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

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