Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on the Way, the Truth and the Life

Easter V
22 May 2011

+ May God show us the way, guide us into truth and bring us to life.  Amen.

         For some time I was not aware of the prediction of an evangelist in the United States that the Rapture was to occur on Saturday, the 21st of May.  But at some point in the last couple of weeks or so, people I knew had either made jokes about it or had asked me some questions about what the Rapture was and whether it really could be predicted.  All of the speculation was fuelled by the ability of the evangelist himself to fund various media campaigns and, of course, by the media itself which always enjoys this kind of ‘end of time’ prediction.

         End of time predictions are a frequent occurrence in any number of religious traditions.  Christianity is not unique in this regard.  Some of us may remember the dire predictions of the catastrophes that awaited us as we approached the year 2000, then 2001 when someone realized that a millennium actually ends in 000 and begins in 001!  There have been predictions of the end of the world throughout the history of Christianity.  Most of these predictions depend upon arcane mathematical calculations, the latest one based on a calculation that yesterday marked the seven thousandth anniversary of the beginning of Noah’s Flood.

         Now I had found a place of calm and had actually begun to forget about these events.  After all, I had to prepare a proposal regarding the rectory to share with two diocesan committees, work with Paula about finding a new place to live, prepare for the arrival of my parents and the graduation of David and Anna from UBC on Thursday.  I really did not have time to worry about the Rapture.  In some ways the Rapture would have brought a form of relief.  If I were taken up into heaven, then these other things would fade into insignificance.  If I were left behind, then the situation was going to become so difficult that all these other matters would seem trivial.

         Thursday mid-morning a producer from Steven Quinn’s afternoon programme on CBC Radio One called.  He and I chatted for a little while and then he asked if I would be willing to be interviewed downtown a little after 5.30 p.m.  So I went down to the studio and had an enjoyable ten minutes or so with Steven.  As I drove home I thought that I was finished with the topic.  Friday morning I warned Christine that we might receive a crank call or two, but the phones were fairly quiet until a producer for CBC Television called asking if I would consent to an interview with Chris Brown for the National.  Friday afternoon found me at our southwest steps chatting with Chris about the Rapture.  Friday evening the story aired on the National and my bit, a tiny bit, made its way into the nation’s homes.

         What I tried to say to Steven Quinn and to Chris Brown is this:  it is disappointing that there are Christians who spend so much time trying to figure out when the world is coming to an end that they neglect God’s call to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God today.  It is even more disappointing that the stories about religious leaders and about religion in general tend to focus on our failures and our fringes and our fanatics rather than on our successes and our centre and our saints.  We are held up to censure and to ridicule even as we work to house the homeless, to feed the hungry, to free the oppressed and addicted, to build neighbourhoods of caring and respect and activities too many to number.

         Some of the zeal that energizes fringe Christians comes from their interpretation of one phrase in today’s reading from the gospel according to John:  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14.6)  To some Christians this statement is an exclusive claim by Christians to have the sole path to eternal life.  Only those who can claim to be Christians will find themselves joining Jesus in the sky on the day of the Rapture.

         I am not afraid to claim Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.  But I do not believe this claim to be an exclusive one but rather a distinctive one.  What other Christians see as a claim that describes those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out’, I see as our commitment, as ‘followers of the Way’, the earliest name for the Christian community, to follow the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth as the path that helps us to become fully alive as human beings made in the image and likeness of God.

         What I am saying is not without precedence in the Scriptures and in the teaching of the Jewish and Christian traditions.  In Judaism there has been an ancient teaching about what is sometimes called ‘The Covenant with Noah’.  This covenant is “a covenant of grace, which God unilaterally grants to human beings” (comment on Isaiah 54.9-10 in The Jewish Study Bible).  In the Talmud, an authoritative commentary on the scriptures, the rabbis taught that all of humanity is obligated by seven commandments:  (1) to establish courts of justice, (2) to refrain from blaspheming the God of Israel, (3) to refrain from idolatry, (4) sexual perversion, (5) bloodshed and (6) robbery and (7) not to eat meat cut from a living animal (commentary on Genesis 9.8-17 in The Jewish Study Bible).  Any Gentile who observes these commandments can meet with God’s full approval.

