A series written from an ecumenical standpoint. This is a resource center or clearing house for all sorts of theology and biblical studies meant to be a compilation of theology in ecumenical dialogue.

By Porter C. Taylor

The liturgical year presents the Church with many opportunities to reflect upon Christ’s work on the cross. On Good Friday we are invited to meditate upon the agony and pain, the love and obedience, the silence and awe of His crucifixion. One typically leaves the Good Friday liturgy full of sorrow and torment mixed with thanksgiving for God’s unrelenting love. We then return to the cross, in a way, on Easter as we come to flower the cross with our own blooms and blossoms, celebrating that what was intended for evil by man was ultimately used for good by God for the life of the whole world.

The cross is everywhere around us, and yet I wonder if we, both culturally and as a church, have become blind to its meaning and power. Is it possible that we have simultaneously become both desensitized to the brutality of Jesus’s execution and overly personalized/privatized the crucifixion (i.e. saying “Christ died for me”) that we have neglected the redeeming work accomplished on Calvary? We throw around the idea of “taking up our cross” and following Jesus as though we have forgotten what that meant for Him, and for His disciples, and ultimately for us. As with many things in our faith, the cross presents us with a paradox, for it is at once both a symbol of death and life, of agony and glory, of defeat and victory. The Feast of the Holy Cross is therefore an opportunity to think, reflect, and celebrate this paradox.

The Collect provides us with the guidance we need to read our lessons and understand the meaning of the Feast: “whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow Him.” Here we find both the universal and the particular co-mingling in the same sentence; Jesus is drawing the whole world to Himself, and we are called to take up our cross and follow Him. There is a connection here between the once and for all nature of Jesus’ passion and our invitation to live as a cross-shaped people.

Lifted High

The Bible is teeming with references to the Son of Man being lifted high for all to see. Our lessons for this Feast include Isaiah 45 and John 12 as examples of this, but we might also remember Moses raising the bronze snake in the Exodus story and then Jesus echoing this story when he said that he must be lifted up in the same manner. Jesus said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” John’s gospel is richly imbibed with a theme we might summarize as “God is glorified in Christ crucified” and these passages point to the power Jesus’ crucifixion holds for all who believe.

As Paul reminds us in his epistle to the church in Philippi, Jesus went to the cross willingly, obediently, and faithfully. He did not end up on the cross as some sort of accident or coincidence; He was neither outsmarted by the religious leaders of the day nor caught while trying to escape. Jesus set His gaze like flint toward Jerusalem and then journeyed directly to the cross for the sins and life of the whole world. The cross is both the reminder of humanity’s wayward desire to life apart from God and the fullest expression of God’s self-emptying love for His creation. In order to view the cross as a symbol of discipleship, we must first see the cross as the place where our Savior willingly died that all might know God; that is, we cannot have an empty and clean cross without first embracing the cross with Jesus dying upon it.

Taking Up Your Cross

The invitation to take up your cross is not cheap. Culturally we have become so flippant with our references that it is common to equate a personal disagreement or verbal attack with the crucifixion. And yet, the apostles carried their crosses unto death; the martyrs and saints of the last 2000 years have done the same. To take up our cross is to similarly set our gaze like flint toward whatever your horizon the Lord is calling us and to journey there intentionally and with God’s love, compassion, mercy, grace, and mission overflowing from our hearts. As they say in AA meetings, “It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.”

A Christian who has been shaped by the cross is a person ready to lift that cross even higher that others might see Jesus and turn to him, as well. The cross we are called to bear is not an inconvenience or annoyance to which we can say, “We all have our crosses to bear…” as though putting a theological bow on it will somehow make it more palatable. The cross we are called to bear is the cross of Christ, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. Think about Simon the Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus when He could no longer do so himself: Simon had to follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha with the cross on his back…how far are we willing to carry the cross?

Challenge

Here at COTA we have been blessed by the beautiful processional cross created for us by our own Tom McDonald. We bow when the cross processes past us as the verger carries it into the nave and again out into the world. If you are intentionally attentive, then you will notice the handle on the cross changes based on the liturgical season, a visible symbol of the tenor and theme at hand: penance, glory, ordinary time, etc. Allow yourself to be drawn in by the colors as you meditate upon Christ’s work. Allow yourself to be arrested by the image of Christ upon the cross, forcing yourself to gaze upon Him a second longer than you would normally do. Let the Feast of the Holy Cross be both a reminder of Jesus’ passion and of your invitation to take up the cross and follow Jesus daily, wherever He might lead you.

This was originally written for and published by our parish blog – Church of the Apostles, Kansas City – where I serve as Assisting Priest and Theologian in Residence. You can read it here.

This contribution is part of the new series, “Everyday Ecumenism.” This collaborative project will be a compilation of contributions from women and men seeking to engage theology from an ecumenical perspective for the benefit of the Church.

“Poems, parables, and paradoxes! That’s all the Bible is!” At least that’s how one cynic described it. His crass reductionism aside, he did bump up against something that is worth exploring: there are a lot of poems, parables, and paradoxes in the Bible. There are also many precepts, principles, and promises in there too, but we will leave them for a more convenient season.

God gifted us with poems and pleasant prose so that we might be able to fully express ourselves. He spoke to us by way of parable and paradox because we learned to express ourselves all too well. Parables are God’s way of stupefying those who reject plain speech. Paradoxes are God’s way of mystifying those who are stupefied by plain speech. Poems require eyes to see world around us; parables and paradoxes both require ears to hear the Word before us.

This is never more true than when Jesus speaks to us concerning his kingdom. Either we don’t understand his rather obvious statements, or we just don’t like their implications.

To one group of Jewish followers he makes it plain that the Kingdom is much broader than they think. He takes crumbs from the table of Israel to feed a feeble, Syrophoenician pup. The Kingdom has gone to the dogs! He astonishes yet another group of Hebrew hearers by clearly stating that the Kingdom is much narrower than they think. (Admittedly, even his plain dealing is somewhat paradoxical.) He openly chides those who think that they can identify their spiritual lineage by pointing to their birth certificates. A faithful heathen gains admittance and faithless Hebrews are shut out. Such is the Kingdom of God.

Jesus was saying that the Kingdom was, at once, both inclusive and exclusive; it was to be marked by unity and purity. It’s little wonder that such plain speech was too hard for them to hear. We still haven’t warmed to the idea.

So he opened his mouth in parable and paradox. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like wheat and weeds. The Kingdom of Heaven is like an arboretum, and a woman baking bread, and gold in a garden, and a sailor searching for pearls, and a pile of dead fish.” Perhaps the only thing that is clear from the words of Jesus is that the Kingdom is clearly not what we have thought it was.

If we could be permitted to speak the way that the Bible speaks, we might say that the Church is, at once, a river and a redwood. These seeming opposites are in no way opposed.

A river begins all over the place. A small spring up in the hills; a distant lake, itself fed by streams; a glacier that has seen one too many summers—all of them and hundreds more contribute to the babble and rush of water, the smooth flow here and the swirling rapids there. Gradually other streams, even other whole rivers, pour forth and make their contributions. Out of many there emerges the one.

On the other hand, a tree begins with a solitary seed. An acorn into the soil: tiny, vulnerable, alone. Through the administration of water and light, it sprouts and puts its roots down into the dark earth. Simultaneously it raises a shoot upwards into the sunshine and air. The roots quickly sprawl out and probe all over the place, looking for nourishment and water. The small shoot becomes a large trunk, again a single standing stalk, but this, too, quickly diverges. It will spread far and wide in all directions. Whereas the river flows from many into one; the tree grows from one into many. Such is the Kingdom of God.

The Church is like a rolling river. In the Apocalypse, John the visionary sees a huge throng of people from every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue coming together in a great chorus of praise. Like a river, they all started in different places, but they have now brought their different streams into a single flow. The image of the river forcibly reminds us that, though the Church consists by definition of people from the widest possible variety of backgrounds, part of the point of it all is that they belong to one another, and are meant to be part of the same powerful flow, going now in the same single direction. Diversity gives way to unity.

But at the same time the Church is like a sprawling redwood. The one seed, Jesus himself, has been sown in the dark earth and has sprang forth in resurrection power. Easter branches have set off in all directions, some pointing almost directly upward, some reaching down to the earth, some heading out over neighboring walls. Looking at the eager, outstretched branches, you’d hardly know they were all from the same stem. But they are. Unity generates diversity.

The plain teaching of the Scriptures is that the Church of the Living God bears the image of the One who formed her: unity and diversity. She must never be forced to choose between the two. Likewise, there is no disparity between unity and purity, or between exclusivity and inclusivity.

C.S. Lewis, following Richard Baxter, admonished the people of God to rally under the banner of “Mere Christianity.” That is, we should prioritize what we are instinctively as Christians who affirm the same creeds above what we may be distinctively as Christians affirming different confessions. To this I add my hearty, “Amen!” But common orthodoxy should lead to a common orthopraxy. Eventually it has to put on boots and do something or this “Mere Christianity” just becomes mere talk, or what the apostle Paul once called, “vain jangling.”

“Mere Christianity” should lead quite naturally to “Mere Catholicity.” This answers the problems of postmodern multiculturalism as well as the lingering racism of modernism. In the Church, fragmented humanity is put back together. So, we must be about the business of putting the Church back together. If Christianity embraces “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,” then we must learn to embrace one another. And must should happen without jettisoning purity and unity. It can be done. Those wise sages, Loggins and Messina, once mused that “Momma don’t dance and Daddy don’t rock and roll.” Yet, here we are. They were able to cohabitate in spite of such glaring liturgical diversity.

Since there is only one, holy catholic Church we have to act like it. Or else those two words proclaimed at the beginning of our creeds just add up to one big fat lie. How’s that for plain speech?

The present fragmented state of the Bride of Christ would put to a shame even a certain Levite who once shipped bits of his late wife in the mail. At least they were able to come together as one man. Enough of our “holy huddles” and “Me-and-my-son-John-us-four-and-no-more” ecclesiological insanity. The one Church is both holy and catholic—that includes both holiness and wholeness.

Genuine catholicity may require telling some brethren that the Kingdom is broader than they think. If God has welcomed people to His table what right have we to bar them? It may also require that we tell some brethren on the other side of the Tiber that the Kingdom is narrower than they think. What is certain is that we will never tell them if we don’t talk to them. But be careful if you do…you might just learn something.

It isn’t altogether clear how we are to get from scattered and fragmented bodies to a single army, marching lock-step with one another. Lord, Thou knowest. But the least that we can do is prophesy to the wind and speak to the divided and strewn bones. God has breathed on such things before.

