On February 2nd, I was in a meeting with a group of evangelical pastors and Christian leaders – all great guys. The meeting was both productive and fun. As the meeting drew to a close, one person said something like, “I guess scheduling a meeting on Groundhog Day makes the meeting more effective.”
I immediately piped in, “I thought we chose the meeting day because it is the Feast Day of ‘The presentation of Christ in the temple and the purification of Mary.'”
They all laughed and made a couple of friendly jabs about Anglicans. I replied, “Wait a moment. This day helps us to remember Jesus and the Bible. It’s all in Luke 2. If you take Jesus being born on December 25th and count the days, February 2 is the day that Luke 2:22–25 happened.
Mary and baby Jesus went to the temple for the purification rituals set by the Old Testament law. Then, as often happens when friends talk, there were a few more jokes and the meeting was closed with prayer. By the way, the leader of the meeting said. “Since our Anglican friend has brought up the Bible and Jesus, I’ll ask him to close the meeting in prayer.” And I did.
I mention this because there is actually an important point to the Christian year. It is very obvious that the Christian year can become and has already become for many, “mere religion”; its own end; something that forces you to serve it rather than having it (the Christian year) help you. But the correct response to an abuse or misuse of a good thing is not the abandonment of the good thing but its proper use.
The world forms you by its rhythms
The world forms you by its rhythms. Some of these rhythms are neutral, some are not. Most Canadians live the rhythm of Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Family Day, Secular Easter, Earth Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Canada Day, Pride Week – you get the idea.
You observe days and holidays formed by secular political, economic, and cultural powers. These secular days make you a “better” citizen and a better consumer in the secular state. The Christian Year is a discipline to remind you of the central truths, stories, and people connected to the biblical Gospel.
You remember key New Testament figures like the Apostles. You remember key moments in the Life of Christ. You remember key doctrines. The Book of Common Prayer 1662 is definitely not “without error”. In fact, the BCP itself bears witness to the truth that only the Bible is “God’s word written”.
However, the English Reformers, many of whom loved Christ and the Gospel so much that they were martyred for the faith – these men were very wise, and their wisdom has enriched Christians for, literally, centuries. The English Reformers did not throw out the Christian Year and the accompanying prayers that had developed over the previous twelve hundred years. They reformed the Year with its scripture readings and prayers, pruning away most of the Days and reforming the Collects (prayers).
As I have said many times. Each Collect is a concise theology; a prayer you can pray; and a prayer where each phrase of the prayer can launch you on your own extemporaneous prayers. Consider the prayer for February 2nd, “Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly beseech Your Majesty, that as Your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto You with pure and clean hearts, by the same Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Don’t you agree that it is better to be formed by this prayer than Groundhog Day?
I leave it for you to ponder the prayer, for now just a couple of things in closing.
First, if you are interested in finding the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) Collects, just google “1662 BCP Collects.” If you are interested in “doing your devotions” along with the English Reformers, you can get a very handy (free) app called “Daily Prayer: from the Church of England”. Make sure you choose the “traditional version”. I use this for Morning and Evening Prayer all the time, but I follow a separate Bible reading plan.
Second, don’t buy a 1662 BCP just yet. On March 2, you can buy a version of the 1662 BCP that has been gently and faithfully edited by Samuel Bray and Drew Keane. They have updated the language but kept the cadences of the original. It is from InterVarsity Press, and is called “The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, International Edition.”
Finally, prayerfully consider setting aside 40 days for extra prayer, Bible reading, Christian reading, fellowship, and financial generosity to the Lord’s work in spreading the Gospel and/or ministering to the poor.
I will talk about my mixed feelings about Lent in my next blog, but for now, consider this “Prayer for all of Lent” from Thomas Cramner, a key leader in the English Reformation.
“Almighty and everlasting God, You hate nothing that You have made, and do forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”