Monday, March 22, 2010

Let There Be Light

A reflection on Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop of Armenia

+ May the Holy One of Israel send the Holy Spirit, gentle as a dove, living as fire, to illuminate our lives and reveal the presence of the Sun of Righteousness.

In the fifteenth century Western art took an important step out of the middle ages and into the renaissance with the discovery of light and shading. Flat images became living figures that moved and breathed, capturing the attention of the viewer and empowering her or his imagination. On the one hand, the objects, events and persons portrayed by the medieval artist had not changed. But, on the other hand, the ability to express the meanings and potentials of these subjects took a massive step forward in the renaissance. The familiar world of Giotto and Fra Angelico became the different world of Michelangelo and Leonardi da Vinci.

As we come to the end of our Lenten observance, we meet Gregory the Illuminator, the apostle of the Armenians. The prayers used in the Anglican Church of Canada speak of his bringing the light of the gospel to his people. Lest we think that his people lived in total darkness, however, let us remember that the world was already filled with the signs of its Creator whose Word redeems it and whose Spirit sanctifies it. It was Gregory's vocation in bringing the gospel light to give new depth and meaning to the lives of his people. Their familiar world now looked different and their future was forever changed.

The light of the gospel gives the objects, events and persons of our lives depth. They no longer lie flat upon the surface of living; they spring three-dimensional into our awareness. The gospel reveals their presence to us by beckoning us to go beyond the surface and to explore the depths where the mystery of the divine life awaits our encounter. Our familiar world is transfigured as we discover God peeking out at us from the shadows and depths of our days.

May the light of the gospel illuminate our lives today, tomorrow and into the tomorrow of tomorrows. May we, like Gregory, live lives that illuminate the world around us so that others may see the depths and the mystery of their own lives revealed in the light of the good news of God in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Let Us Write a New Chapter

RCL Lent 4C
14 March 2010

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

[Joshua 5.9-12 is the focus text with reference to 2 Corinthians 5.16-21 at the end.]

After forty years of wandering through the desert wastes of Sinai and the dry lands to the east of the Jordan River, the people of Israel finally entered the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants. During these forty years the people had experienced the ups and downs that we can easily imagine as thousands of people, grouped in tribal units, negotiate the distances and the challenges of a flight from slavery and a search for a home. Despite their experience of the Exodus, despite their experience of the giving of the Torah, despite God’s gracious provision of food and drink, the people were not united. When Moses died on the other side of the Jordan, it would have been easy for the tribes to split and go their separate ways. No doubt there were clans that slipped away from the main group, individual families that had had enough of quail and manna and dust and the threats from other peoples into whose lands the Israelites were entering.

Into the vacuum created by the deaths of Moses, Aaron and the first generation of those who had fled Pharaoh’s Egypt stepped Joshua and a new generation of leaders. Their scouts reported on the richness of the land before them and the fear that the inhabitants had of the approaching Israelites. Joshua made a fateful decision. Using the Ark of the Covenant as a symbolic focal point for the tribes, Joshua and his allies led the people across the Jordan River --- on dry ground just as the Israelites had crossed the Reed Sea in advance of Pharaoh’s armies.

According to the account in the Book of Joshua, the people find themselves at a place that will come to be known as Gilgal, a name derived from the Hebrew word meaning ‘to roll’ or ‘to roll away’. The shame of their slavery at the hands of the Egyptians, the blemish of their failure to trust in God’s purposes for them and the taint of their various forays into idolatry have all been ‘rolled away’ in the sight of God and, soon, in the sight of the various peoples who inhabit the land of Canaan. It is here at Gilgal that they enact two rituals that symbolize that the time of wandering has come to an end and a new phase in the life of Israel has begun, a time that will focus on the acquisition of the land and the establishment of Israelite control.

The first of the two rituals precedes our reading today. Joshua orders that all the males be circumcised in keeping with God’s commandment to Abraham as a sign of the covenant. For whatever reason this ritual has not been practiced during the wilderness journey and it is inconceivable that the people embark on their settlement of Canaan without fulfilling this commandment. It is this act, this re-commitment to the covenant, that occasions God’s words to Joshua that begin our reading today: “The LORD said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’”

We then hear of the second ritual: the keeping of the feast of Pesach, the festival of unleavened bread. This ritual represents an act of thanksgiving to God for the gift of the land and its produce. As they celebrate this feast, the manna and quail that fed the people of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness cease, as if to symbolize that the responsibility of feeding themselves has now been put into their hands. This land has come into their hands as God’s gift, God’s faithfulness to the promise made to Abraham and Sarah, but it comes with the obligation to work, to till the land and to care for what God has bestowed.

