Saturday, November 2, 2019

Experiencing the Communion of Saints: The De Profundis

Below are prayers for the dead from the new St. Augustine’s Prayer Book (published by Forward Movement and available here or here). These prayers may be offered at the close of day (traditionally at around 9 PM), or said at other times such as on All Souls’ Day (11/2), after the Eucharist, and especially in times of mourning and before the Burial Liturgy. 

Prayer for those who died is part of the Church's affirmation of the communion of saints. It is also part of the Church's healing ministry, in that through commending the souls of the faithful to God, we are being given grace to understanding more deeply the power of Christ's passion, death, resurrection, and ascension to unite all creation to God the Father in love and peace. 

Our prayers do not "make" anything happen; they connect us directly to what God is already doing, has done, and will do in Christ Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who calls forth our prayer and gives us true communion with God, we participate in the promise of salvation and in its first fruits already made known in Christ.

These prayers take their name from the first two words in Latin of Psalm 130, a psalm long associated with the sick, those in peril and extreme need, or the dead.

130   De profundis

1       Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; *
     let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2       If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
     O Lord, who could stand?

3       For there is forgiveness with you; *
     therefore you shall be feared.

4       I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
     in his word is my hope.

5       My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
     more than watchmen for the morning.

6       O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
     for with the Lord there is mercy;

7       With him there is plenteous redemption, *
     and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

V. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord.
R. And let light perpetual shine upon them.

Our Father &c.

V. And lead us not into temptation.
R. But deliver us from evil.
V. From the gates of hell:
R. Deliver their souls, O Lord.
V. May they + rest in peace.
R. Amen.
V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto thee.

Set free from every bond, O Lord, the soul(s) of thy servant(s) N.[N.], that in the glory of the resurrection, he may be raised up amid thy saints and elect unto newness of life. Amen.

Lord Jesus, whose loving heart was ever touched by the sorrows of others, have mercy upon the souls of the faithful departed, and grant them a place of refreshment, light, and peace whence pain and sorrow and sighing are driven away; and in thy goodness and mercy pardon every sin committed by them in thought, word, and deed; thou who art the resurrection and the life, and who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.

- or -

Almighty and eternal God, to whom there is never any prayer made without hope of mercy, be merciful to the souls of thy servants being departed from this world in the confession of thy Name that they may be welcomed into the company of the saints, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

V. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord.
R. And let light perpetual shine upon them.
V. From the gates of hell:
R. Deliver their souls, O Lord.
V. I trust to see the goodness of the Lord
R. In the land of the living.
V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto thee.

O Lord Jesus Christ, our shepherd and guide, grant us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil, lacking nothing, and accompanied by thee, who thyself hast passed that way and made it light and who now livest and reignest in glory everlasting. Amen.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Becoming saints even now...

A Blessed All Saints' Day to you!

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.
The Collect for All Saints’ Day

The feast of All the Saints, which begins the month of November in joy and triumph, is a celebration of the call to share in God’s holiness. So convinced were early Christians that this was their destiny they routinely referred to each other as “the saints of God” without irony or blush.

To become part of Christ’s living body is to partake of the life-blood of holiness. We are to follow God’s blessed saints “in all virtuous and godly living,” as the collect for this Principal Feast bids us. Ordinary people are being transformed in the Church into an extraordinary People: the Holy People of God. As the First Letter of Peter says: “…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” But what does that life look like? How will we know it?

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) give us a clear and daring explanation. The saints of God—wherever they are and whenever they live—are all judged on the same basis. Are we peacemakers? Do we desire to be pure? Do we hunger and thirst after righteousness? Most importantly, do we live in poverty of spirit, wherein we become a vessel emptied of self so that we may receive and share God? These are the marks of the authentic saints. Even our worship is based on the Beatitudes: each Eucharist is both a revelation of God’s judgment of our life and a renewal in the grace to live a life worthy of the “ineffable joys” prepared for those who truly love God.

True saints are not interested in judging others but are keen to judge themselves. They submit all of their lives to the loving, redeeming, purifying care of the God who so fiercely desires to share Eternal Life with those made in his Image. When they fall, the saints turn back to God. When they succeed, they give the Love of their life the praise. When they are tried beyond their strength, they burrow down deep into the bosom of the one who was tried and found strong enough for all.

