Monday, February 19, 2018

Instructed Eucharist, Part 2

I was asked by a colleague to prepare an instructed Eucharist for his congregation. Here (in two parts) is my instruction.

At the Peace: We reform the community

Since the days when we were preparing for our current Prayer Book, we have made a deliberate break at this point in the service. While I acknowledge that it can feel like a disruption, we do it for two reasons. We do it because it is what our Christian forebears did, as far back as we can clearly document; but perhaps that may not in itself seem reason enough. So, we do it for the same reason they did it. We do it to move out focus from the whole Christian community to our local community, to this congregation.

We are making the transition in our work together from the general to the specific, from the tradition writ large to it’s very local expression. We are preparing to gather at table; and, like most other such gatherings, we take time together to greet our fellow guests. Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you disciples. I call you friends.” Paul said, “We are adopted siblings in God’s household, inheriting siblings with Christ.” So, as friends and family gather it is only natural that we greet one another. And there is one detail we have retained from our Christian forebears. We have taken for ourselves their greeting: “I wish you health; I wish you wholeness; I wish you peace.”

Liturgy of the Table: We participate in the heart of the story

If we are a people of story, it should come as no surprise that we gather around the table. After all, whether we gather as families or as friends, the table is a place where stories are told, stories that help those families, those communities, connect and understand themselves. 

And for us, this is an essential part of our story. Indeed, more than anything we have done so far, this is a part of the story in which we are fully participants. We hold this as essential because Jesus himself said to his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.” And beginning from that night, his followers have been doing it ever since.

Note carefully that word, “remembrance.” I am sure you have heard before, but I will tell you again, that word does not mean “remember” in the sense we do. Rather, it means to relive the event, to experience it again. We are not simply recalling the past event. We are participating in the ongoing event that is, as Jesus described in Matthew, “the banquet prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” For that reason a Christian story teller I once heard said it is not the Last Supper; it is the Next to the Last Party.

As we are a people of words, if you read In the Prayer Book, and I hope you will, you will find there are many ways we tell this part of the story: two in Rite One, four in Rite Two, plus guidelines for shaping our own. And there are more, for General Convention has approved another four “for trial use.” Why so many? Because no one of them tells the story completely, much less perfectly. No one of them reflects the breadth of our tradition.

There are, though, points that all have in common. All speak to the full history of God’s work with his people. All speak of Jesus’ ministry in the world. And all include the words of Jesus: “This is my body. Take and eat. This is my blood. Take and drink. Do this to relive this with me.” The Lord himself is our host; and like the first disciples we receive as from his hand.

Dismissal: Carrying the story into the world.

However wonderful the meal, however wonderful the company, the time comes for the meal to end and for the company to leave. And so we also rise from the table.

Our first words as we rise are to thank our host. He has served us, shared himself with us. He has given his body to us that we might be his body in our life and times.

And then our words ask that we be sent. We have said that we gather in Eucharist to be formed as Episcopal Christians and to be conformed to Christ. So, we ask that we might be sent into the world to inform, to allow the wider world to see just what formation and conformation can mean. We know that can be challenging. We want to inform at our best, always a challenging proposition. So we ask for strength and guidance. Remarkably, this once we don’t ask for words. Rather, we ask for help that our witness may attract and our ministry may inform. 

Formed that we may conform that we may then inform: that is our intent when we gather in Eucharist. We come in from the world to encounter Christ in story and at table. We return to the world polished a bit, reshaped a bit, better to live, better to serve, better to share the story. 

Instructed Eucharist, Part 1

I was asked by a colleague to prepare an instructed Eucharist for his congregation. Here (in two parts) is my instruction.

We Gather in Community

You may have participated in an Instructed Eucharist before. I know I have. However, my intent is that this one will be different. This is not going to be a step-by-step instruction of “this is how we do it.” Rather, it will focus more on what we intend to do. 

I have a couple of reasons for this. The most important is that, across the history of the Episcopal Church, and even across the history of Christianity, there have been many different ways of doing things. Some of us have heard, “We stand to praise, we sit to listen, we kneel to pray;” but, then, many Christians, and some of us, hardly ever kneel. As you enter, do you kneel, bow, or just take your seat? Make the sign of the cross or not? These are matters of personal piety, decisions for you to make in your relationship with God. They are not matters for judging another person or another congregation as right or wrong.

The themes and purposes of the liturgy, though, do not change. My intent is that after this morning you will be able to see them lived out in another person or congregation, Episcopal or otherwise, even if they seem to live them out differently than we have at Resurrection; and that seeing them lived out, you will be able to embrace our common Christian life.

So, to begin: to begin with, we gather. More important, we gather with purpose. We gather for formation – to be formed as a community, and to be conformed to Christ.  For that formation process we share in liturgy, from the Greek “the work of the people.” It is what we do, how we celebrate. Pay attention today as we celebrate together. 

Liturgy of the Word: We gather to hear the story; with prayers we begin to shape the story.

As individuals and as communities we are formed by stories. As Christians we are formed by the stories of those who have walked before God – by the stories of our Hebrew forebears; of those who walked with Jesus, God’s Story made flesh; and of those who ever since have sought to bring that story forward. 