         The later covenants with Abraham and Moses do not replace this covenant with Noah but are covenants that commit a particular group of people to witness to this God, a God who makes covenant with all of humanity, by following a disciplined walk of faith.  Our covenant with God, made through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, does not repeal any of God’s earlier covenants but commits us to a life of witness to this generous and gracious God.  This is what the writer of 1 Peter is sharing with his audience when he writes that we, the baptized, “are a (but not the only) chosen race, a (but not the only) royal priesthood, a (but not the only) 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 marvellous light.”  (1 Peter 2.9 italics inserted by RGL+)

         My friends, the predictions of the Rapture and the Tribulation are made by people whom I believe to be sincere followers of Christ who are convinced that the only way to help others become fully alive is to use fear as a tool, fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of pain and suffering.  They understand themselves to members of an exclusive society that will be preserved from the perils that they believe will accompany the end of the world.  Their zeal and concern, however, only serve to trivialize the challenge of following Jesus as the way, the truth and the life, especially in the eyes of those who do not share our faith.

         Fear is a powerful tool but like adrenaline and sugar it leaves you flat on the floor once its energy has been exhausted.  What our city and our region need is not fear but hope, not exclusion but community.  We who follow the way of Jesus are called to work with our sisters and brothers who struggle tirelessly in the here and now to respond to the needs of the poor and the hungry.  We who believe in the truth of Jesus are called in the here and now to witness to a God whose first covenant, the covenant with Noah, was with the whole creation not with only a few chosen.  We who share in the life of Jesus are called in the here and now to be beacons that illuminate the paths of all who seek the fullness of life God promises to all people.

         Today there will be a small community of Christians who will be bewildered and disheartened that the Rapture has not come.  My hope is that this bewilderment and disheartedness might lead to a re-discovery of what it means to proclaim Jesus as the way, the truth and the life rather than to renewed calculations or, in some cases, a disillusionment with the Christian faith.  Today there will be some in the media who will file their notes only to return to them in event of the next prediction.  My hope is that this event might lead them to a re-discovery of what Christians are doing in the here and now to challenge injustice, to nurture communities of care and to be good stewards of the creation that God has entrusted to us.

         In the meantime let us here at Saint Faith’s do what we’ve been doing for a long time:  open our hands to those in need, open our hearts to God’s love and open our minds to God’s wisdom.  That should keep us busy enough for a millennium or two.   Amen.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Liturgical Suggestions for Easter VI

These are the liturgical elements we shall be using at Saint Faith's on Easter VI (29 May 2011).  I hope that they might stir your thinking.

Easter VI
29 May 2011

Introductory Responses

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
who has given us new life and hope
by raising Jesus from the dead.

Rejoice, then, even in our distress.
We shall be counted worthy when Christ appears.

God has claimed us as beloved children
and called us from our darkness
into the light of the resurrection.

May Christ’s grace and peace be with us.
May God fill our hearts with joy.

Collect of the Day

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
you have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by your Spirit
to keep your commandments,
that we may show forth your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
to all your people
through our risen Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
for ever and ever.  Amen.

Adapted from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers

Affirmation of Faith

‘I Believe in God Almighty’  Common Praise #44

Prayer over the Gifts

God of glory,
accept all we offer you this day,
and bring us to that eternal city of love and light,
where Christ reigns.
We ask this in his name.  Amen.

adapted from The Book of Alternative Services

Prayer after Communion

Creator of all,
you restored us to life
by raising your Son from death.
May we who receive this sacrament
always be strengthened to do your will,
in the name of Jesus Christ the risen Lord.  Amen.

adapted from The Book of Alternative Services


Go forth in the love of the risen Christ.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!
Thanks be to God.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Liturgical Suggestions for Easter V

Here are some simple liturgical suggestions for the celebration of the Eucharist on Easter V.

Easter V
22 May 2011

Introductory Responses

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
who has given us new life and hope
by raising Jesus from the dead.

Rejoice, then, even in our distress.
We shall be counted worthy when Christ appears.

God has claimed us as beloved children
and called us from our darkness
into the light of the resurrection.

May Christ’s grace and peace be with us.
May God fill our hearts with joy.