All Saints’ is but the greatest of the many feasts of the saints, scattered like seeds or gems throughout the year. The saints are people like us, indeed: human, limited, frail, and at times mistaken. But they are like us in another way: baptized into the power and strength of God. They beckon to us from every age and condition, reminding us that they know what it is to “fight the good fight” and to walk in our moccasins. They intercede for us because together we form “one communion and fellowship” of hope, endurance, and victory. For all the saints—their witness, their example, their encouragement—we give thanks not as passive observers but as active partners in God’s rescue mission to humanity through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Keeping the Feast of All the Saints

Tomorrow night is All Hollows' Eve, commonly called Hallowe'en.  It has been so co-opted by commercial forces in this country that most people have no idea it is actually a Christian holiday. Even many Christians do not realize this, thinking it is some sort of purely pagan event. As with all liturgical "days," All Hallows' (or, All Saints' Day, as we tend to call it now) begins with its eve -- and there's the rub.

The old custom of some slightly non-saintly behavior on this night has been turned into the excuse for a gigantic commercial extravaganza devoid of Christian meaning (sound familiar?), but full of lurid and grotesque imagery--and the opportunity to spend vast sums of money. Indeed, we are told Hallowe'en is now second only to Christmas in the cash-grab department.

In response, some churches have ceded the Feast completely to the culture and turned their back to it. To protect their members (especially the young ones) from contamination, enormous effort is made to put on "Harvest Festivals" instead. Except for the change of season, no mention is normally made of the origins of the holiday.

Though fun and family-oriented, such activities sadly miss the point: at the time of the year when the earth (in our hemisphere) seems to be dying, our faith reminds us that death has no victory. Through New Life in Christ given in Holy Baptism, we are now part of an ongoing communion of saints spanning life in this world and in the next. In an era so full of darkness and cynicism, the message that we are God's saints should not be laid aside or downplayed: it should be celebrated and encouraged.

The Episcopal Church manages to avoid both cultural extremes with regard to Hallowe'en. A certain amount of participation in the "misrule" side of the season is common among us; being a Christian doesn't require a frowning outlook on fun, nor a fearful anxiety when we consider some of the scarier or sillier aspects of life. Yet, the focus remains on the biblical and apostolic truth found in the creeds: we are part of a "great cloud of witnesses" in Christ, and nothing--scary things, our own folly or the folly of others, or even death itself--can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

As with many parishes, St. Timothy's celebrates the Feast of All the Saints this Sunday, marking it with special richness and delight. At the 10 AM service I plan to take some time with the children to unpack this day's meaning. All of this is so we might keep the feast, not trivialize it or be scared of it. Such is the character of a mature, unafraid faith.

Autumn comes and goes each year; the truth of our Faith is eternal. Come, let us celebrate the Feast of All the Saints together.

Faithfully in Christ,


Thursday, August 29, 2019

A Self Examination at Day’s End

Below is an adaptation of an old self-examination found in an Anglican book of devotions. Such tools for daily reflection, when used judiciously, can help us become more conscious of how we are living as Christians in the world.

The traditional way to use a self-examination is to take time in silence prior to our evening prayers and recollect the day and its various events, surveying the day through the self-examination, point-by-point. Some people find it helpful to keep a journal of their reflections; some find it beneficial to share the fruit of such self-examination with a spiritual director or a trusted spiritual guide; others prefer to do all of this process mentally and on their own. 

This need not be an elaborate or exhaustive practice. It should definitely not be scrupulous or perfectionistic. Its purpose is not punitive; rather, the goal is to raise consciousness and increase the intentionality of our daily Christian discipleship. This leads not to sullen frustration but joyful reliance on God.

After having spent time in reflection this way, it is customary to name before God those sins we know we have committed, followed by the confession of sin and the assurance of pardon found in the Daily Office. 

A regular practice of spiritual self-examination together with daily praise and adoration of God and thanksgivings for blessings received, will form a solid basis for progress in spiritual life. 

A Daily Self-Examination 

- How have I spent this day?

- Have I striven to remember God’s presence, and to do all things as in the sight of, and offered to, God?

- What has been the character of my prayer through the day?

- How have my actions been performed, and what has been the nature of my contact with others?

- How have I been faithful to God today?

- When did I call upon God for wisdom or strength?

- What time was wasted or ill-used?

- What duties have I neglected towards God, my neighbor, or myself?

- Of what sins—in thought, word, and deed; done or left undone—am I conscious?

- Have I fallen today into my besetting sin, and if so, why and under what circumstances?