Up to this point in the story of the people of Israel as narrated in the Hebrew Bible, there have been several chapters. In the first chapter God chooses Abraham and Sarah to be the forebears of a new people, dedicated to God, who will be as numerous as the sands of the shore and the stars in the heavens. In the second chapter Abraham and Sarah’s descendants travel to the land of Egypt to escape famine in Canaan only to end up eventually slaves to the Egyptians who once welcomed them. In the third chapter Moses is raised up by God to free the people of Israel and to lead them back to the land of Canaan so that they can live out the promise made to their forebears. Now they begin a fourth chapter of their saga, a saga that will eventually include you and me as recipients of God’s promises made so many generations ago.

In each chapter the people have experienced a promise, a loss and the possibility of a future based upon their past but more than a mere re-creation of an imaginary golden age. In each chapter the people have been faced with the need to re-commit themselves to God’s future, even when that future is not entirely clear. In each chapter the people come to realize that God’s promises, while freely given, require hard work, imagination and sacrifice.

Today’s reading from Joshua invites us to consider the chapters of the story of which we have been a part. Our story has many dimensions. It is the story of how a national church established in a small northern European country came to be a global communion. It is also the story of how a church made up primarily of Anglo-Canadians came to be a church that brought together all the peoples, native and non-native, of founding nations and immigrants, into one national body. Another dimension recounts how a church founded in the footsteps of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the westward expansion of the Canadian nation came to be an urban, suburban and rural community of parishes that is known throughout the world, for better and for worse. Perhaps the story most known to us is the story of our congregation established in the growth years following World War II, flourishing in the heady days of the Fifties, steady during the Sixties and Seventies, changing in the Eighties and Nineties and exploring in the first decades of the New Century.

Just as the people of Israel had and have a story of many chapters, so we have a story that is moving into a new chapter, one that includes promise, loss and future hope. In each one the people of our church, our diocese and our parish have realized that God’s promises are freely given, but living into those promises requires hard work, imagination and sacrifice. When Joshua and the people crossed the Jordan River and entered the land of Canaan, they knew that they must first re-commit themselves to live as people of promise and that the future would build upon but not be the same as the past. While the stories of manna, quail and water from a stone would continue to be told in the new land, the people would need to plant grains to make the bread, tend flocks to provide the meat and dig wells to supply the water needed for their life.

We will need to do the same work in our own time and in our own way in order for our chapter to be written.

• We will need to exercise careful stewardship, not only of the physical and financial assets entrusted to us, but also of the skills and time of our members as we decide how we will continue to share in God’s mission in this part of Metro Vancouver.
• We will need to continue to worship together, on Sundays and weekdays, using forms of worship that honour our heritage as Anglicans even as we explore new ways of worshipping that might reach out to others.
• We will need to grow in evangelism, an evangelism that is willing to invite others, young and old, families and singles, to share in the life we have discovered here, to experience the good news of God in Jesus that we know gathered around the communion table and gathered around the coffee urn and teapot.
• We will need to continue to educate ourselves, whether in Bible study or prayer groups, whether in sermons or seasonal gatherings, about how God works in this world, in us and through us and for us.
• We will need to offer loving and compassionate pastoral care to members and non-members, to those who are content and to those who are discontent, so that Christ’s love may be known and made manifest.

No doubt this is a tall order, but I know that we are up to the task. We are, as Saint Paul says, a new creation; the old has passed away and everything has become new. May we live as we believe. May we work as we hope. May we find fertile ground in which to plant the seed so that we may eat the bread of life. Amen.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stromateis Liturgica for 12 March 2010: The Spirituality of the Presider

For this week’s Stromateis I am offering some excerpts from Liturgy 22, no. 2 (April-June 2007), an issue that focuses on ‘The Spirituality of the Presider’. In a climate that tends to encourage liturgical leadership to look for new techniques or even gimmicks to ‘bring people in’, this issue of Liturgy suggests that we need to look to ourselves, those of us who preside, lay and ordained, to discover how we might offer leadership that enables “. . . active receptivity to the divine self-communication possible” (to quote Don Saliers).

