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Vespers for the Feasts of Ss. Bridget and James

 

 

Opening Verses

Look to God, that you might be radiant with joy, and your faces not blush with shame.
Psalm 34:6
Did I not feel for those whose day was hard? Was not my soul grieved for the poor?
Job 30:25

Gathering Prayer

Almighty God, you pour upon all who desire it the spirit of grace and of supplication: Draw us near to you, and delivers us from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that we may always hear your words, walk in your ways, and worship you in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen.

Hymn: Sometimes a light surprises      William Cowper      Hymnal 1982 #667

Sometimes a light surprises
the Christian while he sings;
it is the Lord who rises
with healing in his wings:
when comforts are declining,
he grants the soul again
a season of clear shining,
to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation
we sweetly then pursue
the theme of God’s salvation,
and find it ever new;
set free from present sorrow,
we cheerfully can say,
let the unknown tomorrow
bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing
but he will bear us through:
who gives the lilies clothing
will clothe his people, too:
beneath the spreading heavens
no creature but is fed;
and he who feeds the ravens
will give his children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither
their wonted fruit should bear,
though all the fields should wither,
nor flocks nor herds be there;
yet, God the same abiding,
his praise shall tune my voice;
for, while in him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.

The First Lesson: Jeremiah 45:1-5

1The word that the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Baruch son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah: 2Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: 3You said, “Woe is me! The LORD has added sorrow to my pain; I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.” 4Thus you shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: I am going to break down what I have built, and pluck up what I have planted — that is, the whole land. 5And you, do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for I am going to bring disaster upon all flesh, says the LORD; but I will give you your life as a prize of war in every place to which you may go.”
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Hymn: Let thy Blood in mercy poured      John Brownie      Hymnal 1982 #313

Let thy Blood in mercy poured,
let thy gracious Body broken,
be to me, O gracious Lord,
of thy boundless love the token.

Thou didst give thyself for me,
now I give myself to thee.

Thou didst die that I might live;
blesséd Lord, thou cam’st to save me;
all that love of God could give
Jesus by his sorrows gave me.

By the thorns that crowned thy brow,
by the spear-wound and the nailing,
by the pain and death, I now
claim, O Christ, thy love unfailing.

Wilt thou own the gift I bring?
All my penitence I give thee;
thou art my exalted King,
of thy matchless love forgive me.

The Second Lesson: Galatians 2:19-20

19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Hymn: Thou, who at thy first Eucharist      W.H. Turton      Hymnal 1982 #315

Thou, who at thy first Eucharist didst pray
that all thy Church might be for ever one,
grant us at every Euharist to say
with longing heart and soul, ‘Thy will be done.’
O may we all one bread, one body be,
through this blest sacrament of unity.

For all thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
make thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
by drawing all to thee, O Prince of Peace;
thus may we all one bread, one body be,
through this blest sacrament of unity.

So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
may we be one with all thy Church above,
one with thy saints in one unbroken peace,
one with thy saints in one unbounded love;
more blesséd still, in peace and love to be
one with the Trinity in Unity.

The Third Lesson: John 15:1-8

1I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Homily: The Martyred Apostle and the Mystic Nun

Early in the Christian movement, and vainly, the founder of Latin-Christian theology and enemy of critical thinking Tertullian posed the question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” From his answer, “Not much,” great miseries have flowed, and little good. Today’s feast asks a related question: “What has Sweden to do with Jerusalem?” Those are the places from whence our two saints hale. Let us hope that the answer will be a source of grace, not error.

On first blush, these two saints could not be more different: the governor’s daughter and the fisherman’s son, the nun and the apostle, the mother and the martyr, the woman who could trace her line back to medieval kings and the man who could go no further back than his mother’s mother, the Swede and the Galilean. Yet they are bound, as all in Christ are bound, by the cross of Christ itself, their adherence to his teachings, and their devotion to his Passion.