We should probably start with the bones in our own backyard. Stop looking at your brethren with sidelong glances. Be more eager to offer the tender hand of fellowship than the tightened fist of controversy. Pray for their ministries…by name…on Sundays. Stop thinking of “them” and start thinking of “us.” After doing such things, I have a sneaking suspicion that soon we would hear the sound of joyful singing coming from the cemetery. “Hip bone connected to the thigh bone, thigh bone connected to the knee bone, knee bone connected to the shin bone. Now hear the Word of the Lord!”

Then we might be ready for poetry once again…

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

J. Brandon Meeks is an Arkansas native laboring as an aspiring poet, studio musician, and Christian scholar. He received his PhD. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He is also a fan of Alabama football, the blues, and cheese. He is a regular contributor for The North American Anglican and he also blogs regularly at The High Church Puritan.

This is the first contribution to the new series, “Everyday Ecumenism.” This collaborative project will be a compilation of contributions from women and men seeking to engage theology from an ecumenical perspective for the benefit of the Church.

The topic of disability has recently opened itself in Biblical scholarship and theological studies. The conversation stems from a larger societal movement concerning both the personhood of the disabled and their role in society. Since the topic is fairly new, however, the reach of scholarship has just begun to bring the discussion into the ethical dialogues. In the world at large, ethical treatment and consideration of the disabled is lacking. The United States suffers from underfunded and understaffed care facilities, largely run on unethical and questionable models of caregiving. In the United Kingdom parliamentary debates rage in regard to Down’s Syndrome, which has almost been “eradicated.”[1] Thus, the caregiving quality and personal value of those with disabilities is a needed dialogue.

            The alternative to maltreatment and devaluing of the disabled is primarily the Church. In particular, such societal protections and values of the disabled necessary for an alternative stem from the Old Testament’s specific stipulations of the priesthood (Leviticus 21:16-24). The Levitical priestly considerations not only provide a contrasting value for the disabled from that of surrounding societies in the ANE, but also provide a framework for how the modern church can integrate and care for the disabled today. By exploring these priesthood laws of disability, new perspectives on religious treatment of the disabled and integration should become clear.

ANALYSIS OF DISABILITY IN LEVITICUS 21

            One of the more difficult and perplexing passages of the Old Testament in the conversation of disability is Leviticus 21:16-24. The entire chapter is dedicated to the regulations of priestly duty and holiness. Derek Tidball clarifies the priestly role and holiness by explaining, “one of the major responsibilities of the priests was to distinguish between these categories [holy, clean, etc.].”[2] Holiness indicated the consecration of an object or person, while cleanliness seems primarily concerned with the state of things.[3] The exclusions found in the text include regulations about where priests can go (v.12), who they can marry (v.7), and general hygiene rules (v.5). Verses 16-24 contain the only exclusion of a people group, those with disabilities such as blindness, lameness, deformities of limbs, and other defects, from preforming offerings and entering the holiest place. For the modern reader these regulations seem discriminatory.

            Some scholars consign these seemingly discriminatory regulations to the idea of holiness: that the disabilities were simply seen as unholy. Tidball argues that “like the sacrificial victim itself, only perfection could be brought so close to the presence of a perfect God.”[4] However, there seem to be fundamental flaws in Tidball’s placing the lack of holiness on the person with disability. First, Tidball’s reading of the text seems to be limited to a presuppositional ideal image. As Kerry H. Wynn argues, this “normate reading” of ancient Yahwist texts assigns categories and meanings with modern social norms.[5] Tidball makes an error in assuming that the text’s regulations concerning the profaning of the sanctuary indicate a lack of holiness altogether in those with disabilities, and this reasoning ignores the text’s indication otherwise. The beginning of the discourse on disability regulations prevents the disabled from offering the bread of God (v.17), but it does not disqualify the disabled from the priesthood as a whole. As Sarah J. Melcher notes, physical standards are fundamentally different than holiness since “the writers of the Priestly Torah never refer to a person as holy unless that person has been consecrated to priestly service.”[6] Thus, the exclusion from certain acts within the priestly role does not equate to a lack holiness on the part of the disabled individual.

            From what are the disabled being excluded? Melcher argues that “the primary intention of Lev. 21:16-24 is to prohibit a priest from officiating in the sacrificial cult…”[7] Melcher rightly acknowledges that the disabled person is not disqualified from the priesthood, and that the only major prohibition is the officiating of offerings. The regulation is not primarily concerned with God’s presence as a whole, but rather the action of offering itself. Neither does this exclusion mean that the disabled individual is ritually impure, as v.22 explains that the priest is able to eat of the priestly bread. Amos Yong further clarifies that “contemporary disability readings would obviously want to note that this text doesn’t exclude people with disabilities as a whole from their priestly vocation.”[8]

            Yong, however, continues by noting that the main issue becomes the idea of profaning the sanctuary (v.23). Melcher acknowledges that the profaning is “a very serious violation,” because this act puts both the disabled individual and the sacrifice at risk.[9] Tidball argues that these regulations indicate that the body signifies “the totality of the person.”[10] In this interpretation, the disability becomes a symbolic model for the modern reader to understand spiritual impurities and defects. This approach to the regulatory texts once again fails to provide an adequate answer for the disabled reader concerning the exclusive nature of the regulations, perpetuating a stigmatizing view of the disablement and failing to give proper room to the disabled reactions to the text.

            Two major interpretative options thus present themselves to the modern reader.[11] The first, presented by Yong, is a Christological reading. This interpretation first presents the idea of Christ being the perfect High Priest, alleviating the restrictions placed on the disabled individuals and indicting “neither disabilities nor people who have them.”[12] In order to prevent further stigmatization in this interpretation, Yong argues that Christ’s crucifixion fulfills the priestly function with a disabled and wounded body, thus alleviating the disabled reader from alienation.[13]

            A second interpretive approach is to allow for the tension of the text and a deconstruction of the stigmatization in the regulative codes. This approach does not “de-sacralize” the text but rather interprets the regulations through the larger paradigm of Leviticus 19:14: “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God, I am the Lord.”[14] Using this passage paradigmatically, one can begin to read the text within the larger ethical context of Leviticus. A paradigmatic cultural comparison of the Levitical ethics to that of Mesopotamian treatments of disablement allows for an expanded attempt to draw ethical conclusions in the modern context.

MESOPOTAMIAN VERSUS LEVITICAL TREATMENTS OF DISABLEMENT

            Mesopotamian ethics were rooted in mythological understandings of creation narratives. According to Neal H. Walls, the Mesopotamian creation myth included the idea that humanity’s purpose was primarily labor and alleviation of labor from the gods.[15] In said mythologies, sometimes the gods created disabilities in order to prevent the overpopulation of humanity. In Mesopotamian social contexts, families bore most of the responsibility of caring for those with certain disabilities and were excluded from most temple service.[16] Thus, the value of the disabled was consigned mostly to productivity. The first distinction between the Yahwistic regulations and the Mesopotamian practices lies in the idea of productivity. The Levitical laws seem to centralize care within the temple context, as indicated in the role of disabled priests.

            It is worth noting how Mesopotamian societies remedied disabilities. Walls argues that infanticide and euthanasia were rare, but still occurred. He provides the first example, from the diagnostic handbook (sakikku) which discusses a certain ailment (considered to be Werdnig-Hoffman Disease) resulting in the family throwing the child alive into a river.[17] Similar texts point to the practice of live burial of infants with similar syndromes. The second clear distinction between the Yahwistic regulations on disability and some of the Mesopotamian ethics is the practice (however rare) of infanticide. No such practices are known to have been allowed in the Yahwistic stipulations, thus the value of the disabled individual is not consigned to their productivity.

            Hector Avalos, in his analysis of healing liturgies in the ANE, explains that the framework for disability was largely influenced by the contrast between polytheistic and monolatrous drives. The Mesopotamian treatment of disability was largely centered in the home (which valued productivity) in contrast to the temple centrality of the Yahwistic practice. Here, Avalos fails to draw from the inclusion seen in Lev.21. Rightly, he argues that the temple centrality prevented direct treatment for some of the disabled, but this ignores the larger provision of temple inclusion.[18] The disabled individual is provided with food (holy food at that), sacred duties in the temple, and societal protection. Edgar Kellenberger notes that “the temples had the greatest economic power” (behind the royal palace of the ANE), a dynamic certainly necessary to acknowledge in order to see the importance of disabled inclusion in these contexts.[19] Though Mesopotamian treatment of the disabled is varied, the Yahwistic inclusion of the disabled into the very priesthood of the temple displays an integrative model ahead of its time.

DISABLED PRIESTHOOD AND MODERN ETHICS

            The modern conversation surrounding the place of the disabled in the larger society is not new to the human experience. The Yahwistic provision for those who are disabled, regardless of productive level is in direct contrast to the Mesopotamian ethic. Driven by the Genesis narrative of creation and the paradigm of Leviticus 19, cultic practices and regulations not only value the disabled with provision (shelter, food, etc.) but secure them socially by enabling disabled Levites to be consecrated priests. Among these many social provisions is the eating of the showbread and the direct route to sanctification (v.15), as well as a restored dignity and level of autonomy seemingly absent from the Mesopotamian ethic.

            Dominant within the modern conversation surrounding disability seems to be an exaggerated version of the Mesopotamian ethos, regulating stigma and social position of the disabled to a larger myth of productivity and economic stability. As previously noted, current so-called “eradication” efforts of Down’s Syndrome in Europe are contingent on the idea that abortion will not only ease the suffering of the child but lift the potential economic suffering of the family. Due to the larger bifurcation of the disabled individual between emotional capacity and rational, social provision and participation of the disabled seems low (especially if death is seen as a better option). It seems that a challenging, yet holistic approach is the alternative of the church. In parallel with the Levitical model of disabled priesthood, the church not only could integrate the disabled into the church but potentially ordain or allow clerical participation. Though a case-by-case model, the idea of “sacred disability” upholds the dignity of the disabled but also provides a “liberating power” from the world’s conscriptions of value to wealth and productivity, a power found in the friendship of the church.[20] Using the model of close friendship, churches not only can help carry the burdens (financial, physical, spiritual) of those with disabilities but also further integrate them within the very tapestry woven in the Body. What would it look like if the Eucharist was administered by those with disabilities? In similar fashion to the Levitical priesthood, what does it tell us about God? In the United States, where many churches have separate services for those with disabilities, what would it communicate to the country as a whole to have fully integrative services? The provision, societal protection, and sacred participation found in the Israelite temple can be mirrored by the modern church, in which participation in the liturgies and practices provides the window of provision and dignity. Said participation also provides representation not only within the congregation but even in the clergy. The hardships faced by those who are disabled are hardships that the church should take up as its own, working and living alongside the afflicted in both provisional and participatory ways.

