Epiphany, Gospel of Mark, Study Leave, Year B

Preaching Mark

I’ll say it here. I love the Gospel of Mark. I look forward to Year B in the lectionary cycle. (Well, maybe not the summer with all those weeks from John’s gospel, but the rest of it.) I am in tune with Mark’s Jesus who is both incredibly, fully human and also mysteriously, definitively divine without making a big fuss over it. He’s short-tempered. He’s fallible. He takes naps. He gets people to leave and go away with him forever and then goes right back with them to their mother-in-law’s house.

I love the pacing. It’s a beautifully constructed piece of writing. In seminary I took a whole semester on Mark, which is not the only reason I love it, but we read one book in particular that diagrammed the relationships of one pericope to another, and as an old English major, I adored that exercise.

JESUS MAFA — The Transfiguration

So, today’s plan for Study Leave is to look at the texts for the season of Epiphany and look for ways to make the gospel come alive in worship. As usual, I will debate whether to skip Transfiguration Sunday in favor of preaching texts from the long possible weeks after Epiphany that don’t make it onto the calendar very often, but in this case, I’ll probably decide against it, because Mark lacks a Resurrection appearance and could use a little bolstering in the woo-woo mystical department.

(And since writing this, that is in fact what I decided.)

The morning is going well, and I’ll soon be moving on to Lent.

Advent, Advent Wreath, Revised Songbird Version, Study Leave

Advent Wreath Lighting for Year B

The same pic I use every year.

At the end of Day 2 of Study Leave, I offer up these Advent Wreath Litanies for Year B (all texts Revised Songbird Version*, except Christmas Eve, which is NRSV). You are welcome to use them! Just let me know in the comments. If you are using the Narrative Lectionary, you will find Advent wreath liturgies for Year 1 here.

Advent 1B (based on Isaiah 64:1-4)

Reader One: Isaiah the Prophet cried out to God, I wish you would open the heavens that separate us and come down, making the mountains quake because you are here. Make your name known to all who are against you. Make the nations tremble because of your presence.
Reader Two: You came before and did awesome deeds that we did not expect; you made our world shake at the sight of you. In all the history of the world, no ears have heard and no eyes have seen any God other than you.
Reader One: You work for those who wait for you.
Reader Two: We wait and hope, as we light this candle.
(Please pause as we light one candle, then respond.)
All: Loving God, come and shine your light in the world!

Advent 2B (based on Isaiah 40:1-2, 9-11)

Reader One: Isaiah the Prophet reassured the people, God is sending words of comfort to you, speaking tenderly to you. God promises that your hard labor is over, your sentence has been served and your penalty has been paid. You are forgiven not once but double all that is needed.
Reader Two: Go up to a high mountain, and call out the good news! Lift your voices up with strength and call out the good news! Do not be afraid! Your God is coming.
Reader One: Our God is mighty, but our God is also gentle. God loves the flock and will feed it just the way a shepherd would, holding us close like lambs and guiding us, old and young.
Reader Two: We wait for God’s peace and live in God’s hope as we light these candles.
(Please pause as we light two candles, then respond.)
All: Loving God, come and shine your light in the world!

Advent 3B (based on Isaiah 61:1-4)

Reader One: Isaiah the Prophet announced it. The Spirit of God is with me, because I have been chosen to bring good news to the abused, to bandage the wounds of the heartbroken, and to release those who are in prisons of all kinds. I am here to proclaim a good year in God’s sight, a time when things will be set right.
Reader Two: I am here to comfort the grieving and to dress them for happy times instead of sad ones.
Reader One: The people who are healed and comforted will be like strong trees, upright and loyal to God. They will be like a forest planted to show God’s glory. They will rebuild the world and show everyone God’s power.
Reader Two: We wait for the day of God’s joy, and live in God’s peace and hope, as we light these candles.
(Please pause as we light three candles, then respond.)
All: Loving God, come and shine your light in the world!

Advent 4B (based on Psalm 89:19-23)

Reader One: The Psalmist received a vision from God, who said, I have put a crown on the head of a new king, a mighty one chosen and anointed with oil.
Reader Two: My hand will always be with him; my arm will strengthen him.
Reader One: My faithfulness and steadfast love will be with the one I’ve chosen.
Reader Two: We wait for God’s love coming to us. The day of God’s joy is soon coming. We live in God’s peace and hope as we light these candles.
(Please pause as we light four candles, then respond.)
All: Loving God, come and shine your light in the world!

Christmas Eve Year B (based on Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

Reader One: Hear the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Reader Two: “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”
Reader One: We stand on the brink of God’s time and light again the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
Reader Two: We light the Christ Candle to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus, the light coming into the world.
(Please pause as we light the candles, then respond.)
All: Loving God, come and shine your light in the world!

