This sermon was preached on Palm Sunday, 2019 at Church of the Apostles, Kansas City. The audio recording can be found here.

I think we all need to recover after that long reading! I’ll go ahead and open us with a prayer and you can allow your legs and mind to rest for a moment 😉

The Sunday before Easter is a bit of an anomaly. It is like the Sunday that could not make up its mind: Palms or Passion, Palms or Passion, Palms or Passion…at some point there was a gathering and it was decided that instead of picking one or the other, we would do both.

We are covering the whole of the Passion from a big picture, 40,000 foot perspective today and then we will begin focusing in ever more closely during the coming week. Palm Sunday was used for centuries as the day during which churchgoers would hear the whole story of Holy Week other than the story of Easter. Why? Because getting people to church on a Thursday and Friday between two Sundays isn’t the easiest accomplishment…but I’m sure we don’t know anything about that! Palm Sunday became the one day when people could hear the full story of Holy Week, when they would be taught what happened on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Put it like this…let us assume that this is your first time in church. And let us also assume that you won’t be back until next Sunday…this assumption is only for this sermon, by the way, you are utterly and absolutely expected to be here Thursday and Friday…well then, if I kept my sermon only to the liturgy of the palms and the Triumphal Entry so that Thursday and Friday could be stand alone texts…then you would hear about Jesus entering the city on Sunday and the following Sunday you would hear about how he rose from the dead…are you following me? You might be a bit confused on Easter!!

So, I don’t want to focus my time on the intricacies of the Last Supper institution, though I could go on and on, nor do I want to add anything to the crucifixion scene—I’ll leave those two texts to these two preachers!—instead, I want to show you how Kingdom permeates the entire Passion narrative. We are not left with a choice between Kingdom and King on one hand and Palms and donkey on the other as if the two are mutually exclusive, as if we have to pick between Palms and Passion. The One who rides into the city amidst cries of Hosanna and palms on one Sunday is the same One who is exalted and enthroned upon the cross on that Friday. Let us begin.

For many Christians in the world, the Saturday before Palm Sunday is known as Lazarus Saturday. We heard from Ellis last Sunday about the scene at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume. This took place in John 12 and then the story moves forward in John’s gospel to the chief priests plotting to kill Jesus AND Lazarus because it was his fault that Jews were deserting, and then the story moves to the Triumphant Entry and to the Last Supper in Jerusalem. The Gospels all place Jesus in Bethany before the Triumphal Entry. The Orthodox have a unique perspective leading into Palm Sunday and it is one that I think needs a great deal of reflection on our part. The Saturday before Palm Sunday is known as “Lazarus Saturday” in the Orthodox tradition. Why? Well, we may have read John 12 last Sunday, but what story immediately precedes the scene at Lazarus’ house? Yes, you’ve done well! It is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The Orthodox celebrate this miracle on the day before Palm Sunday because it creates a fantastic backdrop for the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and ultimately what will happen on Friday and Sunday. Think about it with me for a second: Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and proclaims “I am the resurrection and the life.” He then shares a meal at their home and is prepared for burial by Mary. Then, and only then, does Jesus enter Jerusalem as a triumphant king…what exactly has he triumphed over?

We spend a lot of time in the church talking about how Jesus’ entry is one of a humble king, riding on a colt rather than a war horse. It was the people who placed their hopes for a king of a militaristic and political nature upon Jesus, ascribing to him the value and worth that they would for a conqueror. We then admit that Jesus wasn’t doing what they thought he was…or was he? Have we so missed the forest for the trees with our relentless theological nitpicking that we lose sight of the fact that Jesus was in fact entering the city as a conquering king?

In our attempts to highlight Jesus’ humility, even using the passage from Philippians 2 as support, we have poked so many holes in the triumphal entry text that it will no longer hold water. We have placed so many cuts along the support beams that the text can no longer bear the weight it was meant to.

John’s account of the triumphal entry includes what feels like a random verse from the Old Testament. John writes, “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” We emphasize the donkey and minimalize the coming king. Here is the context for the verse: Zechariah 9 in which the prophet prophesies about the end of Israel’s oppressors, about their downfall and destruction, and about the God who is watching over his people and who will enter the city in triumph to the cries of the people. Here is the passage in full:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!

    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!

See, your king comes to you,

    righteous and victorious,

lowly and riding on a donkey,

    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim

    and the warhorses from Jerusalem,

    and the battle bow will be broken.

He will proclaim peace to the nations.

    His rule will extend from sea to sea

    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

11 As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,

    I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.

12 Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;

    even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

13 I will bend Judah as I bend my bow

    and fill it with Ephraim.

I will rouse your sons, Zion,

   against your sons, Greece,

and make you like a warrior’s sword.

