Our earliest Christian forebears (often called the “primitive church” by scholars who seemingly never perceived the derogatory implication of that term) lived in a terribly brutal world. Recall that while both Jesus and the Apostle Paul enjoyed financial and personal support from wealthy male and female patrons throughout their respective ministries, the vast majority of Christians (including both of them) were living about three inches above antiquity’s poverty line at all times. Fisherman, sailors, tax collectors, merchants, carpenters, soldiers, tentmakers and smiths constituted early Christian trades. Slaves are frequently referenced in early Christian accounts, and even educated believers didn’t earn much income but were indentured to those who did. Roman hegemony in Judea brought equal parts advancements and sheer misery. The real tax rate between paying Rome and the Temple tax (after all, those priests have to eat, drink and study!) may have been north of 85% to 90% of annual income, if crops were harvested and laborers were healthy. Our Hallmark Channel view of Luke’s Nativity narrative belies the true reason Caesar Augustus was taking the census throughout the Roman Empire, a primary reason the United States still tallies her citizens by geography…to more effectively tax them/us.
The entire biblical world is pressurized in a manner perhaps we may catch some dim emotive echo of right now. Capricious, militaristic, unpredictable. Is it any surprise that religions and religious systems of every variety grew up besides those ancient Homo (mostly) sapiens hunter-gatherers turned pastoralists turned city-state turned regional and global urbanized super-powers? While the eastern religious systems go their way, the Abrahamic faiths accounting for roughly half the world’s souls go quite another. Our Jewish forebears sought refuge, comprehension and solace in aligning their daily lives with the God they believed created the cosmos. The scriptural barometer they used to measure that daily alignment was called “righteousness.” Literally, to be right or accurately aligned with God’s nature, God’s identity, and God’s purposes for humankind. Our Christian forebears both moved toward (the Gospel of Matthew, Letter of James) and away from (most of Paul except when he has weak moments) much of those righteousness metrics, but the one which stuck well was divinized chronology, i.e. claiming the day with prayer to inhabit the Kingdom of the Heavens while parked here on earth. Intermittent prayer throughout the day is a staple feature of any Jewish, Christian and Islamic piety, to reach towards the Lord of Heaven and Earth while escaping the brutal realities of ordinary living.
Egeria records Holy Monday in the Great Week was like other Lenten days for the Jerusalem church. The Assembly begins at 6 AM with morning prayers until 9 AM, then mid-morning prayers, then prayers again at 12 PM, and a brief lunch. Back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at 3 PM, and prayers and singing straight through until 7 PM. Then Lucenare, the evening Lamp lighting worship we discussed yesterday, then a short procession to the Tomb for a final prayer and blessing. Then everyone gets to return home, early in her opinion, about 9 PM. Just an average day in the liturgical office…another 14 to 15 hours for Holy Monday. This, she infers, is an easy day! While younger me dismissed this schedule as designed for the elite pilgrimage traveler, older me is re-examining that presumption. Claiming the entire day in prayer, being together to prepare for the rigors which await later in the week, singing and praying and listening and reading and doing it all over again. Wow. I wonder if Jesus and his disciples ever took time like this even in Jerusalem, and my answer is inescapably “yes” of course they must have. And so should we.
- So, I will attend morning staff meeting and evening bible study by Zoom today, but otherwise will adhere to Egeria’s schedule as stated for Holy Monday. Up at 6 AM to pray the Morning Office using Mother Emily’s superb daily morning prayers and also this on-line treasure here for both Morning and Evening Prayer with music (they update at noon to change daily). I will follow the basic outline as described above. No screens, no visual media except for worship, and no electric light today either. Candles as they did.
- Would you consider joining me? Please note I am choosing the easiest day of the Great Week to attempt this feat Egeria considered a break day!
- What happened? How are you better prepared, oriented and aligned with God after today?