Showing items filed under “The Rev. Catherine Thompson”

The Apocrypha

For those of you who are in the habit of saying Morning or Evening Prayer on a regular basis, I want to congratulate you on availing yourself of a very meaningful spiritual practice.  If, in the course of your devotions, you have looked at the readings assigned for the week of the Sunday closest to June 8th, also known as Proper 5, you might have discovered an abbreviation with which you are not familiar.  It looks like this: “Ecclus.”  You think to yourself, “Did they mean the book of Ecclesiastes?  I’ve looked in the table of contents in my Bible, and they don’t have any book that looks like it would fit that abbreviation.”  If you’ve had this experience, then you know what it is like to try to find a book within the Apocrypha.  For most Christians, it is not easy, and for some, it’s impossible.  Please allow me to explain why. 

The Bible, which in Latin means “little books,” was originally transmitted orally, by faithful people whose job it was to pass along the foundation of our faith to succeeding generations.  After the use of paper and ink became more common, the information traditionally handed down orally evolved into a collection of writings that we now identify as the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament, and the Christian Scriptures, or the New Testament.  For the purposes of understanding the Apocrypha, it is the development of the Hebrew Scriptures that is important.  The development of the Hebrew Scriptures took place over a long period of time, and the priority given to specific books and texts varied, depending upon the person, or people, responsible for passing on Scripture to others. 

Jewish tradition tells us that Ptolemy Philadelphus (285-246 BC) desired a translated copy of the Hebrew Law (and later all of the Old Testament) for his library in Alexandria, Egypt.  It is said that he asked 72 translators to set about completing the work.  The Septuagint, as it came to be known, was actually the work of a number of translators, working across a broad geographical area (not just Alexandria), over a considerable period of time.  By 132 BC, however, the translation of the Old Testament into Greek was largely complete.  This translation benefitted those Jews living outside of Israel, who only spoke Greek, and not Hebrew.  It meant that they could hear and read the Bible in their own language.  The Septuagint was also the version of the Hebrew Scriptures commonly used by the early Christians, who mostly spoke Greek.

200 years after the Septuagint was created, the official canon of the Hebrew Scripture was fixed by a group of rabbis, creating an official version for use by Jews.  In their version, they omitted several of the books the scholars chose to include in the Septuagint, as well as using the order and length of the books as found in the original Hebrew.

When Latin became the official language of the church, the Septuagint was the version Jerome used to translate the Old Testament from Greek into Latin.  His work was completed in 384 AD, and became known as the Vulgate.

During the Reformation, Protestant leaders ignored the traditional acceptance of all the books of the Septuagint, desiring a return to the biblical authority of the early church, and refusing to grant the status of inspired Scripture to those books that were not found in the Hebrew Canon.  Different translators over time have chosen to accept or reject these books based upon their own understanding of their importance.  

As a set, these “extra” texts from the Septuagint eventually became known as the “Apocrypha,” which means “things that are hidden,” because they are a collection of texts that were excluded from some versions of the Bible, while kept by others.  Over the years, Anglicans have had mixed views on these texts, which has often resulted in them being printed as a separate section within the translation of the Bible used in Anglican churches, rather than intermingling them with the books of the Old Testament, as in many versions of the Bible used in the Roman Catholic Church.  Some of these texts are read aloud in churches during worship services, while others have not been included in worship.

The books of the Apocrypha contain several different kinds of writings.  Some are historical, like 1 and 2 Maccabees, which tell the history of the Jewish revolt against foreign domination in the second century BC.  There is an addition to the book of Ezra (1 Esdras).  There are stories, legends and writings with a moral, including Tobit, Judith, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon.  It includes books of teaching from the Wisdom tradition, such as the Wisdom of Solomon and our example from earlier, Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach – just to keep us on our toes).  Some books are devotional and some are liturgical.  Some are additions to the prophetic writings.  Given the time in which they were written, many of the writings contain apocalyptic (end-time) elements, during a time when the land was ruled by foreign governments and often overseen by hostile governors. 

