Saturday, February 24, 2007

Feast of St. Matthias

Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. 26 Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. 27 All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. 28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

From at least the time of St. Gregory I, Bishop of Rome, the feast of St. Matthias was observed on this day (Feb. 24, or 25 in leap years) in the West, but on August 9 in the East. After Vatican II, the revised Roman calendar put it on May 14, but Anglicans and traditionalists continue to observe it on the traditional day.

I feel a certain kinship with St. Matthias, for two reasons -- first, having been born when my father was nearly 50 and my mother 41, I was the youngest cousin on both sides (I'm an only child), and so I always felt like a "latecomer" to the family, not having experienced a lot of the family history that others have. In addition, we moved a lot when I was a child, so I frequently started at a new school and in a new church (my father being pastor in most cases) -- and while Matthias had accompanied Jesus and the other disciples from the beginning, I'm sure being one of the Twelve must have been a similar experience.

The last three verses of today's gospel have always been one of my favorite passages of scripture. When I first began to pray the Office, in high school, in the form provided in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the first Office I regularly began to pray was Compline -- and these verses are one of the options for the chapter -- and the option I usually chose. And the first verse is the first of the "Comfortable Words" in the traditional Anglican Eucharistic rite -- which I heard in the Rite I parish I attended toward the end of high school, as I began to forsake the evangelical churches of my childhood for the liturgical tradition. As I was beginning to come to terms with being gay and figuring out how to reconcile that with being Christian, this promise that what Christ asks of us is not burdensome or heavy was quite reassuring, and whenever I hear these words, I am taken back to that time -- along with hearing the Willan Agnus Dei, these are my most vivid religious memories of that period of my life.

However, the contrast of this passage with the very difficult passage we read yesterday -- and Jesus' command to "be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect" -- is quite striking. The Collect for today is also a contrast (at least for those of us called to be pastors):

O ALMIGHTY God, who into the place of the traitor Judas didst choose thy faithful servant Matthias to be of the number of the twelve Apostles; Grant that thy Church, being alway preserved from false Apostles, may be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

When I pray it, I pray that I may be preserved from BEING a false apostle, but may instead be a "faithful and true pastor" -- and anyone in a pastoral office will sooner or later be confronted with a difficult situation where one must make an agonizing decision, with the very heavy burden of worrying if the decision made will have a deleterious effect on one's flock. I can only pray that I have more "Matthias" moments than "Judas".

I don't know how to solve this paradox -- and maybe it is not solvable -- there are times when the Christian faith is the greatest consolation in the world, and there are times when it is extremely difficult. As we continue our Lenten journey, may we never forget that consolation during the times of anguish and temptation.

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