Rev. Mary McCue
Last week, many of us heard the hymn by John Newton a slave trader-turned-abolitionist-- Amazing Grace. Amazing grace certainly applies to the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. We celebrate that Conversion today.
Paul was born Saul, a son of well-off parents, and raised in Cilicia (southern Turkey). Like his parents, he was a Pharisee. And he was a zealous one. He delighted in persecuting Jews, and others who followed Jesus. And he aided and abetted others doing the same. Acts tells us that he held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen, the first deacon, to death (Acts 7: 58) And he was looking for opportunities to continue the persecution. He applied to authorities to travel further afield to do so. Granted that permission, he set out on the road to Damascus -- and was struck down by a force he’d never felt before. Left blind, he was led to Damascus – and was released from his blindness by Ananias, who was a disciple. Ananias released him at the direction, and in the name of, Jesus Christ.
Paul changed his way of life completely. He became an apostle – some say the Apostle -- of Jesus Christ. For the rest of his life, he traveled far and wide to bring the message of Jesus to Jews – and to Gentiles.
Amazing grace – how sweet the sound.
Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Tomorrow is the feast of St. Agnes and next Sunday, January 24, is when our parish will observe this feast.
We are fortunate to have what is believed to be a relic of St. Agnes, a tiny particle of the body of this young woman who died for her faith at Rome in the year 304 and with the restoration of the St. Agnes altar, this relic has been placed under the altar stone.
The veneration of relics is a human reflex and an ancient Christian practice. A wholesome understanding of relics calls for an expansive view of the Body of Christ, in whom everything holds together (Colossians 1:17). When we gather in church, we encounter Christ’s Body in several distinctive ways. The assembled congregation is the Body of Christ. If the Eucharist is celebrated, Christ becomes present in the consecrated Bread and Wine. If the Eucharist is reserved in a tabernacle or aumbry, Christ is present in those Elements.
The church may be surrounded by a cemetery or include a columbarium. The mortal remains of departed Christians belong to Christ’s Body in yet another respect. In a manner beyond our ability to imagine; they await their resurrection.
A church may also contain relics of saints who are honored with feast days and other marks of public devotion. These exemplary believers are certainly one with Christ and with all members of Christ’s Body. Fragments of their human remains or articles of clothing, can remind us that as Christ’s holiness permeated their lives, including their bodies, so we are invited into a holiness that is no less comprehensive.
Hope must be dared.
Hope only happens when we cannot see its object. “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (Romans 8:24) We dare to hopefor the unseen; we refuse to believe that the world around us, with all its suffering, is all there is.
Job was a man who dared to hope. The story recounted in the Book of Job tells us that he was a wealthy and righteous man who lost all his belongings, his family, and his health, in a test of faith designed by the Accuser and allowed by God. In the midst of all his suffering, he says these words:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
Today may we dare to hope in God our Redeemer, regardless of what happens around us.
Rev. Charles Hoffacker
In his book, Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America, Chris Hedges—journalist and son of a Presbyterian minister—recalls an experience he had in his twenties while staying in a United Nations camp for Guatemalan refugees in Honduras. These refugees had fled fighting in their homeland. Most of them had seen family members killed.
On the dreary January afternoon when Hedges arrived, the refugees were decorating tents and wooden warehouses with colored paper. These displaced peasants were celebrating the flight of the Holy Family to escape Herod’s order for children to be killed. That flight took Joseph, Mary, and Jesus from Judea to Egypt.
Hedges asked one of the peasants why this was an important day. “It was on this day that Christ became a refugee,” he replied.
Hedges knew the Bible passage by heart. He remembered hearing his father read it every year. “But until that moment, standing in a muddy refugee camp with a man who may not have been able to read, I did not understand it. This passage meant one thing to me and another to parents who had swept children into their arms and fled to escape death.”
What can we learn from marginalized people about the real meaning of the Bible?
Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Today is the Epiphany, which the Book of Common Prayer (page 15) identifies as one of the seven principal feasts of our Church.
“Epiphany” comes from a Greek word meaning manifestation, and Jesus Christ is the one manifest. At his Nativity (December 25), Jesus is manifested to the Jewish people, represented by those in the Bethlehem stable, including the shepherds directed there by an angel who appears to them in the night sky (Luke 2:8-16).
At the Epiphany (January 6), Jesus is manifested to Gentiles, represented by magi, proto-scientists perhaps, who are led westward by an extraordinary star and bring him strange gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh
Matthew’s Gospel mentions three gifts, but does not say how many gift-givers there were. Some old Christian traditions identify more than three magi, complete with their names. Everybody in the New Testament world was either a Jew or a Gentile.
Christmas and Epiphany thus testify that Jesus was manifest for everybody. To emphasize this point, Christian art sometimes presents the magi as people of diverse ethnicities.
Meditating on the Epiphany can strengthen our commitment to being anti-racist people.
Rev. Mary McCue
Sprinkled through our liturgical calendar are days called feria. Today, for example
is Christmas Feria.
Mysterious as that sounds, it simply means weekdays. Though simple liturgies
may be celebrated during the week, a saint’s feast, if it falls on that day, takes
There are four classes of ferias. First class is Ash Wednesday, and all the days
of Holy Week. Second class is in Advent, December 17 to 23 rd . Third class is
during Lent, from the Thursday after Ash Wednesday to the Saturday before
(Ferias are not to be confused with Ember Days, which occur quarterly.
Ember Days are times for special prayer and for fasting. Ember Days are
the third and fourth Sundays of Advent, the first and second Sundays of
Lent, Pentecost and Trinity Sundays.)
Since we celebrated Epiphany yesterday, when we were together in church,
we did not hear the Collect for the Second Sunday of Christmas.
In honor of today’s Christmas Feria, here it is.
Oh God, who didst wonderfully create and yet more wonderfully
restore the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share
the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our
humanity, thy Son Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth
with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.
Best wishes to all for the New Year.
Today is the feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on which we celebrate the circumcision and naming of Jesus at the temple on the eighth day after his birth.
Before Jesus was born, an angel announced to his earthly father Joseph what his name would be. ‘Jesus’ is a Greek variant of the Hebrew name Yeshua or Joshua, which means ‘God saves.’ The angel tells Joseph, “He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Today we thank God for saving us from our personal sins through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We also hope for Jesus’ return when he will establish his kingdom of righteousness and end the systemic sin that plagues our world.
Thus, our collect for today is both a prayer of thanks for what has been done and a prayer of hope for what will be done, by the power of Jesus’ name.
who didst give to thine incarnate Son
the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation:
Plant in every heart, we beseech thee,
the love of him who is the Savior of the world,
even our Lord Jesus Christ;
who liveth and reigneth
with thee and the Holy Ghost,
one God, in glory everlasting.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington