mystery of God’s goodness. I believe the mystery of good is a greater reality than the knowledge we have of evil.
This week we will be celebrating the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. This August 15 celebration is the oldest commemoration of Mary that we know about. Reviewing current research, Paul Bradshaw and Maxwell Johnson conclude that it probably emerged in Jerusalem in the fifth century and it was related to the celebration in Jerusalem of Jesus’ birth. The same kind of thing happened in Rome, where January 1 remains the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God (The Origins of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity  207-10). In other words, devotion to Mary evolved from the Church’s convictions about Christ and whatever true memory the Christian community may have had of her and her life.
Certainly Mary is very much there in Luke’s gospel. Bradshaw and Johnson suggest the angel’s salutation to Mary, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28), may well be an early Christian text (Origins, 200). In Luke, Elizabeth calls Mary, “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43).
Faith is about God’s gifts to us of life and eternal life and of God’s revelation of God’s self in his son Jesus. In a world where we know so much is not right, we do know through faith that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (The Shorter Westminster Catechism ). It was Mary’s chief end. May it be ours too. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR John, Maggie, Tameka, Tyler, Ulysses, Joan, Darrell, David, Keith, Emma, Phyllis, Mary, Sean, Casey, Eloise, Sharon, Linda, Diana, Eileen, Arpene, Rebecca, deacon, Paulette, priest, Thomas, bishop, and Mark, bishop; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Elizabeth and Daniel; and for the repose of the souls of John Murphy and Marian Winborn . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . August 11: 1894 Maria Oliver; 1916 Clinton DeWitt Van Dyck; 1939 Mary Selena Arnold; 1955 Mildred Annette Bruce; 1963 Cecily O'Connor.
FRIDAY ABSTINENCE . . . 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 . . . Thursday, August 15, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Morning Prayer 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Sung Mass 12:10 PM, Organ Recital 5:30 PM, Solemn Mass 6:00 PM. The recital will be played by Mr. Ruaraidh Sutherland, organist and director of music at Christ’s Church, Rye, New York. The Reverend John Beddingfield, rector, All Souls Memorial Church, Washington, D.C., will preach at the Solemn Mass . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, August 10, by Father Jim Pace, and on Saturday, August 17, by Mother Mary Julia Jett.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . If you would like to help sponsor the reception following the Solemn Mass on August 15, please contact the parish office or speak to Father Jay Smith . . . We recently received a Letter of Transfer for Brendon Hunter. Brendon has been serving at the altar and helping out here at the parish in a number of other ways. He is the assistant program director for Leadership Resources at the Episcopal Church Foundation. We welcome him to Saint Mary’s . . . Many thanks to all who helped with the cleaning of the Lady Chapel last Sunday after Solemn Mass. There is more to do. If you would like to help, please speak to Adam Morrow or to one of the parish priests. Again, many thanks! . . . The Reverend Patrick J. Williams used to work in our neighborhood and was a faithful member of our noonday congregation before he went to seminary. Patrick was ordained to the diaconate on March 2, 2013, and recently graduated from the Virginia Theological Seminary. He is to be ordained priest on Saturday, September 7, 2013, at 10:30 AM, at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. Please keep him in your prayers . . . Sister Laura Katharine will be on vacation from August 7 through August 13. She will return to the parish on Wednesday, August 14 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 200; Transfiguration 101.
AN INVITATION TO THE PEOPLE OF SAINT MARY’S . . . Many of you have seen one of our youngest and most (physically) active members, Noël, beginning to stroll around the nave during the Solemn Mass on Sunday mornings. Noël was born on Assumption last year and baptized on All Saints’ Day. As her first birthday approaches, her mother Jananie Narayanasamy would like to express her gratitude for the friendship and support of the parish over the last year by inviting you to lunch on the fifth-floor roof of the parish house this coming Sunday, August 11, after the 11:00 AM Mass.
MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: Solemn Mass is complemented by the organ works of Danish composer, Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637–1707). Many elements of Buxtehude’s life are contested, including this birth date and birthplace, but what has never been in dispute is the effect this one man had on the music of the Protestant Church. Throughout his life, first in Helsingborg, later in Elsinore and, finally, for almost forty years, in the great city of Lübeck, Buxtehude was employed as an organist. He was never a cantor (in the Germanic tradition), yet his interest in vocal music was profound. About 120 works of vocal church music have survived, most of them collected by Gustav Düben, a Kapellmeister at the court in Stockholm. A large number of Buxtehude’s vocal works, however, have been lost, and it is for this reason that he is regarded primarily as a keyboard composer. It should be remembered that while Schütz and Bach produced music written for voices in the course of their official duties (and to meet specific calendar dates), Buxtehude’s corresponding works were almost entirely expressions of spontaneous emotion. He used the scriptures as well as church hymns and contemporary or medieval sacred poetry as textual sources and treated them in uniquely compact forms. These settings as well as his keyboard output reveal Buxtehude’s versatility and show him to be the unrivalled master of his time. His surviving church music is praised for its high musical qualities rather than its progressive elements, which is similar to that of Bach’s later church music. His inventiveness is based on extraordinary simplicity. He had the rare gift of being able to transform a modest substance into a work of great art. It is said that the young Johann Sebastian Bach walked 200 miles to meet Buxtehude and to hear him play. Bach must have been edified by what he heard in Lübeck, as it is chronicled that he overstayed his planned visit by nearly two months! At the ministration of Holy Communion we will hear soprano Emilie Williams sing Hymn by American composer, and one-time New York organist, Charles Ives . . . The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Tomás Luis de Victoria is widely recognized as the greatest Spanish composer of the late Renaissance. When compared with the oeuvre of the prolific Palestrina (with whom he is thought to have studied while in Rome), and that of other Spanish composers, the number of Victoria’s works is not great. There is none of the dazzling virtuosity and broad culture, none of the extraordinary diversity of other Renaissance composers. However, there is a specialization to his music which is strictly liturgical and completely devotional in character. Victoria’s music, some of the most technically solid in the repertoire, is also some of the most perfectly suited to its purpose and stands totally in accord with the requirements of the Tridentine Rite. This is catholic music by definition, both ancient and modern. In the preface to his 1583 book of Masses, Victoria wrote: “I undertook for preference the setting of that which is universally celebrated in the Church . . . . for what should music serve rather than the holy praise of the immortal God from whom number and measure proceed, whose works are wonderfully ordered by a kind of harmony and consonance?” Since Victoria was by profession both priest and musician, it stands to reason that he wrote only sacred music, but it should never be thought that all of his music was somber. Here is music which is at once joyful, passionately expressive, and thoroughly engaging, and yet it is also music that always demonstrates a mature faith. It is particularly fitting that we should present this work on the Feast of the Assumption here at Saint Mary’s. At the ministration of Holy Communion, the choir will sing the motet, Ave Maria, in a four-voice setting that has long been attributed to Victoria. Mark Peterson
ADULT EDUCATION . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class resumes on September 18, at 6:30 PM, in Saint Joseph’s Hall. The class, which is led by Father Jay Smith, will be reading the Acts of the Apostles this year. The class will not meet on October 16 or November 6 . . . The Adult Forum resumes on Sunday, October 6, at 1:00 PM in the church (note later time on this date). We kick off the adult-education season with a presentation and tour led by Dr. Dennis Raverty and Mr. Dick Leitsch, The Art of Saint Mary’s in Its Architectural and Historical Context. All are welcome at our adult-education classes and no prior preparation or experience is necessary.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Electronic versions of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger’s Guide to Free Food and Assistance are available here . . . We continue to gather non-perishable food items for Saint Clement’s Pantry. Please contact Sister Deborah Francis for more information about the Pantry’s work . . . The “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk” will take place on Sunday, October 20, in Central Park. For more information about how to participate, please visit the Walk’s website . . . We are already gratefully accepting donations of warm clothing, as well as new, unopened packets of underwear and socks, especially white cotton socks. We send some items of clothing to the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Other items are kept here for distribution to those in need . . . The Book Sale continues on Sunday. All proceeds are used to help those in need. Books cost only one dollar, unless otherwise marked—though we are always happy to receive a larger donation!
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . At the Morgan Library and Museum, 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street: “Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art,” May 17–September 2, 2013. From the Morgan website, “Featuring more than sixty-five exquisitely illuminated manuscripts, Illuminating Faith offers glimpses into medieval culture, and explores the ways in which artists of the [medieval] period depicted the celebration of the sacrament and its powerful hold on society. The exhibition presents some of the Morgan’s finest works, including the Hours of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, one of the greatest of all Books of Hours; the exquisite Preparation for Mass of Pope Leo X, which remained at the Vatican until it was looted by Napoleon's troops in 1798; a private prayer book commissioned by Anne de Bretagne, queen of France, for her son the dauphin, Charles-Orland; and a number of rarely-exhibited Missals. Also on display will be objects used in medieval Eucharistic rituals, such as a chalice, ciborium, pax, altar card, and monstrances.” . . . Also at the Morgan, “In 1998 Saint John's University commissioned calligrapher Donald Jackson to produce a fully illuminated luxury manuscript of the Bible. Jackson and his team of artists completed The Saint John's Bible in May 2011, ensuring that the exquisite art of illumination—so richly represented in the Morgan's collections of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts—lives on into the twenty-first century. To document Jackson's monumental achievement, the University has published several facsimiles of the manuscript, including the lavish seven-volume Apostles Edition, issued in only twelve copies. A set of the Apostles Edition, five volumes of which have appeared to date, has been presented to the Morgan. The Morgan will celebrate this gift with the display of the Prophets volume, as well as one of Jackson's preliminary studies for the Gospel of John frontispiece, on loan from the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library . . . At the Rubin Museum of Art, 150 W. 17th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues: “The Art of Prayer Beads in Asia,” August 2, 2013 –March 24, 2014. “This exhibition focuses on aesthetic and ritual aspects of the prayers beads used in Buddhist traditions of Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Burma. It addresses the origins of prayer beads 108 beads in a set, the structure of prayer beads, their materials and symbolism, and status versus practice aspects of their use.”