Saturday, May 17, 2008

Proper 1 - for the first time

In the years I have been an Episcopalian (since 1983), I don’t believe I have ever had the opportunity to use the propers (official collect and readings from Scripture for a particular service) for the Daily Office from Proper 1 in the Book of Common Prayer. Easter has never been this early in my lifetime, so the need never arose. How wonderful to have something new from something with which I am so supposedly familiar!

From the simple clarity of the collect (“Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called us to your service, make us worthy of our calling,”) to the words of the First Letter of John (“all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.”), these are wonderfully clear prayers and lessons about what it means to live the life placed in us by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Would that we experienced this set of propers every year. Or, perhaps it is because they are being put to me in this form for the first time that I am finding them so insightful.

In any event, the Daily Office this week reminds me how precious the gift of the Prayer Book tradition of daily prayer is; its balance, its careful analysis of the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints, and it grounding all of our individual experiences in the greater Experience of the Church Catholic. I am reminded this week about the value and need to teach this heritage to an ever busier and less-grounded world.

Like the snow falling on the flowering trees outside the church on a Sunday in Eastertide, this is just another gift of the earliest Easter I've known. It is a helpful reminder that all of our liturgical practices are there to open us up to God's mysterious and freeing work in our life, not to put that work under some sort of deadening spiritual lock & key.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

To what end?

And now, Utquid effusio hæc? 'To what end all this?' For it is not to be imagined this pouring was casual, as the turning over a tub, nor that the Spirit did run waste; then it were Utquid perdito hæc? An end it had. And that follows now; 'and your sons,' &c. The Spirit is given to many ends, many middle, but one last, and that last is in the last word, salvabitur; the end then of this pouring is the salvation of mankind. Mankind was upon the point to perish, and the Spirit was poured, as a precious balm or water, to recover and save it. So the end of all is--and mark it well! that the Spirit may save the flesh, by the spiritualizing it; not, the flesh destroy the Spirit, by carnalizing it; not the flesh weigh down the Spirit to earth hither, but the Spirit lift up the flesh thither to heaven, whence it came.

Lancelot Andrewes, SERMON XI
Preached before the King's Majesty, at Greenwich, on the Twenty-fourth of May,
A.D. MDCXVIII being Whit-Sunday

We have now reached the culmination of Eastertide, the Great 50 Days: the Feast of Pentecost. With it, the power of New Life manifest in the Resurrection breaks forth into the New Life of the new Church, born on this day. The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost unlocked the Resurrection from an event primarily about Christ, opening the Kingdom to all the world through the preaching and witness of the disciples. The entire sequence of Easter, from the moment the tomb was discovered empty, through the encounters with the Risen Christ, the Ascension of Christ to the Right Hand of the Father, and in the firey gift of Spirit – the entire season is one long crescendo of meaning, one rich icon of the love and transforming will of God.

Pentecost tells us many, many things. Among them is the truth about our value, our worth, our mattering to God. On Pentecost we rejoice in the birth of a community, but we also give thanks that the Spirit lifts us to heaven in worship, in our desires, and in how we see and treat others. The Spirit has saved the flesh, has saved humanity not by rebuking it or destroying it but by revealing its holiness, its profound value. This humanity was once made in God’s Image; today that Image is revealed once more. This is the message that goes "to the ends of the earth." That is the end of this day; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Alleluia, Alleluia!