The Book of Common Prayer, #4

August 5, 2008

What is the Book of Common Prayer? (Continued #4)

It is interesting to note that in the 1970’s the “Protestant Episcopal Church” removed the word “Protestant” from the Book of Common Prayer and most legal documents, effectively renaming itself “The Episcopal Church.” This was done for the same reason that the word was placed in the title in the first place: to make it clear that the “Protestant Episcopal Church” and the “Episcopal Church” was not the same as the other reformation churches, such as the Presbyterians or Lutherans or even the Roman Catholic Church – which as we know it today is a product of the reformation. After 1830, or so, the word “protestant” began to be used in its current meaning, “non Catholic.” “Protestant” did not mean “non-Catholic” when it was carefully chosen to be part of the name of our Church. “Protestant Episcopal” when it was chosen to be the name of our Church really meant the “Non-Roman, Catholic Church ruled by Bishops, not the Pope.”

What all this means is that we believe – hopefully, in all humility – that we are not like the other churches. Primarily this means that we do not have a core document detailing what we believe – such as the “Confessions” that most of the other denominations (including the Roman Catholics); it also means that we have a ministry that can be traced back in direct laying on of hands to the earliest moments of the Church’s corporate life. We share this ministry with the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Christians of the East – but Protestant clergy do not share in this form of the ministry.

Thus it is that if a Roman Catholic priest wishes to become a priest in The Episcopal Church, he does not need to be ordained. He may be sent to seminary (and usually is) for a while to get the Anglican ethos, but no ordination. He does, however, need to take the oath to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church, and to obey the Bishop and other lawful authorities. A Protestant Minister, on the other hand, must be ordained. A protestant minister most often will be sent to seminary, and then confirmed (or have those parts of our Baptismal Liturgy that were not in the form used when they were baptized administered by a priest or Bishop) and then they are ordained. The second paragraph on page 510 requires ordination; the third paragraph on page 312 refers to the Baptism.

This matter of ministry and ordination is far from a dead issue. Even though the Episcopal Church agreed to suspend the requirements of paragraph 2 on page 510 in the recent Concordat with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it was this issue of the meaning of the ministry that led the ELCA to vote against the Concordat. The very recently signed agreement (1999) called Consultation on Church Unity (COCU) refused to admit the Episcopal Church(and we refused to join, although we agree in principle) because of this matter of the ministry.

Behind all of this is the great Anglican priest and theologian Richard Hooker who died in the year 1600. His greatest work, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity was a defense of the Church of England against the Puritan onslaughts. His basic philosophy was based on Aristotle (as was that of Thomas Aquinas), instead of Plato, as was the practice of the reformers and especially the puritans. It is Hooker’s discussion of the nature of The Church that ends up on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer. It is worth quoting.

“The Church is always a visible society of men; not an assembly, but a Society. For although the name of the Church be given unto Christian assemblies, although any multitude of Christian men congregated may be termed by the name of a Church, yet assemblies properly are rather things that belong to a Church. Men are assembled for performance of public actions; which actions being ended, the assembly dissolveth itself and is no longer in being, whereas the Church which was assembled doth no less continue afterwards than before.”
Pope Clement the Eighth is reported to have said that Hooker’s work “had in it such seeds of eternity that it would abide until the last fire shall consume all learning.” – quoted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, November 3rd

For better or worse, non Catholics seem to despise Hooker; and Catholics love him.

Hooker’s other great contribution to our Anglican thinking has to do with Reason. Hooker places Reason at the same level of authority as Holy Scriptures and Tradition (Ministry, Sacraments and Creeds). (For the size of the Anglican Communion, we seem to have more theologians and scholars par capita than any other denomination.) The placing of Reason right up there with the Bible and Bishops and Creeds and Sacraments is another characteristic of the earliest Church.

Again, it makes us different from the other denominations. It is possible, however, to place such trust in reason that one will lose, or diminish, the place that belongs to faith. No amount of Reason can provide one with faith, although it can provide tremendous support after one has shown or experienced faith. But one of the temptations provided by the modern Satan is the temptation to intellectualize away all the means and expressions of faith. Some of this is visible currently in the “Great Debates” about Jesus.

Of course it is essential that we use our minds to the fullest and study to understand everything we can about Jesus, the Church and we Episcopalians. But the temptation here is that the study alone, or even the fruits of that study, are sufficient for a reasonable and healthful and helpful religion.

This just is not so. It was the intellectualization of God’s command that made Eve decide to violate that command. The source of sin is in our greatest gift from God: the gift of intellect/reason. It is often easier – not to mention more convenient – to think and be intellectual than to be faithful and generous and loving. To be faithful and generous and loving requires always keeping God at the center of life. This begins in worship.

That, most likely, is the reason that the Fifth Book of Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is devoted to a defense of the Book of Common Prayer against its Puritan detractors. All his life long, Richard Hooker was a faithful parish priest, not a courtier or a lecturer or professional theologian. He writes as a parish priest, concerned to assist his people in their quest to know and love God in Jesus through the Church and Sacraments and Offices of Praise. All his writing is serene and calm and written for all to read and learn from. (The Faithful Skeptic is written for the people of the parish where this priest is located, and for the same purpose.)

If one sees the Book of Common Prayer as a book of Directions on How to Worship, one will miss its real purpose: to produce loving and generous members of Christ – the Family of God. This was the tragedy of the “Conformist” “Non-conformist” (and later, high Church/low Church) compromise: it gives the blessing of the Church to the practice of lying about faith.

Now we shall turn to the real purpose of the Book of Common Prayer: the nurture of Christians.

Making the People of God, #4

July 29, 2008

4. Why “Do this?” (Part 3)

The first great theme of the Old Testament is “freedom from bondage.” Moses, a leader inspired by God, took the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, where they were building monuments for the pharaohs. Their lives were wretched; without hope; with no future; no power; no expectation of relief; no organization; working at a task that provided them with no benefit; no entertainment; they had even forgotten their God; nothing at all – except the impossible task of work with insufficient, incorrect tools. Even the most needy persons in our nation have nothing to compare with the hopelessness, loveless life of these Hebrew slaves.

Suddenly a speech-impaired man from the ruling class comes to them, organizes them around their God – whom they had all but forgotten – and tells them that they are to be set free to go worship their God. While the miracles done by Moses are told in a manner to convince Pharaoh the free the slaves, they certainly had the additional affect of convincing the Hebrews of Moses’s authenticity. After a time – ending with the Passover Angel – they were set free; they went on their way.

As they were reveling in their new freedom., suddenly they saw the army of Pharaoh following them. The old bondage was reaching out to snatch back its escaped slaves. In terror, they moved faster – perhaps to out-run the army chariots? Suddenly, in front of them, a body of water appears. The army chariots behind; the water in front – what were they to do? The brief fire of freedom was to be extinguished: either by the violence of the army, or the water before them. Maybe it would have been better to have remained slaves! Bad as it was, it was predictable.