Helige Birgitta, as she is known in Swedish – and forgive me any mispronunciation – was the mother of eight, and once served as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of Sweden. After she was widowed, she became a religious, and eventually founded the order known as the Brigittines. It was wealthy, not least because of royal patronage, but gave most of that wealth away or used it to care for those in need. The Order had houses of men and women, living side-by-side but separately; both genders could apparently have “as many books as they pleased.” The church in Birgitta’s day, the 14th century, was a hot mess, but she worked hard to try to make it better. Bridget / Birgitta was one of those powerful, good people we always dream of seeing rise to prominence, using such wealth and power and knowledge as she had to make the church and the world more Christ-like, more kind and more just, and more generous to those in need, particularly to women who had children but no husband. She made the right enemies in her struggles against incompetence and corruption, and left her world better than she found it.

Doubtless she suffered fools very little or not at all, and had little patience with those who were incompetent, corrupt, or both – and had the station and the strength to say so. Some people deemed her vainglorious for this, or simply crazy, much as people have dismissed strong women for ages – falsely and to their detriment, and ours.

Birgitta was also a mystic, having visions of various kinds beginning in childhood. That was not unusual for people raised in relative ease and steeped in medieval Christianity. When she was ten, she apparently had a vision of Jesus on the cross, and asked him who’d put him up there. He answered, she said, “They who despise me, and spurn my love for them.” In what became known as her Celestial Revelations, she saw visions of different times in the life of Christ, from his nativity to his passion. She could see in the babe shining in the manger – a source of light himself, which the darkness could not overcome – the good man tortured to death by those who chose hatred. She could see in the baby’s mother – blond to her, as would be normal for many Scandinavians, since no matter where we’re from, we do well to see the Holy Family in the textures and tones of our own – the woman as seen in the Pietà, cradling his corpse. After her visions came art showing, for the first time, the Virgin Mary kneeling before the manger where her baby lay shining, and not simply holding the lad. Birgitta also heard in her revelations from Christ himself (she said) that he had received 5,480 blows on his body as he was being killed. She heard him teach her a series of prayers to recite over the course of the year as part her devotions to his Passion and the salvation it procured. Some people held that those prayers could work like magic, a thought which the church had to reject at least twice. Claims that Birgitta was self-centered and perhaps mentally ill appear to reflect more on the claimant than the woman herself, however. To have so vivid a connection to the sufferings of Christ, and to connect them to ways to reform, redeem, and improve the world, is to bear strong witness indeed.

James, son of Zebedee and brother of John, but not the gospel-writer or the baptizer, is more a figure of legend to us now than of history. He was one of the first to follow Jesus, one of the first to leave the fishing nets behind and go with Peter, Andrew, and his brother to fish “for men and women.” He saw Jesus transfigured – shining, in all his glory – and he saw him crucified, then raised, then ascending, then gone. He had a way of getting under people’s skin, it appears. As a leader of the nascent church in Jerusalem, got under the skin once too often of the last of the Herods, Herod Agrippa, and lost his head for it. Monarchs like that tend to murder those who speak truth to power or live it for real – meaning that, not unlike St. Bridget, James made all the right enemies, and suffered for it.

In a way, both saints both had a vivid experience of Jesus’ passion and death, and were changed by it. Tradition has it that St. James took the gospel to Spain, becoming the Santiago of legend and of pilgrimage. To this day, people still make the journey to Santiago de Compostela in his honor, as they have done since medieval times. Angels, it is said, took his corpse in a rudderless boat and hid it under a mountain in Galicia, in northwest Spain. James would’ve been, I suspect, stunned by it all, mostly because it appears he never left Jerusalem at all, not once Jesus had risen and ascended. When Paul was planning to go to Spain, he knew it as a place that had never heard the gospel – though they didn’t hear it from him, either, given how he, too, was martyred – in Rome.

It appears that the bishops of Galicia made the legend up out of whole cloth, or someone did on their behalf. Whether this was to drum up business, give the faithful something to do or hope for, or simply raise the profile of (and foot traffic to) their middle-of-nowhere, I do not know. Were all the relics of all the saints collected that lie at the heart of church traditions, there’d be enough hands of St. James to weave all the locks of St. Bridget’s hair into wigs for every opera house in Europe, and enough shards of the true cross to build new shrines to both, and Noah another ark. But whatever they did must’ve met people’s needs, since pilgrims still make the journey to Compostela, be it on foot or by bicycle, or train, plane, and automobile, seeking something they heard they could find there.