The King has come. The kingdom is coming. The entry on a donkey is in juxtaposition to the chariots and warhorses that Caesar or another demigod may use, but the coming King is still triumphant, still victorious. “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious…”

The triumphal entry did not happen in a vacuum. It was not an accident. Everyone gathered together would have seen the meaning before them plain and simple. I would like to experiment with this idea and I need your full attention and effort. I will start saying a well known phrase and I want you to finish it for me. For example, if I were to say, “Give me a break, give me a break” you would say “break me off a piece of that kit kat bar.” Bonus points for those who said, “Fancy feast.” Ready?

The Lord be with you : and also with you

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Chris is risen, Christ will come again

Ok, those were the easy ones because they have a natural response. Here are a few others:

Here’s looking at you kid.

Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!

There is meaning to these phrases well beyond the actual text. You know them because you have a context for them, they do something to you, they take you somewhere. For a moment there, even the most fleeting of moments, were you not on an airstrip in Morocco, or a bench waiting the hope on the bus, or even in the Scottish highlands many centuries ago? I won’t belabor the point much longer, but we are able to go to those places because we have been there, we know them, we have them ingrained in our memory, etched on our hearts…and now we have the triumphal entry.

This is a key to the whole text because even though we end up at the foot of the cross or outside of the Garden Tomb with Joseph of Arimathea, the whole liturgy is framed around Triumphal Entry and the Coming King. The star of the show, as it were, is this verse in Luke’s gospek which has been borrowed from Psalm 118. Surely you heard it twice today during the liturgy of the Palms and your mind went straight to the Sanctus during the Eucharist. You have a context for this theological concept: holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.

Hosanna means “save us.” The people lining the street to Jerusalem were singing the praises of YHWH and crying out to him that he save them, that he rescue them, that he deliver them. They did this and then anointed the “King who comes in the name of the Lord.” You heard the majority of the Psalm read this morning: it is a Psalm of praise and victory. The LORD heard the cry of his people and his mighty hand has delivered them! The use of Psalm 118:26 here suggests to us that the whole Psalm would have been used by the people against the backdrop of Israel’s long history with YHWH. This crowd may have cried “crucify!” just days later, they may have expected Jesus to overthrow Pilate and Caesar in explicit fashion, but they got one thing right: the King was entering the city in righteous victory and they, the crowd, were in desperate need of salvation and rescue…

We’ve spent the overwhelming majority of our time this morning going through the passages from the Liturgy of the Palms because honeslty the rest doesn’t make sense without it. Jesus as the true King, as the one coming in the name of the LORD, as the one entering in triumph, this is what helps us to understand the passion more fully. It was never about human thrones and powers, it was always about triumph over evil and death. The One who resurrected Lazarus comes to Jerusalem in faithful obedience to the covenant to allow humanity to expend its evil upon him and to resurrect from the dead.

Jesus has been traveling toward Jerusalem with his face set like flint ever since he descended Mt. Tabor after the Transfiguration. As Cynthia reminded us, he walked slowly through the crowds en route to his destination, but he was always on his way to palms and passion, cross and tomb, death and life. He enters the city after demonstrating his power over death only to be met by the full embodiment of human evil and execution: the Roman cross. He rides into the city that is the center of Israel’s religious life, the city on a hill that was see as the meeting place of heaven and earth, the city that would have been the logical site of a restored Israel…and he does so only to leave the city a few days later under the burden of a wooden cross and a crown of thorns…

Humanity exhausts its evil upon the Son of God.

The powers and principalities of the world snuff out the light of rebellion.

Satan claims victory over the God with whom he thought equality could be grasped.

And friends, there isn’t any relief from this predicament. We don’t get to move beyond the text and see resurrection here. We don’t get to see the story fulfilled and completed. As we journey through the texts today and through the next 6 days we are left with this unhappy and uneasy feeling of “but what happens next?”

We have to do some work today to hold firmly in our hearts and minds that which Israel had never forgotten: YHWH was covenant maker and covenant keeper and he would redeem his people. This is what Lazarus helps us to see: the God who raised Lazarus from the tomb is the same God who made the valley of dry bones walk and is the same God who will raise Jesus from the dead. The story of Lazarus is a kingdom story. It is triumphant. It is victorious. It is the beginning of the reversal and renewal of all things and it is (one of) the reason that Jesus can enter the city hearing, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Friends, here is what I ask of you today:

As you look upon the King entering the city, say…

As you look upon the Lord sharing a meal with his friends and followers…

As you witness the beating and scouring of the King of the Jews…

As you gaze up at the King who is enthroned upon the cross…

As you enter into Holy Week and travel toward Easter…

Perhaps we can make it more personal: Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, a city over which he would weep, and he does so in triumph as the one who raises the dead to life. What parts of your life need raising? What areas of your heart need the triumphal entry of Jesus? What gates and doors in your hearts, minds, emotions, imaginations, or dreams need to be flung open to allow the King of kings and the Lord of lords to enter? Or, if we can move out just a moment: what parts of our city, our offices, our state, our nation, our world, need to be opened up to the entry of Jesus?

