Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Litany of Preparation for Communion

A Litany of Preparation for Receiving Holy Communion

O God the Father, of Heaven: 
   Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world: 
   Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the Faithful, 
   Have mercy upon us.

Holy Trinity, One God: 
   Have mercy upon us.

Help us, O God our Savior: 
   Have mercy upon us.

From the dominion of all vices: 
   O Lord, deliver us.

From blindness of heart: 
   O Lord, deliver us.

From all evil: 
   O Lord, deliver us.

We sinners: 
   do beseech thee to hear us.

That thou spare us: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That thou give us a sure hope: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That thou vouchsafe us a right faith: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That thou bestow on us a perfect love: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That thou mortify in us the loathsome forms of all vices: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That thou quicken us with the excellency of all virtues: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That by thine Incarnation thou wouldest open for us an entrance into the Holy of Holies: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That by this most holy Mystery thou wouldest renew our souls and bodies: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That by it thou wouldest purify our consciences: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That thou suffer not this tremendous Mystery to be our condemnation: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That we may handle with pure hands this Holy Sacrament: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That we may receive it with pure minds: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That by it we may obtain pardon of all sins: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That by it we may be able evermore to cleave unto thee: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That by it we may be thought worthy to have thee dwelling in us, and ourselves to dwell in thee: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That it may please thee to pour into our hearts the Grace of the Holy Spirit: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That it may please thee to preserve the Christian people who have been redeemed by thy most precious Blood: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

That thou vouchsafe us a place of repentance: 
   We beseech thee to hear us.

O God the Father, who in thy great and ineffable love to man didst send thy Son into the world, to bring back the wandering sheep, turn not away thy face from us when we approach this thy tremendous and unbloody Sacrifice; for we trust not in our own righteousness, but to thy gracious compassion, whereby thou dost redeem our race. Amen.

From Ancient Collects and Other Prayers,
by William Bright

A New Year: Remembering God's Mercies

It is a great and holy thing to be bearers of the Gospel. Sometimes we forget just how overwhelming, how vast the Gospel’s message of mercy and grace really is. Dr. Donne, the priest, poet, and homilist, didn’t forget. He knew those mercies deeply. As we begin a new calendar year, it is worth reflecting on the gift we have received, and which we are bound to share again and more deeply in 2012…

A blessed New Year to all who read this!

HE air is not so full of motes, of atoms, as the Church is of mercies; and as we can suck in no part of air, but we take in those motes, those atoms; so here in the congregation we cannot suck in a word from the preacher, we cannot speak, we cannot sigh a prayer to God, but that whole breath and air is made of mercy. But we call not upon you from this text, to consider God's ordinary mercy, that which he exhibits to all in the ministry of his Church, nor his miraculous mercy, his extraordinary deliverances of states and churches; but we call upon particular consciences, by occasion of this text, to call to mind God's occasional mercies to them; such mercies as a regenerate man will call mercies, though a natural man would call them accidents, or occurrences, or contingencies….

If I should declare what God hath done (done occasionally) for my soul, where he instructed me for fear of falling, where he raised me when I was fallen, perchance you would rather fix your thoughts upon my illnesses and wonder at that, than at God's goodness, and glorify him in that; rather wonder at my sins, than at his mercies, rather consider how ill a man I was, than how good a God he is. If I should inquire upon what occasion God elected me, and writ my name in the book of life, I should sooner be afraid that it were not so, than find a reason why it should be so. God made sun and moon to distinguish seasons, and day, and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons. But God hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies. In paradise, the fruits were ripe the first minute, and in heaven it is always Autumn, his mercies are ever in their maturity. We ask panem quotidianum, our daily bread, and God never says you should have come yesterday, he never says you must again tomorrow, but today if you will hear his voice, today he will hear you.

If some king of the earth have so large an extent of dominion, in North, and South, as that he hath Winter and Summer together in his dominions, so large an extent East and West, as that he hath day and night together in his dominions, much more hath God mercy and judgment together: He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; he can bring thy Summer out of Winter, though thou have no Spring; though in the ways of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintred and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied till now - now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries. All occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons.

John Donne, Priest.
From A Sermon for the Evening of Christmas Day, 1624

Break Glass in Case of Success?

Today is the commemoration of St. Sylvester I, who was Bishop of Rome (Pope) from AD 314-335. He was the leader of the Roman Church community at a very dramatic time: Constantine the Great had embraced Christianity. The persecutions were over. The Church was allowed to come out from the catacombs and flourish. It all seemed very much like a miracle.

Sylvester had to guide the Church through a rapid and dizzying transition. In addition to dealing with the overwhelmingly powerful Constantine, he was also occupied with keeping the witness of the Church whole and truly “catholic” in an era of burgeoning heresies.

But perhaps his biggest challenge was success. The Church was legal, it was favored, it was being promoted. Success was, and always will be, a very dangerous time for Christians. To use a quote from Blake: “The strongest poison ever known / Came from Caesar's laurel crown.” The challenge was to use the opportunity, the peace, the freedom effectively and to God’s glory. This challenge remains for the Church today, in whatever place it is found--persecuted or not. That is something to think about as we end one year and look towards another.