*And by Revised Songbird Version, I mean I’m reading the New Revised Standard Version and playing around with it to get phrases we will understand easily when we only get to read them once and in a hurry on Sunday morning.

Christmas pageants, Study Leave

Hail, Sir Donkey, Hail!

Jesus, our brother, kind and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude;
And the friendly beasts around him stood,
Jesus, our brother, kind and good.

“The Friendly Beasts” is what I call an old-fashioned favorite. I’ve known it since I was a little girl, I think because I heard it on a Burl Ives recording. (I hear it in his voice.) The Father of My Children grew up with the Harry Belafonte version. So naturally I wanted my children to know it, and it’s part of our family Christmas lore. A few years ago my friend RevFun and I used it in a joint Christmas Eve service and added a verse about a tri-colored dog, with tri-colored Molly present for the singing. 

During last year’s Christmas pageant at NYCC, I particularly admired a stick-horse donkey with a very handsome head “ridden” by Mary. It occurred to me that we might feature a donkey in this year’s pageant, and that eventually led me to the idea of writing a pageant based on “The Friendly Beasts.” Since writing the pageant is Task 1 of my Study Leave, I spent some time this morning looking for additional verses. The original has donkey, sheep, cow and dove, and as mentioned above I have one for a dog. On the Internet I also found a camel verse. 

My temporary office-mate suggests we might compose parody verses about a cat. Please feel free to offer suggestions in the comments. 

But more seriously, I also read the origin of the carol and wanted to share it with you below. Please read on!

This song originally hails from a 12th century Latin song “Orientis Partibus” which first appeared in France and is usually attributed to Pierre de Corbeil, Bishop of Sens (d 1222) (“Office de la circoncision,” “Lew manuscrit de l’office de la Circoncision de Notre-Dame-du-Puy,” or “L’Office de Pierre de Corbeil,” circa 1210). The Feast of the Circumcision is celebrated on January 1. The song is associated with the Feast of Fools.

The tune is said to have been part of the Fete de l’Ane (The Donkey’s Festival), which celebrated the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and was a regular Christmas observance in Beauvais and Sens, France in the 13th century. During the mass, it was common for a donkey to be led or ridden into the church.

The words and tune were designed to give thanks for the ass on which Mary rode, and began: Orientis partibus Adventavit asinus (‘From the East the ass has come’). Each verse was sung, and finished with the chorus ‘Hail, Sir donkey, hail’. It was a solemn affair, but the tune became very popular in 17th and 18th century Germany.

Orientis partibus
adventavit asinus,
pulcher et fortissimus,
Sarcinis aptissimus.

Hez, Sir Asnes, hez!

Stick with me here. I realize I’m posting in tongues, but an interpretation will come later.

Saltu vincit hinnulos
damas et capreolos
super dromedarios
velox madianeos

Hic in collibus Sychen
iam nutritus sub Ruben
transiit per Jordanem
saliit in Bethlehem

Dum trahit vehicula
multa cum sarcinula
illius mandibula
dura terit pabula

Cum aristis, hordeum
comedit et carduum
triticum ex palea
segregat in area

Amen dicas, asine
Iam satur ex gramine
amen, amen itera
aspernare vetera

An English Translation:

From the East the donkey came,
Stout and strong as twenty men;
Ears like wings and eyes like flame,
Striding into Bethlehem.
Heh! Sir Ass, oh heh!

Faster than the deer he leapt,
With his burden on his back;
Though all other creatures slept,
Still the ass kept on his track.
Heh! Sir Ass, oh heh!

Still he draws his heavy load,
Fed on barley and rough hay;
Pulling on along the road —
Donkey, pull our sins away!
Heh! Sir Ass, oh heh!

Wrap him now in cloth of gold;
All rejoice who see him pass;
Mirth inhabit young and old
On this feast day of the ass.
Heh! Sir Ass, oh heh!

Words by Susan Cooper from Nancy and John Langstaff, Christmas Revels Songbook (Boston: David R. Bodine,1985). Another English translation by Curtis Clark (© 1998) can be found at December Rains

(Seriously, read that one, too. Hilariously solemn.)


The song emigrated to England in the 12th century, where it began to take on its modern character. It is for this reason that some sources will give the origin of this song as England.

Orientis Partibus was harmonized in 4/4 time for Church Hymn Tunes, ancient & modern (1853) by Richard Redhead (1820-1901) and given triple time by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) in English Hymnal (1906).

All this history of the carol comes from the website Hymns and Carols of Christmas. You gotta love it, right?

Study Leave

Wound Care

Not my agenda for this week.

