Collect: Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The evangelist and physician, Luke, has provided the church with a wealth of detail, historical context, and beautifully articulated depictions of God’s love for His people and His world. The feast commemorating St. Luke is a wonderful opportunity to explore and celebrate his writings and the collect for the day captures two central themes worthy of deeper examination: “the love and healing power” of Jesus. Year C of the Lectionary, the liturgical year which ends next month, has included a lengthy trek through Luke’s Gospel which will culminate on Christ the King Sunday with the scene of Jesus proclaiming forgiveness from the cross (“Father, forgive them”) and the promise of life after death to the repentant thief. Surely, there can be no better depiction of healing and love than this.
The images of Jesus’ parables in Luke 15 are particularly poignant when considering these twin themes because through the stories we see a God who seeks after the least, the last, and the lost. We find a father running to meet his wayward and rebellious son while he was still a long way off and then throw a party for him, complete with fatted calf and signet ring. Love personified in such a way is overwhelming, it is scandalous; it restores, redeems, and heals.
It would be easy to relegate references of healing in Luke’s gospel to stories of physical being ailments reversed, overturned, and wiped away. However, the deeper layer of truth to Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story is the power of God’s love to heal His people, their land, and His world. Early on in the gospel, we encounter Jesus in the synagogue where He stands up to read a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. The passage depicts the year of the LORD’s favor (jubilee) and Jesus read aloud to those gathered:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The steadfast, unrelenting, covenant love of YHWH for His people can be tangibly and palpably seen through the hope-filled promise of jubilee. Luke’s gospel shows what this healing love looks like in action: friends lowering their lame companion through a roof; a shepherd searching for the one sheep; a woman looking for a lost coin; a Father restoring his son; Jesus dying on the cross and yet forgiving those who were killing him.
The love of Jesus heals more than just the body; it affects the heart, mind, and soul. Our call, as Christians, is to then love God with all our heart, mind, body, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors as well. Through this type of love, we praise God in the fullest and purest sense. Luke’s Gospel invites us into such a loving relationship, it beckons us to die to self, to hear Jesus’ absolution from the cross, and to receive His promise of new life. Luke’s story continues in Acts as we discover the gospel bursting forth into the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and the faithful witness of the disciples, apostles, martyrs (Wednesday was the lesser feast commemorating Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer who were martyred for their faith in the 16th century), and the early church. This heritage is what should inform us and urge us on toward sharing the love of God with neighbor and stranger alike, just as God has done, is doing, and will continue to do for us.
Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name.
(Note: The Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes St. Luke as the original iconographer. Here’s an interesting article attributing several icons of Mary to him.)
This is Andrew Russell’s third installment in his mini-series on Anglican Spiritual Formation for our “Ecclesia Anglicana” series.
“There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God.”
Though this comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it rings true for Anglicanism as well. Christianity has always been communal, and the depiction of the Church in Acts confirms this: “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.” Christ is to be found on earth in his body, which is the Church, and there are no Christians who exist apart from the Church (though it is true, of course, that in some cases a Christian may not have physical access to a local body of believers).
Practically, Christian community is important for the building up of fellow believers and for providing loving instruction and, when necessary, correction. Anglicans are committed to caring for their brothers and sisters, even when it is uncomfortable. This comes from a long tradition that began in the monasteries, communities in which Christians submitted themselves to the loving authority of the abbot. St. Benedict’s Rule, the golden standard of Christian communal structure and a deeply influential one in the English monastic tradition, highlights this function of community in its preface: “Therefore we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.” Anglicans believe that submission to ecclesial authority is beneficial for spiritual formation.
The unique contribution of Anglicanism to spiritual life, however, is the emphasis on the spiritual director-directee relationship. Not only is a right relationship to the community at large necessary for the Christian life, but an intimate relationship with an older, wiser mentor is also invaluable for the development of Christian character. The English monastic tradition understood the importance of this, as even many of those who dedicated themselves to the solitary religious life served as spiritual directors for the laity in their area (St. Julian of Norwich is probably the most famous example).