Will we rely on success, reaching for money, power, position—and the opportunity to settle scores—rather than on the humility of the Gospel? Will we rely on the Holy Spirit, or will we “break the glass” and reach for what promises, in the short run, what only God can truly give the Christian disciple? Will we forsake the Gospel for earthly power and prestige? Do we actually love success more than faithfulness? These questions must be asked again and again, especially whenever we feel confidence in our opinions rather than awareness of our fallibility.

We actually know very little about St. Sylvester (though much was made up about him later), even though he was such a pivotal figure. In a way, though, I rather like this. It allows us to ask the above questions without having lots of answers…and to look into the mirror of faith and give what we see (and desire) some honest scrutiny as turn to the task before us.

The Collect for St. Sylvester
O God, our Heavenly Father, who raised up your faithful servant Sylvester to be a bishop and pastor in your Church and to feed your flock: Give abundantly to all pastors the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that they may minister in your household as true servants of Christ and stewards of your divine mysteries; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, December 26, 2011

St. Stephen's Day: Conflict, prayer, and a new way of living

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

The Collect for St. Stephen's Day

I suspect one of the bigger disappointments for many in the Church—and perhaps especially for those outside of it—is the persistence of conflict in Christ's Body. There is something in us that knows such conflict is fundamentally wrong. While we are resigned it to in most dimensions of life, there is rightly a sense that in matters of faith such resort to argument, bitterness, and (particularly) violence is a sign of tremendous failure. The justification for much conflict in the Church is similarly wrong: “that’s just the way it is,” or some version of “conflict is the only way to sort the true believers from the false ones.” This has all the wisdom of the Vietnam-era saying “to save the village, we must destroy the village.” Conflict does so much damage within communities of faith that, when all is said and done, it is hard to see what the benefits really were.

This is particularly true when conflict moves from a simple difference of opinion to enmity. It takes very little to go from vilifying an idea to vilifying a person. Once it "gets personal," the cycle of conflict moves with a seemingly inexorable logic. The story of St. Stephen's death at the hands of religious opponents provides one of the most clear-cut examinations of this sorry state of affairs. It also provides us a way through it.

Conflict does continue to happen, and Christians must have a response. When it comes to the personal dimension of conflict, that response must of necessity be the one Jesus taught: pray for those who persecute you. This completely counter-cultural phenomenon in the Gospel is rather like the landing craft in an amphibious assault. It is the way a beachhead for peace is established on earth. 

Christ’s life was a living prayer. His birth at Christmas was the beginning of his prayer to the Father for a divided and broken humanity. He taught those who would follow him to do the same. For us it is always essential, whenever conflict sets in, to make clear that whatever the wrong we may confront, we do not do so with the notion that we ourselves, or an ideology or a program we carry, are the solution. The solution is to become part of Christ’s eternal prayer to the Father.

This is what St. Stephen became in his martyrdom. He was no hate-filled terrorist, no ideological prig needing to bring on a riot to settle scores or accomplish his plan for revolution. His conflict with the Sanhedrin was not “his” conflict: it was the Sanhedrin’s conflict with truth itself. Stephen held a mirror up to them, confronting them with what they had become. Their response to was take down the mirror, to kill Stephen. The sign that this was so was his response. He asked forgiveness for those killing him. For Stephen, it was always clear that he was only the mirror, not the light itself. For him, the battle was already over, and had been so since Christ had brought his perfected humanity to his Father’s throne in the Ascension and presented it to him in his unique, completely selfless victory.

Conflicts are not a fact of the human condition: they are the result of an ongoing choice of humanity. By choosing to make the conflict “ours,” we continue the apparently “natural” cycle of alienation, violence, and retribution. St. Stephen, whom we have remembered and honored today, shows us this supposed inevitability may be challenged and overturned by opening up our life so completely to Christ’s life that his grace, his prayer, his justice, his victory becomes ours.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Remembering in the Now of God

The Nativity, by the hand of Duccio, c. 1255-1319

Once in royal David's city

Stood a lowly cattle shed,

Where a mother laid her Baby

In a manger for His bed:

Mary was that mother mild,

Jesus Christ her little Child.
-- Cecil Frances Alexander

Christians do a great deal of remembering—but we do so in a special way. Most people remember in order to bring something from the past into the present. What they are doing can be enjoyable, providing solace, or it can be painful, dredging up sorrows. But in any event what they are doing is essentially the same: something that is locked in the past is being temporarily brought to mind, as if it is really in the here-and-now.

When Christians remember, we are doing something quite a bit different—and much more powerful. When a follower of Christ remembers the things of God, she or he is actually entering into the eternal “now” of the Divine, for whom all times and seasons are the living present, the eternal “here” of the God who is in all places, all dimensions.

When we celebrate Christ’s birth in Bethlehem through scripture, poem, and song, we are not looking in a kind of scrapbook of remote events. We are participating in the actual events themselves. For us, Christ is always being given, always entering into our lives, our world, our need. For the Christian, time is not tragic (separating things); it is hopeful, measured out day by day until there are no more days: culminating in one great unity of Creation with its God. In Advent and Christmas, we remember both the past and, in an amazing way, the future—and find them present through all our days in the eternal Now of God.

Come, let us adore Him in the mystery of His love this Christmas—ancient and yet ever new.

A Blessed Christmastide to all!