Cody Bivins holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies & Biblical Languages from Evangel University and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Historical Theology from Wheaton Graduate College. His areas of interest include philosophical theology, theological ethics, political theology, and theology of disability. Cody’s work is driven by a desire for the Church to live Incarnationally and to see others love their neighbors as themselves. 



[1]Alison, Gee.  https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-37500189

[2] Derek Tiball, The Message of Leviticus (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2005), 27.

[3] Ibid, 27.

[4] Ibid, 265.

[5] Kerry H. Wynn, ““The Normate Hermeneutic and Interpretations of Disability Within the Yahwistic Narratives”  in This Abled Body, ed. Hector Avalos, Sarah J. Melcher, and Jeremy Schipper (Atlanta: SBL, 2007), 92.

[6] Sarah J. Melcher, “Visualizing the Perfect Cult: The Priestly Rationale for Exclusion” in Human Disability and the Service of God, ed. Nancy L. Eisland and Don E. Saliers (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 57.

[7] Ibid, 65

[8] Amos Yong, The Bible, Disability, and The Church: A New Vision of the People of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 19.

[9] Melcher, ”Visualizing the Perfect Cult,”  66.

[10] Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 265,

[11] It should be noted that neither option totally alleviates the tension in the text by eliminating it completely.

[12] Yong, The Bible, Disability, and The Church, 26.

[13] Yong, The Bible, Disability, and The Church, 29.

[14] Melcher, “Visualizing the Perfect Cult,” 69.

[15] Neal H. Walls, “The Origins of the Disabled Body: Disability in Ancient Mesopotamia” in This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies, ed. Hector Avalos, Sarah J. Melcher, and Jeremy Schipper (Atlanta: SBL, 2007), 16.

[16] Walls, “The Origins of the Disabled Body,” 16.

[17] Ibid, 21.

[18] Avalos, “Disability and Liturgy”, 41.

[19] Edgar Kellenberger, “Children and Adults with intellectual Disability in Antiquity and Modernity: Toward a Biblical and Sociological Model,” Cross Currents 63 no. 4 (2013), 460.

[20] John Swinton, Resurrecting the Person: Friendship and the Care of People with Mental Health Problems (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 139.

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Originally published by Resonance: A Theological Journal in Vol 4.3 on “The Trinity.”

Trinitarian worship has often been described as “to the Father, through the Son, and by/in the Spirit.”[1] While this is true, very little has been articulated as to how this reality is envisioned and enacted liturgically. This essay will seek to examine the liturgy, from synaxis to dismissal, in order to demonstrate the Trinitarian nature of our worship, the participation/inclusion of each member of the Trinity in the liturgy, and what the liturgy implies about the Trinity.

This article focuses on the Eucharistic liturgy from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer because it has been the standard for Anglicans over the last 350 years. In addition, this project is more in line with approaches by Alexander Schmemann[2] and Leonel Mitchell[3] (chronological assessment) than Nicholas Wolterstorff’s most recent book[4] (more plucking bits and pieces from liturgy). Wolterstorff and J. Todd Billings[5] have both written about the implicit and functional theologies found within our liturgies, and while these are both very necessary and real, this article will focus instead on the explicit and stated theologies of the 1662 Eucharistic liturgy. It is my contention that the liturgy is profoundly Trinitarian and that attention to the language of the liturgy will reveal a plurality of moments and movements through which the Triune God is active in very specific ways.

A brief word: the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) was not the first Anglican prayer book in England, nor was it the last. Cranmer worked tirelessly on his editions of 1549 and 1552 and other books/services (1559 most notably) were introduced in the intermittent period between 1552 and 1662. However, the 1662 has long been the standard of Anglican liturgiology for it represents the most fundamental and agreed upon common ground for liturgical efforts. Modern liturgies and liturgists use the 1662 as their starting point and/or sounding board as they seek to embody the liturgy in more meaningful, relevant, or theologically accurate settings. While North American Anglicans (Episcopalians very much included here) utilize the 1928, 1979, or more recent liturgies, the choice to focus on the 1662 for this present project was obvious: very few, if any, Anglicans will disagree on the ongoing strengths and vitality of the 1662.

Following in the footsteps of Alexander Schmemann and Leonel Mitchell, our examination of the Eucharistic liturgy of the 1662 BCP does not begin with the anaphora of the Eucharist. We do a great injustice to the Eucharist when we separate it from the rest of the liturgy as if there are two separate entities: Word and Table. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table make up one complete whole: Eucharist. For this project, then, the beginning is found at the opening of worship and the ending at the dismissal for we miss the robust beauty of Trinitarian worship if we focus solely or exclusively on one portion or moment of a whole event.

1662 Liturgy [6]

The Lord’s Prayer serves as the opening of “The Administration of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion” for the 1662 BCP.[7] Immediately, worshippers are pointed to the fact that there is a Father who is in heaven and whose name is holy. Simple though it may seem, this prayer makes explicit that the Father exists and that he is engaged in specific work: provision, forgiveness, and protection. The language of prayer demonstrates that those praying are asking the Father actively to do these things.

The Collect for Purity immediately follows the Lord’s Prayer. This was once a prayer privately said by the priest prior to processing into the nave and to the chancel, but now it is a prayer to be said amidst the whole worshipping people. Each member of the Trinity is referenced in this prayer: “Almighty God” references the Father; “holy Spirit,” and “Christ our Lord” references the third and second persons of the Trinity. Here we find the Father as the recipient and knower of all our thoughts and prayers and as the one who shall cleanse our hearts by his Spirit. This is all done that we might “perfectly love” and “worthily magnify” God’s name through Jesus.[8]

Next is a recounting of the Ten Commandments and a series of responses by the people all addressed to the Father. Recounting YHWH’s mighty deeds on behalf of Israel, the church then prays that God would “have mercy on us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.”[9] The prayers suggest that God is capable of such mercy and action in the innermost chambers of the human heart (read affections/kardia here). Although no specification is given as to how such work is achieved (e.g. by the Spirit, through the Son), the Father is invoked here as an active agent who has such power and affect.

One of two prayers is then prayed for the Sovereign.[10] The prayer follows the traditional form of a collect and is therefore addressed to the Father, through the Son, and in keeping with the traditional form, the second collect acknowledges that both Father and Son live and reign with the Holy Spirit. Both collects focus on the reign of Charles, that his leadership and life may be strengthened by the Father. Implicit here is the belief that God has power over the hearts and affections of humans.

Following the Collect for the Sovereign, the people move more completely into the Liturgy of the Word and encounter the Collect of the Day, the Epistle, and the Gospel. The Collect follows the same form of to the Father, through the Son, and by/with the Holy Spirit thereby enjoining the Trinity in whatever action or activity is earnestly prayed for. Prior to the sermon, the Apostles Creed is proclaimed aloud by the people and a paragraph is devoted here to each member of the Trinity, stating specific beliefs about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The sequence from sermon to the Lord’s Table begins with prayers for “Christ’s Church militant here in earth.”[11]The prayer is addressed to the Father and he is implored to “receive these our prayers,” “save and defend all Christian kings…”, “Give grace…to all bishops and curates,” “to comfort and succor” all who are in need.[12] This is all done for “Jesus Christ’s sake our Mediator and Advocate.” There is a lot of activity jammed into this one page of liturgy. We learn from the liturgy that Jesus is mediator and advocate—this is why our prayers are through him, because we believe he stands before the Father interceding on our behalf. The Father is revealed as healer, defender, protector, giver of grace, and the one who receives our prayers. The Father is not a passive spectator of this prayer, he is the one to whom it is directed and of whom action is expectantly implored.

The priest then has the charge of preparing the congregation for Communion, either for the current day or for a Sunday in the future. He entreats the people to examine their hearts because it is “right to render most humble and hearty thanks to the Father.” Why? Because “he hath given us his Son our Savior, Jesus Christ.”[13] The liturgical preparation for Communion is a lengthy recounting of God’s actions in Christ and reminder to “trust in God’s mercy.” The language suggests that what has been done once and for all can still be of benefit to the gathered faithful many centuries later; the story is both the foundation and hope of our belief. God has revealed himself as faithful through Jesus and is therefore worthy of our praise and thanksgiving.

Finally, the priest exhorts the people one last time in a bit of liturgical language that is teeming with rich imagery and action. We are instructed that to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus is to “dwell with in Christ, and Christ in us.”[14] Through the lens of his passion, we are exhorted to repent and amend our lives. We are told to “remember the exceeding love of our Master” as he died for us and procured for us the way to salvation. All of this is Trinitarian, though, for the prayer closes, “To Him therefore with the Father, and the holy Ghost, let us give (as we are most bounden) continual thanks, submitting ourselves wholly to his holy will and pleasure, and studying to serve him in true holiness and righteousness.”[15] While humans may be the subject of the exhortation and the ones spurred on to action, the previous activity of the Father is in view here and is dragged into the present as though it has current meaning for the church.

Having recounted the mighty acts of God, it seems most natural to proceed to the table through confession. Father is seen as “Almighty God,” “Make of all things,” and “Judge of all men.” The Father is beseeched to “have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us;” “Forgive us all that is past,” and “Grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee.”[16] Why? Again, for Jesus’ sake. The Father is asked to have mercy, forgive, and grant the ability to live holy lives in the Kingdom.

The Comfortable Words are a touchstone of classical Anglicanism and while they are constituted by verses from the Gospels of Matthew and John, they are introduced by the priest as words Jesus speaks to the faithful here, now, in the present. Somehow, in this liturgical action, Christ is present. The priest says, “Hear the Comfortable Words Jesus saith unto those who truly turn to him.”[17]  In this moment, it is believed, Jesus is speaking. The second person of the Trinity is speaking to his people gathered in worship; Jesus comforts his people with promise of rest, restoration, and wholeness.

The Comfortable Words flow seamlessly into the Anaphora in the 1662 liturgy. This transition between Confession and Eucharist through the words of Jesus makes a great deal of sense theologically. The Eucharistic Prayer references the previous and ongoing work of the Trinity while only calling the Triune God into action. Here we see the response of the gathered church to the work of God in thanksgiving. God’s many and mighty deeds are recounted, and God’s people give thanks and praise, but the focus here is not what God is doing presently, liturgically, but what he has already done and the hopeful anticipation of what he will do.