Spiritual directors help parishioners with their individual struggles, encourage them in their individual victories, and provide for their spiritual needs. Their primary role, however, is to guide the parishioner in her understanding of Christian doctrine and to help her integrate her theology into her prayer life (see my first post for Martin Thornton’s definition of spiritual formation). This, of course, includes theological education—and this must never be downplayed in a discussion on spiritual formation! In a day and age when people are looking for immediate “practical application,” we do well to remember that all theology is practical. What we believe deeply impacts how we live our lives.
One of the most significant ways this theological instruction will express itself in the life of the faithful is an encouragement to practice spiritual disciplines—the Daily Office, personal reflection on God’s character and activity throughout the day, silence, solitude, fasting, confession of sin, etc. It is the role of the spiritual director to hold those under her care accountable for practicing the disciplines, to help them practice the disciplines fruitfully, and to assign or suggest appropriate disciplines for them at times in which they may benefit most from their practice. In this way, Anglicans assure that each member of the congregation receives appropriate and beneficial care and further “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” as Paul describes in his letter to the Ephesians.
Though the implementation of this vision has not been perfect in the local church, the Anglican vision of spiritual formation via spiritual direction is consistent with the biblical witness and most effectively contributes to parishioners’ growth and ministry in the Church. Robert Mulholland, author of Invitation to a Journey, has described spiritual formation as “a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” Anglicans agree with this, but we also insist that this definition does not go far enough. Spiritual formation is not only an individual enterprise; it is intimately connected to the work of the Church and must not be separated from the liturgical and sacramental worship of the Body of Christ (as I discussed in my last post).
It is only through participation in the Mystical Body of Christ that the Christian grows in godly love, wisdom, and holiness. We need each other—our spiritual brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and all the faithful who have gone before us—to live the Christian life. If you do not have a spiritual director, I strongly encourage you to seek one out. I can personally attest that it is one of the most important relationships I have had in my life as a Christian. God made his Church to be a community—a family of adopted sons and daughters who support, guide, and encourage each other on their path to final union with God in the new heavens and the new earth. Without our community, we cannot live as God intended us to live, but perhaps even more importantly we cannot fully express the image of the God who created us, the one God who exists as a community of three persons.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Next time, we will discuss why the Trinity is central to an Anglican understanding of spiritual formation. Until then, I’ll leave you with a collect that helps us thank God for our Christian community and ask him to help us strengthen each other:
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy; for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever. Amen.
Andrew Russell is an M.Div. candidate at Beeson Divinity School. He is an ordination candidate in the Anglican Diocese of the South and hopes to serve the Church as a parish priest. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Anna. Follow him on Twitter: @andrew_05.
This post is part of “Ecclesia Anglicana,” a series devoted to all topics pertaining to Anglicanism. Stay tuned for more!
I did not grow up in the Anglican church. My teenage years were split between a Messianic Jewish synagogue and a Grace Brethren congregation. So, at a distance, the sacrament of confirmation looked like a cool rite of passage for my Episcopalian friends. But on February 11th, 2018, I received the laying on of my Bishop’s hands with this blessing:
“Defend, O Lord, this your servant,
Hunter, with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours for ever, and
daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until he comes into the
fullness of your everlasting kingdom.”
confirmation prayer occurs in every iteration of the Book of Common Prayer,
always emphasizing mature perseverance
as an intended fruit. I received this
sacrament as an adult who, at that point, had served as a youth minister for
six years, yet I experienced a new vigor in receiving the Eucharist and
participating in parish life. Perhaps my own confirmation experience makes me
acutely aware of a common disparity between the theology of confirmation and
the practice of confirming youth in the Anglican church. It seems to be the
case that parish catechesis risks merely preparing youth confirmands for the
rite of confirmation while the liturgy and theology of confirmation treats the
sacrament as an initiation into life-long, Holy Spirit-filled perseverance. The
result of this disparity is a generation of youth fully initiated into a Body
they are unprepared to participate in long-term. Thus, the Church risks
perpetuating another achievement for youth to attain without life-long
practices and perspective. So, the question, “Are you initiated?” may not be as
helpful for confirming youth as, “What are you initiated into?”