(A reflection as I depart for Study Leave)

Last Tuesday, I had oral surgery. It wasn’t my first trip to the oral surgeon’s office. I’ve been the nurse for all three of my children as lingering baby teeth or inconvenient permanent teeth or simply unsupportable wisdom teeth have been removed from their dear mouths. I’ve sat beside them in the recovery room, listened for the instructions, read the list of acceptable soft foods, laid in the right kind of gauze and chosen the favorite ice cream and the appropriately amusing videos for a sad or groggy patient.

I’m good at this. I started early, as an 8th grader looking after my mother when her wisdom teeth became a problem. I have *no* idea who drove her to and from the appointment, as my father (1) didn’t drive, (2) would have been useless as a nurse and (3) was at that time working far away from home during the week. Thus it fell to me to perform the tasks, both the icky and the cosseting, required to care for my mother’s wounds. I guess I did a pretty good job, because soon after she loaned me out to a friend who felt her similarly-aged daughters could not manage it!

But last week, I was on the other side. I was the person who needed a driver and a care-giver, someone who would be able to cope with both the mess and the aftermath of anesthesia, that strange twilight state of consciousness in which some of us don’t know who we are and some are angry with the world, while others are as charming as Cole Porter at a cocktail party. (And if this describes any of my children after oral surgery, please be assured I will not tell you which one was which.)

This worried me. I don’t like to be that overtly vulnerable, or to make that much trouble for anyone else.

And, almost hilariously, this was borne out in the way I woke up from anesthesia. “You can open your eyes, Songbird,” said a voice, and obediently, I did. I wondered vaguely how they would get me from this place to the recovery room, and my worry was for them. When a chair with wheels appeared, and someone told me not to try to stand under my own power, I wanted to say, “Don’t worry, I will do exactly as you say.” Of course, I couldn’t quite speak the words. I was too dopey. But my instincts to be helpful and minimize the inconvenience of others were asserting themselves as soon as I came back to even mild consciousness.

Not that it’s particularly praiseworthy to be like that. Sometimes we need someone else to care for our wounds. If we’re unwilling to accept help, we make it harder for ourselves. In this case, fortunately, I had an unremarkable recovery. LP helped as much as I would let her the first day, and I spent a lot of that day and the next drifting in and out of naps thanks to my wonderful Administrative Assistant’s insistence that I not even think about coming to work the next day.

But sometimes our wounds don’t heal so easily. Sometimes we really need help.

This time last year, I was wounded in heart. The life I expected to have, however unsatisfactory it may have been in some ways, was ending. My beloved dog had just died, six short weeks after his cancer diagnosis. On Halloween afternoon, I got on a plane and ran away from home for two days, to the dearest people in my life other than my children. They hugged and petted and spoiled and loved me. For a heart wound, there is no better care. I still had to come back to a dog-empty house. But for 48 hours, I let other people take care of me: cook for me, drive me places and amuse me like an old-fashioned convalescent.

This Halloween I’m in the same airport heading to the same destination, and it’s true that after last week’s adventures with a bad tooth and a new old dog who managed to blow out his knee just walking around the block, I’m ready for a little wound care. But this is a different kind. We all have those strains we live with, don’t we? There’s the joint that aches a little from overuse, or the muscle we pull and strain again and tell ourselves we’ll be more careful next time, but then it’s time to knit the sock or rake the leaves or (dreadful!) shovel the October snow, and we’re nursing that chronic wound, again.

One of the conditions with which I live is my own tendency to put too many things on the schedule, and the only cure for that chronic strain and stress is to get out of my normal environment and go someplace different. This is a condition epidemic among pastors. It’s why our denomination recommends, and our congregation offers, time to be used for study away from the daily demands of ministry. Sometimes that means going to a conference as I did this summer, and other times it might mean going on retreat, as my predecessor would do at a monastery.

Jesus got away, too. He took naps in the back of the boat, and he wandered off into the wilderness to pray. In Mark’s gospel, he does it before the end of the first chapter! Jesus regrouped. Sometimes his disciples found it shocking, as when he slept right through a storm that terrified them. Maybe he liked the rocking of the waves.

So the format doesn’t matter as much as finding something recuperative. This week I’ll be working, but I’ll be doing it away from Maine, and away from my house, and away from my dog and my daughter and my laundry and my grocery shopping and the never-ending to-do list of a homeowner. I’ve been offered a work table and a place to rest, and I have a good-sized but not unreasonable list of things I hope to accomplish. I’ll be writing our Christmas Pageant and this Sunday’s Communion Meditation, and planning for Advent and Epiphany (comes after Christmas!) and Lent. I’ve got a theological book to read (“Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace” by Yale Divinity School professor and theologian Miroslav Volf) and a less academic one, too (“Committed: A Love Story” by Elizabeth Gilbert, also the author of “Eat, Pray, Love”). At the end of the day, I’ll have the companionship of loved ones, including dogs and a child, but I won’t be in charge of them!

I expect it will cure what ails me.