A strong east wind blew all night long. (Exodus 14:21)

The Hebrews went through the place where the water had been– with dry feet. Then the wind ceased; Pharaoh’s army was destroyed. Now they indeed were free! Now indeed they were free! Free at last! Free at last! Finally – free! No more bondage; no more bricks; no more work; no more external authority; no more rules made by other people: they were free. In the exuberance of their freedom, they continued with Moses to the place where they worshipped their God. They thanked him for deliverance.

After a while – like children on school vacation – the question arose: Now what?

They complained about their freedom. How were they to eat and drink? Looking into that horrid past, it suddenly seemed rosy: there was plenty of food in Egypt; perhaps they should go back. The Nile river ran through Egypt; plenty of water. Suddenly they toyed with going back to the past. Power requires responsibility; is it worthy it?

Give back that freedom – which required them to use the minds that the Lord God had given them. They wandered around in a wilderness for a long time – forty years. They experimented with many things; strange gods; strange practices; peculiar interpersonal relationships. They complained about the responsibility of their freedom. They could not get along with each other even when Moses supplied them with leadership and rules from God. They did not understand the rules and chose not follow them. Even the new leadership became weighed down with the failure of free people to be responsible for their interrelated lives. More than once they complained that slavery (no power) in Egypt was preferable to freedom (power). They were free, but they did not know how to live with their freedom.

In spite of their many failures to accept the freedom they had been given, they did not turn back. They moved on to the Promised Land – that place of hope – where all their expectations of the meaning of freedom would come true. The Promised Land was not like Egypt: it was a land where they would be in charge. No one would tell them what to do; they would have food in abundance; each person would have his or her own home; all children would be above average; life would be, in a word, a bowl of cherries. Hope in the future helped them overcome their displeasure with the present; and they rejected the concept of turning back to the past.

But it was not exactly what they had expected.

All this is included in Jesus’s specific direction:
Do this for my anamnesis/remembrance/recalling. Why?
First of all, the Eucharist is associated with the Passover festival. Whether it was the night before the Preparation of the Passover as in the Fourth Gospel, or whether it was the First night of Passover is not really as important as the direct association with Passover. Passover is the celebration of freedom. More than that: Passover is the celebration of the unmerited love of God – love freely given for no reason imaginable by the human mind.

The only reason that the first Passover took place is that God loved those whom God chose to set free. Abject slaves; living with all decisions made by others; poverty; negative worth; powerless people; people with absolutely nothing in their favor, not a single positive item – in the way that humans (separated from God by sin) look at things. Yet God brought the freedom and gave them power over their lives.

This was done in accordance with their own recollection of someone named Abraham. This Abraham, their legends had it, was a very old, childless man who was very wealthy and powerful in his time. He had a vision of the Lord God. God promised him that Abraham would have children more than the stars of the heavens, than the sands of the sea. This happened at the end of Abraham’s life. Yet it was the beginning of Abraham’s life that started it all. Without question, Abraham left his homeland at God’s direction, went west, and, by being faithful, he became successful as the world sees success.

But in the one thing which everyone thought to be of great importance, Abraham’s life was incomplete. He had no child to inherit his estates. When he had the vision as a very old man, when God announced that he would become a father at the age of 100 – married to Sarah, who was in her 90’s – Abraham believed: – that is, Abraham had faith. That faith set him free from fear for his estates.
For no valid human reason Abraham was the object of the love of God. God’s loved showered on him and Sarah, and Isaac was born.

To test Abraham’s faith, Abraham was asked to sacrifice (kill) his son Isaac as an act of worship to God. When Abraham raised the knife to kill his son, God recognized Abraham’s faith: and “it was counted to him as righteousness.” A ram was caught in the thicket, and the sacrifice was completed. ( John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God.”) Faith, such as Abraham’s; or faith, such as the slaves had: faith resulted in the love of God being released on them.

The Love of God is the essence of the Creation. It is the primary force of union and of creation. The only thing that prevents humans from receiving this bountiful, gracious love of God is the selfishness that places something other than God at the center of life.

Making the People of God, number 3

July 18, 2008

3. Why “Do this?” (Part 2)Last week, the necessity of using metaphor was discussed. Metaphor was applied to the Creation story in Genesis. When this is done, then one sees the Christian concept of God – as distinct from the prevailing American idea of God – in a totally different manner. Many who loudly call themselves Christian have an inadequate, if not downright wrong, idea of God.

The Christian God of the Bible – including both Old and New Testaments – is not part of Creation. This God created everything that exists, including all the laws of physics and mathematics, from nothing other than what we call – using metaphor – thought or imagination. Continuing the metaphor, the mere thinking made it real, and it came into actual existence through the – metaphor – power, or Spirit, or soul, of God. (Stephen Hawking indicates that we lack the knowledge of math to fully be able to comprehend much more than we now know of the moment of the “big bang.”)

The Christian God of the Bible is, however, not just the Creator who did it and then (metaphor) stands back and watches it go. The Christian God of the Bible is intimately and actively involved in the process of Creation – for creation is an on-going process. Again, this is something we can only learn by observation, by reflection, and by faith. Then the observations, reflections and faith express themselves in story. “Story” is a combination of observation and reflection, told in a manner that includes the observation and the reflection in support of the faith of the community. That is what the Bible does for us. It tells us how the observation of events – history – illustrate the action of God in creation. (The clearest illustration of this is: The 6 PM Evening News TV on the day the Israelites went through the Red Sea, both in Egypt and in Israel, had the same lead story, a reporting of the same event: but the story in Egypt was quite different from the one in Israel.)

When one begins to understand the Bible in this manner, then real faith can commence, and the direct relationship of God to the ordinary events of daily living can be seen. When that happens, then it becomes possible to perceive the action of God in the redemption of humans – the restoration of relationships with God, with Creation and with Each Other. When that happens, then the Bible becomes a paradigm of restored relationships, rather than a book of laws to be obeyed. It comes quite clear that it is impossible for humans ever to earn God’s love. There is absolutely nothing at all that humans can do that will ever destroy God’s love – not even the murder of God’s only Son. (metaphor) God’s love is consistent and constant. When humans believe (have faith) this, then they can take their full part in the procreation and completion of Creation: in faith enhancing all relationships between people, God and all aspects of creation with the dynamic of love.That is what the Eucharist is all about.

When Jesus said “Do this for my anamnesis – in remembrance of me,” he brought all of this into the minds of the disciples. (Apparently more than just the Twelve.) “Do this” includes the entire history of Israel, the whole paradigm of God’s relationship to Israel. This is best understood in the three major themes presented in the Old Testament. These themes are: 1. Freedom from Slavery (Exodus); 2. Homecoming/Restoration/Heavenly Banquet (End of Exile, Isaiah chapters 40 – 55; 3. Mediation of Grace through Institution (rebuilding of Temple, Sacrifice, Ministry, Torah).

To this very day, the first of these (Freedom from Slavery) continues as a major part of the continuing Jewish/Hebrew religion. To participate in Passover is to be involved in a great and wondrous celebration of the power of God, the graciousness of God and the exaltation of humanity. And perhaps most important, the celebration of Passover is not the looking back with affection on some past event. Passover is not a commemoration of something that happened 3500 years ago. Passover is not the desire to return to some pervious period in the past as a “better” time than now. No, Passover is the making present of the act of God that demonstrated the love of God for those whom God has chosen as the recipients of God’s love.