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Some ancient wisdom and a prayer for Independence Day

The Fourth of July is a Holy Day in the Episcopal Church’s calendar. This may seem a bit odd, given our origin in the Church of England and the fact that many of our co-religionists fled the then-Colonies when governmental loyalties were at stake. Yet, many of the Revolutionaries were from this tradition and went on to play a major role in early United States history

Independence Day did not become an official Feast Day in our calendar until the 1928 revision of The Book of Common Prayer. There were many long memories and sore feelings amongst Episcopalians on this point. I remember being in a New York City rectory in the very early 1990s when this subject came up during an otherwise mellow conversation: the rector was descended from proud Revolutionaries, but his wife was from a Loyalist family. Even then, well over two hundred years after the events, it took very little time for the discussion to go from abstract notions of Liberty to the concrete recounting of property theft, threats to life and limb, and aggrieved loss of dignity. The general wisdom in the Episcopal Church for a long, long while after Independence was to let sleeping dogs lie in the Liturgy so that people could observe the occasion as they saw fit.

In our day, the discussions around this commemoration rightly tend toward the issues of promise and wisdom.

As with individuals, families, communities, clans, &c., each nation must learn to follow a wise path of life if it is to know God’s blessing and to nurture humans toward their full potential as made in the Image of God. When the nation pursues wisdom, it pursues justice, mercy, modesty, and love. When it does not, it pursues power, lust, possessions, and hatred. The passage from Ecclesiasticus (a.k.a. Sirach) appointed for Morning Prayer today well expresses this choice and its consequences. Read it carefully:

A wise magistrate educates his people,
   and the rule of an intelligent person is well ordered.
As the people’s judge is, so are his officials;
   as the ruler of the city is, so are all its inhabitants.
An undisciplined king ruins his people,
   but a city becomes fit to live in through the understanding of its rulers.
The government of the earth is in the hand of the Lord,
   and over it he will raise up the right leader for the time.
Human success is in the hand of the Lord,
   and it is he who confers honor upon the lawgiver.
Do not get angry with your neighbor for every injury,
   and do not resort to acts of insolence.
Arrogance is hateful to the Lord and to mortals,
   and injustice is outrageous to both.
Sovereignty passes from nation to nation
   on account of injustice and insolence and wealth.
The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord;
   the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.
For the beginning of pride is sin,
   and the one who clings to it pours out abominations.
Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities,
   and destroys them completely.
The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers,
   and enthrones the lowly in their place.
The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations,
   and plants the humble in their place.
The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations,
   and destroys them to the foundations of the earth.
He removes some of them and destroys them,
   and erases the memory of them from the earth.
Pride was not created for human beings,
   or violent anger for those born of women. 

This is an important day to reflect on the state of soul, our leadership, and the level of our pride. Pride is here understood as the primal sin, the desire to be our own deity, to be autonomous of God’s revealed will. We may be tempted to focus on the lack of humility of those in authority (let the reader understand), but we must also reflect on the ways pride (and its various symptoms, such as resentment and petulance) has made inroads into our own lives and attitudes. Since our nation requires a wise electorate to make decisions, each of us must be about this work for ourselves in addition to demanding it from others. Only if we do the former will the latter have authority.

Here, as throughout the year, our prayer informs our life, its priorities, choices, and character. One of the prayers associated with this day in our Prayer Book is particularly apt in our own time:

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Here we see the promise of our nation revealed in clear terms: to bring forth the glorious purpose of God in and through humanity. This is accomplished through both a zeal for justice and, at the same time, the capacity to forbear. We do not choose between the one or the other (i.e. “I am for justice” or “I am for mercy”), but must combine them through the freedom and love we ourselves have received from the crucified and risen Lord. Then—and only then—our liberty is a gift to be shared and not a weapon to be wielded. That is the spring from which we must draw, the light which will lighten our path.

Understood this way, Independence Day is, in fact, a Holy Day. It is an occasion for thanksgiving, but not triumphalism; reflection and renewal, not willful ignorance or prideful idolatry.

A blessed Fourth of July to all; may its proper observance make us a holier, better people.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Feast of the Visitation - Encounter, Praise, and Power

Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as recorded in the Gospel according Luke (1:39-57). It marks a moment of particular beauty and quiet profundity in the story of our restoration and redemption. In it, not only do St. Mary and St. Elizabeth greet each other, but the still-unborn St. John the Baptist acknowledges the presence of the soon-t0-be revealed Savior. It is a story of exquisite tenderness and yet also strength.

Part of the Gospel reading for this day is the Song of Mary, often referred to by its Latin title Magnificat. In these verses, the Blessed Virgin offers a prayer of praise and power that already contains the kernel of the Gospel to be preached by her son and Lord. The Church sings/says this prayer almost every evening of the year in the Daily Office.

Below are words of St. Bede the Venerable (673-735) from a sermon he preached on this passage. Note how St. Bede (whose name means “prayer”) connects the blessed God-bearer, our own daily prayer, and our discipleship with the redemptive work of God in Christ: for indeed, they are all one.

May you ponder in peace the mystery of God’s love and presence through Mary’s son and our Savior—and may you be given grace to live our shared faith in simplicity and holiness of life.
+   +   +

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
With these words Mary first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God’s universal favors, bestowed unceasingly on the human race.

Rejoice in God’s greatness
When a person devotes all one’s thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, that person proclaims God’s greatness. Such observance of God’s commands, moreover, shows this person has God’s power and greatness always at heart. Such a one’s spirit rejoices in God as savior and delights in the mere recollection of the creator who gives hope for eternal salvation.

These words are often for all God’s creations, but especially for the Mother of God. She alone was chosen, and she burned with spiritual love for the son she so joyously conceived. Above all other saints, she alone could truly rejoice in Jesus, her savior, for she knew that he who was the source of eternal salvation would be born in time in her body, in one person both her own son and her Lord.

For the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
Mary attributes nothing to her own merits. She refers all her greatness to the gift of the one whose essence is power and whose nature is greatness, for he fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him.

She did well to add: and holy is his name, to warn those who heard, and indeed all who would receive his words, that they must believe and call upon his name. For they too could share in everlasting holiness and true salvation according to the words of the prophet: and it will come to pass, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This is the name she spoke of earlier: and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

Therefore it is an excellent and fruitful custom of holy Church that we should sing Mary’s hymn at the time of evening prayer. By meditating upon the incarnation, our devotion is kindled, and by remembering the example of God’s Mother, we are encouraged to lead a life of virtue. Such virtues are best achieved in the evening. We are weary after the day’s work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds are ready for contemplation.

The Collect for the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Father in heaven, by your grace the virgin mother of your incarnate Son was blessed in bearing him, but still more blessed in keeping your word: Grant us who honor the exaltation of her lowliness to follow the example of her devotion to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Field Guide to Holy Week, 2019

A Holy Week rainbow over St. Timothy's, Salem

If you are relatively new to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition, Holy Week at St. Timothy’s can seem like a formidable and even forbidding challenge: services every day or night, culminating in an intense period of fasting and one enormous middle-of-the-night liturgy followed by a raucous feast going into the morning hours. It is all so different from the usual “family Easter” of many churches, so unlike the neat-and-tidy Easter celebrations we usually see: and that is the point. Liturgy means “work by/for/of the people.” This week we experience in a special way the “work” of liturgy—and thus gain a blessing only faithful workers know.

Holy Week and Easter is the fountain of our faith. It is the essential point from which everything else we are and do flows. The events during this time form what we call the Paschal Mystery, and each Eucharist throughout the year is directly connected to that mystery, as is our entire Christian journey and discipleship.

To the degree you are physically able, it is important that all participate in these liturgies…not as an exterior ritual but as immersion into the Eternal Truth of Christ so that we may be what we receive and show forth what we experience. Please clear your calendar as much as possible during Holy Week and plan to attend Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil or Easter Day.

The events these liturgies recount and actualize cannot be made to conform to “normal” life. They point to something so radically upsetting to the usual, so counter-cultural and overturning that the only way to enter into them is by jumping in at the deep end so to speak, not standing coolly by as spectators or wading in only up to our toes. And it is this immersive experience that characterizes Holy Week.

In that spirit, here is a sort of liturgical “field guide” about what to expect and what is most important along the way from Palm Sunday to Easter Day.

Palm Sunday service begins in the Parish Hall,
recalling Christ's triumphal entry
into Jerusalem.

Palm Sunday: Holy Week begins (Essential)
This service is both raucous and solemn. Christ enters Jerusalem in a joyously ironic parade. We form up for the 10 AM service in the Parish Hall and make our way to the church bearing palms, immersing ourselves in the painful truth that Christ can be hailed King and yet turned against and abandoned in the same week. After arrival in “Jerusalem” (the church’s nave), we hear the Passion Gospel read by various members of the congregation and participate directly in the story. The service culminates in the Holy Communion, being strengthened for the journey ahead with mystical food. This will be the last Eucharist until Maundy Thursday.

Monday & Tuesday: Watching and waiting (not essential)
On these two days Christ’s movements prepare for events later in the week. Simple services of Evening Prayer are offered on Monday & Tuesday in the chapel (Morning Prayer in place of the usual Holy Eucharist service on Tuesday). We hear passages of Scripture and writings from the Early Church that give us insight about the offering Christ will make as well as what it means to follow him as a disciple. These days are very much optional services, but help keep a continuity from Sunday to the Great Three Days of Thursday-Friday-Saturday/Sunday.

