A few comments, first.
I recently purchased a copy of Oxford University Press’s republication of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (for the US Episcopal Church, not the Church of England), and have been using it as a daily devotional guide. I’ve also added a more recent Episcopal publication, Holy Women, Holy Men, which is freely available as a pdf. I am not Episcopalian, and have issues with certain aspects of Anglican theology generally (it’s too Calvinist for me; I’m with Wesley on this–see his reworking of the Articles of Religion), and Episcopalian practice (its current instantiation [as a denomination, the faith of individual parishioners is varied, and I will not doubt it] often seems to place left/progressive politics ahead of the faith–I have no problem with people of faith being leftists or rightists. I do find it problematic when people let their politics determine their faith; faith should not work at politics’ behest, methinks). Despite this, I am attracted to these two books for three reasons: one, I find liturgy incredibly powerful and effective in my spiritual life, and the BCP gives me some structure and liturgical beauty. Secondly, both of these books put in mind of the liturgical calendar and the Christian year themselves, two things I have only recently become familiar with–and am ever so glad I now know. Thirdly, I think it good to embrace the example of the saints, though I do not hold with their veneration. Certainly, I could go by Roman or Orthodox calendars, but as I do not hold theological viewpoints–veneration–with regards to the saints that align with these calendars and traditions, it seems disingenuous. As an Anglophone Protestant, the calendar and saints of the Anglican/Episcopal Church are very much a part of my culture, and their views of the saints are aligned with my own; so it’s the Anglican/Episcopal Calendar, saints, and feasts for me.
The problem is this: as a practicing Methodist, my church uses the Revised Common Lectionary. I want to continue to follow this lectionary, as that is what sermons at my church are preached from, and many other folks I follow online do similar posts on the RCL readings for the week. In other words, I want to keep reading the RCL. However, the BCP I have uses a 1943 Lectionary, which is substantially different from the RCL. To get around this, I’ve decided that I’ll use the RCL for Sundays, and will be posting here weekly about that reading. The other six days, I’ll use the BCP‘s 1943 daily lectionary, in the mornings and evenings, for private devotions. I’ll check in with the saints in Holy Women, Holy Men daily, and if I feel one is particularly important or speaking to me, I’ll post about her or him (or them) as well.
Enough throat-clearing about my own multiple-lectionary using madness. To this week’s readings:
What is righteousness? What is holiness? Are they one in the same? I do not know; perhaps they are. But what we see in these readings is the fact that those things we often do in the name of holiness, for its sake, often stand in the way of righteousness. Isaiah speaks of fasts, and of God’s displeasure at the fasting, at the sackcloth and ashes, at those outward signs of holiness performed by, well, by us. The church is full of ostentatious, outward signs of holiness; we puff ourselves up with our own goodness. This is both shocking, as the Scripture is full of individuals acting in these ways being humbled, and specific instructions, like we see here in Isaiah, against such outward signs of holiness. But, in another way, this is not shocking, as we are, and ever have been, totally depraved.
This last point is important, I think. It is foolish of us to display our holiness. We have no holiness in us. But, as Paul reminds us, we do not know this; if we did, if we ever did, we would have not have crucified Christ. If there was holiness in us, there would have been no need for such intercession. Here then is the wisdom Paul speaks of: we must recognize that we are not holy, that we cannot make ourselves holy. This is difficult for us to understand, as we think we can, we, even in our wisest moments, think that there must be some way we can make ourselves holy, that we can overcome evil. This makes sense, of course. But it is not possible; the Scripture makes that clear.
Which brings us back to righteousness. These same passages, from which I’ve gotten the indication of the impossibility of holiness, demands righteousness. These are made explicit in the Psalm and Isaiah’s verses, our Lord goes even further, telling us to “let our light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” and that unless our “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees [those who would put on sackcloth and ash in their fasts], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” We must be righteous, we must work to bring righteousness into the world. The Word is very, very clear about this.
The Protestant antipathy towards “works” rears its head here. I cannot explain what I am about to say, but trusting what Paul says here about the wisdom from the Spirit, and the Spirit making clear those things of God, I feel that this must be true: we cannot show ourselves to be holy, we cannot make ourselves holy. But we can work righteousness, and we are commanded to work righteousness in the world. God makes us holy. And our sanctification, our being made holy, that depends on nothing but God–we can do nothing to approach this ourselves. But we can do righteousness.
Let us stop worrying about making ourselves holy, and let us pursue righteousness–righteousness that goes out into the world, not “self”-righteousness. God will make us holy. Let us be the light of the world, and trust that as doing God’s will. And let us trust in Him and Him alone, in turn, to sanctify us.
O God of light,
your searching Spirit reveals and illumines
your presence in creation.
Shine your radiant holiness into our lives,
that we may offer our hands and hearts to your work:
to heal and shelter,
to feed and clothe,
to break every yoke and silence evil tongues. Amen.
As always, the prayer and art are taken from the Vanderbilt University Divinity School Library Lectionary page.