The love/action of God gives a freedom God’s people did not know or understand. Look at the recipients: slaves in a nation ruled by a despotic ruler/god; desperate to demonstrate his ability to overcome the laws of nature and live forever. These sophisticated Egyptians even – perhaps – had the beginnings of a belief in the One God. They took these foreigners, enslaved them, forcing them even to forget their own heritage. The condition of the Hebrew slaves was dreadful: insufficient food; incorrect tools for the task; impersonal interrelationships; poverty; harassment; in short, every discrimination-evil known to humanity. Not only were they required to destroy their children, but they did it without complaint.

With one exception.

Moses was one of these horrid Hebrew slaves. But his mother had faith. After assuring his ability to survive, she sent him floating down the river for a future she could not imagine. The baby is discovered by a princess of the royal family and raised as her own child. (Serendipity? Luck? Fate? Coincidence? Fluke? Act of God? – it depends on your own faith.) And look what happened!

Through the actions of Moses, this unfortunate gaggle of slaves, these unsophisticated, uneducated, unknown people with no homeland, no history (in the sense of war and conquest), no claim to significance by any set of standards suddenly found themselves set free.

This freedom came to them, in effect, as a bolt out of the blue. A flash of lightning gave their lives a new meaning and purpose. They had done nothing at all. But it happened. It happened when the wind – the sign of their Storm-god – came up and blew back the water so they could escape the pursuing Egyptians. (Wind was observed blowing back the water in the shallow lakes that covered the isthmus of Suez during the construction of the Suez Canal.)

For no observable reason this tattered people was set free. They were delivered from their misery. They experienced the action of God. They gave thanks to God for their deliverance. How could they show their gratitude? First, by making present the loving action of God throughout all ages; second, as a paradigm, or model, for all humanity. (Metaphor)

“Do this.” The “This” is the action of God, setting free not only the Hebrews, the first followers of “The Way”, the Christians. It was the person of Jesus who “did this.” Jesus did this, not by his teaching, not by his miracles, but by the total offering of his own life. This self offering – this obedience – this utter faith in God – is the making holy (sacri-fice), the “showing” of the complete love of God for his people, the bringing of his people into full life in God. This, in the first three Gospels and Paul, is the setting free – for no reason -that God did at Passover with Moses. For no (humanly discernable) reason, God acted. The unfailing love of God came because God chose to bring it. But God brought it to the People of God, those who were looking forward to God’s loving action – Messiah??

Making the People of God, #2

June 28, 2008

Making the People of God

The Holy Eucharist

 

2. Why “Do this?”

We modern Americans are so used to a scientific approach in all things that we are unable to appreciate the place in life that must be accorded to myth and story telling. Nothing can be left to the imagination. Everything must be presented as “fact.” There can be no shades of gray. All things must be seen as “correct” or “incorrect,” “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad,” “win” or “lose,” “either – or,” etc.

 

In fact, in the matters that deal with “facts” this is the only reasonable way to see things, so long as one remembers that sometimes additional information will make changes in so called “facts.” For example, recent information indicates that there is water in the form of ice on the Mars.

 

But where matters of the Spirit and of God are concerned, a different way of thinking is needed. Word-pictures, or metaphors, make it possible to talk about things that cannot be perceived directly through the five senses. This is especially true in religion, for here the subject is, by definition, beyond human comprehension. Yet it is here that metaphors or images are most helpful.

It is very important not to confuse the metaphor or image with reality, however. Spirituality is vast, and far beyond our comprehension. Images and metaphors give direction to thinking; but they only point in the direction of – they are not the reality itself. That is beyond our abilities. As St. Paul puts it, “Now we see only a bit, like an image in a mirror. . .” Even the sum total of images and metaphors is incomplete. God and spirituality expand infinitely as our comprehension grows.

 

All of this applies to the Eucharist.

 

When Jesus said “Do this” the command brought with it a whole load of images and metaphors. Part of the reason is, of course, the setting of the command in the first place. The first three Gospels make it clear that the command came as part of the Passover celebration that Jesus had with his disciples – the twelve and the others – on the night of the Passover meal. The first day of Passover, it is called today. (Because he uses a different set of images and metaphors, the author of the Fourth Gospel sets the meal on the day before the day of the Preparation for the Passover. This way Jesus dies on the Day of Preparation, at about the time the Passover Lambs were being slaughtered/sacrificed in the Temple. This brings with it an entirely – but equally important – set of images and metaphors.)

 

The Old Testament contains within it three major metaphors having to do with the relationship between God and his Chosen People. It is important to understand these three images, because they relate directly to the Eucharist as it is presented in the Gospels and in Saint Paul; and, of course, in the Church today and throughout the ages.

 

All three of the images or metaphors derive from the concept of the Creator God in the first chapter of Genesis. If this chapter is not understood in most of its implications, it is difficult to understand the rest of the Old Testament. At this point the most important things about the chapter is that God created everything that is – without any exception – out of nothing at all. There is no raw material’ to be used for the creation. All comes about simply and solely because God “thought” about it. (An image relating God to ourselves. A thought becomes a real’ thought when spoken: so God said “Let there be . . ., and there was . . .” It was brought into existence because the Spirit – power, or soul – of God acted.)

 

The clear implication of this kind of creation is that if God thought it up, if God made it real’, if God brought it into existence, then it belongs to God; God owns it; it is God’s possession; its continued existence depends on God; its meaning and purpose come from God; its relationship to the rest of creation is fixed by God.

 

The one exception to this is that humans are – in addition to the things that are common to all of creation – created in the image or metaphor of God. To a certain extent humans share in God’s very life and creativity, because humans can also bring a thought to life – even though humans must use a raw material’ from what God has provided. In Hebrew, this creativity is called “knowledge” as best we can translate it. As we know’ what the mind can conceive, so from the raw materials’ provided in creation, that which is “known” is given “reality.” We “procreate.” To limit “procreation” to the conceiving of children (as some would do) does great harm to the concept of God’s creation. (Depending on the context, the Hebrew word “know” or “knowledge” can also mean “sexual intercourse.”)

 

Humans share in the creativity of God. If this is to be a “real” sharing, then humans must also share in another aspect’ of God: humans must have a large element of “freedom.” Without freedom, the “procreativity” of humans becomes a sham, a deception, a lie, a fraud – a denial of the gracious goodness of the God who created it all.

 

However, this freedom does not exempt humans from their own “createdness.” Humans still belong to God; they are owned by God; they are God’s possession; they depend upon God; their meaning and purpose comes from God; their relationship with the rest of creation is established by God. Only in the freedom that comes from the image of God are humans any different from the rest of creation.