Some might wonder at the value of these books if they have been included by some Christian denominations, but excluded by most.  The truth is that these texts have had, and continue to have, an impact on our faith.  There are passages such as those in 1 and 2 Esdras that help us interpret the relationship between God the Father and God the Son (2 Esdras 13:26).  There are passages that give us great comfort in times of grief, such as that from the Wisdom of Solomon (3:1-4), in which we read, “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them…they are at peace.”  They also provide important historical context in what has come to be known as the “intertestamental period,” that time between the history recorded within the Old Testament and the history recorded within the New Testament.

The debate about the Scriptural significance of these books, and others like them such as the Gospel of Thomas, that did not make it into the widely-accepted canon of the Old and New Testaments will continue well beyond our lifetimes.  Regardless of their official status, however, wisdom and insight can be found, resulting in a positive impact on our relationship with Jesus Christ and with others.  They are worth reading, if for no other reason, then to have a greater understanding of why they were important to so many people over the course of history.

I encourage you to find a translation of the Bible that includes the Apocrypha, and read these texts.  Discuss them in Bible study with other Christians, and come to your own understanding of their importance.  It will be well-worth your time.

What Should We Think About The End of Life?

Over the course of my ministry, I have walked with many people and their family members as they neared the end of life. What has become clear to me is the distinct difference between those who have faith in Jesus Christ and those who do not. This becomes a very important distinction as we move toward the end of our lives. What are the ways in which we, as faithful Christians, are called to approach our death as faithfully as we have lived our lives?

Statisticians have crunched the numbers and the results are clear. There is a 100% chance that we will die. Death is inevitable. However, many in our culture would have us believe otherwise. When illness strikes, we are encouraged, and in many cases expected, to reach for new medical technologies that will extend our lives well beyond the number of years our grandparents expected to live. Machines that breathe for us, modern pharmacological breakthroughs, organ transplants, and other life-extending measures help us to nurture a belief that we can avoid death at all costs. 

As Christians, however, we know at a deeper level that the way in which our culture views death is flawed. We know that life does not end when we take our last breath. Death is only a single event, and does not have the last word. As we read in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 54 and 55, “’Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’”

Our faith is founded upon the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has won for us the ultimate victory over death. God does not abandon us at death. On the contrary, God raises us to new life. As Paul says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) When we internalize the truth found in Paul’s words, we can see our struggle is not to avoid death at all costs, but to approach our final days with the same degree of faith and trust in God as we hold in life.

Knowing that God does not abandon us can set us free from the fear and anxiety we might naturally feel surrounding our own deaths, or the deaths of those we love. Even though we will encounter difficult decisions, our faith can provide a critical support structure as we make those decisions. Modern medicine has advanced health care at a rapid pace, and we need to be prepared to answer questions regarding our medical care from a position of faith, not fear. It is important to remember that the best time to consider these questions is not when we are faced with an immediate health crisis, where emotions tend to run high, but in moments of calm and clarity before our health becomes a cause for concern.

To that end, we look to what we have learned through our faith in God. There are three theological concepts that can help us as we consider what we believe about the end of life. First, our faith is theocentric. We believe that God is one, the Alpha and the Omega, the “source of light and life.”[1] As William Temple writes, “Faith in God is faith in an ever-present, all-sustaining Power.”[2] If we believe that to be true, we recognize that God is the power and purpose behind all of God’s creation, of which we are a part. We honor God through our lives, and give thanks and praise for the goodness of God. One way in which we express our thanks and praise is to understand that we are a part of that creation, and a reflection of God’s goodness. To be welcomed into the arms of God beyond this life should bring us tremendous joy, not fill us with fear or dread. 