This is not religious speak! This is real, friends. He comes to you in the same way he came to Jerusalem…amidst the praises of the people, enthroned by the cries of “salvation” and royal welcome…he comes to you to lead you through Passiontide, to guide you through Holy Week, to bring you to share in his meal, kneel at his cross, wait by his tomb, and proclaim “Alleluia” once more next Sunday…will you join?

This post was first published on February 6, 2019 for Church of the Apostles Anglican, Kansas City. 

Our most powerful memories are often tied to our senses and the way we experience the world. We can usually remember the first time we read a certain book or listened to a new album because of the feelings they evoked in us; we can smell the brand-new pages or remember the weather outside because the memory is made all the more tangible by these seemingly insignificant factors.

A meal can have the same effect. Associations form in the brain as we experience particularly enjoyable or upsetting events, and those associations can include the taste and smell of food, sounds, and sights. Often, we remember a place rather than the meal itself; for instance, Rebecca and I spent a weekend in San Francisco before Jet was born for a “babymoon.” We ate our way through the Golden Gate City having some of the best food ever…and I could hardly tell you what we ate. I could tell you the restaurants we visited and the delightful memories we created strolling through San Francisco and talking excitedly about becoming parents, but the food plays only a bit role in this story.

There are other times, however, when the food is the vehicle by which we make and enter our memories. We are able to conjure up feelings of profound love and happiness as we remember someone while eating. Have you ever wondered why we call it “comfort food?” Sure, a bowl of hot, creamy soup might bring comfort to your heart and stomach, but that’s not the point. At least, I think we are missing the fullness of the picture here. The food is comforting because it reminds us of someone, something, some time, or some place that we miss, want, or desperately need to remember.

My dad has an interesting dish that was a mainstay in my house growing up. I want to prepare you for the culinary sophistication oozing off of its name: Hotdog-on-bread-cheese-on-hotdog. Yes, that’s right: a piece of bread with a hotdog sliced on top and with cheese melted over everything. This meal, of course, could only be properly concocted in the miracle that is the toaster oven. Don’t knock it until you try it, friends.

I have not eaten one of these delicacies in many, many years. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had one, but I can tell you that even the mere thought of eating a hotdog-on-bread-cheese-on-hotdog floods my heart and mind in a very real way with warm and tender memories…as though I am eating with my dad presently.

So, imagine with me the scene as the disciples walked along the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem. The pair is joined by a stranger who begins asking about current events, and they are surprised because the pain is all too real, all too fresh.

Have you not heard about the execution in Jerusalem? We thought he would restore Israel…

The stranger then begins to unlock the Scriptures for them, explaining God’s active plan and the fulfillment reached in the crucifixion, but they still don’t see that Jesus is the one present. Our Lord then breaks bread, just as He had during the Last Supper, and immediately they see Him for who He truly is: their Rabbi, their leader, their master, their Lord.

It wasn’t the breaking open of Scripture that gave the disciples understanding; it was the sharing of this holy meal. Jesus told the disciples at the Last Supper that He was leaving but would send the Spirit to them – that He would not leave them as orphans. The Spirit would come to comfort, guide, and lead them in all truth, and the disciples would be in Jesus just as he is in the Father. The meal Jesus shared with His followers on that fateful night would be forever etched in their memory—both bodily and mentally—because the events which took place after they got up from the table irrevocably shaped their lives.

What is the Eucharist if not the joyous celebration of Jesus’ presence with us? We often hear talk about how Jesus is present in the bread and wine, but we rarely embrace and celebrate that he is present. It is his presence that carries meaning for us and not the method. If Jesus is present in the bread and wine, in the celebration of the meal, then He is present with us in our very lives. We have a weekly reminder that Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us, that He comes to us even in the most mundane things and fills us with His peace and love.

Indulge me for one technical moment: there is a word in sacramental theology that bears great meaning: anamnesis. This is a form of remembering that is active, dangerous, volatile. It is a form of memory that does not merely rest in the past, but drags past events forward and makes them present in the here and now. It is what Israel knew as she celebrated (and still celebrates) Passover annually. It is what we know when we celebrate Eucharist on Sunday. Somehow, in some mysterious but real way, the events of Jesus’ incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection come charging into our present. “Does this in remembrance of me,” he said.