We “Lift our hearts to the Lord” because it is “meet, right, and our bounden duty.”[18] This is the response of gratitude. We join our voices with the whole company of heaven rendering praise and thanks in the “Holy, holy, holy” for what God has done for us. The inclusion of the Prayer of Humble Access early in the Eucharistic Prayer is important because it locates both our humility and our request for God’s action and help within the context of the Eucharist proper. We come to the table trusting not in ourselves but in God and we pray that he may “grant us” the ability to partake of Jesus’ body and blood and be cleansed in the process.

The Eucharist moves into the anamnesis-memorial in which we “beseech” God to allow us to be partakers not only of the bread and wine but of the body and blood of Jesus as well.[19] Jesus’ words of institution here are remembered and re-presented as being efficacious unto us as we celebrate his meal some 2000 years later. This paragraph locates our celebration within the context of Jesus’ own passion, thereby infusing meaning and significance within salvation history and not simply/solely the context of the local gathering.

The Eucharist comes full circle in 1662 with the inclusion of the Lord’s Prayer once more. There is something significant that the liturgists and reformers are trying to show us by having the Lord’s Prayer prayed twice: something about the Eucharist is the embodiment of Kingdom life and living. Again, we pray for provision, forgiveness, and protection but done within the context of the Eucharist proper, we have a more tangible understanding that the meal itself will be our nourishment, a sign of our forgiveness, and effect a sense of spiritual protection.

The Eucharistic Prayer thus concludes with one of two collects, thereby entreating the Trinity by name/person to be present and active. The whole of the liturgy is prayed to, by, through, and with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for they all live and reign together, both now and forever. The Collects and the Lord’s Prayer highlight this kingdom reality and the entirety of our liturgical action can be seen as human participation in Kingdom life.

Liturgical Verbs: Trinity in Action

There is a difference between referencing the previous work of the Trinity (Collects, anamnesis-memorial) and imploring and invoking members of the Triune God to be present and active in the moment. This section will focus on the latter before working toward a conclusion.

The first triplet of verbs is found in the opening Lord’s Prayer where the Father is asked to “give, forgive, and lead.”[20] These verbs will make appearances elsewhere throughout the liturgy and they demonstrate in the first offering that the gathered church intends far more than to simply retell God’s story. The Father, who is in heaven and who is holy, is asked to give nourishment to his people, forgive their iniquities, and to lead them away from temptation and deliver them from evil. Implicit here is the belief that the Father has the ability to do this, that he is able to give and forgive, lead and deliver.

The Collect for Purity is perhaps the best example of Spirit action in this liturgy.

The Father is then asked to “cleanse” us by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit.[21] We are somehow impure—having already arrived at the need for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer—and the Father is able to purify us through his Spirit. The Spirit will inspire the people which will have the effect of cleansing the heart and mind. We know from elsewhere in the liturgy that the Spirit lives and reigns with the Father and Son, but in this collect we see the Spirit as actively working amongst the people; the Collect for Purity provides a fantastic glimpse into idea of prayer “by” the Spirit.

The Father is next asked to “have mercy,” to “so rule” the heart of the King or to “govern” his heart.[22] Later, worshippers ask the Father to “receive” their prayers, to “inspire” the universal church, to “save and defend” all Christian rulers, to “give grace,” to “comfort and succor.”[23] Three times in this very prayer does the community ask God for his grace.

The Confession is a great example of the Father’s liturgical action. We implore the Father to “have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us” and the priest proclaims this truth on God’s behalf in the Absolution: “Have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life.” This pronouncement is a speech-act of God’s work in, through, for, and over us.

The Son is referenced throughout the liturgy primarily in what is done for his sake or what is done through him. This should not be dismissed as in-activity. Any time we encounter the phrase “through Christ” it means that our prayers are presented to the Father by the Son. As we are praying on earth we believe that the eternal High Priest is mediating our prayers before the Father, interceding on our behalf. One of the prayers even references Jesus as our “mediator and advocate.” He is active in the liturgy in this way. Additionally, the Comfortable Words, as mentioned above, are read with this opening clause, “Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ says unto all that truly turn to him.” Jesus is saying those words in the present.

Conclusion

The primary focus on Jesus in Eucharistic praying is our enjoining and participating with Christ in his passion. This is somehow made possible through the remembering of his Passion, and while the 1662 liturgy does a poor job of explaining this liturgically, other liturgies make clear that such dangerous memory and re-presentation takes place only by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, the Spirit is not completely absent from this liturgy despite the fact that most references of the Spirit take the form of a Collect demonstrating that the Spirit lives and reigns with both the Father and the Son. Missing from the 1662 is any formal epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit whereby the priest prays that the Spirit descend upon the gifts and the people and sanctify them; the Epiclesis is perhaps the clearest form of the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the liturgy and many Anglican liturgies have included a formal Epiclesis for this purpose.

The 1662 Eucharist begins with the Lord’s Prayer and ends with the blessing of God being proclaimed in the name of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Just as the Triune God is living and active in the world he loves and created, so too should our liturgy reflect that reality. While other liturgies make their Trinitarian claims more explicit, the 1662 should be seen as a wonderful proclamation of the majesty of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Endnotes

[1] James Torrance, Didsbury Lectures, vol. 1994, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996).

[2] Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 3rd ed., trans. Asheleigh E. Moorhouse (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986, 1966).

[3] Leonel L. Mitchell, Praying Shapes Believing: a Theological Commentary On the Book of Common Prayer (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 1991, 1985).

[4] Nicholas Wolterstorff, The God We Worship: an Exploration of Liturgical Theology, Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2015).

[5] J. Todd Billings, Remembrance, Communion, and Hope: Rediscovering the Gospel at the Lord’s Table (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018).

[6] All references to the 1662 liturgy throughout this article will be from The Book of Common Prayer: the Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662, Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

[7] Ibid, 389.

[8] Ibid, 390.

[9] Ibid, 390-391.

[10] Ibid, 391-392.

[11] Ibid, 394.

[12] Ibid, 395-397.

[13] Ibid, 396.

[14] Ibid, 398.

[15] Ibid, 398-399.

[16] Ibid, 399.

[17] Ibid, 399.

[18] Ibid, 400.

[19] Ibid, 402.

[20] Ibid, 389.

[21] Ibid, 390.

[22] Ibid, 391.

[23] Ibid, 395.

Photo by Emre Can on Pexels.com

Originally published in Resonance: A Theological Journal for their issue on the Trinity.

“Alleluia, Alleluia. Let us go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirt. Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Alleluia.”[1] These words, or something very similar, are exclaimed on Sunday mornings throughout the world as the gathered faithful are dismissed from the liturgy of the Eucharist and ushered, nay catapulted, back into the world from the nave. Too often, though, this dismissal is nothing more than an ending to the liturgy rather than an invitation into deeper, more robust gospel living. The disconnect between Sunday worship and daily life often feels as though it is getting wider rather than narrower; the (false) dichotomy between sacred and secular or holy and profane is growing rather than diminishing. All too often we hear comments about public spheres and private life as though the two are somehow mutually exclusive. As Christians, we struggle to effectively be both in the world but not of the world, and to answer the question: what does this [liturgy/worship] mean for my “ordinary” life?

Liturgy can all too quickly be relegated to that which we do on a Sunday morning or a text to be read during the week for study and examination. This misses the mark entirely and we have no one to blame but ourselves. At some point along the way, and it does not matter from whom or whence this came, liturgy ceased being the experience of heaven and earth meeting at the altar and instead became a structured form used for right praise and thanksgiving. Liturgy as a noun will always be understood this way, but what if liturgy was understood and experienced as an action, as a verb, as a mission? This essay will explore liturgy as an action event, one which contains language about the missio dei, because ultimately the liturgy we celebrate on Sunday is tied explicitly to the leitourgia of Jesus.

One result of the Reformation has been the (almost) universal translation among Protestants of liturgy as “the work of the people.” The culmination of this interpretation can be seen through the documents of the Second Vatican Council, specifically Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC).  While SC was produced and is used authoritatively by the Roman Catholic Church, many Protestants have seen it as the validation for their earlier shift in liturgical understanding. SC highlights the participatory role of the laity in the liturgy, giving further (if only unintentional) credence to the Reformation claim.[2] Unfortunately, though, this translation is not the most accurate understanding of leitourgia. The ergon of the people in leitourgia is robbed of great meaning if it is resigned solely to referring to the laity. In Jesus we find a different understanding.

Leitourgia was used during the centuries before and after the time of Jesus, particularly in Greece, to mean a “public work of an individual/people on behalf of the whole.”[3] Often this would take the form of a wealthy benefactor paying for a road to be used by a community, city, province, or something similar. The addition of “on behalf” to “of” locates the focus of the work as being two-fold rather than singularly absorbed. The question for us becomes two-fold: who is performing the work and for whom?

Sunday liturgy is first and foremost about the worship of the triune God. If our liturgical worship is not doxological in telos then it is not Christian and should not be enacted. In addition to being a focused form of doxology, liturgy is performed by the Church on behalf of the world. Not only does the liturgy give us clues as to essence and meaning of the missio dei, it is also a microcosm of the missio dei enacted and embodied. Liturgy reflects the heart, activity, and mission of God because it flows directly from Christ’s own leitourgia on behalf of the world. The structural elements of liturgical worship, the very nature of worship itself, points to this reality: what we do in worship as doxology is meant to flow into everyday living as praxis. Who we are meant to be, who we are in Christ, is formed, shaped, and expressed presently and eschatologically in eucharistic celebration.

The Lord’s Day liturgy begins even before the faithful gather in the nave on Sunday morning.[4] The liturgy actually begins with the prompting invitation of the Holy Spirit and the response of men, women and children to come and engage in the worship of Almighty God together. If God’s mission is to redeem and restore all of creation, then the gathering up of his people from the ends of the earth (read city, county, etc.) is part of that mission. Even before the opening acclamation, God and humanity have been engaging in the dialogue of call and response, and just as God’s word does not return empty (Isaiah 55), so too should we see that those who are part of the throng on Sunday morning have in some way responded to God by grace and in faith.

Beginning with the standard, “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be his Kingdom, now and for ever. Amen,”[5] we can see that the telos of liturgical worship is the Kingdom of the triune God. That is, worship is ever moving toward something, God is ever inviting and drawing creation toward a specific end. When the Kingdom of God is the goal or destination of worship, our prayers and praises, laments and confessions, thanksgivings and silences are all part of the journey to and from the Kingdom as we are shaped and transformed by God into agents of the mission dei.[6]

The whole liturgy is a dually-climactic pilgrimage as we move “further up and further in.”[7] In constant motion forward, in consistent movement toward the goal, we first reach one climax in the sermon. The people of God who are on mission with God cannot be separated from the Word of God. Through the public reading of God’s Word and the further proclamation of the Gospel through the Sermon, the Church is instructed, illuminated, challenged, convicted, encouraged, exhorted, and so much more. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present as the Word in the word, and the readings and sermon provide the hermeneutical foundation for Kingdom work. Simply put, upon further reflection of letters from Paul, proclamations from the prophets and kings, the wisdom of the Psalms, and the Gospel accounts themselves, the sermon turns from exposition toward explication, beckoning the listener toward discipleship, relationship with Jesus, and mission in the world.

