Weekly Liturgy booklets
Notes on the Service for September 26, 2021
Esth. 7:–16, 9–10; 9:20–22 • Ps. 124 • Jas. 5:13–20 • Mk. 9:38–50
The collect addresses God as the One who exhibits power chiefly by showing mercy. That link between power and mercy was articulated in the book from which Sept 12th’s alternate to a psalm came, the Wisdom of Solomon: “thy Sovereignty over all causeth thee to spare all.” Compare the Prayer of Humble Access, “...same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.”
First readings this autumn introduce less-known books of the Old Testament, such as Esther which heretofore has not appeared in a Sunday lectionary. Jews read Esther on the feast of Purim, to celebrate their deliverance from a pogrom. Set in what is now southeastern Iraq during the reign of Xerxes I, (“Ahasueres”) 485-464 BCE, the Book is a novella, like Ruth, Jonah, and Tobit. Today’s excerpt is the climax of Esther, wherein the beautiful Jewish Queen of Persia denounces the grand vizer Haman who had plotted to execute all the Jews of the capital. Afterward the Jews institute a springtime feast to commemorate their escape from the genocide. No credit is given to God for the sparing of the Jews and no disapproval is registered about Esther’s marriage to a Gentile, grounds for many rabbis’ reluctance to include this book in the Bible.
One of the Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 124 does give credit to God for the deliverance of Jews from their enemies, perhaps on their return from Exile, or soon after when they were attacked by groups resisting their resettlement. This corporate thanksgiving would fit well on the lips of those whom Esther had saved. In Christian liturgies, its v 8, “Our help is in the Name of the Lord....” opens a traditional blessing given by bishops.
This month’s readings from James end with encouragements to prayer, especially to prayers for the sick, and with encouragement to seek out those who have wandered from the faith. Together with Mark 6:13, James’ admonition to anoint the sick with [olive] oil documents the disciples’ practice which was to evolve into the sacrament of unction of the sick. James says bringing “back a sinner from the error of his way...will cover a multitude of sins.” I Peter says, a multitude of sins will also be covered by unfailing love.
The Gospel shows Jesus defending someone who does good, even though that one is not on the approved list of principals. He then lays out punishment for those who cause a “little one” to sin, the converse of James’ bringing back sinners; and he lists extremes, such as cutting off a hand, to which a believer might go to enter the kingdom. “Have salt in yourselves” might mean, preserve your own distinctive humble service.
—Rev. Stephen Weissman | Asheville, North Carolina
Reprinted with permission.
September 26, 2021