Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 160 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Celebrating our Salvation - Rector's Rambling for December 22, 24, 25, 2019

We now begin again our celebration of our Salvation through Jesus Christ.
Our time of preparation, the Season of Advent, bids us to get ready for the future.  During the four Sundays leading up to Christmas we try to take time away from the hectic bustle of the secular celebrations and preparations.  We do this by looking at God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His promise to the people of the original Covent to send a Savior, as well as the preparation for the promise that Jesus will return again in glorious Majesty to judge the living and the dead.
This Advent, I got the chance to attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  Several of our current and former choir members were in the DSO choir that day to offer Handel’s sublime masterpiece to a full house of attendees.  It was wonderful.
Three things struck me while listening to this musical offering.  First, every word is Scripture.  Beginning with the Advent predictions of the coming of the Messiah, Handel follows along the Church of England lectionary through Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection, and then the continuation of his ministry through the Church.
Second, I wonder how many people now understand that in fact every word of Messiah is in fact Scripture.  We as a society are not as scripturally literate, and what used to be commonly held cultural norms that were based on what scripture says have been lost.  Sure, the Halleluiah Chorus is still well-known, but the rest of the piece is also Bible for our greater understanding.
And third, only the first of the three parts deal with Advent and Christmas.  Handel’s Messiah is popular this time of the year, but its message is not only timelessly eternal, but listening to it is a year-round opportunity to be renewed in the faith.
Advent and Christmas are the beginning of the story!  Now let us journey together through the rest of it.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The flesh from which the Word was made flesh - Rector's Rambling for December 8, 2019

Last week in this space we talked about the Church calendar starting anew with the Advent season beginning the new year.  The “Already and Not Yet” of the season is underway.  We are looking forward to Christmas, which is looking back to Jesus’ birth, and preparing for Jesus’ return at the end of time.
We are now a full week and a day into the season, and we have a little “calendar” hiccup to toss in.  Ecclesiastical (a fancy word for Church) calendars have some overlapping celebrations that have to sorted out on what is called the Tables of Precedence within the section called Tables and Rules for the Movable and Immovable Feasts, found on pages l & li in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
December 8 on the Universal Calendar of the Church is celebrated as the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Church gives thanks for that moment in the womb of St. Anne that Mary’s life began through natural generation with Anne’s husband St. Joachim.  Ss. Anne and Joachim would be the earthly grandparents of Jesus.
The reason the church commemorates this feast is to ground us in the reality of the humanity of Jesus as Truly Man: he was born of a woman whose humanity is by natural generation by relations of her parents.  Jesus’ earthly flesh, His very DNA, is of Mary’s.  But of course Jesus’ conception was miraculous in that His conception was by the Holy Ghost, not a human father, which reminds us that he is also Truly God at the same time.
But getting back to our Tables of Precedence we see that the Sundays in Advent take precedence over any other Sunday or Holy Day.  It cannot be bumped, even if it is something as theologically important as Jesus’ lineage, which would then lead to His own Incarnation and which we honor on the feast of His Birth – Christmas.
Bishop Dan Martins of Springfield, when he posts things like this on Facebook, calls it “insider baseball”.  But it is helpful to see the workings of the Church calendar, and to be edified by it.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Advent is here! - Rector's Rambling for December 1, 2019

Welcome to the Church New Year.  Since our Lord has not returned in the past 12 months, we begin once again the cycle of the liturgical calendar, which starts with the season of Advent.
This is not a season of pre-Christmas, although there is an theological aspect of looking at the prophecies foretelling the coming of a Saviour.  I have come to accept that the local radio channels will start playing Christmas Music on November 1, whether I agree or not, and even that some of that music may leak into my house as well.  But theologically the church is not there yet.
We begin the year with what, I am sure I will mention in the sermon, is the observance of the “already and not yet”.  We are looking back at that which has already happened, the fulfillment of God to the people of Israel to send a Saviour.  That Saviour, of course, is Jesus Christ.  We know that God is faithful in fulfilling his promises, and looking back we can see that He has done just that.
Convinced that God is faithful in keeping His promises, we will also be looking at the “not yet” of Jesus’ return in glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead (as we say every week in the Nicene Creed).  Jesus is coming back, as He promised, and a part of the Advent observance is making sure that we are both convinced that He is Lord, and more personally that He is our own Lord, and that we are prepared spiritually to meet him.  That means we are striving to be in a “state of grace” by repenting of our sins and seeking to follow Him and live as He would have us live.
So Happy New Year!  Perhaps a resolution or two are in order?  More disciplined about daily prayer, attendance at Church every Sunday unless hindered by illness or only the most urgent matter, attending a Mass during the week or Evening Prayer on Wednesday at St. John’s, reaching out to others to share your love for Our Lord and His Church – these are all great ways to get off to a good start in the new Church year!