 

That this freedom is real – to the Hebrew mind – is proved because humans can deny any or all of their “createdness.” If they cannot, then they are not really free. But the fact that humans can – and indeed do – deny their createdness is in itself proof that they are free. The Hebrews tell this in the story of the Man and the Woman in the Garden: humans deny their createdness by defying their relationship with God; they then seize God’s place in their own lives. When that happens all of creation is disrupted. (St. Paul says the whole creation groans like a woman in labor pains.) This disruption is a rebellion against God; it is a denial of reality; it is, in fact, a denial of one’s own being and nature. It in fact, from the human side, separates humans from God.

 

Over the centuries this separation has been called sin.

 

Human sin, however, cannot change God; it can only change humans and their perceptions of God and God’s creation. The gracious goodness of God is unchanged by human sin. The Hebrews note this by having God protect the humans from exploitation and from each other by giving them clothing.

 

But far more important, God’s gracious goodness immediately begins a new creative burst. By making use of human freedom and procreativity, God’s gracious goodness begins the process of redemption. Not the restoration of the status quo ante, but a new creation, a creation that expands on the gracious goodness of God. Thus God reaches out to humans in love; and chooses a People who will understand – to a degree – God and their relationship to God; and, using their freedom, God will redeem humanity with his own love. This is the starting point of the Eucharist.

We are back in business.

June 17, 2008

After a 6 month absence, I think I have become organized enough to be able to commit myself to writing at least one per week.  But first, I wish to share with you what amounts to a book, called Making the People of God.”  In origin this was a series of weekly inserts into the Parish Program.  It was made available for other parishes, with a sugggested price of $100/month plus $0.25 per copy printed (even though I would make it available for less or even for free.)  It begins with Dom Gregory Dix’s great qoute from The Shape of the Liturgy, “Was ever such a command . . .”

The purpose of the writing is to give a different view of the history contained in the Bible, to show how we arrived at where we are now.  As I re-post these now, I will rewrite them somewhat — and look for comments.  The first one, however, will follow and will be unchanged. 

Blessings, Perren

 

Making the People of God

 

The Holy Eucharist

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human experience, for every conceivable human need from and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Humans have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and groom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so, wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheater; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonization of S. Joan of Arc – one could fill many pages with reasons why we have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei – the holy common people of God.” The Shape of the Liturgy, Dom Gregory Dix. Page 744, fourth impression 1949As one looks backward through the 2000 year history of christianity, there are two things which strike the mind.

First, that there in fact should be a christianity at all. That a young Jewish man could teach of the kingdom of God, be found guilty on a political charge, be publicly executed, have his small band of associates scattered, and still leave behind him a faith structure that endures to this present moment is in deed a miracle. Yet, unlike the others who thought they had a messianic calling to redeem Israel from the hated enemy, at his death those who surrounded Jesus did not disband. Disheartened, disoriented and discouraged, they saw their dead leader alive. The fact of the Resurrection transformed this motley group into leaders who began a process that has profoundly affected the course of human history. That process has enriched the lived of countless multitudes. That we have just concluded – hopefully – a joint effort of a number of nations in which another nation was not permitted to persecute and destroy another group, is a reflection of the impact of the Resurrection. From the Resurrection flows, ultimately, the love of God, who has created all persons equal. It is not just a “religious” truth that one talks about but does not expect to see in fact: it has become of the warp and woof of our civilization. (Even those who find it amazing that one could conceive of using bombs to create peace have to admit that at least the ultimate goal flows from the love of God.) From the cross flows the beginnings of the real New Age. All humans can be freed from those demons that plague their lives. Those societal mores, those judgmental hypocrites, those breakers of spirit, those destroyers of creativity, those forces of conformity,, and the rest of them: have been defeated by the power of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. Humans are entitled to freedom and love and respect.

The Resurrection ensures the victory of God, the love of humanity.

Equally amazing is the nature of those who brought this victory to our world. Starting with fisher-folk and some unattached women, no one of any correct’ background – indeed, even Jesus himself comes from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. No great victor such as Alexander the Great or William the Conqueror made others conform to the message of the Loving Creator-God. All were asked to use their own skills and abilities to look at the history of God and see for themselves: they were to be partners with God. Raised up by God, they are invited – indeed, welcomed – into a fellowship of love and family where “force is not of God.” At the very heart of the Resurrection experience (as Luke shows it on the road to Emmaus) is the eucharistic action. So simple, utterly simple. Take, bless, break and give bread; take, bless and give a cup of wine: thus did this young Jewish man with his friends on the night before his death. He told them that this was to be done for the anamnesis of him – for his recalling. And so it has been from the very beginning: the Eucharist.

Dom Gregory writes another paragraph that fits in here:

“To those who know a little of Christian history probably the most moving of all the reflections it brings is not the thought of the great events and the well-remembered saints, but of those innumerable millions of entirely obscure faithful men and women, every one with his or her own individual hopes and fears and joys and sorrows and loves – and sins and temptations and prayers – once every whit as vivid and alive as mine are now. They have left no slightest trace in this world, not even a name, but have passed to God utterly forgotten by humans. Yet each of them once believed and prayed as I believe and pray, and found it hard and grew slack and sinned and repented and fell again. Each of them worshipped at the eucharist, and found their thoughts wandering and tried again, and felt heavy and unresponsive and yet knew – just as really and pathetically as I do these things. There is a little ill-spelled rustic epitaph of the fourth century from Asia Minor: – “Here sleeps the blessed Chione, who has found Jerusalem for she prayed much.” Not another word is known of Chione, some peasant woman who lived in that vanished world of Christian Anatolia. But how lovely if all that should survive after sixteen centuries were that one had prayed much, so that the neighbors who saw all one’s life were sure one must have found Jerusalem! What did the Sunday Eucharist in her village church every week for a life-time mean to the blessed Chione – and to the millions like her then, and every year since? The sheer stupendous quantity of the love of God which this ever repeated action [eucharist] has drawn from the obscure Christian multitudes through the centuries is in itself an overwhelming thought. (All that going with one to the altar each morning!) The Shape of the Liturgy, Dom Gregory Dix. Page 745, fourth impression 1949It is this mystery that has brought us here to our parish church. It is this mystery which we shall leave as our heritage to those who follow us. It is this mystery that is the subject of this Eastertide series of The Skeptic for this spring. I originally prepared this for another congregation. I hope you will enjoy it and find that it feeds your faith.

E. Perren Hayes

The Last Week in Advent

December 17, 2007

The Last Week

in

Advent

The Year 2007The Last Week of Advent

December 17-24

Antiphon on the Venite, daily:

The Lord is now at hand: Come let us adore him.When used, the hymn Vox, clara ecce intonat, either the Breviary form or#57 in the 1982 Hymnal, daily until December 24.

December 17

Antiphon before and after the Psalms of the Day:The Lord will surely come, * and will not tarry: and will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will manifest himself to all nations, alleluia.

Antiphon before and after Canticle 9:Mountains and all hills * shall be abased, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. Come, O Lord, and tarry not, alleluia.

