Showing items filed under “The Rev. Matthew S.C. Olver”

Getting Ready for Sunday: The Rev. Matthew Olver

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The season of Epiphany in the three-year lectionary that came to the Church after the Second Vatican Council—and to American Anglicans in the 1979 Prayer Book’s lectionary—reorders the lessons during this season. After the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus, we are taken through various mini-revelations, little disclosures of who Jesus is. But these disclosure happen in a particular way. The revelation is now about the things that Jesus can do—he can heal people!—but who Jesus is, the very nature of Jesus. But all of these revelations come by way of actions. The “signs” in the first part of St. John’s Gospel disclose the identity of the Son of Mary to be concomitantly the eternal Son of God come by way of what Jesus does.

Part of the lectionary’s reconfiguration was to bring Epiphanytide to conclusion with a commemoration of the Transfiguration. Since the ninth century, the Transfiguration was celebrated on August 6. The downside of this timing was that outside of priests and those in religious life, its celebration was not experienced by the laity a great deal. For the Orthodox, the feast falls during the time of fasting in preparation for the feast of the Dormition, the feast that in the West (under the title of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin) celebrates the glorious mystery that Mary is the first creature to share in the fullness of the fruit of Christ’s Paschal Victory. “O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary,” the collect of our own Prayer Book begins. “Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom.” It is not accident that in anticipation of the “arc of flame known as grace” (to use Romano Guardini’s lovely turn) in the life of Mary, which stands as a vision of anticipatory hope for all Christians in the glory of the heavenly kingdom, we should contemplate the even greater glory that constitutes the Incarnate Son of God.

On the holy Mount, a sign is given. But it is not because Jesus does anything. Instead, the infinite damn that protected creation from being overwhelmed by the presence of its Creator developed a small crack. St. Peter tells us in our epistle that he was an eyewitness, not to the action, but an “eyewitness of the majesty.” And what seeped out was nothing else but the “mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints” (Col 1:26): the Savior of the World has come. To mash together C.S. Lewis and Milan Kundera, on the holy Mount of Tabor, Peter and John behold the “Unbearable Glory of Being.”

The particular revelation of Israel’s Messiah as the self-same Savior of the Gentiles in the visitation of the Magi is further explicated, first at the Baptism of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry and then near the end on the Mount of Transfiguration. In both events, we are given a revelation of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. We are shown that what is revealed to us is nothing short of the fullness of God “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). At the baptism, the Father speaks the audible word about his visible Son, the living Word, which is confirmed by a theophany of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. On the Holy Hill of Zion, the divinely constructed damn (for what can look upon God and not by destroyed by the Consuming Fire?) is made slightly less opaque. The tiniest measure of Majestic Glory trickles out and slams the disciples to the ground. The Father speaks again a word of revelation. And wrapping the disciples round—binding them to the invisible Father disclosed in Christ Jesus—is the Holy Spirit’s cloud, that cloud that led Israel out of Egypt. 

It is no accident that Moses stands there with Jesus in this transfiguration scene:

Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ The Lord said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain’ (Ex 3:11-12).

Israel was liberated so that they might worship the Lord and thus be a light to the nations. The veil is pulled back for us that we too might worship “with reverence and awe,” this God who is a “consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). St. Paul explains that the wisdom of God, “secret and hidden” was “decreed before the ages” for one purpose: “for our glory” (1 Cor 2:7).

The glory revealed was on the Mountain of the Lord is a piece of the revelation of the Son of God, whose purpose is our salvation. This is God’s work of transformation, so that we can changed in order to share in His glory. To truly see Him as he is, we must be changed and made like Him (I John 3:1-3). Offer your weakness and your failures along with your bread and wine this Sunday and share in the glory of the eternal Son.

The Rev. 