The extinguishing of candles features prominently in the
Tenebrae service.
Wednesday: The day of shadows (uniquely poignant, but not essential)

Wednesday in Holy Week has long been associated with Judas’ agreement to turn over Christ to the authorities. To mark this, St. Timothy’s offers the service of Tenebrae (“shadows” or “darkness”) at 7 in the evening. Formed of Psalms, laments, and readings about betrayal and forgiveness, we become companions with Christ as he is gradually abandoned by those around him—symbolized by the extinguishing of candles. The service concludes with an affirmation of Resurrection. The message is hope-through-trial, and it perfectly prepares us for the decisive events ahead. This is not an essential service, but is unique and valuable as a prelude. It is one of the most meditative services offered each year. 

The Triduum – the Great Three Days (Of the Highest Importance)
These three days really form one great mystery (the Paschal Mystery), and one service—there is no dismissal from the start of the Maundy Thursday liturgy through the end of the Great Vigil of Easter; we simply take breaks. Many people fast all or part of this time (especially for Good Friday). Each day expresses a part of the mystery and all should be experienced as a unity just as the seamless garment Christ wore shows us that his teaching and life are one integral, whole offering of Love and Truth. Participation in the Triduum is a crucial part of our commitment to follow Christ where he leads us as individuals and as a body; this offering of time and effort are amply rewarded. If you did not grow up observing Holy Week and Easter this way, you are invited to immerse yourself to the highest degree possible in this way of experiencing the Paschal Mystery.

The parish's icon of Christ the Teacher,
open to the Gospel according to John
and speaking of Christ as the Bread of Life.
1. Maundy Thursday 

7 PM: Maundy Thursday Liturgy
This service starts much as the Lenten services do, but then moves to focus on the two great commandments (or mandates, from which the word “Maundy” comes) Christ gave us on this night: to love each other as he loves us, and to share in his presence through the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood. So, on this night the rite of foot-washing is offered—by which we see that humble service is essential in the Christian life—and the Eucharist is celebrated on the anniversary of its inauguration at the Last Supper. After this, Sacrament reserved for Good Friday is taken to the Altar of Repose in the chapel.  The altar is stripped and the Sacrament Lamp is pulled down and blown out while one of the Psalms of the Passion is sung, recalling Christ’s betrayal, arrest, and humiliation. The lights are lowered and we leave in silence. 

After the altar is stripped at the Maundy service,the tabernacle is
left open and empty: the only time this happens each year.
It is a sign of mourning and waiting in faith.

Prayer Watch (An annual opportunity everyone should take when possible)
An all-night Prayer Watch is held in the chapel until noon Friday, with parishioners taking one hour shifts to pray with Christ in the Holy Sacrament, recalling his words to his disciples: “could you not watch with me for one hour?” This is a particularly holy and blessed opportunity to stretch ourselves spiritually and physically for the sake of our God (a sign-up for the Prayer Watch will be available in the narthex as we approach Holy Week; resources for your prayer during this time will be available in the chapel).

2. Good Friday (a solemn day to be marked by a complete fast, as health permits)

The "old rugged cross" used at the Good Friday liturgy

Noon: Stations of the Cross (for those able to attend)
The Triduum continues on Good Friday with the noon Stations of the Cross in the nave, concluding the Prayer Watch. We will make the circuit of the church, recalling Christ’s passion and death, giving praise to Christ for his extreme humility and love.

From our parish's Stations of the Cross set.
7 PM: Good Friday Liturgy
The liturgy resumes in silence as we kneel in humility before God who has loved us so much as to allow his Son to take on our ancient enemies—Sin and Death—in personal combat, and to overcome them in Love Divine. The Passion Gospel according to St. John is then read, and a sermon preached. Following this, the assembly begins the Solemn Collects, taking our part as a priestly people before God, interceding on behalf of the world with our God who has redeemed it, and showing forth the true power and significance of what Christ has done on the Cross and continues to do through the Church and its members in intercession and action. Then a rugged Cross is brought before the people and venerated by all those desiring to do so while hymns are sung. This can take a while and is often deeply personal—yet also profoundly communal. Finally, the Reserved Sacrament is brought from the chapel and Holy Communion shared as a sign of Christ’s working and presence—even in death—for us, and as an affirmation that this is indeed “Good” Friday, where life has the final word. We leave again in silence.