Monday, December 19, 2011

Rootedness for Real: O Radix Jesse

O root of Jesse, you stand as an ensign to the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, and nations bow in worship: Come and deliver us, and tarry not.

The “O Antiphon” associated with tonight speaks about roots and rootedness—a faith coming from someplace real and verifiable, not just mythological. This matter of roots is of real interest to me as an American. I live in a nation built on severing roots, cutting ties, and “moving on.” In fact, such is the obsession with being rootless that when we can endure this condition no more, we gorge ourselves on the most trivial forms of nostalgia in order to create a brief, collective feeling of being “rooted” in an imagined past. Just walk into any 1950’s-themed diner, and you will know what I mean.

The roots of our faith are not about nostalgia… at least they shouldn’t be about that. Our roots are about a deep, biological connection with a community of faith over time, going back to the origins of its identity, and commemorating the successive encounters—still ongoing—with God along the way. Those encounters are never an invitation to worship the past: they are an insistent call to find (and be found by) God in the present through worship, study, service, and an intentional consciousness investing every action, every choice, every encounter with its true identity—an encounter with the fullness of our being and the divine presence. Only in this way does our faith become something other than a static “idea.” It becomes an ensign, as the antiphon puts it, a sign of God’s claim on us and on the Creation he formed in Love.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

And so our Savior approaches... O Wisdom

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and reach from one end of the earth to the other, rightly and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

The final week of Advent has begun. The Great O Antiphons commence with calling upon God as Wisdom and begging the gift of prudence. What an extraordinary gift to seek in our imprudent age! Yet seek it we must. Prudence is the ability to make decisions about right actions and thoughts based on foresight, knowing where decisions and action are likely to lead. It means the full use of our reason. 

Human reason is sadly incomplete without God. That is why we call upon the Lord as our Wisdom tonight. God, the author of wisdom, is the source of our full rationality. Ah, yes... for us reason and faith are not opposites: they are fulfilled in each other. Sadly, many Christians live as if they were mutually exclusive; but we in the Anglican and catholic faith are not forced to make such assumptions. This is a good night to rejoice in that truth.

Our life of prayer and the sharing in the Holy Eucharist constantly reinforce this mutuality of human reason restored by communion in God. That communion is made possible for all peoples through God's own sovereign action of coming into the world in Christ. It is to that fact we look forward--now intensified by the language and imagery of the O Antiphons before and after the Song of Mary at Evening Prayer this week. 

To God be praise and glory for bridging the gap between...
... humanity and the Divine,
... heaven and earth, 
... faith and reason. 

O, Wisdom from on high...come and teach us prudence once more!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Recalling Christ’s Passion on Fridays

Below are reprinted (in their Jacobean English form) the ancient prayers for use on Fridays throughout the year. They form an important prayer resource for the Friday Devotion enjoined by the Book of Common Prayer (page 17).

These prayers take us through all the stages of the Passion Story: from the early morning sentence of death through his being led to the Cross, the Crucifixion, the hour of Christ’s death, and his burial. In so doing, they invite us to enter into both a deeper awareness of Christ’s total identification with us in his self-offering, and our own loving response to that offering.

At Daybreak

 EVERLASTING Jesus, who in the early morning didst give thyself to be reviled and scoffed at by thine enemies; Visit us, we pray thee, at this hour with thy grace and mercy; that so throughout the day we may find peace and joy in all that ministers to thy praise and glory; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

 LORD Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who at the first hour of the day wast brought before Pilate, and thyself the Judge of all didst yet endure the severest doom; We beseech thee by that judgement to be merciful to us sinners when at the last day we stand before thee; who livest and reignest God, for ever and ever. Amen.

At Mid-morning (9 AM, traditionally)

Antiphon: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is mute, so he openeth not his mouth.

V. It was the third hour.
R. And they crucified him.

Let us pray.

 LORD Jesu Christ, Son of the living God, who at the third hour of the day wast led forth to the pain of the cross, for the salvation of the world; We humbly beseeth thee, that, by the virtue of thy most sacred passion, thou wouldest blot out all our sins, and mercifully bring us to the glory of thy blessedness, who livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

At Noon

AntiphonI, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.

V. Lord, remember me;
R. When thou comest into thy kingdom.

Let us pray.

 MOST gracious Jesus, our Lord and our God, who, as at this hour, didst bear our sins in thine own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sin, might live unto righteousness; Have mercy upon us, we beseech thee, both now and at the hour of our death; and grant unto us, thy humble servants, with all other Christian people, that have this thy blessed passion in devout remembrance, a godly and peaceful life in this present world, and, through thy grace, eternal glory in the life to come; where, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, thou livest and reignest, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


 LORD Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, who at the sixth hour of the day didst with great tumult ascend on Golgotha the cross of pain, whereon, thirsting for our salvation, thou didst permit gall and vinegar to be given thee to drink; We, thy suppliants, beseech thee, that thou wouldest kindle and inflame our hearts with the love of thy passion, and make us continually to find our delight in thee alone, our crucified Lord; who livest and reignest God for ever and ever. Amen.

At Mid-afternoon (3 PM, traditionally)

AntiphonWhen he suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.

V. Even there shall thy hand lead me;
R. And thy right hand shall hold me.

Let us pray.

