Friday, November 30, 2007

The Bitter Cup

Friday, November 30, 2007 -- Week of Proper 29
(St. Andrew the Apostle)

"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
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Today's Readings for the Daily Office

EITHER the readings for Friday of Pr 29 (Book of Common Prayer, p 994)
Psalms 140, 142 (morning) 141, 143:1-11(12) (evening)
Isaiah 24:14-23
1 Peter 3:13 - 4:6
Matthew 20:17-28

OR the readings for St. Andrew's Day (p. 996)
Morning Prayer: Psalm 34; Isaiah 49:1-6; 1 Corinthians 4:1-16
Evening Prayer: Psalms 96, 100, Isaiah 55:1-5; John 1:35-42

Since I read St. Andrew's Day yesterday by mistake and wrote yesterday's reflection on Andrew, I read Friday, Proper 29 today.

There is a congruence among today's readings.

In Matthew's gospel Jesus speaks first of his impending passion, when he will be handed over, crucified and raised. James' and John's mother hears only the last part, the part about Jesus being raised. "Can my sons have the seats of honor when you come into your kingdom?" She doesn't know what she is asking, he says. You think you are ready for the bitter cup that is ahead, but you don't know.

Then he uses the opportunity to teach them about the new way, the way of service and slavery. In Jesus' kingdom, everything is reversed. The greatest is the servant and the powerful are at the lowest place. To be the greatest in Jesus' kingdom is to be slave of all. It is a dramatic reversal of ordinary values.

1 Peter speaks to people who are going through some of the trials and threats of the bitter cup that Jesus talked about. It is likely that they are experiencing persecution during the time of the emperor Trajan (97-117). The writer reminds them of the example they have in Jesus. Don't be afraid. Speak your witness. Live honorably. Suffer if you must, knowing you enjoy final triumph in the resurrection of Jesus.

As 1 Peter imagines the individual going through mortal threat with integrity and hope, from death to life, Isaiah imagines the entire earth going through such a passage. He sees universal chaos and threat as a consequence of the violent and avaricious acts of humanity. "Terror, and the pit, and the snare are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth!"

In a day of nuclear proliferation and militant extremists, of violent response and global rapaciousness, as the earth groans toward an unknown climate change, these words of Isaiah ring with authority. "The foundations of the earth tremble. The earth is utterly broken, the earth is torn asunder, the earth is violently shaken. The earth staggers like a drunkard, it sways like a hut; its transgression lies heavy upon it, and it falls, and will not rise again."

Isaiah imagines that there is no way human beings can restore order to the earth. It must be given to us by God. But the path to that new order goes through the cup of bitterness. Judgment precedes restoration. Yet in the middle of Isaiah's picture of terror and chaos he speaks a hymn of universal joy. "From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One." The joy of God will prevail. But the next verse re-enters the present time. "But I say, I pine away. I pine away. Woe is me! For the treacherous deal treacherously, the treacherous deal very treacherously."

Individually and collectively we are invited into a state of being that rests confidently in God's power while acknowledging realistically the threat and disillusion which surrounds us. The path of the servant is the way of life. Don't be afraid. Speak your witness. Live honorably. You think you are ready for the bitter cup that is ahead, but you don't know. Suffer if you must, trusting in God's power which brings judgment and resurrection.


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


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