I will probably make a hotdog-on-bread-cheese-on-hotdog sometime soon. When I do this, it will be to celebrate the memories I have of eating that meal with my dad as a young boy. I will probably share that meal with Rebecca and my boys in the knowledge that passing it down to them is a way of inviting them into that loving tradition. Jesus shared a meal with His friends, and for the Church, this meal is the pinnacle of our corporate worship: we gather together as the church to remember Jesus and share in His presence through praise, Scripture, sermon, prayer, and the bread broken and the wine poured. This is why we celebrate Eucharist; this is why we need Eucharist as part of our Rule of Life; this is why our shared memories shape us as a people of bread and wine and a people who know Jesus’ real presence…even when we can’t see him.

This post was first published on January 23, 2019 for Church of the Apostles Anglican, Kansas City. 

On January 25th, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The readings for the day are Psalm 67, Acts 26:9-21, Galatians 1:11-24, and Matthew 10:16-22. Below is a blog post written by The Rev. Porter Taylor about the feast day.

The Collect: O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

In the list of prominent New Testament figures, Paul surely occupies one of the top spots after Jesus and Mary, the mother God. He is known for his conversion on the road to Damascus, for his missionary travels, for his time spent in prison, and for his prolific writing. He is referred to as “the Apostle Paul,” “St. Paul,” or “Paul, Apostle of the Crucified Lord,” but what does this all really mean?

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. The lessons understandably center on Saul’s conversion while traveling to Damascus as part of his ongoing efforts to persecute Christians but they do so from the perspective of Paul at the end of his ministry. Saul, as you’ll recall, was a Pharisee, a Pharisee of Pharisees (Acts 23) and a Jew of Jews. We first encounter him in Acts 7 as he stands watch over the stoning of Stephen. Next, we hear of Saul’s persecution of the church: he was ruthless and intense, even to the point of going to the High Priest and requesting letters (i.e. authority) stating that he could imprison all members of The Way and bring them to Jerusalem.

And so it happened, one day, as Saul was traveling to Damascus…

Saul meets Jesus on the road. In a blinding light—but truly an eye-opening encounter—Saul hears the voice of the Crucified and Risen Lord asking him, “Why do you persecute me?” This is the moment that changes Saul’s life forever. Years later, before King Agrippa, Paul recounts this event and outlines how everything he has done since that encounter with Jesus was in obedience to the Gospel. He preached in Damascus, Jerusalem, Judea, and then to all Gentiles. The Gospel spread like wildfire because the Holy Spirit anointed and empowered men and women like Paul to take their stories public and draw others to Jesus.

Conversion is always a two-part movement: you must be converted from something and you must be converted to something. Saul is converted from his persecution of Jesus and his followers, and Saul is converted to the Gospel of Jesus, the Good News of YHWH in Christ. Saul is blind for three days but is healed, anointed, baptized, and then begins preaching to the ends of the earth.

Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by establishing his authority to preach: this authority is grounded first and foremost in a revelation of Jesus (read: road to Damascus) and second in his time spent in Jerusalem with Peter and the other apostles. Paul is telling the Galatians, “You can trust me and what I say!” Remember, Paul was formerly Saul, and his reputation was well-known and well-earned. Many in the early centuries of the church were preaching their own gospel rather than Christ crucified; Paul points to his encounter with Jesus and his time with the apostles to help the Galatians know that he was preaching the true gospel. Perhaps we should point to Jesus rather than ourselves in our own lives…

Paul is tangible proof that God’s faithfulness to this covenant promises with Israel extends fully to the Gentiles as well. Put another way, in Paul we see that through Israel the whole world will be blessed just as YHWH promised Abraham way back in Genesis. God’s faithfulness has always been to a specific people but also through a specific people unto all of creation. This is what Psalm 67 is trying to show us: all the peoples of the world will know of God’s goodness because that has always been the plan. The people of God are a people of blessing through whom the world is blessed and brought into the family.

We are sent out ones as well, friends. Our own stories of conversion may not be recorded in Scripture with such specificity and wonder as Saul-now-Paul, but I promise you that your story can be found within The Story. We have been called from our old lives and called to Jesus. Our faith is grounded in our encounter with God, our reception of apostolic faith from those who have gone before us, and it is worked out most concretely in service to and on behalf of the world. Giving our faith away to others is at the same time both an act of pure generosity and a profound way of strengthening what we believe.

The celebration of Paul’s conversion today is an invitation to remember our personal conversion to God and His kingdom and an urgent call to do as Paul did: remain obedient to the Gospel and proclaim it to the ends of the earth. Freely have we been given, and so freely should we give to the world God created and for whom He is in the business of restoration, reconciliation, and redemption.

This post was first published on January 16, 2019 for Church of the Apostles Anglican, Kansas City.