However, the journey does not end with the sermon. Contrary to perception of many evangelical worship services, the point of the sermon is not to fill our heads with religious ideology before walking out of church, stepping over the beggar on the doorstep, and moving on with our public lives until we gather again next week for another information download. The sermon is always or should always be pointing toward the Table. Again, not to belabor the point here, Eucharist is not Table against or over Word but is instead the union of the Liturgy of Word and Table. Each interprets the other, each acts upon and grounds the other that our thoughts and actions, our words and embodiment, might all praise God.

The transition from Word to Table is important and not to be missed. A standard progression from one liturgy to the next includes the Nicene Creed, the Prayers of the People, the Confession of Sin, and the Exchange of the Peace. These elements are far more than liturgical time killers or clerical vamping; in fact, these elements speak directly to the mission God is carrying out in creation and into which we are invited.

The proclamation of the Nicene Creed during the Eucharist is not only a statement of doctrinal certainty and clarity, it (re)tells the soteriological story and mission of God from creation through fall and redemption and on toward the hopeful anticipation of consummation in the Kingdom. The Creed alerts those who are affirming their faith to the fact that in and through Jesus of Nazareth, the one who is both fully God and fully man, the world is being put to rights. “For us and for our salvation…and his kingdom will have no end…”[8] These are the words we say publicly, corporately, and expectantly every Sunday and they carry with them the imbibed hope and meaning of a people already redeemed joining in the work of redemption and reconciliation.

The Prayers of the People provide the first explicit opportunity for our worship to extend beyond the gathered faithful and to encompass the whole of the cosmos. While worship is the gathering up of creation’s praise and directing it back to the Creator, these prayers allow the worshippers to bring before Almighty God every relationship, every person, place, thing, job, city, etc. and to lay them upon the altar of grace and mercy. The prayers are offered—offered as part of the Eucharistic/anaphoric journey—for the Church, nation, the just use of creation, civil leaders, specific prayer requests and thanksgivings, and for the departed. There is not a single area or layer of life which is not represented in these prayers and that is the point: the mission of God encompasses the totality of life so that there is no false dichotomy between public and private or sacred and profane, and the Prayers of the People reflect this truth, too.

God’s mission in the world, as seen most clearly and prominently through the Passion, includes reconciling all things unto himself. The liturgy joins in this ministry of reconciliation through the use of public confession of sin and absolution by the priest. Note, it is important to bear in mind here that the priest is not forgiving sins based on her own merit or righteousness but is rather announcing and assuring those present of a forgiveness already graciously bestowed upon them by God. In other words, the priest is extending the forgiveness of sins found upon the cross (“Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing”) and invites the people to approach the Table as a people of forgiveness. Both being forgiven and extending forgiveness are marks of the Kingdom of God, are integral to the mission of God, and are central to Eucharistic living.

The seal on the confession and absolution of sin can be seen through the lens of the Exchange of the Peace. This is often viewed as a time for greeting one another, making plans for brunch after the completion of the service, or an opportunity to stretch one’s legs after a long sermon. However, the origins of this practice depict a much different scene: we exchange the peace with one another because we have been once again reminded of our reconciliation to God in Christ through the Spirit. If I am reconciled and my brother or sister has also been reconciled unto God, then the natural and theologically appropriate next step is to reconcile one unto another. For how can we heed Paul’s exhortation in his epistle to the church at Corinth, or even approach the Table, if/when we still harbor anger or malice in our heart toward another? At the heart of the Christian life and the mission of God is the understanding that in and through Christ all things are being made new and being drawn toward the Father. The Peace is therefore the final opportunity for individuals to extend or receive forgiveness from a brother or sister before proceeding to the Table and eating and drinking judgment. Ultimately, it is “the peace of God” which we are extending to one another.

The Liturgy of the Word has been pointing toward the Liturgy of the Table from the opening acclamation and the Table seals and interprets the Word as we partake of the bread and wine, body and blood. Jesus’ Passion is recounted here and it is this anamnetic and anaphoric narrative which explicitly details the night that Jesus “was handed over to death” and the end toward which his Passion was pointed. The Church offers herself, her tithes, and her thanksgiving upon the altar as she “remember[s] his death, proclaims his resurrection, and awaits his coming in glory.”[9] The language used in the Eucharistic prayer evokes scenes of willing obedience and submission to the Father, arms stretched out upon the cross for the benefit and salvation of humanity and creation, and the sanctification of both gift and recipient that each may be transformed by the Spirit for holy purpose and use.

It is here, in the middle of recounting Christ’s Passion during the Eucharist, that we see the missio dei explained most fully. This is the point where Schmemann focused his attention for his classic For the Life of the Worldbecause it was through the willing submission to the Father’s will, through the arrest and betrayal and mocking and trial without complaint or resistance, through the cross and resurrection that we see Jesus’ actions were always for the life of the world. While Rome and the religious leaders may have thought they were silencing a troublemaker, and while many may view the crucifixion as nothing more than an execution, the Passion of Jesus is the ultimate affirmation, validation, and vindication of God’s creation. Christ died that all of creation, the whole of the cosmos, might be reconciled unto God; that all might be put back into right relationship with him. This is the Passion and the Passion is the central and defining element of Eucharistic worship.

Just as the bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given unto the disciples and those gathered around the table, so too are we a people to be dispersed and distributed among and amidst the world that others might see Christ. The elements are sanctified by the Spirit just as Christ was glorified upon the Cross and then the priest turns her prayer outward toward the congregation an she prays for the Spirit’s sanctifying work upon them as well. To what end? That they might become the body of Christ and be empowered for mission and ministry, of course.

The final act(s) after partaking of the Holy Meal include the final blessing by the priest which is nothing more or less than the acknowledgment of God’s blessing which he has already and always continues to pour out over his people. Finally, they are dismissed with a charge to go into the world, their mission field, as a people sent out.

If we can agree that the liturgy on Sunday is fashioned and formed after the leitourgia of Jesus, then it would follow that everything we do in liturgy is tied directly to the missio dei. In fact, the internal logic of the liturgy—the liturgical coefficient as it was dubbed by Schmemann[10]—shows a consistent and cohesive flow from entrance to dismissal, a flow which reveals to us the nature of our calling and sends us back out into the mission field. Jesus’ leitourgia was a (very) public work performed on behalf of the whole (cosmos) and the call for the church at liturgy is to join in this work: offering her own praise and prayer, thanksgiving and lament, joy and confession, in short her worship on behalf of the world that the world might see Christ and know him fully.


Endnotes

[1] Book of Common Prayer, 366.

[2] SC 14, In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else.

[3] “The liturgy was an institution of compulsory public service in the classical Greek world, best known from Athens, in which the wealthiest citizens (and, for certain liturgies, metics) were compelled to shoulder the financial burden of some project or activity of benefit to the polis (MacDowell, 1978, p. 161). When used in Athens in the Early Classical period, the term referred to a set of specific duties designated by law. In the fourth century, however, it began to be used more generally, to designate a service or obligation performed for any beneficiary; our modern comes from its use to refer to religious obligations in the Septuagint (Lewis, 1960, p. 181).” Sterling Garnett, “Liturgy, Greece and Rome” in The Encyclopedia of Ancient History edited by Roger Bagnall et. al. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

[4] Sunday morning is used here as the normative time for Christian worship, but it is acknowledged that churches around the world also meet on Saturday or Sunday evenings as time, space, or circumstances dictate. This essay uses the Eucharistic liturgy of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer throughout.

[5] Book of Common Prayer, 355.

[6] “It means that we acknowledge and confess it [the Kingdom] to be our highest and ultimate value, the object of our desire, our love, and our hope. It means that we proclaim it to be the goal of the sacrament—of pilgrimage, ascension, entrance.” Schmemann, The Eucharist, 47.

[7] C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.

[8] Book of Common Prayer, 358.

[9] Book of Common Prayer, 368.

[10] Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, 19.

I wrote this post for our parish blog (Church of the Apostles, KC). You can read it here…and all is the other fabulous posts and sermons!

One of my favorite words to describe my theological work with the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer is “juxtaposition.” Perhaps it is the influence of Alexander Schmemann and Gordon Lathrop—both liturgical theologians and both of whom highly value this concept—but the concept for juxtaposition is very simple: what happens when you put x next to y? An example or two might be helpful here. For liturgy, what does it mean when the Confession is prayed within the Prayers of the People as opposed to the opening liturgy during penitential seasons? Or, for Bible reading, why did the lectionary writers include that Gospel passage alongside this story from the Old Testament? The individual items have their own meaning, but their significance is altered and enhanced when placed nearer something else.

This week is no exception as we have not one, but two, feast days to celebrate: Monday was the Feast of Mary Magdalene and today (Thursday) is the Feast of St. James. Rather than trying to write two separate posts within the same blog entry, I think it is beneficial to look at both feast days simultaneously, in juxtaposed harmony, you might say. So, allow me to ask the question which we will seek to answer below: “What happens when you put James next to Mary?”

In Context

In Mary and James, we have two apostles with intimate firsthand experiential knowledge of Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. According to John 20, Mary Magdalene was the first witness of the resurrection. In a time and place where the account of a woman was always inferior to the testimony of a man, Jesus appeared first to Mary in the Garden. She had trekked to the tomb only to find it empty and while understandably upset, she is comforted by two angels before turning to see Jesus…only she thinks he is the gardener!  

Side note: We could get off on a serious tangent here, but how amazing is it that the resurrection took place in a garden and that Jesus, the new/second Adam, was first mistaken as a gardener…because He is! He is the Divine Gardener, the one with whom we are invited to walk in the cool of the day while He tends creation and invites us to participate with Him…but that is another post for another time.

Upon recognizing Jesus and embracing Him joyfully, Mary runs to the disciples to announce the resurrection. The first proclamation of resurrection, the first encounter with the risen Lord, is from Mary, an apostle.