Hymn 59, dailyAntiphon before and after the Benedictus:

Are you he * that should come, or do we look for another? Go, and tell John those things you see: the blind receive their sight, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them, alleluia.Hymn 60, dailyAntiphon before and after the Magnificat:

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reach from one end of the earth to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.December 18Antiphon before and after the Psalms of the Day:

Drop down, O heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation.Antiphon before and after Canticle 10:

Reward them all, O Lord, who wait for you, and let your prophets be found faithful.Antiphon before and after the Benedictus:

Awake, awake, * put on strength, O arm of the Lord.Antiphon before and after the Magnificat:

O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, you appeared in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.December 19

Antiphon before and after the Psalms of the Day:The prophets did foretell that a Savior should be born of the Virgin Mary.

Antiphon before and after Canticle 11:Behold, the Lord shall come that he may sit among princes, and inherit the throne of glory.

Antiphon before and after the Benedictus:I will place salvation in Zion, and in Jerusalem my glory, alleluia.

Antiphon before and after the Magnificat: O Root of Jesse, you stand for an ensign of the people, before you kings shall shut their mouths, and nations shall bow in worship: Come and deliver us, do not delay.December 20Antiphon before and after the Psalms of the Day:

From Zion draws near the Lord Almighty to bring salvation unto his people.Antiphon before and after Canticle 13:

Lo, he is my God, and I will give him honor: my father’s God, and I will exalt him.Antiphon before and after the Benedictus:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.Antiphon before and after the Magnificat:

O Key of David, and Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and bring the prisoners out of the prison house, those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.December 21

Antiphon on the Venite:The Lord, the King of the Apostles, come let us adore him.

When used, the hymn Aeterna Christi munera,#233 in the 1982 Hymnal.Antiphon before and after the Psalms of the Day:

Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their word into the ends of the world.Antiphon before and after Canticle 12

Proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.Antiphon before and after the Benedictus and the Magnificat:

Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed, alleluia.For the Commemoration of Advent:

O Day-spring, Brightness of the light everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death. December 22

Antiphon before and after the Psalms of the Day:Be steadfast, and see the salvation of the Lord with you.

Antiphon before and after Canticle 19:God shall come from Lebanon, and his brightness shall be as the light.

Antiphon before and after the Benedictus:Blessed are you O Mary, for you have believed the Lord: and there shall be a fulfillment in you of those things which were told you from the Lord, alleluia.

Antiphon before and after the Magnificat:O King of nations and their desire; you are the Cornerstone, who makes us both one: Come and save mankind, whom you formed of clay.The Collect for Advent 4.

December 23

Antiphon before and after the Psalms of the Day:Consider how great and glorious is he who enters in for the salvation of his people.

Antiphon before and after Canticle 12:The word of the Lord shall be looked for as the rain, and as the dew shall our God come down on us.

Antiphon before and after the Benedictus:Behold all things are fulfilled which were spoken by the Angel to the Virgin Mary.

Antiphon before and after the Magnificat: O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the desire of all nations and their salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God.December 24Antiphon on the Venite:

You shall know this day that the Lord will come: and in the morning you shall see his glory.When used, the hymn Veni, redemptor gentium, #55 in the 1982 Hymnal.

Antiphon before and after the Psalms of the Day:O Judah and Jerusalem, do not be dismayed: go forth tomorrow, and the Lord himself will be with you, alleluia.

Antiphon before and after Canticle 9:The Lord will come, go out to meet him, saying: Great is his dominion, and of his kingdom there shall be no end: the mighty Lord, the Governor, the Prince of Peace, alleluia.

Antiphon before and after the BenedictusThe Savior of the world shall arise as the sun: and shall come down into the Virgin’s womb, as the showers upon the grass, alleluia.

Evening Prayer Antiphon before and after the Psalms of the Day:Lift up your heads, for behold your redemption draws near.

Antiphon before and after the MagnificatWhen the sun has risen in the heavens, you shall see the King of kings, proceeding from the Father, as a bridegroom out of his chamber.

The CollectO God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A Christmass Bidding PrayerDear People of God:

In this Christmass season, let it be our duty and delight to hear once more the message of the Angels, to go to Bethlehem and see the Son of God lying in a manger.

Let us hear and heed in Holy Scripture the story of Gods loving purpose from the time of our rebellion against him until the glorious redemption brought to us by his holy Child Jesus, and let us make this place glad with our carols of praise.

But first, let us pray for the needs of his whole world, for peace and justice on earth, for the unity and mission of the Church for which he died, and especially for his Church in our country and this parish neighborhood.

And because he particularly loves them, let us remember in his Name the poor and helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed, the unemployed, the sick and those who mourn, the lonely and the unloved, the aged and little children as well as all those who do not know and love the Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, let us remember before God his pure and lowly Mother, and that whole multitude which no one can number, whose hope was in the Word Made Flesh, and with whom, in Jesus, we are one for evermore.

And now, to sum up all these petitions, let us pray in the words which Jesus Christ himself taught us, saying:

Our Father. . .

Antiphon before and after Canticle 17: Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping.May Almighty God, who sent his Son to take our nature upon him, bless us in this holy season, scatter the darkness of sin and brighten our hearts with the light of his holiness; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be upon us and remain with us always. Amen.

The Daily Office and Private Prayer

October 11, 2007

The Daily Office and Private Prayer

For most of my ministry I have been involved with helping individuals form and develop a life of prayer. For reasons that are unimportant here, most of those with whom I worked were priests or on the way to becoming priests. Even when my own life seemed (to many) to be far separated from the church, this has been a very significant part of my ministry. I hope that each of those whom I worked with has learned as much about themselves, their life, their ministry, the church and the gospel as I have.

Of course, this is why I went to Seminary in the first place. I was a “missionary” from the Anglo-catholic Diocese of Albany, where we believed that we existed to help the rest of the Episcopal Church learn that prayer is the center of the life of the church. We were to become catalysts for the rest of the church, to help restore the whole Episcopal Church to its ancient catholic origins. We were not to fight and argue; we were simply to live and pray. God, the most holy Trinity, would work in and through us, and prayer would again become the essence of church life.

Prayer is the heart and soul of any life. Benedict was/is so correct when he states that “To pray is to work; to work is to pray.” THAT is why the church exists – to help people to pray. A parish exists as a local center for prayer. While many things happen at parishes, if the primary purpose is not to pray, that parish is not serving the cause of the gospel, no matter how much good may be done. And, of course, the great act of prayer is the Parish Eucharist on Sunday and Major Feasts – days for which the proper collect is printed in the Book of Common Prayer.

All else flows from this great gathering of the Baptized. The Eucharist is not an intrusion into the life of the parish; something that “needs” to be done because it is “traditional” to do it. The Eucharist is not something that intrudes on the other activities of Sunday morning – including a christian education program. The Eucharist IS the life of the parish. Nothing else has any meaning apart from the Eucharist. It is irrelevant how long the Parish Eucharist takes. This is the full life of the parish, offered, sanctified, broken and united and “missionized.” It is here, at the Parish Eucharist, that the Baptized come alive. It is here, at the Parish Eucharist, that the true and real life of individuals takes its rightful place in the living, resurrected Body of Christ. It is here, at the Parish Eucharist, that the Body of Christ – individually as an inseparable part of the whole – find their task for the Good News. It is here, in the Parish Eucharist, the life of Jesus begins a new week in the local community. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that a Baptized person does that is independent of the Body of Christ as it is fulfilled and completed at the Parish Eucharist.