On January 18th, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter. The readings for the day are Psalm 23, Acts 4: 8-13, 1 Peter 5:1-4, and Matthew 16:13-19. Below is a blog post written by The Rev. Porter Taylor about the feast day.

The Collect: Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

“But who do you say that I am?”

Jesus and his followers had traveled across the Sea of Galilee (again) and travelled some 30 miles north to a city that was home to both Roman and Greek places of worship. The first question Jesus asks regards who the people think He is. The answers are flattering, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets,” but they are wholly incomplete. This list represents significant figures in Israel’s history, but they are only those who pointed to YHWH and His coming kingdom.

Jesus presses in a little further by making it personal. Who do you say that I am? This question comes on the heels of miracles (feeding the 5,000 and the 4,000), divine healings, and the Sermon on the Mount. The disciples have witnessed firsthand that what Jesus is doing something significant, and Peter’s answer is proof that Jesus is far more than a prophet or forerunner. Jesus is the one who has been prophesied, He is the Kingdom come, He is the Messiah for whom Israel has long been waiting.

Within the context of Matthew’s Gospel then, this story represents a significant shift in the narrative: Jesus’ Galilean ministry seems to draw to a close and His movement toward Jerusalem—and ultimately the Cross—begins to move forward without pause. In fact, it is just a few verses later in the chapter that Jesus tells the disciples that He will be killed and raised again only to be rebuked by Peter! Matthew is giving us a hint, I believe, that Jesus’ identity as “Christ, Son of the Living God,” is directly and irrevocably tied to His crucifixion.

The poetic beauty, if we may call it that, in this whole story is that the revelation of Jesus as Christ, and His statement that the “Gates of Hades shall not prevail” against His Church, takes place in the city where the Romans and Greeks believed the gates of hell to be located. The Cave of Pan was situated in Caesarea Philippi, and within the cave was a bottomless water source believed to be the gates of Hades. Jesus’ statements take on whole new meaning when read in this light: outside of a temple of worship dedicated to a god of the underworld, outside of the cave believed to be the gates of hell, Jesus announces that the church built upon the rock of Peter’s confession shall never be prevailed against. This is not some vague or random spiritual abstraction by Jesus but is a pointed, intentional, and bold claim against all Roman and Greek theological beliefs.

Peter’s ministry is forever shaped by this interaction, as is the course of Church history. The lessons from Acts and 1 Peter assigned for the day demonstrate that Peter continued to boldly proclaim the Gospel of God in Christ and to build up the church. Peter’s example to us is certainly one of bold faith and Gospel proclamation, but even more than that, he shows us Jesus is the source and content of our faith and gospel. It may seem too simple an idea for such a significant day in the church, but the Confession of Saint Peter should point us first and foremost to Jesus. Before we can talk about unity or caring for the flock, we must first see Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Cornerstone, and the source of salvation for all.

The rock of our faith is not the Cave of Pan or the mountain at whose feet Caesarea Philippi is settled, nor is the person of Peter. The rock of our faith is the confession of Jesus as Messiah…everything else in our faith is built upon this one foundation. Peter’s exhortation to the church in the epistle makes sense as the outflow of this truth: tend the flock. Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter after his triplet of denials is full of sheep and shepherd imagery: feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep. Peter’s role within the church, his faith as lived out amongst Jews and Gentiles, flows from his understanding of Jesus as Messiah and shepherd. Our faith must do the same!

Peter urged the church to shepherd the flock, just as he was shepherding the flock, until the day when the True Shepherd of Israel returns. When Jesus is the Christ, we are but stewards of His people, caretakers of His church, and Gospel-messengers in His world. Our unity as Church of the Apostles and as part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church is nothing more or less than Jesus.

Who do you say that Jesus is? The question is posed to each of us, both individually and corporately, just as Jesus turned and asked His disciples while walking through Caesarea Philippi centuries ago.

How is your faith informed and energized by your answer to that question? These are things we are invited to ponder on this Feast Day as we strive to answer with the same boldness as Peter…

This post was first published on June 28, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. For starters, Alan Jacobs of Wheaton wrote a delightful piece on Harry Potter in 2000 and the piece was recently re-published by First Things. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a diehard-Potter fan. I discovered the books early into the series, I believe it was in between the publishing of Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban. Since my adolescence, I have read the books with vigor, attended 4 midnight book releases, watched the movies with a mixture of joy and zealous criticism, listened to the books while I paint, and most recently I attended Harry Potter in Concert with the Kansas City Symphony at the Kauffman Center. I feel a bit like Paul at this point in giving my credentials—only slightly joking—but I do this to suggest that I am not some squib jumping on the HP bandwagon.