3. Holy Saturday/Easter Sunday (traditionally marked by a fast or light meal)

The Holy Saturday service at 10 AM takes place at the
main altar, now bare. We are placed at the Tomb of Christ and
recallhis descent to the dead in order to raise them to New Life.

10 AM: Holy Saturday “Tomb” Service (not essential, but powerful in its simplicity)
This simple service continues in silence, then moves to an account of Christ’s burial. A sermon on Christ’s decent into Hades from the Early Church period is read (it is an amazing text), and prayers from the Burial Liturgy are read. An extraordinary peace and quiet pervade this liturgy. The Holy Temple is then readied for the Easter Vigil.

The font is full and ready for baptisms and/or the renewal
of baptismal vows;  the brazier is prepared for the New Fire,
and the screen before the altar is in place so that our attention at the beginning
of the Great Vigil will be on the darkened nave and our focus on
waiting for the proclamation of the Resurrection as we hear
the great lessons from the Old Testament preparing the way for
this most holy night!
9 PM: The Great Vigil of Easter (our main Easter service)
The Great Vigil of Easter is the most joyful and blessed moment of the Church Year; it opens the Royal Doors to the central fact of the Christian Faith, that Christ is risen from the dead, and through baptism we may rise with him. The ancient practice of making the Great Vigil the principal Easter service has long been the case at St. Timothy’s, so do not expect Easter Day to be the larger service. Children—even young ones—are very much welcome and expected at the Great Vigil. You may want to dress them in clothes they would find comfortable in which to sleep. The nursery will be open, but little ones sleeping in the pews is entirely normal and encouraged. It is a powerful gift to our children for them to experience Easter this way; the result is that many return for Easter services when they grow older and move away. Guests are also very much encouraged…please invite as many people as you know and feel will be open to this rich and moving experience of New Life in Christ.

The Paschal Candle -- sign of Christ's rising from the dead.
It is lit from the New Fire on Easter Eve and burns at
all liturgies throughout the Great 50 Days of Easter,
as well as at all baptisms and funerals through the year.

The Vigil is long; it is meant to be. We are waiting on God, joining with the Holy Women who came to Christ's tomb in devotion and service. We wait in darkness; the church is like a tomb, with the altar area screened off by a high white curtain. Suddenly, the Paschal Fire is struck--light in the dark. From it, the Paschal Candle—harbinger of the Resurrection—is lit, processed, and blessed in a very ancient praise-prayer: the Exsultet. Then come the readings from the ancient Old Testament, telling the story of God’s loving and saving work from the beginning through the Prophets. A short sermon is preached and then our hand-candles are lit and we are bidden to stand.

It is now that Lent is declared over and Holy Baptism is celebrated and our baptismal vows renewed. When there is a baptism, the candidates (or their sponsors, if infants) make their baptismal promises in front of the congregation: we face west to renounce evil and east to affirm Christ. Then a rather unruly procession is made to the font as the Litany of the Saints is sung. We pray God’s strengthening grace and invoke the names of many saints as we prepare to add to their number. The baptismal waters are blessed in a massive chanted prayer accompanied by many ancient ritual actions, the font is censed, and all gather as close as possible (some people even stand on pews to get a better view!). Candles burn brightly and the room is hushed; it is a unique moment of intentionality as we await birth. 

The new Christians are made by joining their Lord through immersion in the Font, dying and rising again with Christ. After the newly-baptized are anointed, receive their baptismal candles, and are introduced to their new family of faith, the whole congregation is sprinkled liberally with baptismal holy water, physically sharing in what they have just witnessed.

The candle used by the priest when proclaiming Christ's
Resurrection to the congregation,
just before the First Eucharist of Easter.

More darkness and waiting follow as we kneel in silence, catching our collective breath and being gathered together in expectation. Then, as the choir sings a glorious hymn of Christ’s triumph over death in rising force, the glow of the Resurrection is seen behind the screen between us and the holy altar; the curtain is parted, and we rise to hear the most beautiful words in any language: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Priest and people exchange this greeting three times. The hymn Jesus Christ is risen today follows as the curtain is pulled completely back and light floods the church. Then comes a joyous, exuberant moment as everyone produces the hand bells (or keys on key-rings!) they have brought to ring out as we sing the Gloria in excelsis while the altar is censed. At this moment the air shimmers with light, scent, and sound--pointing to the mystery we share and celebrate.