Second, our faith is incarnational. Our theology of the incarnation is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ. Because we are sinful creatures, our relationship with God is broken. Jesus Christ came to restore that relationship and bring us back into communion with God. The restoration for Anglicans takes place in and through the Word and sacrament, as they draw us into the life of God as it is revealed in Jesus Christ. In his life and in his death, Jesus is one with God, and is raised into God. So, too, through the love of God and the love of neighbor, we are drawn out of ourselves and into the glory of God. We are participants in God’s design for all people, and are raised into new life in Christ. The presence of God becomes clearer through our lives, and even in our death.

Third, our faith is corporate. We live out our faith in community as it was intended from the earliest days of the church. In Eucharistic Prayer B, we pray that “in the fullness of time, [God would] put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters.”[3] We are part of that everlasting heritage in the communion of saints: past, present, and future. We are made one body in Christ, and that body will support us in all phases of our life, even and especially at the end, as we move into that heavenly kingdom.

Because we need not fear the end of life, we are set free to appreciate the life we have now. James, chapter 4, verses 14 and 15, says, “You do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’” The Lord wishes you to live your life to the fullest, all to His honor and glory. Let your life be a witness to others that they, too, might be set free from their fears as they follow Jesus Christ. Spend less of your time and energy worrying about what tomorrow will bring, and more time praising the One who holds you in the palm of His hand. 

As we draw closer to God, especially as we near the end of our life, we are given an opportunity to see the ways in which our sinful behavior has separated us from God. We can use what time we have left in this life to do all we can to repent of our sinful behaviors and return to the God who loves us. The petitions contained at the beginning of The Great Litany[4] are a great way to open our hearts and minds to the ways in which we might have offended our Lord in thought, word or deed. Not only do we have the opportunity to be set free from our fears about death, but we also have an opportunity to be restored to full relationship with Christ.

The note included in the rubrics for Burial[5] says that the “liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised. The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy.” While we begin and end our thoughts regarding the end of our lives with the resurrection of Christ, it is also important to recognize the grief we might feel. The note goes on to say, “This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death.” Anyone faced with a difficult diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one, will grieve. It is a natural and appropriate response. This is where the community of faith has an opportunity to surround those who grieve with love and care. This is the love of Christ incarnate in the hands and hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is this love that will sustain us through the most difficult times. Eventually, we will move through our grief towards acceptance: acceptance of our mortality, acceptance of human limitations, acceptance of the care that surrounds us on every side, and acceptance of Christ’s victory over death on our behalf. As Jeremy Taylor once wrote in his work entitled The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying, “It is a great art to die well.”[6] We have the opportunity as Christians to witness to the power of Jesus Christ not only in our lives, but also in our death, as others see us end our life in faith and not fear. 

On a practical note, this art of holy dying is made easier for us by appropriate preparation and decision making prior to a health crisis. First, plan your funeral with your clergy. Leave a copy of the funeral planning documents with the church so they will know your wishes. Second, create an advanced directive to help your loved ones know your wishes as it pertains to any major health decisions your loved ones might face in the event you are unable to speak for yourself. Third, consult your attorney and establish a power of attorney, and draw up a will, so there will be no outstanding legal questions. When you have these documents in hand, call a meeting of your family to discuss your decisions, and keep these documents in a safe place where your next-of-kin knows where to find them. To prepare these documents in advance does not mean that you are choosing to hasten your death. They are one way in which you can ensure that the end of your days will be lived out in faith: a faith that has power to transform not only your life, but the lives of those you love.

[1] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 377.

[2] Temple, William. Christian Faith and Life. Edited by Susan Howatch. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1994, p. 11.

[3] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 369.

[4] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), pp. 148-9.

[5] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 507.

[6] Taylor, Jeremy. Selected Works. The Classics of Western Spirituality. Edited by Thomas K. Carroll. New York: Paulist Press, 1990 p. 466.

Catherine Thompson is Rector at Church of the Annunciation in Lewisville


Priests from throughout the diocese explore religious topics with depth and nuance.