EAR us, O merciful Lord Jesus Christ, and remember now the hour in which thou didst commend thy blessed spirit into the hands of thy heavenly Father; and so assist us by this thy most precious death, that, being dead unto the world, we may live only unto thee; and that at the hour of our departing from this mortal life, we may be received into thine everlasting kingdom, there to reign with thee, world without end. Amen.

 LORD Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, we pray thee to set thy passion, cross, and death between thy judgement and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Vouchsafe to the living mercy and grace, rest to the faithful dead, to thy holy Church peace and concord, and to us sinners everlasting life and glory, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

 GRACIOUS Lord Jesus, who didst vouchsafe to die upon the cross for us; Remember, we beseech thee, all sick and dying persons, and grant that they may omit nothing which is necessary to make their peace with thee before they die. Deliver them, O Lord, from the malice of the devil, and from all sin and evil, and grant them a happy end, for they loving mercy’s sake. Amen.

At the Close of Day

 LORD Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who at the hour of Compline didst rest in the sepulchre, and didst thereby sanctify the grave to be a bed of hope to thy people; Make us so to abound in sorrow for our sins, which were the cause of thy passion, that when our bodies lie in the dust, our souls my live with thee; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

An Embertide Hymn

A Hymn for Embertide

I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here I am; send me. –Isaiah 6:8

Lord of hosts, enthroned in glory,
   Holy, Holy, Holy, Three;
Thou whose will doth order all things,
   Thou whose service maketh free:
Meanest men and brightest angels
   Wait alike the word from thee.

Now thou speakest—hear we trembling—
   From the glory comes a voice—
“Who accepts th’Almighty’s mission?
   Who will make Christ’s work his choice?
Who for us proclaim to sinners,
   ‘Turn, believe, endure, rejoice?’”

Here are we, Redeemer, send us!
   But because thy work is fire,
And our lips, unclean and earthly,
   Breathe no breath of high desire;
Bid thy seraph from thine altar
   Brand us, purge us, heal, inspire.

Thou didst come that fire to kindle;
   Fain would we thy torches prove,
Far and wide thy beacons lighting
   With th’undying spark of love:
Only feed our flame, we pray thee,
   With thy breathings from above.

Now to God, the soul’s Creator,
   To his Word and Wisdom sure,
To his all-enlightening Spirit,
   Patron of the frail and poor,
Three in One, be praise and glory,
   Here, and while the heavens endure.

—John Keble

This hymn, though written in the nineteenth century for a theological college training persons to be ordained, expresses (in admittedly Victorian language) truth for all Christians, lay or ordained, to consider during the Embertides.

Keble writes of a deep desire to lay down one’s life in the service of a light so bright, cleansing, and warming that no other light can compare. This hymn also reminds us that a minister of the Gospel can do nothing—nothing at all—apart from the Holy Spirit. Do we believe this? Is this the aim of our life?

The renewal of this love, this humility, is what we pray for each Embertide—for all who minister in the Name of Christ.

Collects for the Ministry (Ember Days)

For use on the traditional days or at other times:

I.  For those to be ordained

Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, in your divine providence you have appointed various orders in your Church: Give your grace, we humbly pray, to all who are [now] called to any office and ministry for your people; and so fill them with the truth of your doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before you, to the glory of your great Name and for the benefit of your holy Church; 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.

II.  For the choice of fit persons for the ministry

O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of your kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

III. For all Christians in their vocation

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Pure Paradox of Advent

Throughout its long history, Advent has been a paradoxical season: a time of joyful expectation combined with penitence, looking forward to the Second Coming while preparing to celebrate the First, a season of peaceful inwardness mixed like oil with the vinegar of stories of thieves breaking in, kings returning in judgment after long absences, and prophets warning of how little time we have. To the modern person, it can seem utterly disorderly, impossible to simplify and make “downloadable” in a simple package.

But, then, that is precisely the point.

Advent is not meant to be clear or easy, dipping into the mystery of time and eternity as it does. When a physicist begins to discuss quantum mechanics or String Theory, we know we are entering an arena so complex that no one—not even our guide—can adequately express it. Speaking of probabilities and multiple dimensions is dizzying because no one can fully understand it. Yet, we study these things because in doing so we come to a deeper understanding of the physical universe in which we live.

Advent is, to a degree, similar. None of us can fully understand what it is to be like God, living outside of the limits of space and time. Being made in the image of God, though, we cannot simply live on the purely animal level of physical and material reality. The spiritual part of being human must be nourished: either on its true diet of communion with God (in and through the Creation and the neighbor, as Jesus taught and lived), or by a diet of “junk food” that mimics the spiritual life, but leads ultimately to metaphysical malnourishment. This latter choice goes a long way to explain why we are in such a terrible way today… but that is another talk, I suppose.

To eat the authentic diet of faith, we must learn to accept some nourishment that at first seems impossible to consume. That nourishment is called paradox. Essential Christianity knows that Truth with a capital “T” is so vast a thing that no one of us can fully appreciate it. What is needed is a way to open up the richness of Truth in God for a moment so we may step into it briefly and gradually become acclimated to it, much as a very cold person must gradually become used to the warm waters of a bath. Paradox is one of the chief ways Christianity does this, and we learned it from our Lord.

