Thursday, November 9, 2006
-- Week of Proper 26 -- (Leo the Great) "Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.
Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html
Today's Readings for the Daily Office
Psalm 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 (morning) // 73 (evening)
Ecclesiasticus 50:1, 11-24 (found in the Apocrypha; also called Sirach)
When I read some of these passages today, they sound like the translated words of Osama ben Laden and others who hate what they see as the decadent culture of the U.S. and the West. They decry our materialism, our sexual immorality and obscenities, our ostentatious wealth, our oppressive power. They write of us things like we read in Psalm 73 and Revelation 17.
In the scripture there is a strong tradition of distrust toward wealth in the service of power. Though he recognizes his resentment is a moral trap, the bitter descriptions from the writer of Psalm 73 cross the centuries:
3 Because I envied the proud *
and saw the prosperity of the wicked:
4 For they suffer no pain, *
and their bodies are sleek and sound;
5 In the misfortunes of others they have no share; *
they are not afflicted as others are;
6 Therefore they wear their pride like a necklace *
and wrap their violence about them like a cloak.
7 Their iniquity comes from gross minds, *
and their hearts overflow with wicked thoughts.
8 They scoff and speak maliciously; *
out of their haughtiness they plan oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens, *
and their evil speech runs through the world.
10 And so the people turn to them *
and find in them no fault.
It is only when he goes into worship does the psalmist find comfort. There he realizes that these wealthy and powerful who do ill will come eventually to a bad end. "Oh, how suddenly to they come to destruction."
In Revelation 17 the angel shows John the destruction of the oppressive Empire. The woman "clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication" is the whore of Babylon, an adaptable metaphor that has been used of many powers. There is imagery suggestive of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. There are allusions to the succession of Emperors.
But it is the Lamb who conquers. The Lamb conquers without a war. The sudden cry is "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great" (18:2) though no battle has been described. The death of Jesus is the moment of victory.
We hear Jesus speaking in Luke: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"
It is the gentle Lamb who conquers the oppression of power in service of wealth.
These readings seem especially appropriate for the feast of Leo the Great. Leo led the church of Rome as the Empire dissolved into shambles. As Pope he negotiated with Attila the Hun to avoid Rome's sack. Later his intercessions moderated the pillage of Genseric and the Vandals. In Leo's lifetime, all of the destructive visions of John were poured out upon Rome, the whore of Babylon. Ironically, by then Rome was entirely a Christian city.
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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
St. Paul's Episcopal Church