Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Praying Shapes Believing, An Instructed Eucharist

An Instructed Eucharist for St. Clement’s Episcopal Church
Prepared by the Reverend Joy Caires and Dr. Mark Stahura, Music Director
Adapted for Proper 27A

Prior to the invitation to silence, announcements will include the following,

It is said that praying shapes believing--yet, it is hard to know what we are believing if we do not understand what we are praying. So, in partnership with today’s emphasis on Christian formation, we will be exploring our liturgy in order that a deeper understanding of our liturgy might give us a deeper understanding of how our liturgy helps us to hear God's call to us. Every week, our principal act of worship as a church offers us an opportunity to engage in formation—the transformative learning that helps deepens our awareness of God and helps us to discern what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the world today. This instructed Eucharist will take the place of the sermon.

Let us begin with silence...

Procession and opening hymn

The opening hymn, acclamation and the prayer we call the collect of the day, are intended to unite us as a worshipping body centering ourselves on God in Christ. Through music and prayer, we give witness to what it means to be one body, led by one spirit, and answering to one hope in God’s call to us.

Voices blend, and we set our intention to the work of transformation as we pray together the collect for purity.

A collect is a prayer that frames our intentions and gathers us together.  The collect for purity has begun services in our traditions since 1549 and it reminds us that we are here to be transformed by God.

Another collect, the Collect for the Day, prepares us for hearing God’s Word, using ideas that we will hear in the readings that follow.  Today’s collect is striking in its insistence that God in Jesus came to destroy the work of evil in this world. If you recall, in our baptismal covenant, we too commit ourselves to this work of overthrowing the powers of evil at work in the world around us. I invite you to consider the issues confronting us in our world, especially that of gun violence, in light of this commitment.


Prayers written long ago can be a powerful reminder to our calling in the world in the here and the now.

You will notice, that as we continue through the liturgy, we quite literally MOVE! We are invited to use our physical posture to reinforce our prayers—and these postures, depending upon when they are employed, can convey respect, humility, penitence, and celebration as we give praise to God.

That said, at this time, I ask you to stand as you are able.

At this time we continue with the Opening Acclamation--through the Collect of the Day

As members of the Episcopal Church, and participants in the Anglican Communion, scripture, tradition and reason are the tools we use to understand what it means to follow Christ within our own context.

Scripture is a vital component of our Sunday liturgies and, over the course of a three-year cycle, we hear the majority of the Bible proclaimed within the context of our worship. Our readings typically include a reading from Hebrew scriptures, the Epistles (an epistle is a letter) and a Gospel reading.

Our worship is shaped by the Book of Common Prayer which provides the liturgical framework for our Sunday observances. An important part of our tradition includes congregational singing. The Psalms were intended to be sung – the word “psalm” means ‘song’ in Hebrew – and we continue this centuries’ old tradition today, using several different musical styles.

After the second reading, we sing a hymn that captures some of the themes of that reading. In Episcopal liturgy of all kinds, music helps to reinforce scripture’s meaning with memorable tunes and beautiful words.

Having touched on the role of scripture and tradition, we come to reason. As we hear scripture, and participate in the traditions of our Church we are invited to use reason to further our understanding of God’s call to us in the here and the now.

We continue with the proclamation of Scripture, next portion of instruction begins after the Gospel.

I understand my task as the preacher to be that of exploring the readings in depth and creating what I think of as a “bridge” between the context in which these passages were written and our own context. The opening prayer which I use to begin sermons is intended to remind us that God is very much a part of our understanding of scripture and that a sermon isn’t just about what the preacher says, but about what our hearts understand.

Today, in my pairing of scripture with our tradition and my reason I heard the prophet giving voice to God’s sharp rebuke for those who pray, worship, and make offerings, without pursuing justice and righteousness. I heard within our Gospel an encouragement to keep ready, to prepare ourselves for the full in-breaking of God’s love, even when (perhaps especially when) that in-breaking seems far away and too much to hope for. It exhorts us to maintain our hope so that we can be ready to shine Christ’s light. This is an active state of readiness, not passive, and we are to be participants in the coming of Christ by shining the light of justice and righteousness into the world.

The Nicene Creed follows the sermon.  Created at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD the creed was the church’s official response to fourth century heresies!  It symbolizes the unity of the church and details the story of the Holy Trinity revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Much of our worship is meant to move us beyond sole concern with our individual state and into an awareness and concern for the entirety of the Body of Christ of which we are part.  The Prayers of the People are meant to be OF THE PEOPLE.  By juxtaposing our prayers for the church and the world with our own individual prayers we locate our prayers within the context of a world that is broken and deeply in need of healing. 

