The Propers for the Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Please note: an entry in the People’s Missal Project
Missa Omnia quae fecisti nobis
AS WE KEEP SAYING, GOD IS IN CONTROL, but you know what, sometimes that sucks. The 20th Sunday may remind us (if we’re honest) that it’s 2020. This may not be the worst of times, but this has not been the best of times either. Between the pandemic, panic, death, economics, politics (all at home & abroad), and the complications caused by merging or overlapping all of these factors over and over and over again, this year has highlighted our weakness as a people. I do not just me and one nation here. I mean we as a people. The whole world is one people as the Holy Father has reminded us in his recent encyclical. The Church Fathers go even further, declaring in the early centuries of the church that while there are many human persons there is only one human nature which we all share – us human Mortals together with the Divine Jesus Christ sharing in this one human nature. We Are All One. But we don’t act like it: and that is seen clearly now as we struggle for resources, including Health Care, as we point and accuse each other, as we fight over leadership, and as we wonder what God might be doing in this time. Please do not think that I am drawing boundaries between good countries and bad countries, or good politicians and bad politicians. Christian charity requires if I have an abundance I share it with you or with anyone who has not enough. I’ve seen no nation doing that. Even nations who are doing what one may imagine they should be doing (even in one’s lack of scientific knowledge) with their healthcare systems are not sharing those resources with others. Those nations point at others and say, “O look, how sad. That (lack of a) healthcare system is bad for those people.” They accuse as well.
So, we’re not being “fratelli tutti” at all. God is in control, though, right? Goodness but this sucks.
The Collect for today sounds out this problem. Turning to God and saying (in Latin) “Having been placated, grant, O Lord…” The prayer assumes that God’s anger is aroused and we need to beg for help. Does that not sound like 2020? Certainly it would be possible – even if one were not a religious person – to imagine that 2020 is some part of a divine plan of wrathful revenge. One may then all the more easily ask, “For what?”
Today’s Introit underscores the attitude: the first line of the whole Mass is sung in humility, “All that Thou hast done to us, O Lord.” You can almost hear the world, “You did this.” But which of us would dare say the rest? Who will turn the accusation into a confession? “Because we have sinned against Thee, and we have not obeyed Thy commandments: but give glory to Thy Name, and deal with us according to the multitude of Thy mercy.”
Having made such a confession, the rest of the Collect also makes sense: having been placated, O Lord, “grant to Thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins and also serve Thee with a quiet mind.” The Latin actually speaks in terms of security being secure in our peaceful mind to serve God. God is not placated by how much he punishes us: God is placated by our confession of our sin and by our coming back to walk in his law where we are blessed.
Think back to the story of Adam and Eve. To abbreviate the story horribly: God said, “If you do this thing you will die.” The Serpent said, “You will not die if you do this thing.” Adam and Eve looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and said, “Okay. We will do this.” Then they did this. Then God said, “Now will have to die.”
In America we tend to imagine that last sentence spoken like this: “NOW YOU WILL HAVE TO DIE!!!!!!” There were flashes of lightning and possibly an earthquake has the last word was screamed from the depths of Eternity into the ears of Adam and Eve. But that’s not what happened at all. That sentence, typed all in uppercase letters, misses the point entirely. For God was standing in front of two creatures whom he had loved and created, in his heart, before eternity even began. If it were possible it was with tears in his eyes that he sighed. And nearly weeping for his love, said, “but Adam, my son…dearest daughter, Eve… now you will have to die…” And the Angels wept with God as Satan laughed hysterically.
God, understanding and allowing our choices, and always loving us anyway, knows that we choose some really stupid things sometimes. We are always fighting with God for control and this is what happens. Even the news last night of two unused satellites colliding in orbit and possibly triggering a rather apocalyptic nightmare called “Kessler Syndrome” is only more of our mistakes coming back to haunt us. That’s not “God’s Judgement” except in the sense that he built the laws of gravity, orbital science, entropy, and physics into his universe. We break or ignore them at our own risk (and in our pride).