I was listening to the original NPR announcement of Harry Potter this morning—it can be found here—and something grabbed my attention. Margot Adler predicted that the word “muggle” would become a big thing in common language and then shared an audio clip from Rowling discussing it further. Within the HP series the term “muggle” simply means “non-magical person.” However, Rowling shared that she began receiving letters and emails from fans who began expanding the term for modern, non-literary usage. In this form the term came to mean something like “dull and unimaginative person.” And I cannot tell you why, but it was like a lightning bolt scared my brain (see what I did there) and it got me thinking:

What if there are liturgical muggles? What if the loss of the sacramental imagination is like the difference between magic and muggle (or at least squib)? I suppose the easiest place to begin is first with the sacramental imagination and its loss.

…Before I go on, please hear: I am not suggesting that the liturgy is an actual form of magic or that words spoken over bread and wine is a spell or an enchantment like Stupefyor Avada Kedavra. I am not looking to debate hocus pocus (hoc est enim corpus meum) or medieval superstitions. If you find yourself arguing with me on these points then you’ve missed my meaning entirely. The reader may continue…

We are heirs of the Enlightenment. Our collective sacramental imagination has shifted over the course of 2,000 years. The ways in which we interpret information, tell stories, share experiences, and view the world today as Christians in the democratic, capitalist West is different from the earliest centuries of the church in the East and in Rome, it is different from the medieval church, it is different from the overwhelming majority of church history. Why does this matter?

Because we no longer actively view the world as being full of God’s glory, imbued with his presence, overwhelmed by his love, rich with encounters of him, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ lyric, “The earth is charged with the grandeur of God” makes no sense to us. Our imaginations, our sense of awe and wonder, our belief in the movement and action of the Holy Spirit is greatly diminished. There is a reason that Harry Potter, Lewis’ Narnia, the Force in Star Wars, and many similar stories capture our imaginations. It’s because it is so other than what we know and what we are used to. It’s not that these stories view magic positively but that they show a world teeming with possibilities, of a world where the supernatural is bumping against the natural regularly, where things aren’t always as they seem.And that brings me to the liturgy…

Our post-Enlightenment, Protestant worship has seen a minimalist approach to liturgy and a dwindling view of enchantment, wonder, awe, and terror before God. These have been replaced with rationalism, with Bible, with Sermon. In many Protestant, evangelical churches the sermon is the centerpiece. Rather than a dually climactic service where Word and Table play off of and interpret each other, these worship services are almost exclusively comprised of worship songs and a long, highly intellectual (though not always) sermon. The mind is what matters here, and how it affects the hands and the feet afterward, but the body is left relatively alone.

Enter the liturgical muggle.  Remember that I am using muggle as a “dull and unimaginative person.”

This is the subtle shift from sacramental worship to rational worship, from Word and Sacrament to more and more Word. I think, and I may be mistaken, that it is obvious how this shift would result in making liturgical muggles. But those in more historical, liturgical conditions aren’t entirely off the hook. This isn’t an us vs. them situation. It is entirely possible to be(come) a liturgical muggle within the liturgy because, for me, liturgical muggles are those who have lost the sacramental imagination.

Even amid liturgical worship, we have lost a sacramental consciousness, awareness, and imagination as the sacraments have less and less to do with reality and more to do with vague and ethereal signs and symbols. Baptism becomes more about the confession of faith (or covenant promise) than the reality of and individual being washed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, of being made a new person, of being anointed with the Holy Spirit. Or Eucharist is about nourishment for the spiritual journey, or a political act of the highest degree (don’t get me started), or a sign of socio-economic equality in the Kingdom of God and not about bread and wine becoming Body and Blood, joining the worship of the cosmos in the heavenly throne room. I could go on and on and on here, but suffice it today that for liturgical muggles water, oil, bread, and wine are always just that. There is no imagination, there is no magic (be careful here) per se. Worship is dull and unimaginative because it is focused exclusively on what our minds can handle and conceive rather than that God is doing in and among us, breaking into our midst regularly, sacramentally.

In my opinion, and I say this with all sincerity and humility, we need to guard against making more liturgical muggles and losing even more of the sacramental imagination. Our Christian worldview needs to shift, and shift pretty dramatically. A deeper, richer, more robust view of the Sacraments will help us avoid becoming liturgical muggles. At the end of the day, rationalist worship or rationalist Christianity is a separation of mind from body, of head and heart, of brain and soul. It may not appear that way, it certainly wasn’t intended that way, but it is it’s own form of escapism, of isolationism, of segregation. The reintegration of these elements, the reintroduction of Sacramental teaching and imagination will result in a holistic, fully-formed, fully informed, fully alive worship and a Christian spirituality that is committed to working within the world we inhabit rather than railing against it constantly.

