The Mormon Lectionary Project: Third Advent

BCC has long championed the liturgical year. We are happy to welcome the efforts of Jason Kerr, Visiting Assistant Professor of English at BYU, to further the cause.

Inspired by a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, BCC permas RJH and John F. recently started a Facebook group, The Mormon Confraternity of St. James, dedicated to the principle of holy envy, or the idea that people can find spiritual meaning in religious practices from outside their particular traditions. After attending a recent Advent mass with Confraternity members at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake, I realized that I have a special love for the formal reading in the church service of scriptural passages chosen for their appropriateness to the occasion in the liturgical year. These passages can then inform the homily given as part of the service. This series will use the lectionary texts of the Episcopal Church as the basis for brief Mormon homilies for each major festival of the liturgical year. Each homily will also include a Mormon version of the collect for the day—a brief formal prayer modelled on the masterful ones composed by Thomas Cranmer for the Book of Common Prayer, but adapted to the Mormon context.

We are posting this a few days early in order to introduce the project. Typically, posts will appear on the relevant holiday.

Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11, Psalm 146:4-9; D&C 128:17-19; Canticle 15 (Mary’s Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55)

 Bible scriptures below quoted from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Collect: Feed in us, O Lord, the spirit of expectation, that in our hunger for thy coming we will remember the hungry of the earth; that we together may await the Supper of the Bridegroom with patience and rejoicing.

Isaiah’s phrase—“Strengthen the weak hands, / and make firm the feeble knees”—has become, in LDS parlance, a key expression of our obligation to serve others. In the context of Advent, the most striking aspect of Isaiah 35:1-10 is the repetition of “shall,” which directs our expectation toward the Messianic Age, when “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, / the desert shall rejoice and blossom.” As Latter-day Saints these verses often turn our minds back to the pioneers’ cultivation of the Salt Lake valley, but Advent reminds us that something of this prophecy remains unfulfilled.

Indeed, today’s readings use unfulfilled prophecy precisely to keep us in expectation. The psalm tells us that the Lord “gives justice to those who are oppressed, / and food to those who hunger,” that he “cares for the stranger” and “sustains the orphan and widow.” Certainly the Lord does these things, but the work is just as certainly not complete. We must yet look forward to the time when we might with finality echo the Canticle, replacing Isaiah’s future tense with the past: “He has filled the hungry with good things.” Our memories shadow forth the taste of divine nourishments past, stoking our present hunger for the banquet to come.

James urges us to wait with patience, as a farmer awaits the harvest, and yet quiet passivity seems quite contrary to the spirit of Advent. If Jesus will come regardless, why should we cultivate our expectation? Advent invites us to nourish an inner tension by expecting and urging on the coming over which we have no control. It asks us to be faithful to an event before it occurs. Even if, in the end, only Jesus can “strengthen the weak hands, / and make firm the feeble knees,” and we will be forever unable to pour sufficient love and comfort into the great gulf of human misery, these Advent scriptures suggest that we cannot properly expect his coming unless we are engaged in the work that only he can fulfill. We, like the Baptist, are called as messengers to prepare his way before him. As Advent corresponds with the approach of the winter solstice, so must we build our expectation of the light by wading into the darkness of those people around us for whom expectation is more than just a pleasant metaphor. For we without them cannot be saved; neither they without us. We must await him together.

Comments

  1. cookie queen says:

    I like this.

  2. Jason,
    Thanks for starting this. I pray it will be a success.

    I love the homily and how it finds inspiration in the lectionary. This is as it is supposed to be, of course, but the simple elegance is lovely. Hooray for Advent.

  3. Love it — a perfect kick-off. Thanks Jason. (And welcome.)

  4. Jason A. Kerr says:

    Thanks all (especially to RJH and John F. for the encouragement and support). I look forward to watching the series blossom.

  5. Excellent. I’m already poaching ideas for my third hour lesson this Sunday.

  6. Jason A. Kerr says:

    Eric: Thanks for your suggestion, and for linking to your blog. I love what you’re doing there–especially the way you’re incorporating LDS materials (which is something that future posts in this series will do more explicitly than this one does).

  7. Jason, your “lectionary” is proving to be a great tool for personal study and reflection, so I will follow it with interest.

    I have been taking considerable liberties with the traditional Advent form, not only in incorporating LDS texts but also to make it more of an experience and a “story.” Part of this may be because we have made it such a tradition in our family, and with a special needs child (autism) the rituals of lighting candles, reading certain texts in a fixed order, and singing works well.

    This year’s iteration (these kind of traditions evolve, of course) takes each Advent Sunday by one of the traditional rubrics of themes: hope, love, joy, and peace. I then organize the readings by OT and BoM scriptures about Jesus’ first Advent; NT and BoM scriptures about that week’s theme (e.g., the peace that Christ brings); and then OT, NT, BoM, and/or D&C scriptures about his second Advent.

    Woven into each week’s program are also some of the great episodes from the Matthean and Lucan Infancy Narratives: Annunciation to Zacharias and Benedictus; Annunciation to Mary; Visitation and Magnficat; and then Annunciation of Joseph. These “dramas” break up the mere scripture reading a bit but also help children learn these wonderful stories.

    And of course music is a big deal with out family (I am a Tab Choir guy). That has been a blessing, because Samuel does not usually like my singing loudly (it is a Sensory Processing issue) and will rarely sing in church or with the family, but he sings heartily every Advent Sunday and in our daily December devotionals.

    Here is the introductory post to this year’s Advent program, which has links towards the bottom to all the current posts: http://huntsmanseasonal.blogspot.com/2013/11/celebrating-advent.html.

  8. Thank you so much for this. It is wonderful way to celebrate the Advent of Christ.

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