Collect of the Day

Risen Christ
you prepare a place for us,
in the home of the one whom you called Abba.
Draw us more deeply into yourself,
through scripture read, water splashed,
bread broken, wine poured,
so that, when our hearts are troubled,
we will know you more completely
as the way, the truth and the life,
for with that same Abba and the Spirit,
you live and reign, one God,
now and for ever.  Amen.

Adapted from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers

Affirmation of Faith

‘I Believe in God Almighty’  Common Praise #44

Prayer over the Gifts

Gracious God,
you show us your way
and give us your divine life.
May everything we do
be directed by the knowledge of your truth.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the risen Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Alternative Services

Prayer after Communion

God of love,
in this eucharist we have heard your truth
and shared in your life.
May we always walk in your way,
in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Alternative Services


Go forth in the way of Christ, the truth and the life.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!
Thanks be to God.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Let Us Break the Bread of Life

Easter III
8 May 2011

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

+  Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.  Amen.

         The Sunday after Passover in the year 26 found a married couple hurrying away from the city of Jerusalem.  Perhaps they knew where they were going, perhaps they only intended to get as far away from Jerusalem as they possibly could.  The turmoil of the previous week and the execution of their teacher, Yeshua ben Yosef, had transformed his followers, in the eyes of the Jewish and Roman authorities, from a small group of disciples into the nucleus of a subversive movement intent on overthrowing the government.  The time had come, so the saying goes, to make tracks and lie low.

         But as we know, looking back from the perspective of two thousand years and with the benefit of Luke’s account of the events, this couple could not escape the consequences of their association with Yeshua ben Yosef.  Their encounter on the road to Emmaus led them back to Jerusalem and to whatever fate awaited those who had become witnesses of his resurrection.

         For Luke and the earlier Christian movement the consequences of being associated with this resurrected Jesus rabbi could not be confined to the environs of Jerusalem nor to the first small community of believers.  Every time the bread was broken and the wine was poured, those who shared in this action proclaimed their commitment to the movement begun by Yeshua and their willingness to accept the consequences that this commitment might bring.

         The apostle Paul would write some years after the fact, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  (1 Corinthians 11.26)  So what are we doing today?

1)  First and foremost, we have gathered.

         Early in the third century a group of Christians in Asia Minor were arrested and brought before the local Roman magistrate.  They were charged with violating the imperial edict forbidding the gathering of illegal religious sects.  The magistrate asked them to recant their faith and to obey the imperial edict.  Their answer was simple, “Without the Sunday gathering, we cannot exist.”  Their execution followed immediately.

         We can lose sight of the power of gathering together in one assembly.  All of us fear the anonymity which can happen when we participate in a large gathering of any sort.  Yet, the most important thing we may do as Christians is to continue to gather together for worship throughout the world, to hear the Word proclaimed, to offer prayer for all of creation, to share in the bread and the wine, and to be sent forth strengthened and renewed.

         To be the church means to be the assembly of those who are called out for a special purpose.  When Christians were first asked to describe their gatherings, they used the word ‘ekklesia’, a Greek word used to describe the assembly of free men gathered to make decisions for the common good of the city state.  The earliest Christians understand themselves to be an ‘ekklesia’, summoned by God to serve the common good of all creation.  When we come together for worship, the dispersed people of God are given an opportunity to ‘collect their wits’ and to remember who we are and what we are to do.

         When asked what was the glue that held the Anglican Communion together, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said this, “We gather.”  Despite all the forces that conspire to prevent our gathering, we gather.  Despite all the temptations to do something else with our time, we gather.  We gather because we know what our sisters and brothers knew in the first centuries of the church’s mission and ministry, “Without the Sunday gathering, we cannot exist.”

2)  We tell the story --- again and again and again.

         At an early point in his public ministry Jesus travelled to Nazareth, the town in which he had been raised.  He entered the synagogue and was invited to read the appointed reading from the prophets.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus read, “because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”  After sitting down, Jesus said to the assembly, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke 4.16-21)

         Most of the people in the synagogue that day were amazed, not necessarily because they believed him, but because he was a local boy.  How often had they heard him read the appointed lesson while he was growing up?  For that matter, how often had they heard that same text?  Perhaps they had grown deaf and no longer expected the prophetic text to be fulfilled.  It was, after all, the lectionary text for the day, nothing more.