When teaching, Jesus frequently employed parables. I once served a very wise parishioner who called parables “a device for comparing apples and oranges.” She was pointing out that in parables, the ordinary things and relationships of this world are used to contemplate and teach the extraordinary things of God. In much the same way, during the Advent season we place together, side-by-side, the very things the world says are incompatible: joy with penitence, peacefulness with excitement, the past with the future, contemplation with active preparation, time and eternity.

In doing this, we experience an opening—however brief—in the mystery of existence. We grow a little more in the knowledge of what God is like and what we are supposed to be like now that we have been baptized and claimed for God. When a person is baptized and takes Christ to be his or her Lord and Savior, that is only a beginning: before us lies a vast eternity of deepening love and knowledge, more like a treasured friendship or the best possible marriage than a contract or a course of studies. Advent is an annual reminder of this dimension of what it means to “look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come,” as the Nicene Creed puts it.

One of the finest ways Advent does this—and there are many ways it seeks to do so—is by the use of a word we don’t usually associate with a penitential season (ah, paradox again!): Alleluia. This ancient praise-shout to God is one of the hallmarks of Advent, filling these days with a sense of both celebration and yearning for that which is in this world, as yet, incomplete. During the other great season of penitence—Lent—we fast from Alleluia, but in Advent we employ it with a certain zest, looking forward to the time when it will fill all things in victory, and tasting of that time through the Liturgy—wherein we encounter the victory of the Lamb described so powerfully in the Revelation to John. Once again, paradox: now, but not yet!

Christians need Advent because it is hard to live in paradox. It is so much easier to take the wrinkles and mysteries of faith and iron them flat, making them fit neatly into the pages of book or into a PowerPoint presentation. But we all know, deep down, that this is untrue and unworthy of God. It is we who much learn to adapt to reality, not reality to us. That reality, though, is not a riddle to be mastered. It is a relationship to be cherished, meant to grow forever.

And so Advent in its relative brevity may be seen as a sort of spiritual telescope connecting time and eternity, our finite nature to the infinite of God, our need for salvation and forgiveness with the abundance of God’s love and truth. Unlike a man-made telescope though, when we look through Advent’s telescope we look not into the distance or into the past of the universe, but into the eternal present of God. In preparing for the celebration of Christ’s First Coming in Bethlehem we are remembering or making present that reality—that God is always giving to us, always sharing and calling us to share in the Divine Life. When we look forward to the Second Coming, we are also remembering (!), making present a reality which has not come to pass in this world, but is already accomplished in God: the victory of communion over alienation, love over sin, life over death.

Because of all of this paradox, Advent is a bonanza for poets, artists, musicians, and preachers, because all of these people know (or should, at any rate) that it is only by entering into the paradoxical that we may contemplate the power and presence of God and thus grow more and more into the fullness of being truly human and truly alive.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"Soul of Christ" -- A Prayer for Fridays and the Eucharist

The Anima Christi
Traditionally said at Communion and on Fridays.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me;
Body of Christ, save me;
Blood of Christ, refresh me;
Water from the side of Christ, wash me;
Passion of Christ, strengthen me;
O good Jesu, hear me;
Within thy wounds hide me;
Suffer me not to be separated from thee;
From the malicious enemy defend me;
In the hour of my death call me;
And bid me come unto thee;
That with thy saints I may praise thee;
            Through the ages of eternity. Amen.
XIV Century

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

18 Years: The Feast of St. Andrew, my Ordination Patron

Today marks eighteen years since my ordination to the sacred priesthood in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church on St. Andrew’s Day. It was a beautiful, powerful, poignant liturgy. So much of my life led up to it, yet it was not a “mountain top” experience, an event isolated from the rest of my life. Rather, it was a confirmation, journey further into, an opening up. I shall never forget when the chasuble was lowered over me at that liturgy. While I knew that the “moment” of ordination was during the laying on of hands, it was in the otherworldly silence and enveloping of that fleeting action that the grace of ordination was truly impressed on me. For a brief second, the seamlessness and tranquillity of the Christian faith completely overcame this fragmented and anxious world. It was a foretaste of heaven.

Andrew and his brother Peter, the Gospel according to Matthew tells us, were mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow him. They were engaged in the ordinary things of life for fishers. This fact about St. Andrew’s life and vocation has not left me. It is in the ordinary run of things that God so often comes to us. Andrew, who had begun this journey as one of St. John the Baptist’s disciples, was clearly ready to hear the word of invitation to follow Jesus; he was a person of deep faithfulness and thus makes for a great Ordination Patron, whom I remember daily and at each Eucharist. But the moment of his calling that St. Matthew paints for us is one of the daily, the routine, the unglamorous. Much of being a parish priest falls into this category. For some, this is a trial. I won’t say I haven’t been frustrated by it from time to time, but on the whole, it is precisely in the ordinary, the mundane, the scut-work of this vocation that I have found Jesus calling to me. Along with the riches of the liturgy, it is in the hidden and simple round of parochial life that I have most often found Our Lord—and been found by him.

Pray for me, the deeply imperfect servant of Christ.

Pray for me, St. Andrew.

The Collect of St. Andrew
Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

From the Ordination Liturgy

The Bishop says
As a priest, it will be your task to proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to fashion your life in accordance with its precepts. You are to love and serve the people among whom you work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor. You are to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness to penitent sinners, to pronounce God’s blessing, to share in the administration of Holy Baptism and in the celebration of the mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood, and to perform the other ministrations entrusted to you.

