The Morning Prayer readings for the Monday in the Third Sunday after Epiphany
Old Testament: Habakkuk 3:2-end
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 7
In this selection from Habakkuk the prophet is doing two things. Firstly, he is recounting and showing the extent of the Lord’s wrath, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls…” (3:17) in fact this is part of Habakkuk’s prayer, which begins at 3:1; in this prayer Habakkuk goes through the various incarnations of the Lord’s wrath but comes to a close with this, perhaps beseeching, prayer, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.” I think the line on which this whole prayer turns and what draws us into the mind of St. Paul is Habakkuk’s statement that he will, “joy in the God of my salvation” (3:17).
St. Paul writes in the second reading about marriage. Admittedly a chapter that might cause consternation for some, I think it’s right to actually read in it a great reciprocity. There is a back and forth with which Paul speaks of the relation of two people in marriage, many instances of “as with wife, so with husband” (7:2,3,4,5,11,12,14, etc). St. Paul here caused me to think back to my own wedding which took place only in August and the vows that my wife and I both made, “…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance and thereto I give thee my troth” (BCP 1962 Can. 566). Paul’s writings in 1 Cor. 7 points to the sort of reciprocity that are part of our matrimonial vows–sickness and health, better or worse are not accepted conditionally with an, “until I am bored of it or meet another,” clause, they are the vows.
Insofar as our marriages to one another on earth, “signify(ing) unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church,” we are meant to at least strive for a perfect love, faithfulness and unity within that marriage. Habakkuk and Paul though recognize the difficulty of that in a world of transience and fallenness; Habakkuk sees the wrath brought down upon those who have transgressed and we can feel the sort of bleak outlook Habakkuk has of the future, however he still joys in God, for God is ultimately the God of his Salvation. God, God’s offering of Salvation, and the Salvation itself so far transcend the punishment and dearth Habakkuk sees on earth that in right relation, even in tribulation and suffering, we ought to be rejoicing in God because God remains for us, still, the God of our salvation.
The matrimonial vows recognize the same transience and suffering in the world–whether rich or poor, better or worse, sickness or health, as the church wed to Christ or as husband wed to wife our joy should be in the God of our salvation remembering that it is that end to which we are called, and not to the sickness and tribulation of the world.
The genius of the Prayer Book is that these readings and themes are never divorced from the time of the calendar in which they fall. The collect for the Third Sunday After Epiphany ought to be the collect for any time we feel bogged down in the infirmities in the world and not drawn up in the joy of the God of our salvation,
Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our
dangers and necessities stretch for thy right hand to help and defend us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.