Before we get too far, this week's entry is not about the Ten Commandments.
Well, not necessarily, but perhaps indirectly.
The Revised Common Lectionary, which we use each week for worship, is rich with its messages that come from a common thread or theme found in the Sunday’s four readings: Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament, and Gospel.
The theme is also present in the Collect of the Day, one of the opening prayers in our liturgy. Often this collect has an immediately recognizable relationship to the Old Testament reading. These opening collects represent the liturgical history of the Church, handed down through the successive editions of the Book of Common Prayer.
This Sunday (February 16), the central theme is commandments.
From the Collect of the Day: "O God...give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments, we may please you both in will and deed..."
In the reading from Deuteronomy, Moses proclaims, "If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God...by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous..."
The Psalmist then prays to God: "You laid down your commandments, that we should fully keep them. Oh, that my ways were made so direct that I might keep your statutes!"
In the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus references the actual Ten Commandments: "You shall not murder," and "You shall not commit adultery."
Keeping the commandments points us directly to the word of God, and our hymnal is filled with marvelous, poignant texts that reference God's word, such as this Sunday's opening hymn:
Blessed Jesus, at thy word we are gathered all to hear thee;
let our hearts and souls be stirred now to seek and love and fear thee;
by thy teachings pure and holy, drawn from earth to love the solely.
All our knowledge, sense, and sight lie in deepest darkness shrouded,
till the Spirit breaks our night with the beams of truth unclouded;
thou alone to God canst win us; thou must work all god within us.
Gracious Lord, thy self impart! Light of Light from God proceeding,
open thou our ears and heart, help us by the Spirit's pleading.
Hear the cry thy Church upraises; hear, and bless our prayers and praises.
Sung to the chorale tune Liebster Jesus, a favorite of our parish, this original German text was translated by the prolific Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), the daughter of an English silk merchant who studied under two prominent Unitarian ministers.
She spent a year in Dresden, Germany, and in 1854 published her first book, Lyra Germanica, a collection of German hymns that she had translated into English.
The Harvard University Hymn Book says that Winkworth "did more than any other single individual to make the rich heritage of German hymnody available to the English-speaking world."
Also described as an early feminist, Winkworth significantly promoted women's education in the 19th century. She is also commemorated in the Lesser Feasts and Fasts of the Episcopal Church (August 7) and on the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (July 1).
Inspired by Winkworth's rich translation, we are, therefore, prepared to hear the God's commandments and listen for God's message.
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