In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come.

My brother, do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to this priesthood?

Answer      I believe I am so called.

May it be so, by God’s grace and the prayers of his people.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Saint Ephrem of Edessa on why we do not know the exact time of the Second Coming

To prevent his disciples from asking the time of his coming, Christ said: About that hour no one knows, neither the angels nor the Son. It is not for you to know times or moments. He has kept those things hidden so that we may keep watch, each of us thinking that he will come in our own day. If he had revealed the time of his coming, his coming would have lost its savor: it would no longer be an object of yearning for the nations and the age in which it will be revealed. He promised that he would come but did not say when he would come, and so all generations and ages await him eagerly.

Though the Lord has established the signs of his coming, the time of their fulfillment has not been plainly revealed. These signs have come and gone with a multiplicity of change; more than that, they are still present. His final coming is like his first. As holy men and prophets waited for him, thinking that he would reveal himself in their own day, so today each of the faithful longs to welcome him in his own day, because Christ has not made plain the day of his coming.

He has not made it plain for this reason especially, that no one may think that he whose power and dominion rule all numbers and times is ruled by fate and time. He described the signs of his coming; how could what he has himself decided be hidden from him? Therefore, he used these words to increase respect for the signs of his coming, so that from that day forward all generations and ages might think that he would come again in their own day.
St. Ephrem of Edessa, Deacon [373]

Unlike some Christian groups, Anglicans do not concern themselves with trying to determine the exact time of Christ’s coming, precisely because he has told us not to (and because St. Paul also made clear the foolishness of such an endeavor). Rather, we are called to live our lives in the continuous expectation of his coming. For us, the Second Coming is a revelation of God’s truth, and something we earnestly desire. The Christian does not have to wait for this event in time in order to begin to experience it. We may do so even now by reading God’s word to us in Scripture, receiving the sacraments, doing the works of the Gospel, and examining our conscience and repenting from sin.

The eagerness St. Ephrem points to is a desire for a union of will and life in God, not a timetable for self-vindication. That eagerness is essential to the spirit of Advent—and to the Christian life always, in every season and place.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Eucharistic Table: Classical Anglican Thoughts

For as God descended and came into the tabernacle invested with a cloud, so Christ comes to meet us clothed with a mystery. He hath a house below as well as above; here is his dwelling and here are his provisions; here is his fire and here his meat; hither God sends his Son, and here his Son manifests himself. The church and the holy table of the Lord, the assemblies of saints and devotions of his people, the word and the sacrament, the oblation of bread and wine and the offering of ourselves, the consecration and the communion, are the things of God and of Jesus Christ; and he that is employed in these is there where God loves to be, and where Christ is to be found; in the employments in which God delights, in the ministries of his own choice, in the work of the Gospel and the methods of grace, in the economy of heaven and the dispensations of eternal happiness.

And now, that we may know where to find him, we must be sure to look after him. He hath told us where he would be, behind what pillar, and under what cloud, and covered with what veil, and conveyed by what ministry, and present in what sacrament. And we must not look for him in the highways of ambition and pride, of wealth or sensual pleasures; these things are not found in the house of his Father, neither may they come near his dwelling. But if we seek for Christ, we shall find him in the methods of virtue and the paths of God’s commandments, in the houses of prayer and the offices of religion, in the persons of the poor and the retirements of an afflicted soul; we shall find him in holy reading and pious meditation, in our penitential sorrows and in the time of trouble, in pulpits and upon altars, in the word and the sacraments: if we come hither as we ought, we are sure to find our Beloved, him whom our soul longeth after.

Jeremy Taylor, in “Worthy Communicant,” (1660)

This extract from Taylor’s profound reflections on the Eucharist and our participation in it tells us much about the Classical Anglican understanding of this sacrament. Taylor is not embarrassed by the Eucharistic Liturgy. Unlike many today, who have been schooled on a diet of secular utilitarianism, Taylor knows that the Eucharistic liturgy is a direct experiencing of the Kingdom of God. The liturgy is not a means to an end; it is the sharing in the "end" itself. It deserves to be offered with care and "the beauty of holiness" because it communicates the presence, power, and purposes of God to a lost humanity. It is in this “economy of heaven,” as Taylor so beautifully puts it, that we desire to be: first in the liturgy and then in the rest of our lives.

And it is this fusion of the liturgy with the rest of our life that marks the second paragraph--and marks the Classical Anglican approach to sacramentality in general. The participation in the Divine Life that marks authentic liturgy leads to the rest of our existence sharing in this call to holiness and wholeness—both in what we must not and what we must do. In the Eucharist we see Christ in word of scripture and in bread and wine. Through this encounter, we see Christ in the poor and the afflicted, in times of struggle and in times of peaceful contemplation, in activity and in rest. The Eucharist, far from being an escape from life, is the very place where, for the Christian, life is transformed and revealed to be the holy thing it truly is and must be.

The Eucharist is the centerpiece of the Church's life until the Last Day. Anglicans of whatever stripe must both cherish it and offer it with great intentionality. This is why the Eucharist can never be taken for granted, nor may it be "tossed off" by careless clergy, laity, or parishes. To do so it to betray the very gift of transformative encounter God has given us.