A Baptized individual can have no real meaning apart from the Body of Christ. In Baptism, each person, individually, dies to “regular,” “normal” human life. Individualism dies in the font. God is resurrected in the font. The Body grows and develops in the font, nourished by the food from the altar. And together, Baptism and Eucharist together, a new being is created, making possible the action of the power of God in the local community and wherever the life goes.

This, I believe, is the essence of the Benedictine Life. Benedict simply saw that the entire Bible is a call to prayer – as the totality of life. Christians (singular cannot exist – after Baptism) ARE alive ONLY in the Body of Christ.

Therefore, I also believe that this Benedictine Life is the essence of the Book of Common Prayer.

That is why the Book of Common Prayer devotes more than half its pages to the Daily Office.

The Daily Office can be seen as the “setting” into which the jewel of the Eucharist is placed. It also can be seen as the blood that brings the “oxygen” of the Spirit to each cell in the Body of Chirst. Without oxygen, any cell will wither and die – whether speaking of a fleshly cell or a spiritual cell.

In our American society today, there is a great thirst for what is called “spirituality.” And indeed there is that thirst in all humans, anywhere. Spirituality is that which bings humans into congruence with that Reality (YHWH) responsible for all that is – whom we call “God.” All search for it; all need it; it comes to those who seek it; the Baptized are those whose task is to help others clarify their quest.

The Daily Office – for us Episcopalians – is the way in which we keep in touch with Reality (YHWH). (When I refer to the Daily Office, I do not include the Reformation peculiarities of general confession at the beginning or multitudes of prayers after the three Office prayers: just verses, psalms, readings, canticles, baptismal creed, Our Father and the daily prayer.) THAT is why the Daily Office is there – to be used each and every day by each and every baptized person in order to remind ourselves that we live in a community, that we depend on others, that this is nothing new and unique, that this is THE means of making possible our Baptismal commitments.

Obviously, it is fitting that the Daily Office should be said in the Parish Church. Benedict was convinced that the Daily Office was a function of Baptism (if he were using today’s language) and so it does not require Holy Orders to do it. In fact, Benedict seems sometimes to be anti-ordained persons! Any group of baptized persons can “do” the Daily Office Daily in any parish church. And equally, any baptized person can “do” the Daily Office anywhere, any time – and do it Daily.

It might be noted that “doing” the Daily Office should not be seen as something unusual, strange, as “earning” anything. It is, for the baptized, in the same category as breathing. Without it, life withers and dies – all life, not just “spiritual” life. And, without it, things in “ordinary” life that are indeed truly spiritual will be missed. We need this connection with each other and with our heart-beat (the Holy Spirit); with our mind (Jesus.): all of which provides both growth and fulfillment of  our task to bring the message of the power that underlies the whole of Creation, bringing love and live and peace and joy to all.

Private prayer must be rooted in the Daily Office.  If not, it can easily (and usually does) wander off into some never-never land called “spirituality.”  Only when and as rooted in the Daily Office can we trust other, external “feelings” and “observations” that come our way.  Even when we “do” the Daily Office alone, we are never really alone.  Millions are there with us, somewhere saying/singing the Daily Office.  It is this source of strength and power that enables us to perceive God in all that we say and do.  Sometimes the Daily Office will make us change jobs or even occupations.  That is, however, a result of our commitment, made at Baptism, strengthened and fed at the Eucharist, and activated byu our life within the Body of Christ.

So, if you are serious about private prayer, and you do not now “do” the Daily Office, there is no better time than today to begin it.

NOTE: I have received several requests for permission to pass on these writings. If it is published here, you may use it as long as my name and email are included.

Unity/Community/Numbers

September 27, 2007

Unity/Community/Numbers

Well, the time seems to be near at hand when what we have called “The Anglican Communion” will change its nature. With my ear to the ground, I hear moaning and joy; I hear moaning and despair; I also hear (when I strain my ears) rejoicing and excitement.

Among the things that I hear are cries that “Unity is impaired,” and its corollary,”Unity is of ultimate importance.” Coupled with that are statements about “Community” and its alter ego, “Communion.” And, hidden under it all, is the concern about “numbers.” “The parish will lose members.” “The Anglican Communion will lose maybe its largest segment.” “Or, if you are on another page, “The Anglican Communion will cut out its cancerous members.” “That part of the Catholic Church outside Roman and Orthodoxy will be diminished.” (Diminished, in this instance, ususally means “made smaller.”)

My friends, whenever we come to what appears to be a fundamental change (in anything) the very first thing we need to do is determine “original purpose.”

Why is there an Anglican Communion? Why is there a Catholic Church? Why is there a Way of the Messiah? (or “of Christ?”) Why is there a Gospel? Why is there a Chosen People? Why is there a Creation? Why is there Reality?

Often these are questions we choose to duck. It is easier to “quack” on about other issues, and avoid these fundamentals. But if we fail to see the totality and the ultimate purpose behind it all, we cannot begin to see what is needed now.

It is the purpose of this writing to try to contribute to the understanding of Ultimate Reality.

UNITY

The first thing to note about “unity” is that it is a noun, not a verb. That is, unity is static, not active. And in Hebrew, it has a huge variety of meaning. (It needs to be noted, however, that the word translated by the English word “unity” in the Hebrew Bible appears only three times: once in Psalm 133 and twice in Zechariah: it is best transliterated by chabal.) In the psalm, the word means, union, all together. But when dealing with Hebrew, we MUST bear in mind that while we can choose one or another of the “meanings,” to the Hebrew, the totality of all the possible meanings of the word are right there together. Chabal, in its essential meaning, has to do with ‘binding,’ ‘tying.’ Thus the KJV uses the word “band(s)” in the two Zechariah citations. It is easy to see, then, how this can be translated not only “one” or “unity” but also “promise” or “pledge.” What a full search of the meanings comes up with, however, is that the word also can mean “spoil,” “corrupt,” “destroy,” AND ALSO “bring forth” and “travail” (as in child birth!)

Perhaps we need to be very careful about how we use words to “prove” points.

COMMUNITY

Because most of us do not fully understand how English is spelled the way it is, the vast majority of us, I suspect, think that the world “community” is directly related to the word “unity.” If it were related to the word “unitas” (unity – also a noun), it would be spelled with only one “m.” Because it is spelled with two “m”s it’s derivation is from “com” and the verb “munio.” This Latin verb has two meanings: “to build (with) walls, to surround with walls, to fortify, to make secure.” The other meaning is “to pave, to build a road, to prepare a way for.” A “community” was often build on a hill. This way, the inhabitants could see around them, and keep themselves secure. BUT it also can mean that they “making a way for” the coming of the messiah/kingdom of God.

Thus it can mean that the inhabitants are both secure and engaged in a task. Again, we need to be careful how we use words.