This post was first published on June 24, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

There’s no good way of classifying those who are liturgical snobs by virtue of being low liturgy or low(er) church. I do not have in view those belonging to churches who lack a historical liturgy or connectivity. This is not an anti-liturgy, contra-liturgy, or alternative-liturgy list (that might be another blog post for another time). I know a significant number of people who are Low Liturgy and who deeply appreciate the liturgical tradition of the Church even if they hold said tradition in a less-than-high regard and draw different conclusions.

This list is predominantly based on my personal experience as an Anglican, although certain substitutes can be made (Calvin’s Institutes in place of the 39 Articles, etc.). Do not be fooled, friends, those who are low church and low liturgy are every bit as snobby as those from my list from yesterday. Their views are held with as much fervor and information as Liturgy Snobs.

Here it is: you might be a Low Liturgy Snob if…

  1. Use the 39 Articles as your guide for liturgical and sacramental theology.
  2. Believe the 1662 Book of Common Prayer to be the only prayer book. Extra points if you’ve uttered, “We don’t use an epiclesis because 1662 doesn’t.”
  3. Consciously—and perhaps even with pen in your prayer book—you replace the word “priest” with “presbyter.” Bonus points if your title is Sr. Pastor instead of Rector. Extra points if you avoid being called “Father” because no one can be called Father but God the Father.
  4. Translate High Church as Catholic and Anglo-Catholic as Anglo-Papalist.
  5. Differentiation between sacraments and sacramental rites is of the utmost importance to you.
  6. Who needs liturgy when you have the Solas?
  7. Think that 1552 was Cranmer’s first prayer book. A snobbier position would be in thinking that 1552 reflects his mature theology and is therefore more complete and authentic than 1549.
  8. Wear your preaching tabs or academic hood more often than your collar. Extra points for referring to your collar as a “dog collar” or “flea and tick collar.”
  9. Reject the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday believing it to be superstitious or works-based.
  10. You insist upon using a Table rather than an Altar for Communion (you definitely don’t call it Mass or even Holy Eucharist).

If you’ve made it to the end of this list and are guilty of the majority of these points, then you are likely a Low Liturgy Snob. You draw your positions on the sacraments, liturgy, and more from the documents and theological milieu of the 16th century Reformations. Low Liturgy Snobs are highly informed and well-read; their positions come from thoughtful study and reflection. Even as I write this list in jest, please be assured that I think you are a valuable part of the Anglican family. I may not agree with you on all points, but then again I don’t agree with anyone on every point.

Here’s the secret to differentiating between Liturgy and Low Liturgy Snobs:

Liturgy Snobs will likely believe that the law of praying shapes the law of belief. They may believe in a two-way street as well.

Low liturgy snobs will definitely believe that the law of belief (doctrine and theology) shapes the law of praying.

This post was first published on June 23, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

Here is a bit of levity for you on Friday. Snobbery can affect any category of people: food snobs, wine snobs, sports snobs, shoe snobs, book snobs, etc. etc. ad infinitum. One group of people not often mentioned but highly afflicted is that of the Liturgical Snob. Liturgical snobbery is not necessarily a bad thing. As you’ll see from my list, most points are actually good and well-informed. It becomes an issue, however, based on how you use your snobbery. Snobbery for snobbery’s sake is annoying and unhelpful. Also, lighten up and have some fun.

Disclaimer: I am a liturgical snob myself. This is fun and jest. I shouldn’t have to state this but there will be those who are too buttoned up and rigid to realize what I’m doing.

You might be a liturgical snob if…

  1. You own a copy of Ritual Notes. Extra points if you treat it as holy writ.
  2. Complain regularly about the use of “just” in prayers. (This type of complaint is grating on my nerves. You can expect a post about it soon.)
  3. Debate versus populum and ad orientem.
  4. Properly translate and interpret Prosper of Aquitaine. Hint: he didn’t say lex orandi, lex credendi.
  5. Have strong opinions about Hippolytus and Dom Gregory Dix.
  6. Sacrosanctum Concilium is a well-read part of your library.
  7. You have a thing for liturgical lace. Are well versed in the various forms of liturgical chanting (Gregorian, Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong, etc.)
  8. When asked to pick between incense and asperges your answer is, “Yes.”
  9. You treat the faculty of Notre Dame’s Liturgical Studies Department as celebrities or the Dream Team.
  10. You know the lineage and pedigree of your favorite Prayer Book and often refer to it as the Prayer Book.

Now, read through the list once more and if you are able to understand all 10 points and/or are guilty of the majority then you are officially a Liturgical Snob. Welcome to the club! Don’t take yourself too seriously, though. That’s where the problems set in. Go and enjoy yourself today: pray with a different liturgy, refrain from correcting someone on Facebook (you know you do it!), try using the word “just” in a prayer. Cheers!