Wake Up!

"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake-- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Advent, that season of opposites, ends with the Holy Family going to Bethlehem in silent obscurity. It begins, however, with the shriek of the rooster, the disorienting clang of the alarm clock, the crash of a break-in.

Jesus’ words to his disciples in today’s Gospel lesson require eternal vigilance from us. There is never a good time to let our guard down, to get comfy or complacent.

Christianity is never a faith or a practice of avoidance: it is always a direct encounter with God, with the neighbor, with the reality of our discipleship. Falling asleep, in any of its many forms in the spiritual life, is another word for death. As C.S. Lewis aptly noted, we are ever advancing to heaven or hell. For the Christian, wakefulness is the pilgrimage to heaven: spiritual sleep is the coasting into alienation from God, the other, and self.

May this be an Advent of new wakefulness for us all.

Collect for Advent Sunday
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Art of Giving Thanks

A General Thanksgiving
from the Book of Common Prayer (1979), 
page 836

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things.  Amen.

The Prayer Book contains a number of prayers of thanksgiving. This one, composed for this revision, ascends rung by rung into the heights of spiritual freedom and maturity.

It begins with giving God thanks for what has been done for us, personally and corporately: in creation and all that flows from it—all of it being an expression of the mystery of Divine Love found in the Holy Trinity. Interestingly, this prayer assumes a theological beginning and end, framing the entire idea of thanksgiving in our participation in the Divine, rather than in the material benefits we have received. The two things are not opposites, but in a materialist culture like ours, it is essential to make clear that the material proceeds from and points towards a spiritual wholeness.

Then the prayer tightens the focus to the particulars of our own experience. This can be difficult, especially if we find ourselves in a season of loss or pain in any of the relationships central to our life. Giving thanks for any love or care we have received, even briefly, is essential at these times. When we are grieving or in emotional turmoil, evil seeks to isolate us from all memory of God’s presence and leading. This prayer speaks to that tendency, recalling before our heart and mind that God has been there, loving us in and through others.

Then comes a thanksgiving for our work, skills, abilities, and the creative capacity God gives us each in unique ways. This includes our work (how often do we really give thanks for work? After all, we were given work to do by God in the story of the Garden of Eden well before the “fall.”) Creativity, stewardship of resources, labor… these are all ways we share in God’s love. When our work or efforts “demand our best efforts,” we find out not only more about the hidden gifts in our lives, but about how much we need God in order to unlock those gifts—and hold them with humility and for the benefit of others when using them.

The prayer dares to contemplate an extremely important, but oft-overlooked part of thanksgiving: for failures and disappointments. This is a high rung to reach for, and usually can only be understood through a costly grace. Yet, it remains true that the greatest learning we will ever have will be from our failures, should we take the time to review them with eye not to self-justification but to a desire to love and serve more authentically. That is true dependence on God. When we learn not to fear failure as rejection, but to learn from all things for deeper discipleship, our very lives become a bridge between God’s holiness and the world’s need.

The prayer then proceeds to give highest thanks for the Word made flesh: Jesus Christ. It rehearses the story of incarnation-ministry-death-resurrection-ascension (His and ours--emphasizing our share in the ascension to God), placing our whole capacity to give thanks in the light of that which frees us to live upright, holy lives. It is not our own smarts, strength, good luck, good looks, personal charisma, or any of the myriad other things the world exalts that gives us hope: it is the gift of union with the Holy Trinity made possible in Christ that should call forth from us the greatest praise and thanks.

Finally, the prayer concludes not with thanks, but a petition: for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We do this because the Spirit’s work of connecting, urging, and communicating is essential for us to make this act of Thanksgiving—whether said on Thanksgiving Day or at any other time—more than a moment in time, but a way of life.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How your parish works...

How Your Parish Works:
A short introduction to the mission and life of
 St. Timothy’s Church, Salem.

St. Timothy’s common life is based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to live out the Gospel we have developed a brief mission statement. All of our ministries and activities are related to it.

The Mission of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
We gather to experience the Holy Trinity through Scripture, worship, study, and fellowship. Receiving and reflecting God’s love and grace, we are sent out to love and serve our neighbor, see the Christ in others, and share the Gospel by the example of our everyday lives.

At St. Timothy’s we believe the first priority of any Christian community is the worship of God. There can be no more important activity for Christians than the coming together for the purpose of worshipping our Creator and Redeemer. All other ministry is grounded in this worship: the liturgy is the training ground for service in the world. The central act of Christian worship is the Holy Eucharist, where Christ is present to His people in the Word of Scripture and by the bread and wine mystically made his Body and Blood. This is the basis of our parish’s life.

Some key aspects of the way we worship:
  • St. Timothy’s puts a great deal of focus on robust symbolism, with the full use of the senses (such as incense, holy water, chanting and hymnody, kneeling, &c.), all offered to God’s glory.
  • We value regular attendance as a way to grow in faith and gain understanding of parish activities and offerings.
  • Our model for worship and theology is the ancient and undivided Church, grounded in the Apostolic faith and scripture.
  • Sermons are generally of a practical character.
  • The Church Year, with its focus on the key themes of Christian teaching and practice, is central to the parish’s life.
  • Holy Week (Palm Sunday through the Easter Vigil/Day) is the pinnacle of our worship and community life; plan to participate!