NUMBERS

One of the most important issues for most institutions is that there needs to be a means for perpetuation of the institution. Successful businesses need not only workers, but they also need to encourage others to want to come to work for them: the business must continue. The same is true – in an even stronger way – with institutions that do not reward its members with money. Into this category are clubs and associations and so-called non-profits. The reward for these institutions is found in providing a service for those outside the organization, either by a membership provided service, or by fund raising events (that the members enjoy doing) that provide funds to provide the service. Often times (in second and subsequent generations) the service provided becomes less important than the means by which the funds are raised.

All too often churches are part of this last group.

And it is this that I detect in many of the statements that I hear. At the local level, especially. Even among those who want to provide the greatest incusiveness.

Now, each of these three words is of great importance to the Church – but not always in the way the church understands them.

When we ask the original series of questions, and try to fathom their meaning, I think we will find three things we need to keep before us.

Whatever creation is, and whatever God is, we can never fully comprehend it all at once. It is a unity created in a manner we think we can begin to understand, in terms of the mathematics and physics and philosophy and poetry we have developed, each in our own language. Our study of this REALITY fills us with awe and wonder and joy, and, ultimately, peace. It also fills us with an energy and a desire to share the awe and wonder and joy and peace. And this (clearly to me anyway) is why we are. And this awesome, wondrous, joyous and peaceful REALITY is also clearly seen as a unity – a living, active and vital entity. Thus this unity is active and changing and developing. The task of each and all of us is to share our own experience of it with others. It is the human task – and, in bible language, it is called “love.” The other part of our task is to receive the sharings of others – just as we share ours with them. One without the other is not sharing or loving, but forcing – often, when used in connection with the word “love,” called “rape.”

UNITY, then, is vital, active, generous, loving and inclusive.

COMMUNITY – as I see it – is a gathering of those who are filled with awe, wonder, joy and peace, AND share their understandings with each other. Living and shining brightly on top of the hill, they can look out and see the needs where they exist. They act to share their love – expressed in their meal of joyous fellowship – with any who will share with them. It is, then, a function of the community (parish??) to live in awe and wonder and joy and peace. They work together to develop their own understandings and how they can share them with those who do not understand awe and wonder and who may even be jealous of joy and peace.

NUMBERS are not a real concern. Just as there is (today) no christian witness in the town of Nicea, so it is unimportant where a community is located, or of what size it will be. God, we believe, will provide all that is needed: the lamb for the sacrifice, the food for the crowds.

It is NOT the purpose of the church to make everyone in the world a christian. It IS the purpose of the church to help everyone it reaches experience the awe, the wonder, the joy and the peace that makes the creation beautiful, sublime and loving. Success in doing this will provide the numbers needed to accomplish the task the Gospel places before us.

Maybe this is what is needed for the Gospel to succeed. Since the church became an institution – at Constantine’s behest – numbers, conformity and obedience have been its marks. Maybe by becoming leaner, the church will be able to see more clearly the awe, the wonder, the joy and the peace which it enjoys: and seeing, it will more easily do its task of sharing.

Messy Liturgy

September 20, 2007

Messy Liturgy

Those of you who know me are aware that I date from the Tridentine Anglican period of our history. We were very precise in the way in which the altar party acted at the Liturgy – even to the point of the angle the fingers touched the altar, and the distance between the out stretched hands. And, I confess, some of that still remains with me. (Indeed, I am certain that I could, without any rehearsal, “do” a pretty close to perfect mass (solemn or said) in that style.)

Also, I have been a very strong encourager for reform of the Liturgy. The first time I read The Shape of the Liturgy, by Dom Gregory Dix, I was in High School. That began my involvement with Liturgy and all that it means, and I have been all my life long one who advocates change in the Liturgy. I tend to clarify, clean up and simplify, using models from the past – often the very ancient past. (Pastorally, it is easier to explain changes in worship as restorations from the past, than to present them as new ways cut off from the historic traditions of the past.)

I have been active in Prayer Book Reform since the early 1960s when the General Convention first approved using translations other than the Authorized (King James) Version. (We began to use The Jerusalem Bible the very next Sunday!)

One of the key issues in the Prayer Book Study programs that led to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was the attempt to clarify and simplify what was happening at the Eucharist. It is often forgotten that the Official Reason for prayer book reform was an effort to increase Missionary Activity in the Church.

As the People of God was created – in the Body of Christ – at the Eucharist, so their function was priestly and Christly. They came to the Eucharist to fulfill their Baptismal promises – they became the Body of Christ. They were dismissed at the end to go forth and be Jesus wherever they were. In the Prayer Book Catechism the Laity were added to the ministry; and no provision was made for a “final” hymn – so that after giving post communion thanks (and, if needed, also blessed) the People of God would go out to begin to do their “task.”

While there is much more that can be said at this point, that is not where I wish to go in this note. An un-published – except to a tiny congregation – series entitled From the beginning . . . deals with these things in greater detail, and I will probably present them in some way in this context.

One of the things that the Prayer Book Revision Commission did was to adopt much of Dix’s premises – as did other groups, including the Roman Catholic Church. What is normally done on Sunday Morning in most parishes is a Liturgy (remember, it means People’s work) that is composed of two traditions. One is the Synagogue Service and the other is the Temple Sacrifice.

The Synagogue Service developed during the Great Exile to Babylon in 586 BC. It was in Babylon that the great Hebrew traditions that we so honor today took their “modern” form. Here the Jews “discovered” the Babylonian Epic of Creation, and rewrote this myth as the first chapter of Genesis. From this flowed a second major restructuring of the entire presentation of Hebrew religion. This addition was placed on top of the Deuteronomic and Prophetic restructuring during the time of Josiah in the previous century. It is interesting to note that during this particular time frame, the Greeks were just beginning to develop philosophy and science – indeed, all humanity throughout the planet was making major steps toward what we now call “civilization” and “learning.”

For the Jews, the Synagogue Service developed as the Hebrew equivalent of Greek philosophy. This language of concreteness, with an inability to think in abstracts, used poetry and historical interpretation and prophetic proclamation to fire up the emotions of the Jewish people, so that they could see and act upon their mission as the People of – the only God there is. They saw that through the worship of , they were bound to Utter Reality, and that full participation in the life of that Utter Reality is the way to peace and justice and freedom and compassion and acceptance among all humans. They thus began the original diaspora – an act of mission and joy.

Their worship began with acclamation of joy to ; it continued with readings from the past – in order to emphasize that their mission was based on the Acts of ! Preaching followed, and their worship concluded with prayer, generated from the Readings and the preaching.

It was THIS that the Commission intended us to find in the Liturgy of the Word. Preaching is only one of the instruments used to help us understand who we are, and what our true function is in God’s plan. Preaching is NOT a time for generalized pastoral counseling, nor is it really a time for explaining moral decisions. It is a time for reminding the People of God what God has done, and how they fit into God’s plan to bring peace, justice, freedom, compassion and acceptance to God’s world and universe.