Similarly, James, the brother of John, was with Jesus during some of the most pivotal moments of His earthly ministry. Apart from being “one of the twelve,” James was also part of the smaller trio with Peter and John. Too often, it feels, James is the forgotten member of the three, even the lesser “son of thunder” because Peter is such a huge presence in the gospels and John was the beloved disciple. We almost skip over the fact that James was the first disciple martyred for his faith.

James was there, atop Mount Tabor, as Jesus was transfigured and appeared alongside Moses and Elijah. He heard Jesus talking about His impending death; he heard Peter suggest that they build tents atop the mountain and stay there; he heard Jesus respond and tell them that they must go back down…and then he watched as Jesus set His face like flint toward Jerusalem and began the arduous journey toward the cross. James was a witness to all of these things, including the arrival of Mary with the proclamation of the resurrection, and he gave his life in defense of Jesus.

Mary and James Juxtaposed

So, what happens when we read Mary and James next to each other? At first glance it may seem like there is no connection: One was a disciple, and the other was a woman; one was part of the intimate inner circle of three while the other was at one point possessed by demons; one gave his life for Jesus while the other encountered new life bursting forth into the world in the Garden.

However, if we are really diligent and honest, the similarities between the two are overwhelmingly obvious. Mary Magdalene and James are tied together by one common thread: apostolic witness. Both James and Mary were transformed by Jesus, both of them were changed forever by their interactions with Him both before and after His death and rising. James encountered the overwhelming and awesome glory of Christ while atop Mount Tabor, and Mary experienced the same glory when she found out that she was talking to Jesus and not the gardener.

They were both sent out from those high, holy places as apostles and witnesses. We might celebrate Mary’s restoration of body and mind on her feast day, remembering how she was once afflicted and is no more, but her feast day is really a moment to cherish and remember her as the one who ran forth to declare the good news of resurrection. She did not stay in the Garden with Jesus…she went, and she announced, and she lived a life transformed based on this gospel joy.

The Feast of St James may be a time to commemorate his martyrdom, but it is the events which led to His death upon which we ought to reflect. James was not killed in a vacuum; we have to move backward from Herod’s decision to kill James in Acts 11 all the way until we get to a seaside scene when Jesus calls out to two brothers while fishing, and they drop their nets to come and follow Him. James followed Jesus from that seaside, through the Transfiguration, unto Jesus’ death and resurrection, and ultimately his own.

Mary and James provide for us two tangible, living pictures as to what it means to be disciples of Jesus and citizens of the Kingdom. Neither stayed put when they had the chance; both opted to go forth and proclaim the Good News; and both devoted their lives (and deaths) to the proclamation of the Risen Lord.

 

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Originally published by Resonance: A Theological Journal in Vol 3.4 “Sabbath.”

For the Christian, it is a routine struggle to tell time accurately and appropriately. We live in a fast-paced, high-tech, sound-bit driven, communicate in 140-characters or less, advertising-saturated world. Between smart phones, tablets, smart watches, and smart televisions, it is near impossible to remain separated from the rest of connected civilization. One could easily argue that our time-telling abilities are therefore also affected. To suggest just a few methods, time might be told according to the Julian calendar, to the solar/lunar calendar, or by social occurrences (Game of Thrones starts tonight, or tomorrow night is the “big game”). It is not that these things are inherently bad, but that rather than pointing to the One who made time, they point inward, to the self and to triviality. Channeling Luther and Augustine, we are a world constantly bent in on ourselves. How, then, can and should Christians tell time?

Without overstating the obvious, time is a tool of measurement marking the duration from one event to another. We keep time to assess our passage around the sun, our rotation on the earth’s axis, or the days between events such as our engagement and marriage rite. Alternatively, the Gospel of John orients time around the days of the week leading both to and from the resurrection of Jesus. The church has told time according to Caesar’s calendar for too long.

Embedded in liturgical time is the concept of sabbath. Both the liturgical calendar and the Mass are intimately connected with the biblical principle of sabbath rest and holy worship. The center of the Christian calendar is Easter, and the center of the week is worship on the Lord’s Day. The way that we tell time, as believers, is based on these high points. We focus almost exclusively on the “highs” of Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. We hear sermons preached about living from Sunday to Sunday. Yet, before Palm Sunday is Lazarus Saturday; sandwiched between Cross and Resurrection is the rest and waiting of Holy Saturday. Rest and worship, participation and community, year and week cannot be separated.

The weekend has become a respite from physical labor rather than a holy sabbath given over to worshipping the Lord on his day. Learning to tell time liturgically is therefore an immersion into the salvation narrative of Jesus of Nazareth and is an active form of resistance against the rulers, powers, and authorities fighting for our primary allegiance. Liturgical time is not an alternative or counter-cultural form of marking the passing of days but is rather telling time as it really is. Even more than resistance, for the act of resisting seemingly places another in the role of primary agent/actor, sabbath is a form of participation in and engagement with the life and work of Jesus and the ongoing ministry of his body, the church.

Sabbath

The themes of rest and sabbath are integral to the Bible, central to Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people, and are still placed upon the church and the Christian as activities befitting believers. YHWH commanded his people on the slopes of Sinai to observe the sabbath and keep it holy.1 Bear in mind that YHWH gave the Law to a people already redeemed. This command would form the heart of Israel’s calling as she would pause every seventh day to rest, to pray, to worship. Her trade and commerce would cease; her movements would come to a shattering and silent halt; Israel looked radically different from the other civilizations of the world. YHWH states from the onset that he was freeing the Hebrews from Egypt that they might be his people and worship him in the desert.2

Throughout the Old Testament we find more rules and regulations surrounding sabbath, and the New Testament provides a picture of 2nd Temple Judaism in which sabbath observance is still of the utmost importance. The Pharisees constantly attack Jesus and his followers for their lack of proper observance. Jesus heals on the sabbath and the Pharisees, those devoted protectors of the Law, would have him thrown out or silenced completely.3 By using the example of David and his men entering the temple to eat the consecrated bread as an example, Jesus’ response is poignantly simple: “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”4 In a sense, sabbath had become the object of worship for the Pharisees and portions of the Jewish population. Whereas YHWH created the sabbath as a both a form of rest for his weary and already-redeemed-people and as the time set aside for worship, the religious leaders had placed sabbath above all other principles thereby inadvertently establishing yet another form of religious oppression.

Liturgical Time – Church Calendar

Even in her earliest centuries, the nascent church was already forming a calendar according to a different set of events and guiding principles. The measurement tool was no longer chronos (minutes, days, years, etc.)—though it certainly involved this method. The new standard for measuring time was the life and work of Jesus. The early Church understood Easter to be the central event in history, the hinge upon which the whole of history turns; and it certainly became the center of the liturgical year.5 Placed at the center of the calendar, Easter thus gave meaning and placement to every other liturgical day, feast, fast, and rite.6 Beginning with the season of Advent, the Christian calendar traverses through the story of Jesus as follows: Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, Pentecost, Ordinary Time. This takes place every year. Without question, without fail. A glaring omission from any conversation about Easter or liturgical time is Holy Saturday. As Christians, particularly evangelically shaped Christians—for better or for worse—in the West, we are quick to focus on Cross and Resurrection. What about the beautiful tension that is Holy Saturday? YHWH rested on the seventh day of the week after his work of creation was completed. Jesus rests in the tomb after his work upon the cross is complete. The pathway from cross to empty tomb, from throne to resurrection is through sabbath, through rest.

The Orthodox Church highlights another significant Saturday in the liturgical calendar that receives little to no recognition from Protestants and other liturgical traditions. Lazarus Saturday is the day before Palm Sunday on which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead en route to the palms, the Last Supper, the cross, and the empty tomb. The significance and meaning that Lazarus Saturday has on Palm Sunday is astounding and yet it is never mentioned—or at least rarely so—by those outside of the Orthodox Church. For it was on this sabbath that another body lay resting in the tomb, another family mourned their loss, another bit of proof that death affects us all. And yet Jesus comes to Mary and Martha, he announces himself as the Resurrection and the Life, and he raises Lazarus on the sabbath. There was to be no work on the sabbath and yet Jesus does what no one else can: he brings the dead back to life. It is then, and only then, that he rides into Jerusalem humbly triumphant.

Liturgical Time – Weekly and Daily Office

Christians do not simply tell time on an annual basis. The Christian life is centered around two smaller circles, as well: the weekly and daily offices. Central to the week is Sunday worship; every Sunday is a little Easter and calls to memory the victory and joy that is the Resurrection.7 The passage of time is not from one Sunday to the next—that is shallow Christianity, a hollow and vacuous version of what we know to be true. This is a short excerpt on the meaning and function of Sunday in the Christian calendar:

Sunday is the first day of the week and the first day of creation. It is the day of the Sun of Righteousness, given that Saturday is the sabbath, the day of rest. It is the third day, because it was on Sunday that our Lord was raised from the grave, having conquered sin, death, and the devil; having “trampled down death by death,” he was raised to new life, echoing his bold claim from earlier in John’s gospel, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Finally, Sunday is the eighth day because the resurrection changes everything: it is the first day of the new week, the first day of the new creation. It is the breaking in of God’s Kingdom in the here and now. John marks his Gospel according to days, and the Sunday of the resurrection is both a continuation of the first day but also its fulfillment.8

This is taken from the picture given by John’s Gospel and it represents the uniqueness of Sunday. To arrive at each Sunday, however, one must first go through sabbath rest.

Similarly, the Daily Office has Sunday as its referent. That is, Sunday worship is the blueprint for observing Morning and Evening Prayer (or Matins, Lauds, Vespers, etc. if you are particularly adventurous). Embedded deep within the rhythm of daily prayer are pauses, periods of silence, and rest. The very act of praying throughout the day can be seen as a mini-sabbath or rest because it represents the cessation of all other activity in order to devote oneself to prayer, meditation, and worship.

Formed By Sabbath

The church calendar and the Christian life should be informed and shaped by both the joy of Easter Sunday and the rest of Holy Saturday. It is in fact the connection between the two that leads to participation, to worship, to whole and holy living because at the core, liturgical time is about participation in the life and love of Christ. The early church told time differently than the Romans and oppressive emperors surrounding them; indeed their timekeeping may be viewed by some as subversive, counter-cultural, and resistant, but that would be putting the cart in front of the horse. Just as the Eucharist may have a political element to it, or can be understood through political or social lenses from time to time, the point of the Eucharist is not first and foremost political. It is worship. Nothing more, nothing less. Liturgical time is participation before it can be considered resistance.

