Friday, February 24, 2012 — Lent
Saint Matthias the Apostle
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer)
EITHER the readings for Friday of Week of Last Epiphany, p. 951
Psalms 95* & 31 (morning) 35 (evening)
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
OR the readings for St. Matthias, p. 997
Morning: Psalm 80; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 1 John 2:18-25
Evening: Psalm 33; 1 Samuel 12:1-5; Acts 20:17-35
I chose the readings for Friday of Last Epiphany
“The Lord is near.” What a gentle encouragement. Much of the intention of the many prayer disciplines is to create in us a constant sense of God’s presence. Classical spirituality calls it “recollection” — the state of being constantly aware of God and responsive to God’s presence. Some use the word “mindfulness”. A gentle reminder — “the Lord is near” — repeated over and over can help plant a mindful consciousness within us. Some people repeat the Jesus Prayer or some other mantra for that purpose.
I love the way that phrase “the Lord is near” is nestled within Paul’s beautiful hymn that we read today. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
That’s my wife’s favorite passage of scripture. It is one that she memorized as a child. I think I too can say it “by heart.” It is good to take the time to memorize such truths. We say we know them by heart. They dwell in our hearts. When you have prayed certain prayers for many years, you know them by heart. Like the Lord’s Prayer. In a deep sense, these words of God dwell within us when we know them by heart.
I intend to make it a habit today to recall over and over again “the Lord is near.” And then, every once in a while, when I’m not having to concentrate, I’m going to try to repeat by heart Paul’s beautiful words, “Rejoice in the Lord always…” Doing little exercises like that is a way of following Paul’s advice in the subsequent passage. He tells us to think about certain things — “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Remembering “the Lord is near” is a brief way of doing all of this.
P.S. Today’s passage in Ezekiel is an important one. Ezekiel challenges an old tradition that punishment is passed on for the sins of previous generations. Jeremiah has a similar opinion (Jer. 31:29-30). Their words dispute the traditions from the Ten Commandments and elsewhere, “…punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation…” (Ex. 20:5)