Matthew S. C. Olver is Assistant Professor of Liturgics and Pastoral Theology, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

Getting Ready for Sunday by The Rev. Matthew S. C. Olver

Getting Ready for Sunday: June 26 (Proper 8)

The grandiose overstatement of hyperbole is meat and potatoes for Americans. How many times has someone told you to see “the best movie ever?” Hyperbole isn’t unique to our situation or to this period in history, of course. The world of literature would be crippled without it. Here’s a great example from Flannery O’Connor in her story, “Parker’s Back:” “The skin on her face was as thin, and drawn as tight as the skin of onion, and her eyes were gray and sharp like the points of two picks.” But what is unique to our time in history is the sheer volume of obese language we must sort through each day. It is the exception to read something that has not been shot full of linguistic steroids to try and arrest our attention and empty our wallets.

Such a situation is disastrous for us we approach the Scriptures, particularly if we are going to listen to Jesus.

  • “It would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea”
  • “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away”
  • “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away.” (Mt 18:6-9)

We encounter grossly inflated language so often that when we hear Jesus say something extreme, we pick it up and toss it in the “hyperbole bin.” And when we do that, we promptly domesticate it and cut it down to size until it looks like the meek Jesus with the Fabio hair that we find on the walls of many a Sunday School classroom. The teaching of Jesus about the shape of the lives of his disciples is often overwhelming, but it is not hyperbole. And this is what we encounter at the end of the 9th chapter of St Luke’s Gospel. “I will follow you wherever you may go.”

I love watching tennis. You may remember seeing or at least reading about something remarkable that happened in the tennis world some six years ago. In the second round of Wimbledon, American John Isner inched past a Frenchman and smashed record after record: the longest match, at 46 hours, 39 minutes; the most games in a match, at 183. The fifth and final set was also the longest on record with 138 games over a period of 8 hours, 11 minutes. More than once, St Paul held up the picture of the athlete as a model of what is required of us to follow Jesus:

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable….I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (I Cor 9:25-27).

We usually think of the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel in terms of evangelism, preaching the Gospel so that men and women would convert, be baptized and become disciples. But we must remember: it is nearly impossible to make a disciple without first being a disciple. And being a disciple requires everything. “I will follow you wherever you may go.”

This is the heart of the matter, right here. I’m tempted to say that is that what Jesus wants is for you to give everything, to focus all of your energy on following him, to subdue every thought and temptation to him, to be perfect as Jesus was perfect, to lay down your life so that you will find it. But what could you do with that kind of advice? Hyperbole, schmyperbole. Probably the same thing that you would do if I said to you: “Start practicing tennis so that you too could play an eleven hour tennis match over the course of three days.” I might as well suggest that you tell the Trinity River, “Move from here to there.” But we must start somewhere and there is only one starting place. That place is the cell of silence, where we quiet ourselves in the presence of God and listen; sit with God; be with him. The offering of praise we make each Sunday in the Eucharist is the necessary beginning of a prayer life; it opens us up, little by little, so that we can begin to know his voice. But the Eucharist alone cannot sustain our communion with God. Morning and Evening Prayer thrust us into the Scriptures, forces us to pray the Psalms. But the Offices too cannot substitute for the constant, regular work of praying to God out of the sheer love of His presence. The Holy Eucharist, the Daily Office – they both only serve to give us the grace necessary and the tools to begin the kind of prayer life described in today’s Psalm: “I have the set the Lord always before me” (16:8a). This is where we find God face-to-face.

The only way to follow this Jesus wherever he goes, the only way to be able to put our hand to the plow and not look back, is to return over and over to the place of silence with the Lord. My spiritual director put it to me as starkly as he could: “There is nothing that you can do that is more important than this. Without this, you will die.” I am no prayer athlete, let me assure you. I’m not as remotely consistent as I long to be. But I can tell you this: that there is great sweetness in sitting in God’s presence, not asking for anything, not trying to get relief from my anxieties and worries, but just fixing my heart on Jesus. And the more I do it, the more I can’t wait to get back there. This is where we begin to enter into the prayer of Jesus, into the total offering that he made to the Father. Only in the quiet and the silence can we know what it means for you or for you me respond when Jesus says, “Follow me.” Only then can we put our hand to the plow and not look back.

This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.