What was that? It’s what Sweden, ultimately, has to do with Jerusalem, and Compostela, and our little corner of the world: the love of God made real in human skin. “Those who despise me, and those who spurn my love for them,” said Jesus to Bridget. What she heard him say about those who tied and nailed him up to die she could’ve also heard James say, had she had visions of him, about those who cut him to pieces and left him to rot or for angels to spirit to Spain. Pull back the curtain, peel back the legends, shine reason’s warming rays on the fogs of mystic memory, and you find two people, a man and a woman, one poor by circumstance and the other poor by choice, who saw in the Passion of Christ the power of love made real and willing to suffer agony in order to bring salvation to humanity. They changed their lives utterly and completely in order to devote themselves to it.

In the words of today’s gospel, these two are quite clearly branches that bore good fruit, and who learned to abide in the one who is the vine. They knew, perhaps more than Paul could ever know, what it meant to be crucified with Christ. James watched it, and Bridget saw it in her mind’s eye, and felt it in her mind’s body, as they contemplated his seven last words, and those thousands of blows. In their hours of darkness, each likely cried out with Jeremiah that “the Lord has added sorrow to my pain,” for who could contemplate the wounds Christ suffered and the passion Christ bore, or the sufferings of human beings made in his image, and subject to the same stings and weaknesses, doubts and failings, and not feel sorrow?

Too many of us, you might say – and, at times, any of us. Compassion fatigue, like quarantine fatigue, can happen even to the most kind-hearted and generous of us, which is one reason self-care is so important. Alas, those whose veins lack even a drop of the milk of human kindness can, even at their best, look placidly on the tears others cry or the pain others bear, and do nothing to help or even show that they care. It is a brutal way to live, without empathy or compassion, and ultimately unsatisfying. Just as the unexamined life is not worth living, so too is a life lived without compassion, remorse, or concern for others.

Ss. Bridget and James did not live that way, though James did not have nearly as long to do so as the daughter of Birger Persson, “governor and lawspeaker of Uppland,” the one who had visions at age ten of the crucified Christ, and responded to it with the emotional resilience of a fully-grown adult who understood it, and cared. She looked on horror and, in response to it, became kind and strong and good. May we do likewise in our own day, should occasion arise or need require. Given what’s going on in this country and elsewhere, they most certainly will. Amen.

[1] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridget_of_Sweden.

Hymn: Humbly I adore thee      Thomas Aquinas      Hymnal 1982 #314

Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen,
who thy glory hidest ‘neath these shadows mean;
lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed,
tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.

Taste and touch and vision to discern thee fail;
faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil.
I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told;
what the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.

O memorial wondrous of the Lord’s own death;
living Bread that givest all thy creatures breath,
grant my spirit ever by thy life may live,
to my taste thy sweetness never-failing give.

Jesus, whom now hidden, I by faith behold,
what my soul doth long for, that thy word foretold:
face to face thy splendor, I at last shall see,
in the glorious vision, blessed Lord, of thee.

A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7-11)

Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.

The Collects

A Collect for St. Bridget
O God, who guided Saint Bridget of Sweden on varied paths of life and taught her the wisdom of the Cross as she contemplated the Passion of your Son: grant us, we pray, that, walking worthily in our vocation, we may seek you in all things, through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Collect for St. James
Almighty and ever-living God, who consecrated the first fruits of your Apostles by the blood of Saint James: grant, we pray, that your Church may be strengthened by his confession of faith and mirror his life of self-denying service, from which alone true authority comes, through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Collect for Peace
O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer for Mission
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Hymn: Watchman, tell us      John Bowring      Hymnal 1940 #440

1 Watchman, tell us of the night,
what its signs of promise are.
Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height:
see that glory-beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
news of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes; it brings the day,
promised day of Israel.

2 Watchman, tell us of the night;
higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
see, it bursts o’er all the earth.

3 Watchman, tell us of the night,
for the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight;
doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wand’rings cease;
hie thee to thy quiet home.
Trav’ler, lo! The Prince of Peace,
Lo! The Son of God is come!

Blessing and Dismissal

Go forth now, redeemed and sustained by the sacrifice of Christ and the healing power of Almighty God.

May the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Spirit, be with you to the cleansing of the world.

Resources (available for free online)

Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org

Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf

Enriching Our Worship 2, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-2/enrichingourworship2.pdf
These three resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.

The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online Bibles.

The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org

St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org

 

A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.