Sunday, June 30, 2013

"The foundation of the apostles and prophets...."

I liked today's collect very much:
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I've loved the "chief cornerstone" image for forever - and nowadays I always think of  Derek's long-ago (and truly wonderful) article on the New Jerusalem, when there's talk about "the foundation of apostles and prophets."  The Revelation passage he quotes there (Rev.  21:9–22:5) has recently come up in my reading, too - although I can't find it in the Office or the Eucharist Lectionary for this time of year, so I'm not quite sure where.

I did think about it, though, this past week when writing about the hymns for S. Mary Magdalene, and wondering whether or not Angularis  Fundamentum (i.e., "the chief cornerstone") has anything to do with them. 

I wondered why the collect was here, though; why "apostles and prophets" in the middle of summertime/Ordinary Time?  Hatchett's Commentary on the Prayer Book provides the answer:

This collect, composed for the 1549 Prayer Book, was formerly associated with the feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude.  It is based upon Ephesians 2:20-22 and 4:3.  The 1662 Prayer Book, following the precedent of the Scottish Book of 1637, substituted "Church" for "congregation" because of the Puritan connotation of "congregation."  In the present revision "chief cornerstone" replaces "head cornerstone."  Because of its reference to the apostles the collect was deliberately placed on the Sunday closests to the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

And so there's another resonance - and another way the tides of the Great Church Year ebb and flow, stories and words and ideas in waves lapping on the shore of the conscious and subconscious mind. 

Also interesting today was the correspondence between the Elijah/Elisha story in II Kings:
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.

Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
And the story from the Gospel of Luke: 
 Luke 9:51-62
When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Central to both is the idea of being "taken up"  - and then there's the strange use of the image of fire.   And of course the Old Testament reading had to be a prophetical story, tying in nicely with the collect, too!

(Of course, in the other, non-continuous, track, the Old Testament reading (1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21) is even more resonant with the Gospel story:
1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21

The LORD said to Elijah, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place."

So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.)

What's really interesting is that I notice these kinds of correspondences much more often these days - and am continually amazed at what a rich and deep and fascinating structure Christianity offers.    There seem to be no end to the resonances - and again it's so interesting that all of this arises out of historical events, and comes to us as revelation.

On days like this I wonder how anybody could possibly not find this stuff fascinating - and then I remember that I was such a person not that long ago.  I heard maybe 20% of what was going on - I did like the music a lot, and heard most of that - and thought of the Bible as "an old dusty book" (I'm quoting myself there) - or else as The Enemy.

I had no sense that underneath it all there existed this remarkable structure - that there was so much going on, and such an interesting conversation happening between the writers of these texts (and the people who thought about them later, and those who put the liturgy together - and then the people who wrote the music to talk about it, too).

I mean:  you don't really have to be religious to be impressed with all this.  Think of the man-hours and be amazed....

(I still have a million questions about the readings, too.  Why didn't the Samaritans receive Jesus because he had set his face to Jerusalem?   Why is it a "hard thing" to wish for a double share of Elijah's spirit?  What's with the chariot of fire - if Elijah is going to be taken up in a whirlwind instead?

Well, that's all for next time, I guess....)


Caelius said...

"Why didn't the Samaritans receive Jesus because he had set his face to Jerusalem?"

I'll take this one. The simple answer is that the Samaritans believed that Mt. Gerizim (not Mt. Zion) was the proper site of the Temple. As the sermon I heard yesterday put the attitude of the Samaritans, "We don't want to house no Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem."

bls said...

Ah, that explains things. It also helps explain the disciples' talk about calling down fire.

Thanks, Caelius....