After the Gospel of the Resurrection is proclaimed, the Easter Homily of St. John Chrysostom (often called “the perfect sermon”) is read, the congregation standing and taking its part as directed. The First Eucharist of Easter is then celebrated, the newly-baptized receiving their first Communion. At the end of Communion we begin to sing the ancient and powerful hymn of Christ’s victory: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in tombs bestowing life!” We sing it many times, building delight, savoring this moment of Resurrection joy together.

Now the liturgy begun on Thursday is brought to a glorious conclusion with a final blessing and a dismissal complete with many Alleluias. As we sing a closing hymn and the organ sounds in a mighty postlude, the congregation leaves what earlier seemed a dark tomb clothed in absence but is now revealed to be a bright temple of God’s glorious and abiding presence. On the way out, the priest hands each person a blessed Easter egg and gives the Paschal Greeting, “Christ is risen!” to which we respond “The Lord is risen indeed!”

Easter at St. Timothy's includes the Agape Feast,
with food and (most years) dancing for all.
It lasts until the pre-dawn hours. It celebrates the Resurrection
with much joy and laughter. The above photo shows
what the Agape looks like after the tables and chairs
are cleared and the dancing is about to begin. 
Agapé Feast (following the Great Vigil)
After the Vigil liturgy, St. Timothy’s hosts a great feast of radiant joy in the Parish Hall, celebrating the Resurrection and the AgapĂ© love we all share through it. Anyone may come, and guests are most surely welcome! If you want to help provide food or other assistance, sign-up sheets will be available in the narthex in the weeks prior to Holy Week. Please bring your own beverages and glassware. Young persons are encouraged to participate and help out where possible. This meal takes the experience of the Vigil and begins to live it out in a very vivid foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet where all sorts and conditions may gather together in holy joy.

Alleliua! Christ is risen from the Dead!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
11 AM: Easter Day Eucharist (much simpler and quieter than the Vigil)
The Easter Day Eucharist tells the story of St. Mary Magdalene meeting the Risen Christ in the garden. It is a moving account of spiritual awakening and devoted love. The familiar Easter hymns and beautiful flowers all combine to bring our Easter Day celebrations to a radiant and peaceful conclusion. Easter Day has come—but Eastertide has just begun! It has 50 days of bright celebration to savor and enjoy!

Friday, March 8, 2019

The Way of the Cross, an introduction

St. Timothy’s offers the devotional service of the Way of the Cross (also known as the Stations of the Cross, the Via Crucis, or the Way of Sorrows) followed by the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at 7 PM on each Friday in Lent.

This devotion arose out of pilgrimages to the Holy Land. For those who could not make the long journey, or for those who had been to Jerusalem and walked the Via Crucis there and wished to re-live that experience, this service was devised. It meant just about anyone could participate in the story of Christ’s Passion in a direct, accessible way.

The number and names of the stops (“stations”) along the way has varied widely over the years—fourteen being the most common. The stations are mostly derived from the Passion accounts in the Gospels, though a few come to us from Christian devotional tradition and express the imaginative, creative element in a living faith. The stations used at St. Timothy’s are:

1. Pilate condemns Jesus to die
2. Jesus accepts his cross
3. Jesus falls for the first time
4. Jesus meets his mother, Mary
5. Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls for the second time
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls for the third time
10. Jesus is stripped of his clothes
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
14. Jesus is placed in the tomb

Each station is marked by an act of adoration, a brief reading from scripture, a short meditation, a pause for silence, and then a concluding prayer. Thus, each stop forms a consideration of an important aspect of Christ’s passion and our personal response in faith. This slow, considered participation is what makes Stations so effective as we attend it week-by-week each Lent. 

It is customary to sing verses from a hymn between each station; at St. Timothy's that hymns is the thirteenth century Stabat Mater. This poem reflects on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s experience of her son’s sufferings. In this way, we acknowledge and honor the very real suffering not only of Christ, but of all those who follow him through the ages.

The Way of the Cross often includes meditations written by a well-known teacher, mystic, theologian, saint, or poet. This year at St. Timothy’s we will be using a version of this service including meditations from the writings of Dame Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century English Anchoress. Her book “Revelations of Divine Love” has had a tremendous impact on modern thought about prayer, God’s love, and how our faith may grow in trust and assurance. This service combines our intellect and our emotions into a holy synthesis.

Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament comes at the end of this night’s devotion. Benediction consists of a series of hymns and prayers offered in the presence of the Holy Sacrament upon the altar. It serves as a physical assurance of Christ’s resurrected and triumphant presence with us after what we have experienced in the Stations devotion. In its simplicity, Benediction is an affirmation that “God is with us,” in spirit, in sacrament, and in all times and places. With this knowledge, we depart in peace.