The writers span a variety of traditions. All their titles are those as of the date of publication:

• Siobhan Garrigan, Assistant Professor of Liturgical Studies at Yale Divinity School
• Thomas Scirghi, Associate Professor of Liturgy at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley
• Dirk Lange, Assistant Professor of the Christian Assembly at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
• Daniel Benedict, former Director of Worship Resources for The United Methodist Church in the United States
• Don Saliers, Wm. R. Cannon Distinguished Professor of Theology and Worship at Candler School of Theology

I hope that these excerpts lead you to explore the articles as well as reflect on your own leadership of the Christian assembly.

Siobhan Garrigan, “The Spirituality of Presiding,” 3-8

“I would like to say that the only thing you need to preside is that you must (1) pray without ceasing and (2) love your people the best you can; but now that I have been teaching it for a little while and my heart has broken to see the struggles of my students, I know it is not so simple. Presiders need to be adept at a multitude of bodily techniques, and they need to possess paradoxical capabilities: passion and stamina, patience and quick-wittedness, vulnerability and a thick skin. And, for their own good and that of the people they serve, they need to have a healthy spirituality of presiding. This does not mean presiders have to be perfect. . . . But it does mean that they have to be very careful, adept at discerning the work of the spirit, and adept at knowing the limits of both their capabilities and their responsibilities.” (Garrigan 2007, 3)

“While presiders have much in common with artists, there are at least two important differences. First, presiders form a relationship with people over time whereas performers might only encounter their audience only once. . . . Secondly, unlike art, presiding is always about God and our relationship with God.” (Garrigan 2007, 3)

“The spirituality of presiding is, I think, all in your voice. Your tone, words, cadence, timing, timbre, your sounds, your voice’s pauses and silences --- all conspire to make your voice the most versatile and powerful tool you have to lead others. Be loud and hectoring and you’ll scare. Be soft and supple and you’ll entice. Use too many clever words and you’ll block. Use too much ‘preacher voice’ and they won’t believe you. Add no jazz at all and the words fall flat. You proclaim, invite, dedicate, pray, teach, sing, lead, chant, dream, lament, challenge, cry --- and all with your voice. You do not do all these things with your hands. Your hands could be tied behind your back for most of them.” (Garrigan 2007, 4)

Thomas J. Scirghi, “An Iconic View of Communal Worship,” 9-16

“One simple rule I follow with my class is that, for presiders, if the congregation notices you more than the One to whom they are praying, then you have failed. Likewise, for preachers, if the congregation remembers the preacher more than the Gospel message, then something is wrong.” (Scirghi 2007, 9)

“The habitus of the liturgy is the formation of the members of the assembly into a communion.” (Scirghi 2007, 10)

“To be a prayerful person means to cultivate the habitus by which one receives and responds to the world through the context of a faith-filled personal relationship with God.” (Scirghi 2007, 11)

“A good leader of prayer stands before the congregation like an icon. To pray the liturgy means to lead the people in prayer without calling undue attention to oneself, but enabling the congregation to focus on the divine. This is not to say that the ordained minister is the only one capable of providing a window onto the divine realm. On the contrary, the congregation holds many holy people who provide this ability. But within the context of the liturgy the ordained minister is the one chosen to help the community focus together.” (Scirghi 2007, 13)

RGL+ NOTE: For ‘ordained minister' in the quotation above from Scirghi, I suggest that one may read ‘liturgical presider’.

Dirk G. Lange, “Presiding: A Lutheran Reversal,” 17-25

“Both the confessional documents and the current practices statements on word and sacrament clearly indicate that the presider is not a lone ranger performing, up at the front, in some sacred space, behind the altar rail, in an area called the chancel. The pastor’s calling to office possesses no spiritual superiority. . . . But in the solidarity where all divisions of sacred and profaned are reformulated, the pastor is called as a public witness of that baptismal transfiguration. . . . The presider is not a mediator between God and the people. The presider is not the reincarnation of the ancient priest who alone could enter [20] the holy of holies and offer the necessary sacrifices. Nor is the presider the popular television game host or entertainer, though many people come to church expecting and subsequently judging the presider on his or her performance skills. . . . The presider is none of these: not mediator, not ancient/sacred priest, not entertainer or dispenser of heavenly wisdom. The presider is witness --- witness to a baptismal reality already present in the assembly though perhaps not known. The presider is witness to the cross, to the death and life of Jesus Christ, to the daily dying and rising of every member of the assembly and of the community.” (Lange 2007, 19-20)

Daniel T. Benedict, Jr., “No Cowardly Spirit: Teaching Pastors and Priests to Preside,” 27-34

