Day 1 (Monday)
Last week we saw how God provided food for the people of Israel in the wilderness, and established for them the Sabbath day of rest on the 7th day of the week. This week we are skipping ahead a few chapters; we actually read from Exodus 17 back in Week 3, on September 14th, when the Amalekites attacked the Israelites and God gave them victory against them through the sign of the Cross. But this week they will arrive at the mountain of God, at Mount Sinai, and God will speak to them and tell them what His purpose for them is.
19 On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 3 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
7 So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 The people all answered as one: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. 9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”
When Moses had told the words of the people to the Lord, 10 the Lord said to Moses: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Be careful not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it. Any who touch the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; whether animal or human being, they shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people. He consecrated the people, and they washed their clothes. 15 And he said to the people, “Prepare for the third day; do not go near a woman.”
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. 19 As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 20 When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people not to break through to the Lord to look; otherwise many of them will perish. 22 Even the priests who approach the Lord must consecrate themselves or the Lord will break out against them.” 23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people are not permitted to come up to Mount Sinai; for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and keep it holy.’” 24 The Lord said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you; but do not let either the priests or the people break through to come up to the Lord; otherwise he will break out against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.
1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should point out that God has a purpose for Israel, that He is making them His particular people, a priestly people, and that this means they need to keep themselves pure and holy.)
2) What do we learn about God in this story? (We learn that He is holy, and we see His power and His greatness as He descends in a cloud with an earthquake and fire and smoke upon the mountain. We see too that He makes promises to His people, but that there are conditions: “If we obey His voice and keep His covenant”).
3) What do we learn about human beings in this story? (We learn that human beings need to be purified to approach God).
4) What do you find difficult about this story? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question - the leader can mention anything that he/she finds difficult. It’s a good thing to show that it isn’t necessary to immediately understand or be able to explain the Scripture. Sometimes, we need to acknowledge that it makes us uncomfortable, or doesn’t make sense to us, and learn to sit with those questions and think about them, perhaps for days or weeks, but sometimes even for years.).
5) Does this story make you think that you need to change anything in your life? (It would be good to note that we should remember to take it seriously when we approach God, and not to take it lightly. We have the opportunity to change the way we approach God most especially in how we prepare for Holy Communion. Note: realizing that we need to prepare to encounter God should NOT mean that we decide simply NOT to encounter God at all, if preparation is difficult or inconvenient.)
Day 2 (Wednesday)
St. Athanasios the Great on the Incarnation
Prayers before Communion
There are many prayers that can be used to prepare to receive Holy Communion; in some prayer books, you can even find an entire Canon with hymns and prayers of preparation. However, there are seven prayers in particular that the clergy say before they receive Communion in the Liturgy, and the people can and should use these prayers as well. We will read three of them today.
I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen.
Behold, I approach for Holy Communion.
O, Creator, burn me not as I partake;
For You are fire, which burns the unworthy,
Wherefore, do cleanse me from every stain.
Tremble, O mortal, beholding the Divine Blood.
For it is as a lighted coal, burning the unworthy.
It is God’s Body and deifies and nourishes me:
It deifies my soul, and wondrously nourishes my mind.
Discussion questions (These are the normal questions we should ask when considering a prayer):
1) What does this prayer say about God? (These prayers say that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, that He has saved us, and that His Body and Blood are offered to us in Communion. They say that He is fire, and consumes the unworthy.)
2) What does this prayer say about us? (These prayers say that we are the first, the greatest of all sinners, that we are not worthy of God’s love, and that we need Him to cleanse us, to forgive and heal us, and to make us worthy.).
3) What is the relationship between us and God that this prayer is seeking? (A relationship in which we, who need God, receive His love and grace and mercy, and are brought into communion with Him, not because we are worthy, but because in our unworthiness He loves us. A relationship in which we are lower, and He is higher, and we are looking up to Him in thanksgiving.)
4) What do we need to change about our thinking and our living to make this prayer more real for us in our lives? (We need to confess the truth that we are unworthy and sinful, and the truth that God loves us even though we are unworthy and sinful, and that He calls us to approach Him and be healed and cleansed and forgiven and raised up and deified, made like Him)
5) Is there anything in this prayer that bothers, troubles, or confuses us? (There may be many answers, but a common question is how we can all say that we are the first among sinners with any truth. If one of us is the first among sinners, then everyone else would be second, third, etc. But the point is that we shouldn’t be looking at anyone else’s sins; when we stand before God, all that matters is that we are unworthy, and He loves us anyway and calls us to repentance and communion and theosis (to be made like God, like Him). If we’re looking at anyone else’s sins, we’re not looking at God…so in the only way that is relevant, we are all each the first among sinners.)
Day 3 (Friday)
Last week we read the parable of the sower, and the further explanations that Jesus gave to what that parable meant. This week, we see what happens next in the Gospel of Luke, as Jesus and His disciples get into a boat and cross the lake to the other side.
22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, 23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
1) What did you notice in today’s reading? What surprised you or what was memorable to you? (Leader should point out that only God has power over the weather, over the chaos of the waters, and how interesting it is that the demons knew Jesus by name, even before He had spoken to them. We should notice that Jesus doesn’t do anything else in this country except cleanse this man with the demons; it appears that He crossed the lake for the express purpose of driving these demons out of him.)
2) What do we learn about God in this story? (We learn that He has divine power over both the weather and demons. We also see His love and compassion for human beings who are enslaved by demons).
3) What do we learn about human beings in this story? (We see how easy it is to be afraid; even when Jesus is with the disciples in the storm, they are still full of doubt and fear. We learn that human beings are the objects of demonic attack, and that the demons seek to destroy us. And we see that sometimes people want Jesus to just go away, when He does and says things that disrupt their lives.).
4) What do you find difficult about this story? Is there anything confusing about it, or anything that you dislike? (This is an open question - they might mention how the pigs are killed, and question why, or wonder how the man came to be possessed by a Legion of demons. I think God allows the demons to kill the pigs to show clearly that they are agents of death and destruction, to warn us not to take such things lightly. As for how the man came to be possessed, demon possession does not happen unless a person welcomes or seeks that sort of thing out. We should be careful, however, because various kinds of sin can open the door to demonic activity in our lives. Messing with the occult is an obvious example, but sexual sin can open the door as well, and seeking power and domination over others can be a first step towards sin that opens the door also).
5) Does this story make you think that you need to change anything in your life? (We should remember to trust God even in the midst of the storms, and make sure that we keep our lives filled with the things of God, so that there isn’t room for sins and demonic activity. If we think of our lives as a room, we need to make sure it is filled with light, so that the darkness doesn’t take it over. We do this with Scripture reading, with prayer, and with a general attention to the things of God throughout the course of our everyday lives).