And, with the awareness that the world is broken, we are also called to own our own brokenness with the public confession of our sins.  The confession acknowledges not only our personal sinfulness, but the evils which are “done on our behalf”.  By offering this time of corporate confession and absolution, we make clear that we are all broken, we are all sinful and that even in this broken state, we are freely given the love and grace of God. Confession entails a commitment to be different and God blesses our effort to transform ourselves.

This is the point in the service where we move from the Word to Holy Communion.  A move that hinges on an act of reconciliation—the passing of the peace. As we pass the peace – we participate in an ancient Christian practice suggested by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:20. Being at peace with each other is a Christian obligation.  We are invited to be at peace not simply with those around us, but also with all those we have encountered in the last week.  We should use this opportunity to resolve to work harder to be at peace with those we find difficult.

In addition, it is important to bring the peace of the Lord to all those in our past who hurt us.  It is so easy for us to live with unresolved hurt – but in the symbolism of touching the hands of others, you are invited to release the pain and hurt that is part of the past.  This moment of peacemaking comes immediately before the offertory (the moment when we give of ourselves to God).  In the 5th chapter of Matthew, Jesus instructs us to make sure we are at peace with those around us before bringing our gifts to God.

After shaking hands, the priest will take a sentence from Scripture and invite us to offer back to God what God has so generously give us.  God has given us time, talents, and treasures, which we should give back to God.  It is an opportunity to make sure that we are not allowing “things” to dominate our lives.  It is an opportunity to reflect on what we are doing for God.

Let us continue our journey and stand, as able, saying the words of the Nicene Creed

We affirm our faith with the creed, instruction continues after the passing of the peace.

The prayer that the priest will read is called the “Great Thanksgiving” – the word “Eucharist” literally means thanksgiving.  We are going to be invited to respond with gratitude for the love and grace that God has bestowed on humanity.  This prayer starts with the “Sursum Corda”, lift up your hearts, a dialogue that can be understood to be symbolic of the journey our hearts are invited to take towards God.  The dialogue between the priest and the people continues through the prayer.  And, in our reference to the “saints and angels”, we are reminded that we are part of a body that surpasses time and encompasses the entirety of the church. 

The prayer moves from a sense of gratitude for creation and the incarnation, to the redemption made possible by Christ.  As we echo the actions of Christ in this re-enactment of the Last Supper that forms the essence of our Holy Communion, we remember the act of love in which Christ gave himself for us.  And at the epiclesis (which means “invocation”), the priest asks God (the Creator of everything that is) to send the Holy Spirit (the aspect of God that makes God present to us now) to enable the Divine Word (the Son) to interpenetrate the elements of bread and wine so that they are to us the “body and blood of Christ.”  This is a miracle. Don’t ask me exactly how or what is happening—this is a a miracle, it is holy mystery. However, what we do know is that God is providing us with a resource to enable us to live differently – to live as God intended.

During the communion rite we sing twice more. First, we sing the Sanctus, a direct quote from the Bible, specifically Isaiah 6:3, in which the prophet narrates what the angels sing around God’s throne: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might”. Joined to this text is another piece of scripture. As Jesus was riding a colt into Jerusalem people spread palms and cloaks in his path and said, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” 

Out of joy and without fear, we can utter the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.  Then the priest breaks the consecrated bread, a symbol of how brokenness can be the key to life. 

After the priest breaks the bread, we sing a “fraction anthem” acknowledging the symbolism of the bread as Christ's body, broken for us and feeding us still, today.

Then we come forward to receive.

At this time, I invite you to listen and pray as the choir makes an offering of music to God and our community.

The anthem through the entirety of the Great Thanksgiving. Instruction resumes before the post-communion prayer.

The post communion hymn is a prayer of thanksgiving and petition.  We give thanks but also request the strength to do God’s work in the world.  We make it clear that what we have done in here matters “out there”.  The priest offers us a blessing, continuing the pronouncement of God’s presence in our lives and our labors.  The dismissal continues this theme, as it literally commissions us for ministry in the world.  Having prayed, heard scripture, offered our gifts, received the body and blood of Christ, and been blessed, we sing another hymn as we carry the cross out from our presence and into the world beyond our walls. This hymn, like the others, reflects the ideas from scripture that have permeated worship today.

The post-communion prayer through the dismissal

Highly recommended resources used for the compilation of this instructed Eucharist

Liturgical Life Principles: How Episcopal Worship Can Lead to Healthy and Authentic Living  by Ian S. Markham

Praying Shapes Believing: Theological Commentary on The Book of Common Prayer, by Leonel L. Mitchell

Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology, by Gordon W. Lathrop

Monday, November 6, 2017

All Saints and Harry Potter a Saint

All Saints, 2017--the appointed scripture can be found at http://lectionarypage.net/YearA_RCL/HolyDays/AAllSaints_RCL.html


(Harry Amongst the Great Cloud of Witnesses*)

On the Saturday before Halloween, I found myself at the grocery store picking up the ingredients for welsh rarebit and butter-beer milkshakes in anticipation of a long-awaited feast day in our home—the feast of the first viewing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Repeatedly, throughout the movie, my 7-year-old pointed out the moments in which Harry breaks a rule in order to do the right thing.