is no ecumenical consensus on the timing of confirmation. Our Eastern Orthodox
friends do not separate baptism and chrismation, while Anglicans, like our
Roman Catholic friends, withhold confirmation until a child or adult may take
reasonable, mature ownership of their faith. However, the question of what youth
are initiated into remains for every Christian tradition. In what follows, I
will explore the way a strong method and theology of confirmation moves youth
beyond the words of a catechism and the works of piety into a persevering
desire for the Triune God.
Words, Works, and Desire
What prepares a young person for
confirmation? The numerous catechisms written since the Protestant Reformation
seem to answer: systematic content. The Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the
Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments become jumping off points into a didactic
process whereby the catechumen ought to know what these teachings mean
and why they occur in the Church’s liturgical life. Now, it may be unfair to
diagnose this method as overly cognitive in its scope, yet youth confirmands
experience that, in order to be confirmed, you must learn what these words
mean. Under this view, catechism concerns the meaning behind the words and
works of the Church. William Cavanaugh addresses a similar problematic method
at work in the Eucharist. “The problem is that the Eucharist has been reduced
to the message, to a piece of information for the mind to grasp. … The key is
not what the Eucharist means, but what it makes. And it makes the Church.” Surely the sacrament of confirmation
also ought not be reduced to merely confirming what someone knows.
little ressourcement goes a long way, let us consider a catechetical method
from the early church. In De
St. Augustine responded to Deogratias, a deacon in Carthage, regarding how to
deliver a proper catechism. This deacon, celebrated in doctrinal knowledge and
eloquence, struggled to deliver the scope of the Christian faith without boring
his catechumens. What is Augustine’s advice?
The narration is complete when the
candidate has received instruction from that first passage in Scripture, “In
the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” all the way up to the
present age of the Church. But this does not mean that those of us who have
memorized the whole Pentateuch, all the books of Jewish kingdoms and Ezra, the
whole Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, should rehearse them verbatim. …
Rather we should offer a brief and general summary, selecting particular
passages that occasion wonder and pleasure in the hearer and also form the
sinews of the story.
Augustine is not implying that parts of the Biblical narrative are unimportant.
His narrative method is intentional, knowing that where one starts affects the
whole and must fit together with all other pieces. The goal of catechetical instruction
is “love proceeding from a pure heart, good conscience, and unfeigned faith.” Much like the hermeneutic
instructions in De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine emphasizes the desire
for and enjoyment of the Trinity as the ultimate end of all instruction.
does Augustine’s narrative
method answer what catechumens are initiated into? A catechism beginning with a
selective biblical narrative (1) shows that the catechumen/confirmand is part
of and participates in the public story of God’s redeemed people and (2)
assumes this story will inspire wonder and pleasure for a life-long pursuit of
God. If I might expand Augustine’s illustration, the sinews of the biblical
narrative are sufficient for the catechism because they prepare the confirmand
to be a full part of the Body of Christ, rather than an individual initiated
solely on their mature knowledge.
gives young people something to long for beyond the moment of initiation: a
daily strengthening by the work of the Holy Spirit. The theology of
confirmation points to this very reality. In baptism, the Church is united to
Christ’s death and resurrection. In the
Eucharist, the Body is united to Christ and one another through receiving His
body and blood. In confirmation, each believer participates in Pentecost. A
narrative catechism emphasizes a young person’s participation in a public
story; initiation is participating and receiving that act of God which
initiated and constituted the Church.