For us Christians, this Service ends with the Greeting of Peace. (Those of us who worked closely with the Commission tried – and failed – to keep reformation religion in the form of the General Confession out of the Sunday Eucharist. When General Convention made it clear that was not admissible we tried to get it placed at the very beginning of the Liturgy, but it just didn’t catch on.)

In most parishes, after the Greeting, comes the Announcements. Often these go on and on and on, sometimes even developing into another sermon that sometimes improves on the “official” one. In any case, they are a major distraction and take away from the importance of what has just been done in the Liturgy of the Word. And they can also trivialize what is to follow, especially . . .

The Second part of the Eucharistic Liturgy is the Temple Sacrificial worship. As Thomas Aquinas says in his great hymn, “Types and shadows have their ending, for the newer rite is here.” This is the idealization of the Sacrifice on the Cross from the Fourth Gospel and the climax of Luke’s Gospel at Emmaus. The Commission accepted from Dix’s study that this is a Four Fold Action. AND, of the two parts of the Sunday Liturgy, this is the more important. For it is here, at this worship, that the Body of Christ is constructed from its birth (baptismal) parts. It is here that the People of God respond to the Synagogue service.

It is important – Liturgically and Dramatically – that it is very clear that this is a different Liturgy, and that the People of God act differently. Here it is more in action than in words – important as they are – that the Body of Christ comes alive.

If it is possible, there should be nothing at all (other, perhaps, than candles) on the altar until the Celebrant goes to the altar and reads the offertory sentence with which this Liturgy begins.

How many times the beginning of the most important Liturgy that Church has is started with a sentence from Scripture, used as a means to end the all important Announcements. And the Prayer Book is quite clear that it is the Presider – the Celebrant – who goes to the Altar and reads the Offertory Sentence there, the book being paced there as s/he arrives. The action of going to the Altar in silence emphasizes that something new is about to happen.

Then – in the only time the Prayer Book gives directions that do not allow an alternate position – the people stand while the gifts of life – bread, wine, money – are offered and placed on the altar. This is best done in silence – or, as many now do – using offertory prayers from some of the African Anglican Liturgies. This is NOT a time for a performance by the Choir. THIS IS WHEN THE PEOPLE OF GOD OFFER ALL THEY ARE, ALL THEY HAVE, TO BE JOINED WITH THE ONE, TRUE SACRIFICE JESUS MADE ON THE CROSS. This self oblation then is one with Jesus, is presented to the Father, is raised – made alive – and given back to confirm our union with Jesus, and through him with each other.

That empowers us to “Go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

Independence Day Thoughts

June 28, 2007

This was in origin a sermon on the day itself.  It ws followewd by areading of the Declaration of Independance.  Perren 

 

Independence Day Thoughts – 2007

see Grace Church Westwood NJ 2004

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage. You shall have no other gods but me. First Commandment, Rite 2

Were they living today, the Founders of this Nation would be reviled by many as fanatical left wing radicals – liberals of the worst sort. They were seeking individual and personal freedom, so that humans – all of them – had the opportunity to develop the potentials placed in them at their birth. Many of us learned in our education that the Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by many of the radical ideas that were sweeping across the still smouldering remains of what was left of the Roman Empire. One of the primary influences, we are told, was the teaching of John Locke and others whose thoughts are bunched under the general title of “Enlightenment.”

Indeed these great men were avid readers and students of as much as they could get their hands on. Yet, it is my conviction, the Enlightenment only enhanced the basic structures of their thinking. In common with most of the people of the colonies, these men were raised on the reading of the Holy Scriptures. The ideas and concepts that they found there were enhanced, developed; and then exploded into what I call a “religious secularism” or a “secular religion.”

They found, in the writings of the Bible, a series of basic principles that are designed for the whole creation, but especially for all humans. As they studied the Scriptures, they saw clearly what scholars are only now discovering in the texts and history of the Hebrew/Jewish people. When religion becomes institutionalized it, like any other ‘good’ in all of creation, becomes a vehicle for the demonic and evil. Remember, Europe had just completed what we now call the “Wars of Religion.”

Imagine! Wars of religion! Religion fighting to dominate others. But religion – as is true of ANY institution – can assume the worst evils of self preservation. This is true whether we are speaking of the formation of nations, or the idealization of families and clans:– then self preservation becomes an evil that sees others as enemies.

The Founders of this nation, through their reading of the Bible, saw clearly that God made all humans equally. In the most real sense, humans, all of them, are brothers and sisters; not “us” and “them”: or, as in the case of kings, dukes, fathers and mothers; not “mine.” As soon as one human exercises “rights” of possession over another, humanity on both sides of that equation has been damaged. Even God does not exercise the right of possession over us.

It was not, they saw, the nature of reality, that one human could “own” or “direct” or “order” another. This violated the basic principles of creation as expressed in the Bible. The Bible, the Founders saw clearly, taught BOTH a total freedom for ALL, as well as a basic INTERDEPENDENCE for all. This resulted in the Biblical teaching that it is part of human nature – basic creation – that humans are both totally free, and also totally obligated to see that ALL humans share in that freedom.

That is, in my mind, the origin of the essential meaning of this day: that all men are “created equal, and have certain unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But our personal and individual “unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” DEPEND on our interdependent sharing with others.

It is on these TWO things that this nation was founded.

It is interesting that we have all accepted – without question – the idea that there is a great separation between religion and the ‘secular’ world. Whenever ideas, concepts or peoples are separated from one another, then what the Bible calls “sin” has come into play. Sin, you know, essentially, means “separation.”

When we are separated from others – whether by our own choice or by the action of others (including that extension of ourselves we call “The Government”) – we are both less than human, and also we have lost much of our freedom.

On this day we celebrate the wondrous thinking of these men. We reflect on the successes and failures of the people of this nation to accept fully the freedom and the rights to which freedom is the key.

We see our nation torn: torn because in some places we see little or no freedom: magnified by hatred and horrors unimaginable. It is sooo easy to flex muscle and violate the basic meaning of freedom and try to force others. It is sooo easy to sit back and see brothers and sisters humiliated, harmed, hurt, hated and destroyed.

The Biblical solution is not violence, but love;

the Biblical solution is caring, not fighting;

the Biblical solution is talking, not biting.

We cannot put a ring around freedom and say it is ours.

Freedom is of the essence of being;

freedom is the essence of choice;

freedom is the essence of love;

freedom is what binds together the definition of God we christians call the Trinity.

Freedom is indeed the glue that binds together all humans.

But there can be no freedom without total respect for the others (this is, of course, multi-sided). We need to remember that we do not know all about freedom: we know something about how it has developed here. Freedom has and will develop in different ways among others. Our freedom is enriched as we respect the freedom of others; and as we all intermingle in total respect of others, we are each enriched by the freedom of each other.

This, I believe, is some of what grows from the vision of the Founders of this nation. We are in a process that is steadily advancing. The danger is that we become so filled with excitement about our own freedom, that we would force freedom on others: a total contradiction.

Today, we reflect;

today we rejoice;

today we celebrate.

Freedom is not only “No slavery;” freedom is “I love and respect you.”


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