Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Our Bounden Duty

Day before yesterday (actually it was night before yesternight) one of my patients asked me to bring her Communion, since none of the pastoral staff of her church had been to visit her during her long hospital stay. In preparation, I was attempting to determine the Gospel reading for that Sunday, since I use the Anglican liturgy when I do weddings, funerals, and Communion.

The Anglican Church is not to be outdone by anyone for making the simple absurdly complicated. They have fancy names for regular things. For instance, the janitor is called the Sextant. Now you could throw your chest out and say you are a Sextant by profession, and non-Anglicans would think you to be a navigational expert.

Well, it was kind of like that, trying to figure out the Gospel reading for this Sunday. I wasn’t in church because it was a work day. So I began going through all the tables in the front of the BCP (Book of Common Prayer), the book that contains prayers, collects, ceremonies for every occasion imaginable, and maybe including Elizabethan imprecations to pronounce on your children when they “get to be too much.”

The Anglican Liturgical calendar starts with Advent Sunday, which is usually the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Then there are the Sundays of Advent, then Epiphany, then St. John the Evangelist Sunday, and Holy Innocents Sunday then in the spring are the Gesima sisters, Septuagesima, Sexigesima (she’s the bad girl in the family) Quinquagesima, and their little step-sister, Ash Wednesday. Then there is Lent (or Lint, depending on what kind of filter you have), and Easter, and then the rest of the year is the first Sunday after Easter, the Second, etc., until Advent comes back around.

Well, I finally ran out of time and guessed that this was the 427th Sunday after Easter. Using this bit of divination, and reckoning that, since last Sunday the Gospel reading was the last part of Luke 16, this Sunday, it might be the first part of Luke 17. So I chose that for the Gospel portion to read when I said the Eucharistic Liturgy for my patient.

In Luke 17, Our Lord tells a parable of a man who has a servant. He asks if the man should thank his servant for doing his job. “I trow not,” he said. “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done that which was our duty to do.’“

In the Eucharistic Liturgy there are a couple of passages which resonate with this passage from Luke.

One is , “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God.”

Another is “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee . . . .”

My point is this, that it is our bounden duty to give thanks to God for His goodness to us and to offer up our selves, our souls and bodies in His service, even to the point of death. But even if we should do these things perfectly and to the letter (which we don’t), we would not give back to God any surplus on His investment (this is the meaning of unprofitable). We would only have done that which is right and “our bounden duty” to do.

Which brings me to the bare truth of the matter which is stated in the prayer of confession: “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed . . . provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.”

We haven’t even done that which is our duty toward God to do. And we engage in that which it is our duty not to do.

And yet, we can pray that, through the substitutionary merit of Jesus Christ, God would receive us and forgive us, “not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Thanks be to God! Amen.

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