         When the readers and preacher proclaims the texts appointed for the day, it is tempting to forget that they are speaking God’s Word to us.  Like the people in the synagogue in Nazareth, we have heard all of this before; the words roll off the surface of our minds and hearts like rain rolling off the roof of a building.  Yet, we never know when there is someone sitting next to us, in front of us, behind us --- dare I say, in us --- who need to hear the Word of God again --- for the first time.

         To read the words of the scriptures is to release the power of the Word of God into our midst.  The readers and preacher stand before us, small in stature, a known quantity, familiar figures.  Within their grasp lies the power to free the Word from the texts that sometimes imprison it, so that the heart of some one sitting near to us may be “strangely warmed” and God’s new creation begins again to work its transformation of our loneliness, our despair, our fear.

         There is a collect well-known to many in the Anglican tradition.  It bears remembering today.  “Eternal God, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever.  Amen.”

3)  We lift up our prayers to God --- for ourselves and for all of creation.

         When I was first ordained, it was my responsibility to travel with the Bishop and the Suffragan Bishop of Colorado on their parish visits.  On one such occasion, I accompanied the Bishop, Bill Frey, to a parish in which there was considerable dissension.  I joined him as he listened to three representatives of the congregation give their interpretations of the situation.  After each one had spoken, the first asked the Bishop, “Well, what are you going to do about this?”  “The first thing I am going to do is pray,” responded the Bishop.  At this the second person turned to the other two and said loudly, “See, I told you he wasn’t going to do a damn thing about it!”

         There are, no doubt, many people who share this view.  To some of them, prayer seems more like shouting into the wind rather than entering into conversation with the Holy One of Israel who caused all things to come into existence and who has entrusted us with the stewardship of these gifts.  To others, prayer has more in common with sending to heaven a shopping list of wants rather than the more difficult task of discerning the presence and activity of God in us and around us.

         I confess that I do not know if prayer changes the eternal purposes of God.  I do know that prayer changes the one who prays.  Prayer orients us to God’s purposes and opens us to God’s grace working through us.  God responds to our new-found awareness of the needs and concerns of the world by offering us the means to use the gifts we have.  We discover new avenues and ways that seemed obstructed are re-opened.  This is God’s work, not ours, but we are the agents of God’s purposes.

         In other words, liturgy is for the people more than it is of the people.  When we confess our sins, we ask God to take from us all that prevents us from being agents of God’s purposes, to clear our spiritual arteries of the clots which prevent the blood of the Spirit from reaching our muscles.  And lest we believe that these prayers and this cleansing are meant only for ourselves as individuals, as personal possession, the liturgy brings us to our feet and face to face with the other members of Christ’s body.

         To exchange the peace is (a) to acknowledge our fellowship in Christ, (b) to put our bodies where our mouths (or thoughts) are, and (c) to commit ourselves, one to another.  Unless we choose liturgical perjury, then the exchange of the peace requires us to consider how we, in keeping with our stations in life and our personal abilities, will work for Christ’s peace in our congregations, our homes, our communities, and our world.

4)  We break the bread and share the cup.

         When I was a child, Holy Communion was reserved for those who had been confirmed.  On top of this, it did not seem to be a particularly joyful event.  Those who went forward came back with such solemn faces that, for many years, I believed that the bread and wine of the eucharist must taste horrible.  When my confirmation day arrived, I steeled myself for the experience.  When the bread was given to me, I placed it in my mouth and was surprised by its pleasing “wheaty-ness”.  When the wine was given to me, I could not believe that this was the same taste which generations of adults before me had experienced.  It was warm and it filled my whole body with such a sense of well-being.  I am told that as I returned to my pew, I had a most un-Anglican smile on my face.  My more knowledgeable twelve-year-old friends simply dismissed my quiet smile as the first signs of inebriation.  But they were right.  I was inebriated and I have remained inebriated to this day --- inebriated with the God who through the power of the Spirit makes bread and wine the agents of my incorporation into Jesus Christ.

         One of the central passages of the New Testament for the history of the Holy Communion is found in chapters 10 and 11 of 1 Corinthians.  In these chapters Paul describes his understanding of the eucharist and gives instructions about how the eucharist is to be celebrated.  At one point Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”  (1 Corinthians 10.16-17)  To the Corinthians Paul is saying that the person who would rightly participate in the eucharistic meal must be prepared for communion with more than Jesus Christ.  Those who truly discern the presence of the body of Christ know that the body of Christ is not only on the altar:  it is in the pew in the person who is next to us.