The question, Christian, then becomes simple: how do you tell time? In what narrative of the world are you actively participating? Our cue must be taken from our worship practices, from the liturgies that form and shape us, from the deep structures and rhythms of our week and calendar. We, as Christians, are a people of worship but can we truly claim to be a people of sabbath? Our weekends are filled to overflowing with sporting events, yardwork, chores, duties, tasks, and more. We set aside an hour, perhaps two at most, for Sunday worship but very little more than that. Observing sabbath, however, shows that the rat race of life does not win in God’s kingdom, that timekeeping is done on another level, and that we can afford to give over our time in worship to God even if the rest of the world thinks us foolish, irresponsible, or different.

Sabbath is a time of pregnant pauses, anxious awaiting, and emotion-filled worship. It is the gift of time back to the Timekeeper because the day given to prayer is one less day afforded for work and monetary/economic gain. It represents an alignment or re-ordering of values according to heavenly principles rather than earthly standards.


Endnotes

1 Exodus 20:8

2 Exodus 7:16

3 N T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, North American ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 432.

4 Mark 2:27-28

5 Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 2nd ed. (Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 1991), 1.

6 An Orthodox priest once commented to me that he could fill out the whole of the liturgical calendar if he was given but one date: Easter. The knowledge of Easter’s date in any given year would allow him to fill out the rest of the calendar because liturgical time is consistent, it is measured, and it is formative.

7 Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, 13-14, 70.

8 This was originally written in a post for The Living Church. The whole piece can be accessed here: http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2015/11/20/learning-to-tell-time-liturgically/

A post by guest contributor, Dr. Eugene R. Schlesinger, Santa Clara University

It’s hard to find something that raises the hackles of Evangelical Christians quicker than the suggestion that the Eucharist is a sacrifice offered to God, unless it’s the suggestion that in addition to being a sacrifice, it is the sacrifice of Christ offered to God. Is this not the height of the vain superstitions from which the Reformers purified the church? Doesn’t such an idea call into doubt the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross for human salvation? Didn’t Anglicans in particular reject this idea when Article Thirty-One of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion said:

The Offering of Christ once made in that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits?

Well, maybe. But to my mind these questions are not the point. I am not going to address them directly. Instead, I want to do a bit of ressourcement—a retrieval of Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the Liturgy, to establish not only that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and has been understood that way from the beginning, but that recovering the notion of eucharistic sacrifice is important for Evangelical Christians precisely because of a concern about the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice.

Sacrifice at the Origins of the Eucharist

So, first, my claim that the Eucharist has been understood as a sacrifice from the very beginning. Rather than reinvent the wheel here, allow me to refer readers to three important studies: Kenneth Stevenson’s Eucharist and Offering (Pueblo, 1986); Andrew McGowan’s Ascetic Eucharists (Oxford, 1999), and Rowan Williams’s Eucharistic Sacrifice: The Roots of a Metaphor (Grove, 1982). These books show just how early in the tradition the Eucharist was discussed as a sacrifice. In fact, it was sometimes described as a sacrifice without any explicit mention of Christ’s body and blood, or the sacrifice of the cross.

McGowan, in particular demonstrates that it was inevitable for the Eucharist to be conceived as a sacrifice because of its character as a meal in antiquity. Pretty much any public meals in the Græco-Roman milieu were inextricable from sacrifices. This, of course, recalls Paul’s concerns about meat sacrificed to idols when he writes to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:1-22). More than this, though, when we read Paul’s contrast between the Table of the Lord and the Table of the Demons in 1 Corinthians 10:18-22 with this knowledge in the background, we see that Paul is actually contrasting one sacrificial meal with another. Christians don’t partake in sacrificial meals associated with demons because they take part in a sacrificial meal associated with Christ.

Augustine and True Sacrifice

The contrast between the Eucharist and sacrifices offered to demons is also central to Augustine of Hippo’s thought. Augustine has inherited a long tradition of thinking of the Eucharist in sacrificial terms. What’s especially interesting, though, is this: his use of sacrificial language is limited almost entirely to contexts where he is opposing worship offered to demons (e.g., De Trinitate IV and XIII), or speaking about the Eucharist (Confessions IX, Sermons 227 and 272), or both (City of God X, Confessions X, Sermon 198). In other contexts, he uses other concepts to describe Christ’s death. Sacrifice, though, was especially suited to his anti-demon polemic and to his eucharistic thought.

As he explains in book 10 of City of God, sacrifice should be offered to God alone, and not to demons. He was particularly concerned with the practice of theurgy, which, according to Platonists such as Porphyry and Apuleius, would allow its practitioners to be purified by means of sacrificial offerings designed to secure the help of demons. In contrast to sacrifices offered to demons, Augustine insists that Christians have but one sacrifice, which is Christ’s, and that only God should receive sacrifice.

He further explains, by appealing to the Old Testament (e.g., Psalm 51), that true sacrifice is a matter of the heart. A visible and material gift is given as a sacramentum of the invisible sacrifice that God truly requires. Indeed, a true sacrifice is any act of mercy that is undertaken in order to bind together humanity with God in a holy fellowship so that we might be truly blessed (City of God, X.6). He goes further, though, to explain that the one true sacrifice was offered by Christ on the cross so that he might be the head of his body the church, and so that the whole redeemed city could be offered to God by him as the high priest.That last transition is an important one, because it shows that for Augustine sacrifice is not just something that happened to the historical Jesus, but something that is going to happen to the church as a whole. He conceives of our final salvation as a sacrifice where we are offered to God by Christ. And he understands this offering to be at one with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The key insight behind this idea is Augustine’s understanding of the church as the totus Christus, the whole Christ, head and members.

Augustine’s thought here is, of course, deeply indebted to the Pauline image of the church as the body of Christ (e.g., 1 Corinthians 10 – 12; Ephesians 1:15-23). Suffice it to say that for Augustine, salvation is a matter of us returning to God, and that this return happens because we are united to Christ as members of his body. Sacrifice is one of the ways that he talks about that return.

We need to take two more steps to get where we’re going with this. First, immediately after he talks about the church as a whole being offered as a sacrifice to God, he also says that this sacrifice is the one offered on Christian altars, namely the Eucharist (City of God, X.6). Later in the same book, he’ll say that the Eucharist is a daily sacramentum of Christ’s sacrifice, through which the church learns to offer itself (City of God, X.20). This is important, because earlier he identifies the pious acts and ethical lives of Christians as sacrifices (City of God, X.3). Once more this is a very Pauline idea. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul begins the entire ethical section of the letter by describing ethics as a sacrifice offered to God.

Second, because of all the work he’s just done with the totus Christus, such that the sacrifice of the cross, of the whole church, and of the Eucharist are really one sacrifice of Christ, the lives of the faithful are themselves interior to the sacrifice of Christ. This is because the faithful are Christ’s members.

Conclusion: Eucharistic Sacrifice or Semi-Pelagianism

Here’s the point to which I’ve been driving, Augustine provides us with a way of synthesizing Romans 12:1, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” with 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, “The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” And this synthesis is vital. Because it allows us to talk about our moral behavior in a way that is connected with Christ’s one sacrifice. Apart from a synthesis like that, we have two options before us. Either we envision spiritual benefits coming to us from a source other than Christ’s sacrifice, or we completely sever any ethical dimension from Christianity.

If the Eucharist spiritually benefits us, it must, somehow, be Christ’s sacrifice, because this is the only source of salvation. If our ethical lives are of spiritual benefit, they must be connected to Christ’s sacrifice, otherwise we are left with a Pelagianism where our moral conduct benefits us apart from grace, or with a semi-Pelagianism where our moral conduct is purely a response to grace. The Augustinian account of eucharistic sacrifice I’ve sketched here allows us to uphold the benefit of the Eucharist and the importance of our moral lives, even as it upholds the bedrock Evangelical commitment that salvation is to be found only in the sacrifice of Christ.

The Eucharist is not a repetition of Calvary, and it’s important to realize that this has never been the teaching of any church. The Eucharist is not a re-sacrificing of Christ any more than our moral lives are a re-sacrifice of Christ. There is but one sacrifice which Christ offered once for all. It is through this sacrifice that he returns us to God. And in the eucharistic sacrifice, he brings us and our lives into that one sacrifice so that through him we may once more come to God. Through his one sacrifice, he transforms our lives into a sacrifice pleasing to God, a sacrifice which is only pleasing to God because it is united to his own.

Eugene Schlesinger is Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. The author of Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology (Fortress Press, 2017) and Sacrificing the Church: Mass, Mission, and Ecumenism (forthcoming from Lexington Books/Fortress Academic), and the editor of Covenant, he understands his vocation to be an Episcopalian who does Catholic theology. He is a systematic theologian by training and, works primarily at the intersection of ecclesiology and sacramental theology. Since discovering Augustine of Hippo, much of his intellectual energy has been devoted to recovering the relevance of a theology of sacrifice for understanding “God, the universe, and everything,” which will be the subject matter of his next book (currently in progress). He is a committed Thomist insofar as he believes that understanding is good, and that being is intelligible, and he strives to belong to what Bernard Lonergan described as a “perhaps not numerous center.”

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This piece was written by Dr. Bruce Morill of Vanderbilt University for another website. Dr. Morrill has granted me permission to post it here on my blog in its entirety. While much of what is contained below may be for a specifically Catholic audience, I do believe that the Second Vatican Council and all subsequent writings and reflections out to drive us to closer ecumenical efforts and study. Vatican II and the Liturgical Renewal Movement of the 20th century deserve deeper study and understanding in our current context.

May we heed our Lord’s prayer in John 17 and strive to be one as He and the Father are one.

Positives and Negatives in the Liturgy Today

Bruce T. Morrill, S.J., Edward A. Malloy Professor of Catholic Studies, Vanderbilt University

At Pierre Hegy’s invitation, I offer these brief remarks about what I perceive to be positive and negative conditions in the ongoing reform and renewal of the liturgy in the wake of Vatican II.

A singular achievement in the reformed Roman Rite is the installation of the proclaimed word of God—readings of Scripture, homilies, responsorial psalms and general intercessions—as integral to each and all of the rites, not only the seven sacraments but the full surfeit of related rites and prayers (as in, e.g., the Order of Christian Funerals, Pastoral Care of the Sick, Order of Christian Initiation of Adults). By mandating “more ample, more varied, and more suitable reading from sacred scripture” for all “sacred celebrations” (SC 35) and most explicitly and in detail concerning the Mass (cf. SC 51-53), the Council finally set a course for the Roman Catholic Church positively to embrace one of the most positive instincts and arguments of the Protestant Reformers.