That is why we are people of the Word and people of words. The Word Made Flesh is how God shared God’s story with us; and our words are how we share stories with one another. So it is we begin with the Liturgy of the Word: our work together with the Word.

We begin by hearing the Word – hearing it again, for we follow cycles that bring us through the stories again and again. In reading Scripture we hear and recall the story. In sermon and homily we have the opportunity to reflect on how the story is meaningful in our life and times. In our prayers we seek to apply the story in our life and times; for, we are asking God to act, to continue to shape the story. In Confession we acknowledge that we are accountable for how we participate in the story, or how we fail in the effort. In response we hear again the declaration of God’s Word: forgiveness offered for all.

As Episcopalians, heirs of the Anglican tradition, and of nearly two thousand years of Christian tradition, we use words selected with great care. Remember, this is to form us and to conform us to Christ. So, from generation to generation we ask our scholars to review with us again those words that can be resources for our formation. It is not that these are the only words we may use, but they provide the framework we use so that, over time, nothing important is lost. Think of it this way: think of how our Olympic athletes have trained, an image that Paul also used. All train hard, but not all train alike. The downhill skier does not train like the artistic skater, nor the biathlete like the curler. We train for the Christian faith and life, in the Anglican and Episcopal tradition. Like the athlete, we have some things in common with any person of faith. We also have these words and habits that shape the distinctive ways we are formed for life that is generally Christian and specifically Episcopal.

So, pay attention to the words. We say of Scripture that we should “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest;” and I invite you to do the same with the words of the liturgy. Certainly, let them sink into your heart. And, also, let them rattle in your mind. Hear them. Hear the words and the stories, both to embrace them, and also, like Jacob, to wrestle with them. We are formed best when, like athletes, we both embrace the story and also are conscientious about how we might improve in it.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

How "Episcopal" an Episcopal Chaplain - Response 1

A colleague of mine (I started to say “younger,” but these days most of my colleagues are less experienced than I, if not always actually younger) approached a number of us with questions. He is in the process of ordination in the Episcopal Church, and his questions fall into the general range of just how Episcopal an Episcopal chaplain needs to be. By the chaplain’s request, I won’t identify his diocese or the location of his ministry. However, I do feel I can adress his questions.

So, just how Episcopal does an Episcopal Chaplain have to be? In one sense, that is a question of identity. I am committed to serving each person, and to do so as best possible in the tradition that the person brings. At the same time, I do not identify as an “interfaith chaplain.” I don’t really have a sense of what that means, inasmuch as each chaplain is rooted in his or her own tradition (or, at least, should be). I can be multifaith in my service; but I am a chaplain formed in the Episcopal Church.

One consequence of that is that the Book of Common Prayer informs everything I do. That’s not to day that I carry it with me (well, there is that really good app from the Church Pension Group that’s on my phone) or explicitly use it with every patient. I am in the unusual position of an Episcopal chaplain serving an Episcopal health system; and yet that level of use of the Book of Common Prayer is not an expectation.

Rather, I have been formed in the Episcopal tradition, and that language is ingrained. Folks comment at how easily I pray extemporaneously; but in fact the forms, the phrases, the words of the Books of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church (1979, certainly, but also 1928) are the forms and the vocabulary out of which my “extemporaneous” prayers are based. It’s perhaps like how important is it to continue your finger exercises on the piano, even if your performance mode is going to be jazz.

I would also note that, while I am most facile with the American Book of Common Prayer, I have looked for other resources in the larger Book of Common Prayer tradition. I have use those rites and liturgies approved by the General Convention. I have drawn from the Prayer Books of other Anglican bodies. In part, this is because of my seminary education. Marion Hatchett taught his students at Sewanee to assess the needs of the congregation, and then draw, not just from the current Prayer Book, but from the full breadth of the Anglican tradition, and even of the Christian tradition.

It is also significant to me that the Episcopal and Anglican tradition that worship is to be “in a tongue… understanded of the people.” That allows me plenty of latitude to draw from the context to make the prayer meaningful to the person and persons, and to the moment. The patient and the patient’s tradition is certainly part of that context. To seek to respond to the individual’s tradition does not seem to me to betray my own. Rather, it shows the hospitality and the community that are central to the Anglican worship tradition.

I am also a part of that context, and where I can do so authentically I draw on my own experience, both Episcopal and otherwise. I grew up, as I sometimes say, “breathing Southern Baptist air.” I have a pentecostal streak (“not all that wide, but it goes all the way through”). I think that also contributes to my Anglo-catholic liturgical sentiment (yes, I believe Anglo-catholic liturgy is how most Episcopalians touch that part of body and spirit touched in Holiness churches by charismatic experience). And there is someone, somewhere in the Episcopal Church living within the Prayer Book tradition with each of those traditions. It is not inauthentic for me to share with the patient for whom one of those experiences is central to his or her spiritual practice.

So, how Episcopal does an Episcopal Chaplain have to be? I think that is affected by how broad we understand the Episcopal tradition to be.