“. . . (Presiding) is more than performance technique. It has everything to do with the sense of identity; who ‘I’ am with and before God and the people assembled around font, lectern, and table. It has to do with living the rite; taking it within one’s self and so praying it that one’s spirit is shaped to its contours and vision.” (Benedict 2007, 28)

Don E. Saliers, “Sense, Spirit, and Body in Presiding: A Synaesthetic Environment,” 35-40

“Seeing various features of the public worship of God as a kind of visual theology is an important clue for those who lead the liturgical assembly. A strong normative point emerges here. The texts we proclaim and lead in the praying of the Christian assembly require more than words; they elicit an interanimation of the senses. Not only are they enactments of the mystery we believe the rites signify, but also they contain a rich array of clues for the spirit of the presider as well as for the active receptivity of the worshipers. When those who preside understand that liturgy provides a potentially common way of ‘seeing the world and the mystery at its heart,’ it will change attentiveness and the spirit of both liturgists and the assembly.” (Saliers 2007, 36)

“We must . . . more beyond the primary senses of seeing and hearing the texts. Good presiding requires what may be called a capacity for synaesthetic awakening. This refers to the way in which two or more human senses are drawn together in a single act of perception. By and large many who lead worship are not aware of how crucial the non-verbal elements of liturgy are to the meaning and point of the words we use. So many of our liturgies, especially Protestant, have become overly verbal --- more ‘talk fests’ than participation in grace-filled common action. . . . The point [37] of effective presiding is to allow the ears of the assembly to see, and the eyes of the assembly to hear. Even more to the point, a sensitive presider helps to create the conditions for the interanimation of movement, gesture, touch, eating, and drink, and the words spoken and sung, making active receptivity to the divine self-communication possible.” (Saliers 2007, 36-37)

“Those who lead must listen to the joy and the sorrow of the assembly, to bring such pastoral radar to the place of prayer, proclamation, and the table of Eucharist. . . . [The] presider must listen for signs of the rule and reign of God, with its justice and its peace --- that kingdom which is an alternative to the captivities of culture. Moreover, the presider must listen to and for the artistic dimensions of liturgy. . . . Thus the spirituality of the presider must be forged in the discipline of listening: to the Word made flesh, to people’s lives, to prophecy, and to the arts. These all converge when vital and faithful liturgy occurs.” (Saliers 2007, 38)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Stromateis Liturgica for 5 March 2010

'Stromata' or 'Stromateis' is a Greek term meaning 'miscellaneous thoughts'. One of the more famous uses of this term is found in the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria. I do not claim to be as original or perceptive a theologian as Clement, but I have decided to begin to offer, I hope on a weekly basis at least, some 'stromata' in various areas.

This week's Stromateis is a liturgical one, providing some comments from my recent reading of the journal, Liturgy, the official publication of the Liturgical Conference, an ecumenical community of liturgists (visit

In Issue 4 of Volume 22 (2007) the Conference focuses on 'Assisting Ministers: Not Preaching and Presiding Alone'. As is the case for all such collections, I found that some essays were more helpful than others. Let me briefly cite and describe the ones that I found most helpful for beginners and advanced practitioners alike.

David Arcus, "Cantors Reconsidered": Arcus reminds us of the importance of trained liturgical leadership in ensuring the quality and depth of the community's song and music.

Marianne Engelmann and Jane Cors Smith, "Re-Member Me: The Roots and Ramifications of Assisting with Holy Communion": These two Roman Catholic writers remind us that assisting in the distribution of communion, whether in the public assembly or in private, is not a function but a ministry of presence. They offer some excellent suggestions regarding the qualities necessary for the exercise of this ministry.

Clayton J. Schmit, "The Living Word: Restoring Life to Scripture Reading in Worship": Schmit provides an excellent guide to the ministry of reading. This is a helpful guide to anyone who trains readers.

Rosalie Bent Branigan, "Movement and Dance in Ministry and Worship": For those of us who are wary of dance and movement, Branigan offers a welcome theological and pastoral reflection on the role of movement and dance.

Jessie Schut, "Children Can Assist, Too!": This is a short piece that offers some good observations on the role of children in public worship.

Patricia H. Archer, "Assisting in Worship: A Holy Privilege": Archer writes from her perspective as a deacon in the United Methodist Church in the United States. While some of her observations may not be applicable in other traditions, it is a short and thoughtful reflection on assisting in worship.