And so, while it is possible to look at 2020 and accuse God as easily as we accuse each other, both the collect and the introit say right up front, “Yup. Our Fault. Goodness, but we’re stupid. Help us fix this.” The rest of the Propers for this Mass are clear instructions for how to fix this.
In the minor propers, the Offertory, the Secret, and the Postcommunion all beg for forgiveness and consolation in our repentance. Again, the things that are happening are not pinned on God, but rather we seemed to have walked right into them. However the Gradual and the Communion all speak of hope. No matter what is happening to us or around us, right now, here at Mass, we stand in heaven. The liberation of the world from Satan and from the impact or our own sins is here not just foreshadowed by the liturgy, but actually happening. Heaven is now here. Taste and see.
Finally, the Epistle gets us into the nitty gritty of what it means to live like God is in control. And it has nothing to do with a bed of roses. St Paul says to the Ephesians that troubles are a good thing. He calls them, “our glory” in Chapter 3, which we read on the 16th Sunday. Today, in Chapter 5, he says the days are evil – we know this. But he doesn’t tell us to sign petitions or to hold protest marches. He says, “Redeem the time”. There he uses the same Greek word that he uses elsewhere for what Christ has done for us. (Check out Galatians 3:13 where Christ has “redeemed us from the curse”.) Paul says to ἐξαγοραζόμενοι τὸν καιρόν Exagorazomenoi ton kairon. How? How do we rescue the very time from the curse of sin? Paul says, “I’m glad you asked. Here’s a list of ideas.”
Become understanding what is the will of God.
Be ye filled with the Holy Spirit,
speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns, and spiritual canticles,
singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord,
giving thanks always for all things,
in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father
being subject one to another in the fear of Christ.
(Yes, there are two do-nots here too: Don’t be stupid. Don’t be drunk.)
Giving thanks always for all things. That’s the key here! The Greek word is εὐχαριστοῦντες eucharistountes. He might as well say, “Make Eucharist out of everything!”
Thanksgiving is a theme in all of St Paul. See: In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and Colossians 3:17 “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” The earliest followers of Jesus (who were Jews and their gentile friends) were so known for giving thanks that there are Jewish documents stipulating how one is to pray – and not by saying “We give you thanks, we give you thanks“! Christians are to give thanks (to make Eucharist) out of literally everything.
Even the bad stuff. We need to free the Mass from this idea that there shouldn’t be suffering. Quite the contrary, the normal Christian response to suffering should be, “I deserve much worse for my sins. God is merciful. Let us give thanks.”
The Gospel today confronts us with a suffering Father, worried for his son. He asks Jesus to come and heal his son. Contrast this to the Centurian who said no it’s enough if you say something. Jesus turns to this man and asks, “Why do you always want to see a sign? Just go: your son is fine.” remember that in response to the faith of the Centurion Jesus said, “I have not seen faith like this in all of Israel.” Come down, God. Remember, though, the three youths in the fiery furnace: they praised God instead. And the fire didn’t even touch them.
Do something. That usually is our prayer. “Fix this!” “Make is stop hurting!” What if it’s supposed to hurt? What if there’s no other way to get the infection out but by a painful procedure, like pulling a tooth out? The Secret asks God to “purge our hearts from their vices.” In the Psalms, King David asks God to “purge me with hyssop” (a laxative). Sin is in us, plugging things up. We need – by the continual act of thanksgiving – to get rid of constipation in our spiritual life. The Gradual pulls us to hope: the eyes of all hope in thee… we’re not hoping if we are complaining. How can you give thanks if you want to whine instead?
The important thing about complaining is that one must complain the loudest. My problems have to be worse than yours. I need people to pay attention to me not you. So even if my problem is actually smaller I must yell louder. I must drown out my brothers and sisters. I cannot let them be heard for fear that I will not get enough attention as I deserve. Paul flips that on its head. In Thanksgiving, he wants us to be “subject one to another in the fear of Christ” we are to yeild our place in line, to let another go before us, to serve each other.
That’s the real miracle: in crisis, we have a greater chance to serve our brethren and sistern. In love, we have more reason to give thanks.
Things suck. So what? God is merciful. Stop asking God to stop. Instead, thank him in all things.