This post was first published on April 20, 2017 for my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian, on Patheos.

First Sobriety Birthday

I have been engaged in a new liturgy recently. This liturgy has changed me profoundly.

I arrive a few minutes early to each gathering and sit in a room amongst like-minded people. We definitely do not look the same, each coming from different walks of life, but we are all committed to the same principles, traditions, and concepts.

The one presiding over the meeting will call the gathering to order, read some opening acclamations about the purpose of our time together, make some announcements, and then invite others to participate.

At this point someone new begins to speak. Normally this individual is going through something difficult or has a strong compulsion to share and ask for guidance or advice. There is no judgment here—on several occasions I have been the one who felt so compelled to speak and every time I found understanding and others who said, “Me too.”

Once the theme or trajectory of the meeting has been firmly established, those gathered also participate by offering up their own stories and experiences in order to help the one in need. After speaking, there is usually a chorus of, “Glad you’re here” or “keep coming back.” The welcoming atmosphere can be a bit overwhelming.

The meeting concludes with the Lord’s Prayer which binds us together and sends us out to continue practicing that which we know to be true. The meeting ordo is simple: Gathering—Reading—Exhortation—Prayer—Dismissal. It is not unlike the Anglican liturgy in which I have been participating for almost 30 years. Nor is it the same.

Every time I speak during the gathering, I begin with, Hi, my name is Porter Taylor and I’m an alcoholic.

For the last 14 months, I have been attending meetings regularly. On March 9, 2016, I admitted to my wife and family that I am an alcoholic, that I was and am powerless over alcohol, and that my life had become unmanageable. (Taken from 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Step 1.) That day, I began the life-long process of recovery from this disease.

As you can imagine, the process of recovery has not been easy. There have been difficult moments, days, and weeks – recovery is not for the faint of heart. But there has also been healing, joy, and triumph. The gift of rising strong. As the slogan says, the program works if you work it.

A lot of you might be thinking How can he be an alcoholic? If we are judging by the stereotype, you’re right. I rarely had more than two drinks, my children have never seen me even close to drunk, in 12 years my wife has only seen me drunk twice, I wasn’t in line at the liquor store when it opened, I never got the shakes, I wasn’t a “homeless bum” living under a bridge. I am a husband. I’m a father of three. I own a home, cars, and a business. I’m a PhD student. I’m a priest. From the outside looking in, I had it all together.But on the inside was 30 years of pain and emotions never dealt with. Inside was a hugely sensitive person who thought feeling wasn’t normal. So for 30 years I did what I thought was normal: I repressed everything. Angry? Go for a run. Scared? Make a joke. Sad? Pour myself into work. Worried? Play with the boys, go on a date with Rebecca. The key was: ignore. And then, eventually, the key became to drink.

For me, alcohol was always a means to an end—in fact, it was never really about the alcohol. It was about numbing pain, trying to forget, trying to bring suppressed feelings to the forefront of my mind; it was about “deserving” a drink because I was happy, tired from a long day, or needed to take the edge off. Or maybe I had accomplished something positive, or needed the “liquid courage” to be around people. In short, alcohol became whatever I wanted it to be and it morphed into something different each time. Alcohol could help me feel or not feel, whichever I deemed necessary at the time. And for a while, it worked.

But that’s the issue: It wasn’t about what I drank, or even how much, but why I drank. As Glennon says, I would send my representative into the public arena so I could remain hidden and safe in my cocoon, away from tempestuous and unpleasant emotions. And that’s part of the point: one does not have to wait for total devastation to hit before admitting struggle, addiction, or bondage.

And so I admitted that I am an alcoholic.

I don’t share any of this with you to brag or to promote myself or the Fellowship, but to share with my friends (and some strangers!) what has been going on in my life. I don’t want to send my representative out into the world anymore.

For anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed with life, befuddled by the complexity of emotion(s), or uncontrollably resentful for things that have happened in the past; for those who seek to alter their attitudes, actions, or surroundings through alcohol or other chemicals; for those who feel as though there isn’t enough alcohol in the world to satisfy or quench or numb or help; for those who are dependent upon a substance but don’t know how to admit it; for those who are in positions of spiritual leadership and are too ashamed to admit their need…

For anyone like this, I want to say to you, “I know. Me too.”

There is another way of living. As someone told me in my first meeting, you never have to feel this way again if you don’t want to. If you are tired of sending your representative into life, tired of running, lying, or hiding, reach out. If you’re ready to embrace the hard, hopeful work of recovery, you can.

It is with extreme gratitude, humility, and joy that I can say to you: My name is Porter Taylor and I am an alcoholic.