Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Heavenly Relationships

Wednesday, December 19, 2007 -- Week of 3 Advent (Year 2)

"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
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 939)
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) 49, [53] (evening)
Zechariah 3:1-10
Revelation 4:1-8
Matthew 24:45-51

We have a series of images of right relationship in today's readings. The vision from Zechariah 3 is different from the others, not following the question and answer sequence with an interpreting angel. It may be a later addition to the book. The word "Satan" is used as a common noun, meaning "adversary" or "accuser." The adversary/accuser stands before the angel of the Lord and accuses the high priest Joshua. God rebukes the accuser and commands Joshua be reclothed. The dirty clothes are removed and clean ones provided. Joshua is reinstated as high priest and placed in charge of the Temple ("my house"). There is a messianic allusion, possibly referring to the contemporary governor Zerubbabel.

It is interesting that the appearance of Satan in the Hebrew Scriptures is in the function of a legal prosecutor in a heavenly court scene. Far different from the symbol of evil that we see in early Christian writing. How ironic that so much Christian preaching has as its aim the conviction of sin, a function of accusing.

In Revelation 4 we have a different scene of the divine court. In John's writing, what he sees in heaven also has an earthly correspondence. He accesses the vision inwardly -- "I was in the spirit." He uses imagery of a precious stone as divine imagery. There are 24 elders on 24 thrones. The number doubles the number representing God's people. This is the heavenly counterpart to the earthly community of God. They too have new clothes -- white robes and golden crowns. They have endured to victory. The same four orders of creation that appear in Ezekiel 1 are present -- the four living creatures who represent divine and human qualities: lion (royalty), ox (strength), human (intelligence), eagle (mobility). They sing the eternal song, "Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come." It is a song known to John's readers, a song that is a traditional part of both Jewish and Christian worship in the first century. This vision represents the heavenly order of worship that the church enters when we celebrate the Eucharist. It is a scene of harmony and right relationship, humanity surrounding the presence of the divine, singing and worshipping together.

And in Matthew we have a picture of a good slave and a wicked slave. The slave at the center of the story has authority over other slaves. He does well if he cares for the others, feeding them and serving as an effective steward. He does evil if he abuses the slaves under his charge and lives a dissolute life. It is another image of servant leadership. It also invites us to see all humanity within the circle of servants of God. (Note: This is one of many passages that defenders of the institution of slavery pointed to as Biblical proof of the acceptability of slavery in God's order of humanity. Jesus doesn't condemn slavery, but assumes it to be a normal aspect of human society, and gives instruction on the just treatment of slaves. Therefore, it was argued, it would be in violation of scripture to abolish slavery as some Christians advocated in the mid-nineteenth century. Christian abolitionists had some of the same "But-the-Bible-says..." debates with slaveowners that our generation has as we debate the full freedom and humanity of gay people.)


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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.

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


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