This observation was a big one for my rule following kid, and I was delighted that he was able to see that doing the right thing is more complicated than a simple right/wrong; yes/no; good/bad moment.

Likewise, our own identities are more complicated than any sort of artificial binary of good and bad; righteous and unrighteous; sinner and saint.

And, this is part of what is so appealing about the Harry Potter series—a series in which the heroes and the villains, both, are neither entirely good or entirely evil. In fact, Harry himself epitomizes the complex reality that none of us are entirely good. Picture the scene, as the children await their turn under the sorting hat—the magical haberdashery that sorts children into their dorms…

“Hmm,” said a small voice in his ear. “Difficult. Very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind either. There’s talent, oh my goodness, yes — and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that’s interesting. . .  So where shall I put you?”

Harry gripped the edges of the stool and thought, Not Slytherin, not Slytherin.
“Not Slytherin, eh?” said the small voice. “Are you sure? You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that — no? Well, if you’re sure — better be GRYFFINDOR!”

It’s all there…the potential for good and the potential for evil. It’s all there…our sinfulness and our blessedness. It’s all there. In Harry, in us...and in the saints.

And, this is important, because when we can recognize the imperfection of the saints—we can see in ourselves sainthood. To be a saint is not impossible, because to be a saint is to accept the possibility of God’s all-encompassing love and strive to make it so in the here and the now.

So, on this All Saints, I find myself marveling at the imperfection of the saints—the saints that came before us, the saints in the here and the now, and the saints that will be. They were not perfect, nor even practically perfect—just think of Saint Peter! The saints are human. Human beings that love God and follow Jesus wherever Jesus may lead. Human beings who are God’s children and, as Paul says, human beings who do not yet know the fullness of what will be revealed.  

All of this means that the saints can be us—sinners and saints, one and the same.  That we, in loving God and following Jesus, have in our very being the power and potential for living a life which bears witness to God’s love for all of us.

And, while we may not yet know where God will call us nor what will be revealed—what we do know is that, while we wait, we can support each other in the work of transformation. Working towards unity, mercy, and justice—working to create that vision described in Revelation we heard today, a vision in which all tribes, nations and languages gather in unity in the new creation. A vision where there is neither hunger or thirst, and where sorrow and despair are no more.

A vision of a world in which the beatitudes are treated as more than a check-list, and in which the poor, the grieving, the peaceful, the gentle, and the persecuted, are honored rather than scorned. A world in which power is employed as a means of mercy.

A world which can be because we are. We are, we are the sinners and saints in the here and the now, called to strive for a kingdom greater than ours, a world better than ours, a life made new and a love made fully known. We, sinners and saints all the same, we can do this—we can do this with God’s help and with each other.

Supporting each other and trusting in God that we might obtain, “the full stature of Christ”.

The full stature of Christ.

When I teach baptismal preparation classes. I always emphasize that the full stature of Christ is not prescriptive or even descriptive. What it is, is committing to support the individual being baptized so that they can become the person that God intends them to be. Not who we intend them to be—but who God intends them to be.

Which brings me back to Harry Potter.  

Harry, the hero of the narrative, is identified by the sorting hat as having the potential to succeed in both great evil and great good. It’s all there—but, because of the love, the support, the gifts (both great and small), the friendships, the mentors—all of these things and all those that travel the way with him, he is able to become all that anyone could have hoped.

And, in this, he doesn’t save anyone, or even himself, alone. He does it with the support, the love and the witness of those around him—both the living and the dead. Those who went before him, and those who are to come, are real participants in the narrative—and, with that, the communion of saints becomes central to the hero’s quest in a fictional series that has fueled the imaginations of a generation.

Now, for those of you wondering how I’ve managed to read all of this into a children’s fantasy series…it’s important to note that the author of Harry Potter is an Anglican steeped in the traditions of the church. And, so by knowing our traditions and knowing scripture, I can place Harry—fictional as he may be—amongst the saints.

Imperfect, human, saints.

Like you. Like me.

Like August, Clara, Grace and Olivia who are about to be baptized

Like Harry…Fully human. Fully capable of being part of the inbreaking of all that God has promised.


*If you are familiar with the Harry Potter series, I encourage you to read the catechism found in The Book of Common Prayer and then take a look at the Harry Potter series with a fresh eye!

And, if you are a fan of buzzfeed quizzes--sort yourself into a Hogwarts' house here!