         While buildings and places of worship are important as shelters for the work of the church, they should not be confused with “church”.  “Church” means people not buildings; “Church” means a people who, through the power of the risen Christ, have been given a share in the mission of God in the world.  That people needs to be sustained, fed, and strengthened in its mission.  The eucharist is food for the journey not a reward for regular attendance.

         We share a loaf and a cup.  There are few places left in the world today in which strangers will share a cup together.  Despite the fears of some, Anglicans have continued to resist the temptation to diminish this visible sign of our communion by using other means.  We should take comfort in the fact that after four hundred and fifty years there are still more than seventy million of us in the world! 

         The Great Thanksgiving and the Lord’s Prayer constantly hold before us that this meal is intended to create and sustain a holy people for God.  There can be no true reception of the body of Christ in the bread wine if we are not prepared to receive it in our children, our parents, our spouses, our neighbours, the stranger in our midst, and those whose views differ from our own. 
5)  We commit ourselves to God’s mission.

         In the Acts of the Apostles the account of Jesus’ ascension is told in some detail.  Among my favourite dimensions of the story occurs at the very end.  After Jesus has ascended into heaven, the apostles and those with them stand around looking up into the sky.  Two angels appear and, in some many words, say, “Why are standing around gaping?  Go home.  You have a mission to perform and you will soon receive what you need to perform it.” 

         When we are sent forth from this place, we are reminded that the eucharistic meal is not to be praised but to be used.  This meal forms a missionary people and sends them out into a missionary field.

         Our liturgical assembly has gathered, heard the Word of God proclaimed, opened itself in prayer to discern the will of God, and has shared in the meal which renews Christian fellowship and community.  But the liturgical assembly does not exist for itself:  the Christian faith is not lived safely within the walls of this place and insulated from the world.  As William Temple, sometime Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II, said, “The church is the one human institution which exists primarily for its non-members.”

         Go home.  Go to school.  Go to work.  Go on vacation.  We have a mission to perform and we have received the gifts we need to perform it.  And should we find that mission difficult and should we find our strength flagging, there is always another Sunday, either next week or the great Sunday of the promised reign of God.  Go home.  The assembly is over.  Our mission continues.  Thanks be to God!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Liturgical Propers for Easter III

The following are some suggested propers for Easter III, drawing upon and editing the resources of the Consultation on Common Texts' Revised Common Lectionary Prayers and the Church of England's Common Worship.

Collect for Easter III

Elusive God,
companion on the way,
you walk behind, beside, beyond;
you catch us unawares.
Break through the disillusionment
and despair clouding our vision,
that, with wide-eyed wonder,
we may find our way and journey on
as messengers of your good news,
Jesus the Risen One, who,
with you and the Holy Spirit,
lives and reigns, one God,
now and for ever.  Amen.[1]

An Affirmation of Faith

Let us declare our faith in God.

We believe in God the Father,
from whom every family
in heaven and on earth is named.

We believe in God the Son,
who lives in our hearts through faith,
and fills us with his love.

We believe in God the Holy Spirit,
who strengthens us
with power from on high.

We believe in one God;
Author of life, Word of redemption and Spirit of wisdom.[2]

Prayer over the Gifts

Receive these gifts, O God,
and transform us through them,
that we may have to see
and hearts to understand
not only what you do on our behalf,
but what you call us to do
so that your realm will come
to fruition in glory.
We ask this in the name of Christ,
the firstborn from the dead.  Amen.[3]

Prayer after Communion

Source and end of our journey,
Guide us in the path of discipleship,
so that, as you have blessed us,
we may be a blessing for others,
bring the promise of the kingdom near
by our words and deeds.
We ask this in Christ’s name.  Amen.[4]

[1] Revised Common Lectionary Prayers with concluding doxology by RGL+

[2] Common Worship, emended by RGL+

[3] Revised Common Lectionary Prayers with concluding doxology by RGL+

[4] Revised Common Lectionary Prayers with concluding doxology by RGL+