In a world dominated by loudness, pushiness, and competition, Lenten Friday evenings at St. Timothy’s are a haven of peace and a walled garden of contemplation. It is a gift for those having the courage and the commitment to take an hour out of life to listen deeply and to share in the contemplation of those mighty acts whereby we have been given life and immortality.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A self-examination for use before ordinary confessions

What follows is an example of a tool for examination of conscience. Such tools can be elaborate or simple. I hope to review a number of self-examinations through this blog in the coming weeks as we prepare for what George Herbert calls the “Dear Feast of Lent.”

This particular self-examination is meant for clergy, though it doesn’t take much adaptation to make it quite useful for laypersons. It takes the form of eight brief sections with a few specific considerations in each. Some of them are expected (prayer life, for example), but others are rather more surprising (how seriously am I repelling the first suggestions of sin in my daily life?). 

Noting our responses to each and then taking time to journal or reflect on what these questions elicit can form an excellent preparation for a private confession as part of Evening Prayer (say), or (as in this case) a sacramental confession with a priest.

If we want a healthier Church with healthier witness to Christ, it is essential that we provide and encourage the use of sound tools for ascetic training. The current state of affairs suggests these ancient practices should be renewed in our day.

I. My daily prayers? Meditation? Preparation and thanksgiving when celebrating? Daily Office? Spiritual reading? Daily examination of conscience? First and last thoughts of the day?

II. My rule of confession? Preparation for confession? Contrition? Amendment of life?

III. Profit from my communions? Remembrance of them during the day and week?

IV. Administration of sacraments: Punctual? With care? Edifying?

V. Sermons prayerfully prepared? Focused on the texts? Misuse of my own personal struggles through the pulpit? Parish visiting? Care of children? The sick? 

VI. Temperance: In food? In drink? Charity? Envy? Detraction? Sharpness in rebuke? Chastity? Custody of thought? Repelling first suggestions and temptations? Desire? Looks? Words? Deeds?

VII. Have I kept my rule of life?

VIII. What about my besetting sin?

[Adapted from The Priest’s Book of Private Devotion, 1960 edition.]

Monday, January 14, 2019

Praying for Christian Unity

The Unity of the Church is not an “extra.” It is essential for effective ministry. Each year, we pray for that unity to grow and deepen in our divided Christian witness. Each year the week of prayer will begin with the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter the Apostle and concludes with the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, thus emphasizing the unity of these two Apostles (who were both martyred in the persecution under Nero) and connecting the primacy of Peter (favored by many Roman Catholics) with the liberty of conscience so championed by Paul (favored by many Protestants) into one whole offering of prayer, praise, and mission.

During this time we are all called to remember that the division between Christians is perhaps the greatest scandal and failing among us. It so deeply vitiates the witness of the Gospel in many places that no amount of evangelism or church-growth efforts will suffice. We must overcome our divisions.

To do this, we need only turn to our own baptism. In recognizing all those who are baptized with water in the Name of the Trinity as fellow Christians, the modern Episcopal Church has taken a great step toward a basic unity with other traditions. The Apostolic Faith we emphasize is fully sufficient to meet the need, providing both the essential saving message of Salvation and the necessary humbling of our various “traditions” so we may live out Our Lord’s call to bring the Gospel to all peoples.

This work must be done in prayer and in the hearts of individual believers as well as in wider settings and groups. Until we understand that division in the Church is a sin and a violation of our baptismal covenant, and until we accept that unity comes not from institutional or bureaucratic initiatives but from participation in the Unity of the Triune God, the present fractured condition of the Church will remain the hideous and shameful wrong it is. Only prayer can overcome this.

This following prayers are traditionally offered in the mid-morning, recalling the hour of Pentecost when the Church was given the Holy Spirit so that it might accomplish its mission in unity and love. They may also be part of your morning or evening prayers during this week, and as part of our preparation for the Holy Eucharist.

* * *

A Memorial for Visible Unity in the Christian Faith

Antiphon: Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity with itself.

V. O pray for the peace of Jerusalem;
R. They shall prosper that love you.

Let us pray.

Grant, we pray you, Almighty God, to the whole Christian people unity, peace, and true concord, both visible and invisible; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; Regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church, and grant her that peace and unity which is agreeable to your will; who lies and reigns God for ever and ever. Amen.

For the Church (BCP p. 816)

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior.  Amen.

For the Unity of the Church (BCP p. 818)

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Unity of the Church (BCP p. 255)

Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit, that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.