Vestry and Rector:  The Episcopal Church lives a shared form of leadership between the laity and the clergy at each level, from the National Church through to the Diocese and at the parish church. St. Timothy’s is led by an elected body of laypersons (the Vestry) and the Rector (Fr. Brandon). A Treasurer and a Clerk are appointed by the Vestry. Two of the Vestry persons are designated Wardens. The Senior and Junior Wardens, along with the Rector, form a kind of Executive Committee. Vestry members are elected by parishioners at our Annual Meeting early each year.

Commissions: St. Timothy’s has a number of Commissions, each one covering a different aspect of ministry in the congregation. Each Commission has a Coordinator. This person helps focus and facilitate the Commission’s area of ministry. The Commission may organize itself as it best sees fit to do its work. All Commissions have a Vestry Liaison to whom the Coordinator makes regular reports of the Commission’s work. All members of St. Timothy’s are called to minister the Gospel in their daily lives: Commissions provide one way for us to do so as a parish community.

Commissions at St. Timothy’s

Building and Grounds
Ongoing maintenance & planning for future needs

Christian Formation
From the nursery through Adulthood: a lifelong process

Liturgical Ministries
Acolytes/Altar Guild & Flowers/Music/Lectors, &c.

Ministering the Gospel locally and globally

Helping people move from visitor to full member

Parish Life
Our fellowship events & ministry nurturance group

Pastoral Care
Connecting members to each other in care & compassion

All we have is a gift from God; let us use it wisely!

  • Photos of Vestry members and Commission Coordinators are posted in the Narthex (the foyer leading into worship)
  • You are invited to join one or more Commissions. Do you see something that interests you? Talk to Fr. Brandon, a Coordinator, or our Parish Administrator, via e-mail, or by a phone call. We are here to serve!
"How do I join this Church?"   The answer to this question is really two-fold.  The basic steps are:

1. Baptism.  All persons baptized with water in the name of the Trinity are members of Christ's Universal (catholic) Church, of which the Episcopal Church is part.  If you are seeking baptism, please see the parish priest.  We ask that only those baptized receive communion; if you are not baptized, please come to the altar for a blessing by the priest at the time of communion; cross your arms over your chest to signal you desire a blessing.

Having your baptism recorded, receiving communion at least three times a year, and giving in one's own name establishes membership in the Episcopal Church.

2. Confirmation. The last step toward full and mature participation in our tradition (including serving in certain leadership areas) is by being confirmed by a Bishop of our Church. Inquirer’s Classes and Catechumenate Classes leading to Confirmation are offered each year.

If you are an Episcopalian joining St. Timothy’s from another Episcopal parish, ask your former parish (or our parish office) to have a Letter of Transfer sent to establish your membership here.

All new members at St. Timothy’s are asked to attend the Inquirer’s Class & to begin giving to the work & mission of the Church in their own name by pledging or by other means.

Some Special Terms at St. Timothy’s

The Catechumenate:
An ancient process whereby adults are prepared for baptism. Adults seeking to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church and those seeking a deeper faith are also normally part of the Catechumenate. After the Inquirer’s Class series in the autumn, Catechumenate begins in Advent, and concludes at Pentecost in the spring. The Catechumenate is not only about teaching; it is about sharing our stories, questioning, and learning from each other. Interested? See Michael McFetridge, Head Catechist.

Chaburah (Ha-boor-ah)
This Hebrew word refers to a gathering of believers for a meal and discussion. They are our form of parish fellowship groups. Each year, Chaburah groups form and meet monthly in each other’s homes for food and conversation. Sign-ups are posted before the next rounds of Chaburahs.

This Greek word refers to the entry space outside of the Nave (the worship area) of the Church. At St. Timothy’s many activities occur in the narthex, including Sunday post-worship receptions, weekday fellowship activities, and occasional teaching events.

Living in the Kingdom
A discipleship enrichment group meeting on Wednesday evenings.  Retreats, presentations on various “how the faith is lived” topics, plenty of discussion, as well!

Parish Hall
The “log cabin” building just north of the main church. This was our original worship space, and is now used for parish meals and special events.
+ + +
Are there other unfamiliar terms? Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Our “church language” can be confusing, but we’ll translate!

Getting (and staying) connected

The Bulletin: Look on the right side of the service bulletin for a quick calendar of the week. Look on the bulletin back for more detailed information about events and other parish news. Verbal announcements are often made at the Sunday Eucharist. Stay for coffee hour if possible, too.

The Tidings: This is our monthly newsletter. Please give your address information to the Parish Office to start receiving your copy.

Parish Web Site:
We have many offerings on our web site, including photos of events, educational, daily prayer and scripture resources, back issues of the Tidings, the rector’s blog, contact information for parish leadership, &c.

Weekly eTidings: If you have Internet access, sign up for this e-mail bulletin via the parish web site.

Other ways…
  • Chaburah Groups (see above),
  • Annual Parish Campout in August
  • Tuesday morning Eucharist (10 AM)
  • Wednesday craft group (10 AM–Noon, at church)
  • Summer Wednesday Evening Potlucks
  • Bible Studies
  • Commissions
And most importantly:
Inquirer’s Classes and the Catechumenate are the best tools for learning about the parish.

*Illustration from The Cartoon Church