Throughout De Catechizandis rudibus,Augustine exhorts the
listener to consider what they really rest their hope upon. If you place it
upon your personal character, you will not persevere. If you place it upon the
character and piety of others, you will not persevere. Augustine’s interest in
the chaff among the wheat takes a pastoral turn towards perseverance and the
purpose of Christian practice.
This is fulfilled by no one save the
man who has received the other gift, the Holy Spirit, who is indeed equal with
the Father and the Son, for this same Trinity is God; on this God every hope
ought to be placed. On man our hope ought not to be placed, of whatsoever
character he may be. For He, by whom we are justified, is one thing; and they,
together with whom we are justified, are another.
lies the mysterious hope in the sacrament of confirmation: that, by grace, we
will persevere in our desire for the God on whom, alone, our hope truly rests.
Christian practices form persons who daily put their hope in God, awaiting the
fullness of His everlasting kingdom.
A Practitioner’s Perspective
teenagers is not an easy task. I studied youth ministry at a Christian college,
served in youth ministry a non-denominational church for six years, and now I
am a student ministry director at an Anglican parish. I write as a practitioner
seeking clarity and conviction for my own students, more like Deogratias than
Augustine! Yet I find that the Anglican tradition offers a uniquely helpful
perspective and practice for forming youth.
Anglican youth ministry is free to learn from any Christian tradition and
practice. Youth ministry, at least in the United States, began from a larger
sociological shift when the institution of public education functionally
created a distinct people group: teenagers. The Anglican Church can learn from
every kind of response to this phenomenon, from movements emphasizing
family-driven faith to methods presupposing teenagers are largely unchurched. I
have every reason to study the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, Orange’s “It’s
Just A Phase” curriculum, Hillsong Worship, St. Augustine’s understanding of
the Imago Dei, and missiologist Leslie Newbigin in order to catechize
and disciple students well.
Anglican tradition can be locally adapted for a variety of post-Christian
contexts. I serve a diverse, urban parish in the heart of a city nicknamed the
Holy City for all the church steeples on the skyline. Yet my students attend
schools, have jobs, and form friendships in spaces that relegate religious
beliefs to private preferences. Thus, the methods of reaching teenagers and
equipping parents will look different in a diverse, urban setting compared to a
suburban, like-goes-with-like context. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy
of the Table will form parishioners in a Kingdom reality, but parish catechesis
must adapt to the spaces where parishioners will go in peace to love and serve
Daily Office is an ideal rhythm for worship and discipleship. It is relatively
easy for young persons to read Scripture with the multitude of Bible apps and
reading plans one download away. Yet the Anglican tradition gives youth
ministry a true gem: a pattern for how to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly
digest Scripture as a Body. Our parish now requires all confirmands, youth and
adults alike, to learn and practice the Daily Office as a rule of life.
Anglican youth ministry benefits from strong sacramental theology and practice.
On one morning of a youth service weekend at a nondenominational church, I
struggled to teach Christ’s
words, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” I realized I could not teach this
passage without treating the Eucharist as a true sacrament and not just a
memorial ordinance. Christ’s words surely go beyond daily devotions and into
the constitutive reality of a Church united to Him in the sacraments. Youth
ministry, at least in the United States, risks merely moralizing Christian
practices without a historic sacramental theology, a risk still present even in
Anglican parishes. The challenge of parish catechesis will always be to pierce
beyond the meanings of a catechism into the mysterious initiation into a Body
united to Christ, “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together
through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” May our youth always persevere in
their desire for God and participation in the Body.
Hunter Myers is a Student Ministry Director at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul in Charleston, South Carolina. He earned his BA in Youth Ministry & Philosophy at Columbia International University. He is from a small town called Golden, Colorado.
 Cavanaugh, William. “Eucharistic Bodies
in an Excarnated World.” Lecture, The Intersection Conference, Atlanta, May 17,
 Personal unpublished translation by Dr.
Andrew Alwine, Associate Professor of Classics, College of Charleston.
 See Dr. Sarah Coakley’s understanding of
systematic theology. Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self, 41.