Keeping the feast

Today I visited a local Episcopal church, and I realized (for the upteenth time) how much I love liturgy.  I love its diligence and its intentionality, its emphases and its consistency in encouraging openness toward God, regardless of my present feelings toward him.

This is particularly relevant to me right now, as I have a lot of not-so-hot feelings toward God.  I have lots of more academic questions, as many of you know.  Even more significantly, I have lots of very personal questions right now regarding God’s character.  As I’m visiting churches, I’m quite concerned that I end up in a place where I feel drawn into worship.  Quite frankly, many days, I don’t feel like talking to God.  I don’t know if I trust him or if I want to be with him.  But I’m certainly not ready to say good-bye, and I think that with more time, thought, and tears, many of our (my/God’s) issues will be resolved.  In the meantime, I want to be sure the community I’m a part of encourages me toward openness rather than closed-off-ness, as I know I might be tempted to move toward.  Liturgy does that.

Some of my favorite portions of the service:

S-280- Right after the opening acclamation we sing this fabulous song, with absolutely no pattern to the notes (or so it seems) that to me seems almost like an elaboration on the Jewish Shema.  It concludes with “For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.”  Before that we praise God, call him king, declare Jesus the Lamb that removes sin, and ask for mercy and his attention to our prayer.  It’s really a simple, humble declaration of worship and the supremacy of this God in three persons.

Scripture Readings- In some ways, I regret that the Torah, Prophets, and Writings are not all represented… but we read from the Old Testament, a Psalm, the New Testament, and a Gospel (of course, for OT and NT readings, we don’t use Psalms or the Gospels since they get their own special time).  We don’t choose what to read but it has been chosen ahead of time what all the churches should read when.  We therefore enter into Scripture with the larger communion of saints and are forced to read things, sometimes, that we don’t particularly like.  I especially appreciate the simple fact that we read Scripture in church.  Unlike many evangelical Protestant churches that say a lot about the Bible but only incorporate a short passage or a few verses into the pastor’s sermon, Episcopalians say less about Scripture… but then read it.  I like acting out out reverence in this way.

The sermon itself- It’s not the main thing.  It’s a thing.  Scripture and the homily, in my view have a similar significance in the first half of the service (perhaps the homily is slightly more significant; it certainly takes longer… but compared with many other sermons, it is not so long), but the Eucharist has even greater significance that the first half.  And Episcopalians have this certain way of preaching.  I like black preachers.  But I also like white Episcopalian priests.  No idea.  They just sound smooth, intelligent, and caring.  They are good at weaving ideas together.

The creed- If I had it my way, every church would recite the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed at every main service.  I see no reason not to unless you don’t believe it.  I like taking the time to affirm–and affirm together–the essentials of the Christian faith as historically considered orthodox.

Prayers of the People- It brings me great joy to read this section of the Book of Common prayer.  The best prayer ever is for people that travel, which includes those in outer space.  I think that’s amazing.  These Anglicans think of everything!  I appreciate the breadth and thoughtfulness of these prayers.

The Eucharist- I like having this every week.  And I like all drinking from the same cup.  And that we don’t produce waste by using a billion little disposable everythings.  And I like making it explicit that people should be baptized first so that we actually encourage baptism as a coming-into-the-faith moment.  Because I know plenty of semi-Christian-ish people, and even evangelicals, that for whatever reason have been going about life unbaptized.  It was this no-communion rule that encouraged my college roomie (who grew up in the church and even went ot a Christian school) to finally get baptized.

“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”- a beautiful, simple proclamation made during the communion part of the service.

The Lord’s Prayer- also should be said in more services.  It’s a good prayer, yo.

The Fraction- (At this pt, I realize I’m listing all major pts of the service…)  We either say “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us… Therefore let us keep the feast!” or sing a hymn that declares “My flesh is food indeed and My blood is drink indeed says the Lord.”  Both are really quite creepy and emphasize the eating of dead people.  And I like that.  Because Christianity is actually quite strange and communion is even stranger.  Let’s celebrate that.

The postcommunion prayer- I think my favorite part of this prayer is its confidence in God’s work.  “You have graciously accepted us and living members of your Son… and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.”  It’s very Ephesians 2-ish in that way.  Then reflecting on what God has done, we ask him to do and to help us do–we ask for his Spirit to commission and strengthen us as we go out into the world.  Which emphasizes a missional spirit.

I also love confession (on the Sundays that happens) because its rather neglected by most of us.

And I love the rules about Alleluia.  It’s a fun, magical, yet serious tradition, refusing to say Alleluia during Advent and Lent… and then truly rejoicing at Christmas and Easter.

With that, I will finally stop rambling.  What is your experience with liturgy or different styles to religious services?  What is meaningful to you and why?


Filed under God, Theology & Ministry

3 responses to “Keeping the feast

  1. You’ve highlighted a number of reasons why I’m Anglican. The lectionary, the Creed, the Eucharist (though I’m torn – little plastic cups are individualistic and wasteful, but the common cup has the downside of sharing germs! My church offers both to give people a choice.) The balance between Word and Table is great, and a good corrective to evangelical overemphasis on the sermon as main event. It’s all good. And though I’ve only been officially an Anglican for a little less than four years at this point, I’m glad to say that it still feels like home, that it wasn’t just an evangelical fad looking for ancient-future stuff. It’s the real deal – the historic, one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.

    re: not feeling so hot about God right now – when I was at Wheaton, Bob Webber said something in class that wasn’t specifically about Anglicanism but certainly holds true about it. He said something like, “When you can’t believe personally, the church believes on your behalf.” It’s not the radical individualism of the American evangelical church, where it’s all about “personal relationship with Jesus” and “Jesus and me” and everything rises and falls on how your daily quiet time is going. It’s rather that we’re part of this communion of saints that confesses “we believe.”

  2. ambarbee

    you love liturgy. and i love how much you love liturgy. it makes me happy. :)

  3. ashrebg

    To Al:
    I am normally a germ freak… but I try to put that aside for communion. BUT, I do see the benefit of offering individual cups to those in special circumstances, like those on chemo or with AIDS. And to not ostracize them, it’s probably nice to make it available to everyone in the community (perhaps those that are sick that week!). I just hope it remains an option rather than the “normal” way of doing things.

    Does your church use reusable glass cups? They aren’t nearly as common, but seem so much better for the environment.

    With regards to God, I still love Jesus, I just feel the past six months, especially, have involved much, much wrestling with the problem of evil in a very personal way–as pertains to family issues, why they are allowed to happen, why the church isn’t always there to provide the support and relief it should, and ultimately about what kind of Father God is. But I’d much rather be wrestling with this than not. I have often heard similar statements about Anglicanism (perhaps some from Lauren Winner? or perhaps she said that with regards to Jewish traditions?), and I definitely believe it’s true.

    And to Amanda:
    Yay! I made Amanda happy! I miss you a lot!

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