Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Michaelmas!

Michaelmas Day — the Feast of St Michael and All Angels — was once one of the most important days of the year. Falling on September 29 it differs from most other saints’ days in honoring a spirit and not a human being. 

Saint Michael is considered an “archangel” in Hebrew, Christian and Islamic tradition. He is viewed as the field commander of the Army of God and is mentioned by name in the both the Old and New Testaments.  In the Book of Revelation, Michael leads God's armies against Satan's forces during his uprising.  In Hebrew, the name Michael means "who is like  El (God)", which in Jewish tradition is posed as a rhetorical question: "Who is like God?" to imply that no one is like God.
St Michael is usually depicted as a winged young man clad in white garments or in armor, carrying a lance or shield.  In the late Middle Ages, Michael, together with Saint George, became the patron saint of chivalry. Michael was the patron of the first chivalric order of France, the Order of Saint Michael around 1470. In the British honors system, a chivalric order founded in 1818 is also named for these two saints, the Order of St Michael and St George. St Michael is also considered in many Christian circles as the patron saint of the warrior. Police officers and soldiers, articularly paratroopers and fighter pilots, regard him as their patron. He is also a patron of Germany, the City of Brussels and Kiev.
During the Middle Ages Michaelmas became a great religious feast and many popular traditions grew up around the day. Coinciding with the end of harvest, the feast was celebrated with a traditional well-fattened goose fed on the stubble fields after harvest. 
Michaelmas also marks the beginning of a new farming year when rents are due, although the quarter day falls later in Suffolk and Norfolk — 4th and 11th respectively. Many landlords used to hold goose feasts for their tenants, and eating a goose then was supposed to protect against financial hardship for the coming 12 months. 
The Michaelmas goose is also known as the ‘green' goose because it is reared on grass, as opposed to the Christmas goose which is a larger, older bird brought into the farmstead later in the autumn to be finished on corn. The Michaelmas goose is associated with leaner and particularly tender eating quality with a flavor of its own.
In more recent times, angels became the focus of many individuals’ spiritual quest.  Moving outside of traditional religious observance, these seekers turned to angels to represent the “higher powers” experienced in their lives. While angels have always been part of Christian tradition, devotion to them or reliance upon their power should never replace a direct and faithful relationship with Christ.  Christ is the self-revelation of God “in-the-flesh.”
Any system of prayer or devotion that brings us to a more intimate relationship with Christ is good.  May the honor we give to Michael and All Angels, make us more in tune with the Good News announced by Jesus.  
Happy Michaelmas!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yom Kippur - The Day of Atonement

This evening, Yom Kippur begin.  At this time, members of the Jewish community seek to amend their behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt . At the end of Yom Kippur, one considers one's self absolved by God.  

Yom Kippur is probably the most important holyday of the Jewish year. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, fast and/or attend synagogue services on this day. Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of Tishri. The name Yom Kippur means "Day of Atonement." It is a day set aside to "afflict the soul," to atone for the sins of the past year. In Days of Awe, a ten day period that began on Rosh Hashanah (New Year's Day in Jewish observance) individuals seek to atone for sins against other persons by seeking reconciliation with those persons, righting wrongs committed against them if possible. It is at this time that God inscribes the fate of each person for the coming year.  

Yom Kippur is the day to atone for offenses against God's righteousness.  On that day, the judgment entered at the outset of the Days of Awe is finalized.  Yom Kippur is, essentially, one's last appeal, the last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate one's repentance and make amends.the day is marked by fasting and prayer. 

On the first evening of Yom Kippur, the service begins its long confessional statement with some transgression almost anyone can identify with. It asks for forgiveness for "the sin we have committed before Thee by hardening our hearts" and goes on to mention "sins we have committed before Thee in speech" and "the sin we have committed before Thee by wronging our neighbor." Most people can relate with confessing these kinds of transgressions because they can think of numerous times when they have done them.
But then comes a part of the prayer that can be puzzling. Unlike most Christian confessions of sin, the prayer asks God’s forgiveness for the sins committed "unknowingly."  This challenges our Christian sensibilities somewhat.  We know that while on the cross Jesus asked God to forgive his executioners because "they know not what they do." Still, most kindergartners can persuade their mother that he or she didn’t mean to break a sibling's favorite toy. Our usual understanding of guilt says that we cannot be responsible for things we did not mean or for things we knew nothing about.

The foreign logic of confession for unintentional transgressions becomes a little more clear when we realize that during these holydays, Jews do not just repent for their own sins. They repent for the sins of all the people. This is a hard concept for us to swallow: to take responsiblity for something we were not personally involved in. The concept of collective repentance has been, until recently, quite foreign to most of Protestant Christianity. True, in Roman Catholicism there are whole communities of monks and nuns who intercede every day for those who do not have the desire or the capacity to pray for themselves. But the Protestant tradition, with its strong emphasis on the responsibility of the individual person before God, has not ordinarily looked favorably on these practices. As Martin Luther once put it, every person has to do his own repenting and his own dying. No one else can do either one for you.

Eventually, however, contemplating the confessional prayers of Yom Kippur provides deep insight to our own faith.  First, with regard to confessing sins we do not know about and did not do intentionally: in fact, do often hurt other people without intending to and sometimes without even knowing. Sometimes we learn later how something we did or said wounded someone painfully. But there may be many other times when we do such things and never hear about them, even though the sting still afflicts the other person. This is why I have come to believe that asking for forgiveness for the hurtful things we have done without even knowing them is important.  It makes us think carefully about what we might have done in the past and remember to be more careful in the future.

The observances and devotions of Yom Kippur can help us find insight into many questions concerning the social nature of sin (and grace) corporate (and individual) responsibility for injustice and for the reconciliation that can bring peace. It gives us wonderful food for thought as we assess our blessings in the coming harvest time especially as we face hard times in our nation and society, still one of the richest and most blessed in the world.

(Thanks given for insights found in A Christian Observes Yom Kippur by Harvey Cox.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On Work

The Wedding of Tim and Trish Wilt went off wonderfully.  The couple celebrated their union with family and friends at a service of Holy Communion at St. Mark’s Church on Saturday, September 4th and at the Elks Club, Lewistown.  We wish them the very best as they begin a new phase of their life together.
Labor Day has also come and gone.  We usually think of Labor Day as the unofficial end to the summer season.  It is a day, however, to reflect on human work and the important part it plays in our spiritual lives. 
Through work we contribute to the advancement of science and technology and, above all, to the enrichment of our culture and the society within which we live. 
Our individual lives are built up every day from work. It can also present many tensions and conflicts. How we deal with these stresses must emerge from our identity as disciples of Christ. 
Work then must also be reflected in our spirituality.  Through work, we come closer to God, the Creator and Redeemer  as we participate in God's plan for us and the world.  We share in the work of redemption and deepen our friendship with Christ by accepting, through faith, a living participation in His mission.
Therefore, Labor Day is a time to honor those from whom we have received so much through hard work. It is a time for us to reflect on how we can see the wonder of God in the work of our hands.