With the Sunday celebration retaining and even increasing its predominant role in the church’s post-conciliar liturgical life, the creation and implementation of the Lectionary for Mass has had a singular impact on the faith and imaginations of the people in the pews, as well as many of the clergy. The people’s hearing (in the vernacular) the full expanse of each of the four gospels over repeated three-year cycles (the three synoptic gospels through Ordinary Time, the fourth gospel in each Lenten-Easter cycle and as a supplement to Mark) has over time shaped how they encounter Christ in the liturgy of the Eucharist. The goal of ample liturgies of the word is to enrich and expand people’s images of the Christ they gather around, worship, and receive in holy communion, a Christ not reduced merely to a static figure of tortured death for undeserving sinners but, rather, a uniquely divine-Spirit-filled person sharing a fierce but tender life-giving love for poor humanity unto death.

In practice, of course, the quality of the proclaiming has varied widely: Many parishes work hard at forming lectors as effective conveyers of the living biblical word, while one still comes upon not a few places where the readings are rushed or poorly audible or compromised in other ways. And people, young and old, are often distracted from or even poorly attuned to the snippets of Old Testament and epistolary texts coming at them. But such is the real human scene, and such is the kenotic character of the God who works redemption from within our flawed humanity. But then, also, there is the seemingly intractable, persistent malaise in the clergy’s preaching, albeit again with numerous, occasionally stellar, exceptions. The resurgent disease of clericalism (about which, more below) has played no small part in the ever-decreasing percentage of U.S. Catholics choosing to participate weekly (or even monthly) in the Sunday celebration. Still, as a pastoral minister and theological educator, I have been consoled over the years by people’s pointed questions about why their non-Catholic Christian spouse cannot receive holy communion or why canon law or other disciplines severely restrict sharing at the Eucharistic table. They protest that the Jesus they have come to know and love in the gospel stories at Mass is notable (and rebuked by religious leaders and other self-righteous characters) for his dining with sinners and telling parables about what a world ruled by a merciful and just God looks like.

Giving ourselves over to the mystery (including messiness) of the Gospel requires humble faith and constantly hungry perseverance, for sure. No wonder Tridentine Roman Catholicism, even as late as the early twentieth-century, forbad the laity from reading the Bible. The word of God quickly spins religious institutionalism out of control. Not that the laity are somehow pure or perfect in their readings and hearings of the word; cultural pressures such as consumerism, individualism, nationalism, chauvinisms, etc., readily wound the body of Christ in its members—both clerical and lay. The clergy’s pastoral charge, nonetheless, is to listen to the world in which they would speak the word. They must “smell of the sheep,” in the pithy admonitory phrase of Pope Francis. Seminaries, he has likewise averred, must stop “inflicting little monsters on the people of God.”

The sad negative fact about the state of liturgical reform and renewal fifty years on is that it has been hobbled and, as of the 1980s, curtailed by the persistence of clericalism in the leadership and ranks of those ordained to preside over and preach at the rites. The lamentable outcome of the 1970 synod of bishops concerning the priesthood arguably clipped the wings of the liturgical reform from the start. However high the quality of much liturgical scholarship and wise the judicious proposals of many pastoral liturgists, these have proven largely impotent in the face of the ideology of the priesthood (including the way the crucified and risen Christ Jesus is portrayed as priest and, accordingly, the contemporary Roman Catholic priest as acting in persona Christi). The debacle of the process and official result of the current English-language Roman Missal provides the latest evidence, while revisiting the Vatican’s detailed, “abuse”-obsessed instruction on the celebration of the Mass, Redemptionis sacramentum (2004), provides all the insights one needs into why and how clerical ideology rules the liturgy.

Liturgy, however divinely inspired, is nonetheless human ritual. Human ritual evades reasonable arguments. After all, we humans ritualize precisely in all those circumstances wherein we cannot rationalize, cannot clearly explain. Ambiguity is at the heart of all ritualizing; thus, I have slowly come to learn not to be surprised at how readily Roman Catholics—left and right, radical-traditionalist and progressive, clerical and lay—become upset when trying to explain or defend or advocate change in the Mass (and to lesser degrees of interest, the other rites of the church). Would that all “sides” of the church might get a fair hearing in this continued era of reform, such that renewal might yet begin again.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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This is a guest post from Dr. Eugene Schlesinger, lecturer at Santa Clara University, a Rev. John P. Raynor, SJ Fellow at Marquette University from 2015-2016, author, Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology with Fortress Press. It was originally posted on my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian. Dr. Schlesinger is also contributed a fantastic essay on Fr. Alexander Schmemann and ressourcement in my edited volume, We Give Our Thanks Unto Thee.

Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural post in the new series, “Everyday Ecumenism.” Stay tuned for more fantastic content like this!

Ressourcement or Reinventing the Wheel

Perhaps the most significant event in my theological development was getting fired from the church I’d helped plant, whose culture I’d helped to shape, and to which I’d devoted three years of my life.[1] For the five years between my seminary education and the beginning of my doctoral studies, I served in pastoral ministry. Most of it was at an Evangelical church plant. We were a missional church: seeking to live out a missionary vocation in all areas of life as individual Christians and as a congregation. One of the ways this played out in the church’s life was in a drive to try new things and find better ways of “being the church.”

During my time at this church, I fell in love with the liturgy,[2] and found it to be an incredible source of renewal in my life. As I experienced liturgical renewal, I sought to share this with my congregation, bringing liturgical elements into our worship. While some parishioners found this a source of refreshment, plenty of others found it unacceptable. I was consistently told that we couldn’t adopt liturgy because we were a missional church. Liturgy was “Catholic” (in a negative sense) and probably “legalistic,” and certainly not missional. I could never figure out why liturgical worship and missional ecclesiology were incompatible. Eventually it became clear that my theological convictions and my vision of the church were no longer compatible with this church, and the ministry relationship ended, and I found a new ecclesial home as an Anglican.

Evangelicals and the Reinvented Wheel

As I delved deeper into the liturgical tradition, I realized that so much of Evangelicals’ efforts at finding new ways of being the church were really just reinventing the wheel. For instance, what were multi-site churches with a head pastor if not dioceses overseen by a bishop? But there was a crucial difference, the Evangelical reinvention of the episcopate lacked a coherent theological rationale, and a connection to the historic succession that grants Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican bishops their validity. Beyond this, a historical ignorance had kept us from recognizing what we were doing, and kept us flying blind. We didn’t realize that the church had long ago figured out about bishops, and might have wisdom about how this aspect of the church’s life should be ordered. Instead, we were stuck making things up as we went along.

The impulse for renewal, and even novelty, was a good thing. As Irenaeus wrote, so long ago, Christ brought all newness when he brought himself (Against Heresies 4.34.1). Genuine encounter with Jesus Christ will always result in renewal, and so when church life grows stagnant, something is badly wrong. This lies behind the call for a new evangelization that has arisen within the Catholic Church over the last several decades. But apart from some sort of historical awareness and engagement with the tradition, the impulse towards renewal quickly devolves into novelty for novelty’s sake, and winds up being a shallow renewal indeed.

An Alternative: Ressourcement

And so I thought: What if instead of just making stuff up, we looked to the church’s traditions to find the answers for how we do things? Without realizing it at the time, I was setting out on the path of ressourcement. At its heart, ressourcement is a strategy of retrieval, returning to the sources that lie at the heart of the church’s heritage: Scripture, the liturgy, and the church fathers. In the first half of the twentieth-century, several French Catholic theologians sought to perform such a retrieval in order to breathe new life into the somewhat dry and dusty theological life of the church. Their approach was not well-received at first. It was dismissed as la nouvelle théologie (the new theology), and Henri de Lubac, a key proponent of “the new theology” was censored and forbidden from teaching theology for nearly ten years. History has vindicated him, though, at the Second Vatican Council, he served as a peritus (theological advisor to the bishops), and was eventually made a Cardinal.

Here the point isn’t with the history of ressourcement, though, but the instinct that drives it: a turn to the past, in light of current problems, with an eye to the future.

Eventually I undertook doctoral studies, intent on resolving this question of whether or not a liturgical church could also be a missional church. Certain missional theologians warn that a focus on the church’s liturgical life will distract it from its missional identity and vocation.[3] Faced with this criticism we have three options: we can ignore them, go the dead-end route of wheel reinvention (get rid of the liturgy and find new ways of being the church), or the way of ressourcement, returning to the sources at the heart of traditional ecclesiology and find in them a source of missional renewal.

If we ignore their criticisms, we miss an opportunity for renewal. Even Pope Francis has called for a pastoral and missionary conversion of the church, and called for a re-evaluation of every aspect the church’s life to be sure that we are living faithfully to our missionary vocation.[4] Rather than ignoring these missional criticisms, we need to see them as an opportunity to more faithfully articulate who and what the church has always been.

My book with Fortress Press, Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology takes this route of ressourcement and uses traditional sources: Scripture, the church fathers, and the liturgy, to construct a missional ecclesiology. By returning to the sources, I show that a missionary understanding of the church has always been implicit in them. The presenting problem of missional criticisms of the liturgy proves to be an opportunity to make this implicit understanding of the church more explicit.

The thing I want us to see here, though, is not just the liturgy-mission conundrum I resolve in my book. I think that’s an important problem to address, but I raise it to show the ongoing importance of ressourcement for the church. The church is in need of continual renewal. But the way to that renewal is not by abandoning the past as something “old,” and “irrelevant.” Instead, it’s a turn to the past, in light of our current problems, with an eye to the future. I’ll say frankly, ignoring or rejecting the past is the way for churches to lose their Christian identity, and be subject to whatever cultural whims, personal predilections, or ideological forces they happen to encounter. At the same time, ressourcement is not a call to just “do what we’ve always done,” instead, it’s a return to the past to rediscover things we’ve forgotten, but desperately need to remember

We are not slaves to the past, uncritically repeating what’s come before. But if we ignore the past, we’ll simply be slaves of the present moment, to the spirit of the age. A proper engagement with the church’s tradition brings renewal through the Holy Spirit, who has breathed life into Christ’s body for the last two millenia.

[1] I wasn’t formally “fired” from the position, but I was, essentially shown the door. None of what I’m writing here is by way of complaint against that church. I’ve made my peace with what happened. Instead, the events that led to my departure from the church also set me on the path to discovering the importance of ressourcement.

[2] I’m going to go against my own preference here and use “liturgy” in a more restrictive sense: namely formal, set liturgies grounded in particular texts (such as a Breviary, Missal, or the Book of Common Prayer). Every church has a liturgy, though. There aren’t liturgical and non-liturigcal churches. Some of us are just honest about it. However, it makes for really clunky writing to belabor this.

[3] E.g., John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010); Nathan R. Kerr, Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission (Eugene: Cascade, 2009).

[4] See his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium.