Posts in this category are posts which I have personally written. As other authors contribute to the blog they will have a different category.

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.

I wrote this blog post for our parish blog (Church of the Apostles, Kansas City). You can find it here; you should also read the fabulous contributions from far more talented writers in your community, too.

The Feast of the Transfiguration (celebrated August 6) is one of my favorite feasts in the entire church calendar. While other holy days merely commemorate a person or an event, this one is powerful because it is very easy to imagine the palpable glory and majesty which the disciples saw displayed atop Mount Tabor. The Feast of the Transfiguration is a high and holy day (pardon the liturgical pun) because we are invited to ascend the mountain with Jesus and the disciples and there “behold the King in His beauty.”

As with any passage of Scripture, we are invited to dig a little bit deeper and remember other mountain-top and glory-filled encounters. Our minds ought to wander to two scenes in Exodus: first, when YHWH descended upon Mt. Sinai with cloud and smoke before consecrating His people and giving them the law; second, when Moses ascended Sinai and met with YHWH and beheld His glory so much that Moses himself radiated it and had to veil his face from Israel. Moses’ appearance was transfigured because he had been in the presence of the Holy and yet journeyed back down to the people each and every time in order to live out his calling. The awe-some power of God inspired both “the fear of the LORD” and a sense of reverence and worship.

We might also think of Elijah atop Mount Carmel battling the prophets of Baal in the name of YHWH and calling down fire from heaven. Elijah had feared for his life, running from Jezebel, yet ended up proclaiming YHWH’s victory and power against 800 prophets. Elijah did not stay at the summit once he was done, though. He moved on and poured himself into his disciple, Elisha, before being caught up to heaven in a chariot of fire. He encountered God both in the silence and the terrifying display of fire, and his life was devoted to calling Israel back to her God. One does not find God and keep the experience private…

Moses and Elijah: prophets and leaders; mountaintop experiences with power and glory; YHWH victorious over all things, reigning over all people. Do you see why our minds wander here? Jesus takes His closest disciples – Peter, James, and John – up to the top of a mountain, and there He appears transfigured, radiant in white, between Moses and Elijah. These holy three discussed Jesus’ impending death and the voice from heaven affirms and validates Jesus’ identity, charging the witnesses to listen and obey. Jesus then sets His face like flint toward Jerusalem and begins His intentional trek toward the cross.

As we read the assigned lesson from Peter’s second epistle, the document he wrote decades after this experience, you can almost feel the emotion pouring forth from Peter’s memory; you can almost see the scene he is recalling. The Transfiguration shaped and transformed Peter in a mighty way. Peter may have descended the mountain with Jesus only to betray Him three times before the crucifixion, but Jesus reinstated Peter and his ministry was faithful unto death. You cannot remain unchanged, unphased, unaffected when you encounter the glory and majesty of the Living God.

The invitation before you today as we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration is an invitation to behold the King in His beauty, to taste and see the Lord’s majesty and glory, and to move forward from that holy place into a more faithful expression of obedience. When we focus exclusively on the glorious majesty of God, we are freed from the disquieting distractions of this world; when we look to Christ, we are no longer consumed with external pressures, influences, and burdens which tell us that we need to accomplish/achieve more. I pray that we can all find God in the silence and the awe-some vision of Jesus’ transfiguration and let that encounter spur us on from one degree of glory to the next.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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/

You will find both the transcript for my recent sermon and the link for the audio version in this post. I tend to mirror/follow my writing version with some degree of intentionality, but often it serves as the foundation from which I then branch out as the morning develops and the Spirit moves.

As always, a special thanks to the Rev. Cynthia Brust and the Rev. Canon Ellis Brust of Church of the Apostles and all the fabulous people at COTA for allowing me the space and opportunity to preach and work on my craft. I am truly blessed with such a fabulous, kind, and welcoming community!

LINK FOR AUDIO

Ought to. Want to. Have to. Need to. 

Would. Could. Should. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t. Shouldn’t.

It all gets extremely overwhelming, doesn’t it? I really want to eat this third serving of King Ranch Casserole but should I? I know I ought to call so-and-so on their birthday, but I don’t want to. It is highly advisable to exercise regularly and get your oil changed every 3,000 miles, but this book is too good and I’m too comfortable gearing up for some late night TV watching…

You’re laughing now, but let’s make this less fun:

I see that person stranded with a flat tire. I ought to stop, but…

I know I’m supposed to love my neighbor, care for the poor, the orphans, and the widows, visit the sick, the dying and the shut in, and be an expression of Christ to Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and Independents, black, white, brown, yellow, even the Presbyterians…but they are just so different from me; they just make it so hard; I really ought to but they just…

And we give our excuses time and time again.

We tend to associate with only those who look like us, talk like us, spend money like us, or vote like us. Is that not the heart of the matter in our Gospel passage this morning? We’ve become so desensitized to the radical nature of the Good Samaritan that we risk missing the point completely. Let’s enter into the story once again and see what’s going on.

So, we enter Luke’s Gospel this morning and the passage beings, “Just then.” Ok, we need to stop 😉 “Just then” tells us that we are in the middle of a specific scene in the story. Ellis preached on Luke 10 last week and the story concluded with verse 20. 

Jesus has just sent the 70 out on their mission with the knowledge that “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” They are given instructions as to what to pack, how to go, and what to do when they encounter hostile/unrepentant cities. They go out and they return exuberant. They were able to cast out demons in Jesus’ name–I don’t know about you but I think the ability to cast out demons during your mission is something to rejoice about! Jesus rejoices with the disciples but then we enter into this interesting set of verses when Jesus blesses the disciples for being able to see what God has revealed, especially when there are kings and rulers who would love this type of information.

It is in the midst of this gathering–of the disciples’ return from mission and Jesus’ praise of their work and his comments about seeing and hearing–that a lawyer stands up and asks Jesus a question: what must I do to inherit eternal life?

It is so easy for us to miss this and move straight to the second question: who is my neighbor? We cannot afford to move too quickly here.

Remember the scene with me one. Last. time: they are corporately rejoicing in the successful mission of being sent-out-ones in Jesus’ name and talking about casting out demons and the relationship between the Father and the Son and a lawyer asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Talk about non-sequitor. Talk about a buzz kill.

Jesus’ answer isn’t surprising: what do you read in the law? A lawyer asks the question and Jesus tells him to read the law…it might be like us having a conversation right now and me turing to you and asking, “what must I do to celebrate the Eucharist properly?” and someone replying, “What do you find in the Priest’s Handbook? Or what does it say in the Book of Common Prayer?” Are you with me here?

The lawyer responds with the shema–Israel’s ancient prayer which she was to recite multiple times throughout the day, the prayer that was supposed to be written on her heart, her forehead, the doorposts to the house, talked about as you she was walking with her children–that is, this is the very fabric of Israel’s life with YHWH. This is his response, with the addition of loving your neighbor, and Jesus says, “Yes, you are right. Do this and you shall live.”

Wait…what? That’s a weird response! We miss the verses preceeding the Shema in Deutoronomy 6…but they have been printed in your bulletin!

Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

Do you see it? The Great Commandment given in Deuteronomy, the very foundation and backbone of the Shema, is preceded by an important promise: do this and you will live. Follow YHWH and you will enter the land flowing with milk and honey. This YHWH, the one who redeemed and rescued his people out of Egypt that they might worship him in the desert, the one who gave the law to a people already redeemed, the one who promised Abram long ago of a people and a land…this YHWH already told them what it would look like to follow him and live in the promised land…

So of course Jesus would tell the lawyer to look at the law and then tell him that the foundational premise of the law found in Deuteronomy 6 would be the key to eternal life…of course he does. It makes complete sense now that we see it this way…right?!

BUT…

There is a but here and it is simple: the lawyer wants to justify himself and so he asks who his neighbor is.

Now don’t go giving the lawyer a hard time, friends. Sadly, if we are going to identify as anyone in this passage it ought to be the lawyer who asks the question. Why? Because how often do you ask God questions like this one? How often do you say, “But surely you can’t mean that folk in Wyandotte County are my neighbors? Surely, you don’t mean that Republicans or Democrats or immigrants are my neighbors, Lord?” The answer is simple, “Yes, and don’t call me surely.” 😉

The question instantly creates an us versus them, and we love that, don’t we? If everyone isn’t your neighbor then it means that some people aren’t your neighbors and if some people aren’t your neighbors then it means that you are off the hook for helping them, caring for them, loving them, treating them with dignity and respect…you see? 

The lawyer is hoping for an out, a get-out-of-jail-free card, and he doesn’t get one. Instead, he gets a parable. Jesus tells the story of a man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is no easy walk. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was about 18 miles long and you would have started at the high elevation of Jerusalem where the warm air and moisture coming from the Mediterranean was still present and then you would have descended into the Dead Sea Valley to reach Jericho, the oasis city in the desert. The road would have been arid and dry barren wasteland. This is NOT an easy journey and people hearing the story would have known that. The journey would have been lonely because while it was a primary thoroughfare between these two cities, it was so dry and arid hot with so many twists and turns that it was easy for travelers to be robbed and mugged. Bandits would hide out along the road, mug their victims and then travel into the desert and know they were safe, because who wants to chase someone in the desert?! 

So the man traveling this treacherous road, both because of climate and because of the potential for criminal activity, encounters a group of robbers who strip him, beat him, and leave him half dead…really, they leave him to die.

We read that a priest was traveling down that road. Whether the down here means down from Jerusalem toward or Jericho or along the road and on his way up to Jerusalem is irrelevant. This priest was either on his way to Jerusalem to worship or he was on his way back from worship in Jerusalem and he sees a man half dead. Given the way that Jesus tells the story it is safe to assume that this man who was beaten is an Israelite and therefore there is no reason for the priest to ignore him. However, the priest ignores him, likely because he did not want to put his purity at risk by touching blood, and he passes him by. 

A Levite is the next person to encounter the man and he too passes by him without stopping to help him. Levites were from the tribe of Levi which was the priestly tribe of Israel during the Exodus. While their rules and regulations were not as strict as the high(er) priests in Second Temple Judaism, they were still a priestly people which means that this Levite was yet another religious authority who passed by/over the dying man and did nothing…quite the commentary Jesus is providing!

Side note: the passage along which they were traveling is so narrow at some points that you would have needed to literally walk/step over the man in order to keep moving. Jesus’ point is clear here: the priest and the levite didn’t just turn a blind eye to the man…they stepped over him and kept moving without giving him a second thought.

And if you thought that was bad then hear the rest of the story: it was a Samaritan who stopped and took care of the man. It was actually rumored and forewarned to travelers from Jericho to Jerusalem to watch out for the Samaritans who might stop and rob you as you went on your way…do you see what Jesus is doing here? He is turning the entire structure on its head and making some pretty outrageous claims here, claims that would have gotten the attention of his listeners.

The Samaritan doesn’t just take the man into his care. He places him on his animal, pays for his expenses with the equivalent of 2 days wages and then says give me the bill if more is needed, and makes sure that he receives the medical attention he needs to make a full recovery.

“Who was the neighbor?” Jesus asks. The Samaritan, of course. “Go and do likewise.”

Instead of letting you sit with that story, I want to meddle again. Think about it like this. There once was a man traveling along the road between two countries. He encountered a group of robbers who beat and left him for dead. A politician walked by and said, “He isn’t my neighbor because he isn’t part of my political party” and he walked on. Then a pastor walked by and said, “He isn’t my neighbor because he doesn’t belong to my faith community” and he walked by. But then an immigrant, a foreigner, someone who did not belong to the country, someone about whom vicious lies had been spread, someone who had received the brutal end of diplomacy and democracy, and she was moved to pity. She took care of that man. She used her money, took him to a shelter…

Go. And do. Likewise.

There is no escaping the call of Jesus this morning. The lawyer asked two questions: what must I do to inherit eternal life? and who is my neighbor? The answers left no wiggle room: love the Lord your God and your neighbor and if a Samaritan taking care of a Jewish man after he was beaten by robbers is applauded for acting as a neighbor then that means everyone. And I don’t mean the neighbor next to you with the well manicured lawn who never leaves trash at the curb or throws raucous parties or who never comes asking for anything but when she borrows your allen wrench she returns it within 24 hours and the man who borrows some sugar comes back with cookies for you…not just them…I’m talking the immigrant, the migrant, the poor, the destitute, the DIFFERENT FROM YOU AND ME. We will be overwhelmed, I suspect, by the vast diversity of the Kingdom of God supping together at the eschatological banquet table. 

The lessons and the collect are rather clear this morning: you know what you ought to do and you need to pray that God would change your oughta’s into wanta’s so you can go about doing it…and we will be able to see the results based on the fruit of your labors…the proof is in the pudding my friends. When you live a life based on principles, 99% of your decisions are already made…when you live in the Kingdom of God, 100% of your decisions are already made…but will you follow through? Will you accept the call of God today, here, now, and begin reordering and reorganizing your live so that it aligns most fully with God and his kingdom? Will you commit to not only knowing what you ought to or should do in a moment but to actually doing it? 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your body, and your mind, and your strength, and your soul, and your wallets, and you resources…and love your neighbor as yourself…Go and do likewise, friends.

This is the first installment of a new series entitled Language Lessons. The goal here is to take terms/phrases/words from liturgical theology and explore their meaning, especially when the meaning given publicly is often wrong or incomplete.

Alternatively titled: Is it really the work of the people?

Doubly-alternatively titled: liturgy for the life of the world. Yes, that is my nod to Schmemann, first, and then to Kavanagh, second.

Perhaps its my Protestant upbringing—the majority of my time spent in low-church evangelical, Anglican parishes—or maybe it’s the overwhelming feeling in a post-Vatican II environment, but it has become all too common to hear that liturgy is “the work of the people.” That’s all well and good, it’s certainly empowering for laypeople as they cast off the shackles of medieval clericalism. Isn’t that the picture that we (in)advertently paint when describing the Reformation? But my research and dissertation writing has led me to one question:

Is that what the word leitourgia really means?

I’m not entirely convinced that it is does. At least, not in the way that everyone thinks. Leitourgia when used in its historical context does not mean “the work of the people” but more accurately “a public work on behalf of the people.” Sometimes the public work was performed by an individual and at other times it was performed by a small group/portion of the population, but it was always on behalf of the larger whole.

It would be all too easy at this point to write me/this translation off as suggesting that clergy perform liturgy on behalf of the laity. Isn’t that precisely what many of the Reformers were rejecting? Just as the Gospel is for all people so too is gospel-centered, liturgical-focused worship. So, let me state unequivocally, that I am not arguing for liturgy as a work done by those with collars on behalf of those without.

The comfort we take when claiming liturgy is the work of the people is extremely self-centered. We haven’t been able to escape the self-focus of the Reformation in over 500 years. I think that last sentence may get me into trouble with some of you. In this popular sense, liturgy means that I am a participant, that I offer liturgy as work, that the purpose of liturgy is to make every member an active part of the worship. You’ve heard it all before, right? The focus thus becomes the church itself. The “I” and the “We.” But where is the “they”?

Stick with me. You’ll soon find out where I’m going if you haven’t gotten there already, yet.

Liturgy directs of worships and aids our encounter with the Living God. Yes, it allows clergy and laity alike to actively engage in prayer, praise, lament, confession, baptism, communion, and so much more. But have we so forgotten the mission into which God has invited us that our liturgy/s is some how separated? Similarly, and I’ll explain the connect, haven’t we been arguing for decades that the church’s mission and her worship are one in the same??The mission of the church is to help heal and restore a broken, hurt, and lost world to the loving relationship of the self-giving Trinity, to direct the praise of creation back to the Creator, to fulfill the Great Commission.

So, liturgy then isn’t necessarily a work of the people in the democratic sense—wish though we might for the early church to adhere to our sense of self and liberty—but is more logically and accurately a work of the church on behalf of the whole world. Aidan Kavanagh put it this way:

Rather, they [the church] assemble under grace and according to the canons of Scripture and creed, prayer and common laws, in order to secure their unity in lived faith transmitted from generation to generation for the life of the world.[1]

Ah, now we’ve arrived. Let’s stay awhile.

In and through the liturgy, the church shows the world the way the world is meant to be done (Kavanagh). In the liturgy we have blueprint and design for healthy and holy living: gathering, prayer, praise, song, lament, Word, Body, Blood, confession, thanksgiving, dismissal. The Eucharistic liturgy, the very source and summit of our faith and worship (Sacrosanctum Concilium) involves the self-offering of the Church before Christ and the offering of the entire cosmos before her Creator. We make our offering on behalf of the cosmos and for the salvation of the cosmos. Our prayer and worship is a cry to the triune God that all may come to know, love, and serve him fully.

As you think through the meaning of leitourgia, as you wrestle with what I (and others before me) have said, keep in mind that liturgy viewed thus is a charge to always be thinking of the Other: God and our fellow humans. Liturgy is not an act engaged in by many or something that we all do together. It is something that the church engages in together for the benefit, blessing, and uplifting of all creation. It is the public work of Christ’s body on behalf of the cosmos, that she might be transformed in Christ to what she was always intended to be. A subtle, simple shift? Yes, but it is a shift in our understanding that makes all of the difference when we gather together for prayer and praise, for Trinitarian worship, for bath, body, and blood.

You May Also Enjoy: Fridays With Fr. Kavanagh and Liturgy and God’s Redeeming Work.

[1] Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, A Pueblo Book, 1984).

A Sonnet for Pentecost

Let your Spirit fall on your people once again,
Enable and exalt the praise of our corporate, “Amen.”
Fill our hearts and minds with your unending power,
That with adoration and thanksgiving you we shower.
Fulfilling the promises of prophetic days gone by,
Sent from the Godhead seated in the throne on high,
Ever active, ever moving, ever giving life
Guiding the Church as comforter and midwife.
Our hearts burn with a good and holy desire,
To see your flame and be kindled by your fire.
Anoint and sanctify us that we might know your will
Your presence is sufficient, then and still.
You are welcome here, you are welcome in this place;
Come, O Holy Spirit, bless us with thy gift of grace
 

I like the rich theology of the appointed Collect and Proper Preface for the Feast of Pentecost found in the Book of Common Prayer. However, I felt inspired to offer up a slight variation to be used in either one of those places. As with any Preface/Collect I compose, you could also use this prayer—should you so desire—as an opening preface or closing collect for the Prayers of the People.

Come Holy Spirit!

We praise you O God, who on this day did sent your Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost giving birth to the church. You opened up the gates of eternal life to all people: slave and free, male and female, young and old, Jew and Gentile. Empower us to share your Gospel to peoples of all nations, tribes, and tongues. Grant that we may be anointed afresh by your Spirit, equipped for your ministry, led into all truth, and consecrated for service in your Kingdom, and all for your glory.

This was originally posted on Anglican Pastor. You can find the original post here.

It is likely that you’ll hear a variation of the following words at an Anglican Church on Sunday morning, “Please be seated to be instructed from the Word of God.” It’s clear that the Bible is going to be read aloud for the purpose of teaching and formation, but who assigns the lessons? Is it left up to the whims and fancies of the priest or is there some standard by which our lessons are selected?

Every Sunday, on the Lord’s Day, the church gathers together for the worship of almighty God through both Word and Sacrament. The Liturgy of the Word is comprised of the opening acclamation and collect(s), sung worship, the public reading of God’s word, canticles in response, the sermon, the Creed, the prayers of the people, and the confession. This ordo may vary based on higher or lower churchmanship, but the structure is going to be the same in the overwhelming majority of Anglican parishes.

The regular, sustained, and robust use of Scripture was a cornerstone of the English Reformation and remains to be central to Anglican worship and spirituality. The witness of John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale and others is lasting proof that to be Anglican is to be heartily and fully committed to the Bible. Likewise, Thomas Cranmer famously penned a collect about Scripture, he wrote, that we may…hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” The earliest liturgies of 1549 and 1552 both made provision for the reading of the Old Testament, Psalter, New Testament epistle, and the Gospels during worship. If Anglicans read four lessons every Sunday, how are these lessons chosen? Does it matter what is read? Yes and yes, it absolutely matters.

What is a Lectionary?

Simply put, a lectionary is resource (printed or electronic) that contains appointed Scripture readings for Sunday worship. Lectionaries can be devised according to different methods for different purposes, but the goal is always to produce something that can be used in the church, for the church, and to the glory of God. Cranmer composed a Sunday lectionary as part of the prayer book in order to help guide the English church through the entirety of Scripture on a regular basis.

In more modern times, the Revised Common Lectionary has been compiled as an ecumenical resource for Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and others who order their worship similarly. We could delve into the pros and cons of Cranmer’s lectionary versus the RCL versus other models, but that is another post for another time. The bottom line is that the use of a lectionary is both historic and authentically Anglican.

The Whole Witness

One of the problems with needs-based, thematic sermons is that it places the onus of Scripture selection and content solely on the preacher. In our individualistic, consumerist culture this is not a problem. It is common—even preferred—in many western churches for the preacher to be the authority over Scripture rather than the other way around. Thankfully, the use of a lectionary places a necessary safeguard over such a model as it lets Scripture dictate content and preaching.

Likewise, the use of a lectionary in its entirety guarantees that the pilgrim people of God will be fed fully from the full witness of Scripture. Far too many churches focus exclusively on the New Testament or even the gospels alone as if the rest of Scripture didn’t matter. “We’re New Testament Christians,” they claim, or, “We’re Christ alone people.” I’m a New Testament and Jesus person as much as anyone, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Tanakh became part of the Church’s Scripture and thus the Old Testament is not simply a place to “find” Jesus but is part of our collective memory and story. The lectionary makes sure that we are being honest to our identity as the people of God.

How Does it Work?

The lectionary helps orient the church calendar; or rather, it works with seasons and themes already prescribed throughout church history. You’ll find that the readings during Advent have to do with the first coming of Christ, Epiphany season readings have to do with the revelation of God in Christ, so forth and so on. It’s quite simple really: readings on Sunday should match the Church’s journey through the life of Christ.

As an example, the RCL has a three-year cycle: Years A, B, and C. During Ordinary Time each year focuses on one of the synoptic Gospels while the Gospel of John is reserved for holy days and Lent(among others). Likewise, the Old Testament selection during Ordinary Time offers two tracks. The lectionary readings will often flow in harmony with the Collect for the Day, thus providing a thematic wholeness for the sermon and the celebration of the Eucharist.

The goal is to provide the gathered people of God with a steady diet of God’s Word, a diet that makes sense and treats the Bible as one consistent and contiguous whole rather than as a confederation of individual and unrelated episodes. When used properly, a parish will read almost every word of Scripture in three years.

Using the Lectionary as a Church

Here are some thoughts for using the lectionary in a local church:

  1. If you elect to use a lectionary then please recognize it is not a suggestion but a standard to be followed. To “use” the lectionary and alter it based on your own whims or fancies is just the same as not using it at all.
  2. Always, always preach on the sections that are bracketed off. Don’t avoid them, lean into them!
  3. Begin reading from the whole lectionary if you aren’t doing so already.
  4. When selecting a track for Ordinary Time stick with it! Don’t jump between Track 1 and Track 2 because the lessons get tough—stay on your track and help the people of God learn from a consistent witness.

The fruit of such labor is multi-faceted: individuals learn how to read the Bible well; a parish joins millions of Christians around the world in reading the same thing; a parish is formed by God’s word in a holistic sense.

Postscript: There will soon be a post highlighting the unique offering of a traditional, one year lectionary as an alternative to the 3 year cycle.