An Instructed Eucharist: Rite II, Part 1 – The Liturgy of the Word

epiphany-laurens-sc-facade

The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany

Laurens, South Carolina

The mission of Church of the Epiphany is to celebrate the light of Jesus Christ, proclaim the Gospel, deepen our faith, nurture and encourage all people

The 19th Sunday after Pentecost, October 15, 2017

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Introduction

This morning’s Instructed Eucharist, covering the first part of the service, the Liturgy of the Word, is intended to give us a greater understanding of the Holy Eucharist, “the principle act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day.”[1] Today, we will explore in depth the first part of the Holy Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Word. Next Sunday, we will continue with an in depth consideration of the second part of the Holy Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Table.

The word eucharist means thanksgiving. The essence of Christian worship is giving thanks to God for creation and especially for the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

The early Church established the Eucharist based on Jesus’ actions on the eve of Passover; the annual Jewish celebration commemorating the liberation of the Hebrew people from Egyptian bondage. Moses, at God’s command, told the Hebrews to place the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorposts as a sign to God’s avenging angel to pass over their households. Death was visited on the Egyptians and the Hebrew people were freed.[2]

Jesus’ last supper with his disciples before his crucifixion coincided with Passover. The Church proclaims that Jesus is our Passover Lamb, whose death liberates us from bondage to sin. So the Apostle Paul declares: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.”[3]

At that Passover meal, Jesus took, blessed, and offered to his friends bread and wine; symbols of his coming sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross. Thus, we call the Holy Eucharist[4] a sacrament; the bread and wine being “outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace”[5] of communion with God in Christ. Although a bishop or a priest presides at the Eucharist, Jesus is the chief presider and all the people are celebrants.

The Liturgy of the Word

Processional Hymn 383 – Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature

Narrator: The Opening Acclamation and Response is an invitation to holy conversation between God and us. It also declares why we have gathered.

Presider          Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

People             And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.

Narrator: Entering God’s presence and remembering Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,”[6] in the Collect for Purity we pray that God cleanses our hearts.

Presider          Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.

All                   Amen.

Narrator: Thankful that God, who loves us, has cleansed us, we sing Gloria in excelsis, “Glory to God in the highest.”

All       Glory to God in the highest,

and peace to his people on earth.

Lord God, heavenly King,

almighty God and Father,

we worship you, we give you thanks,

we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,

Lord God, Lamb of God,

you take away the sin of the world:

have mercy on us;

you are seated at the right hand of the Father:

receive our prayer.

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. Amen.

Narrator: The Salutation acknowledges our interdependence as priest and people in our offering of worship. We also express our unity in our customary response to prayer. When we say, “Amen”, meaning “so be it”, we affirm our agreement with what has been said.

Presider          The Lord be with you.

People             And also with you.

Presider          Let us pray.

All kneel.

Narrator: The Collect of the Day gathers together or collects the themes of the day as expressed in the Bible passages to be read.

Presider          Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we   may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

All                   Amen.

All sit.

Narrator: The Liturgy of the Word focuses on the Bible. The order of the readings was established in the 7th and 8th centuries.

Old Testament reading – Exodus 32.1-14

After the reading, the Reader says, The Word of the Lord.

All                   Thanks be to God.

All stand to chant the psalmPsalm 106.1-6, 19-23

New Testament epistle reading – Philippians 4.1-9

After the reading, the Reader says, The Word of the Lord.

All                   Thanks be to God.

Sequence Hymn 645 – The King of love my shepherd is

Narrator: The Gospel, taken from one of the biblical accounts of the life of Jesus, precedes the sermon. Hence, it is read from the pulpit.[7] The Gospel is read by an ordained minister signifying the historic continuity of the Church from ancient times to the present day. We stand and face the reader to indicate the importance of this reading.

Presider          The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (22.1-14)

All                   Glory to you, Lord Christ.

After the reading, the Presider says, The Gospel of the Lord.

All                   Praise to you, Lord Christ.

All sit.

Narrator: Having heard biblical readings that originally were directed to a particular group of people, at a particular time and place, and for a particular purpose, the Sermon seeks to interpret these texts for the current day.

The Sermon – Party Hardy!

Narrator: The Sermon concludes with the Nicene Creed. The Creed, from the Latin, credo, meaning, “I believe”, is a summary statement of Christian belief.

All stand.

All       We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven:

by the power of the Holy Spirit

he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Narrator: The Prayers of the People largely are intercessory in nature. We pray for the Church, its life and mission, the nations and all in authority, the welfare of the world, the concerns of the local community, the needs of those who are afflicted, and the departed.

All kneel.

Reader  In peace, we pray to you, Lord God.

Silence

Reader   For all people in their daily life and work;

People    For our families, friends, and neighbors, and for those who are alone.

Reader   For this community, the nation, and the world;

People    For all who work for justice, freedom, and peace.

Reader   For the just and proper use of your creation;

People    For the victims of hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression.

Reader    For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble;

People     For those who minister to the sick, the friendless, and the needy.

Reader    For the peace and unity of the Church of God;

People     For all who proclaim the Gospel, and all who seek the Truth.

Reader  For Michael, our Presiding Bishop, Andrew, our Bishop, Paul, our Priest, and for all bishops and other ministers;

People   For all who serve God in his Church.

Reader  For the special needs and concerns of this congregation.  Hear us, Lord;

People   For your mercy is great.

Reader  We thank you, Lord, for all the blessings of this life. We will exalt you, O God our King;

People   And praise your Name for ever and ever.

Reader  We pray for all who have died, that they may have a place in your eternal kingdom. Lord, let your loving-kindness be upon them;

People  Who put their trust in you.

Narrator: Having opened ourselves to God’s presence through scripture, sermon, and prayer, we offer ourselves once more in the Confession. We acknowledge the ways in which we sin or “miss the mark” of authentic and faithful living.

Reader  We pray to you also for the forgiveness of our sins.

Silence

All           Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Narrator: In response to our confession and our intention to reform, the priest, in the Absolution, does not absolve sins, but rather declares God’s forgiveness made available to us through Jesus’ sacrificial death.

Presider  Almighty God, have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our      Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.

All                   Amen.

Narrator: The restoration of our relationship with God is reaffirmed in the pronouncement of the Peace. In our renewed peace with God, we share it with others.

Presider          The peace of the Lord be always with you.

All                   And also with you.

All exchange the Peace.

The Holy Communion or the Liturgy of the Table

Offertory

Doxology

Praise God, from whom all blessing flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below:

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

The Great Thanksgiving

Presider          The Lord be with you.

People             And also with you.

Presider          Lift up your hearts.

People             We lift them to the Lord.

Presider          Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

People             It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Presider          For you are the source of light and life, you made us in your image, and called us to new life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:

Sanctus – Holy, holy, holy

The Breaking of the Bread

Communion Hymn 325 – Let us break bread together

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Blessing

Recessional Hymn 625 – Ye holy angels bright, who wait at God’s right hand

Dismissal

 

Footnotes:

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, page 13

[2] See Exodus 12

[3] 1 Corinthians 5.7-8

[4] The Holy Eucharist is known by a variety of titles, each focusing on an aspect of its meaning or arising out of its historical development. The Lord’s Supper affirms that the meal belongs to no Christian assembly, but to Jesus, who offers it to us. The Holy Communion affirms that through this meal we are brought into union with Jesus and one another. The Mass is derived from the Latin dismissal in the Roman Catholic Eucharistic liturgy, “Ite, missa est”, “Go, the mass is ended.” The Divine Liturgy emphasizes that Eucharist is a communal act of God’s people responding to God’s love in Jesus by offering themselves in worship.

[5] The Book of Common Prayer, The Catechism, The Sacraments, page 857

[6] Matthew 5.8

[7] In many places, the Gospel is read in the midst of the congregation following a procession, symbolizing the carrying of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to the world. When the Gospel is announced, we may make a sign of the cross on our foreheads, lips, and breasts indicating our intention to keep Jesus’ words in our thoughts, speech, and hearts.

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more on waiting…

thinkingI am a person of irrepressible second (and third, fourth, fifth…on and on) thoughts. This morning, I reflected afresh on yesterday’s blog post (September 14, 2017: waiting…), where, at its heart, I considered human want and need and that inherent aspect of life of delayed (at times, given the course of human events and relationships, denied) fulfillment. I ended that post, having moved from considering my waiting to wondering who might be waiting for me to act for good.

As all humans, I am a person of abiding self-interest, which, honesty compels the confession, often is abounding with selfishness. In this painful self-awareness, I have come to believe, to know that whenever (even the thought of) another’s want or need presents itself to me as primary for me it is a sign of the work of God’s Spirit of unconditional love touching, transforming my spirit. This leads me to think about God waiting…

In the stories of the Bible, whether in the Old or New Testaments, when people, in dire circumstances, seek divine deliverance, generally, they think to offer the prescribed penitential rituals, for example, animal sacrifice, prayer, and fasting. And what God, also speaking generally, desires is not outward ceremony, but inward change of heart expressed in a love of God that manifests itself in belief and behavior, prayer and practice. In a word, God waits for humans to love as God loves.

As this I believe, as this I know, I pray: O Spirit of God, Source of breath and strength, ever stir in my spirit the grace of Your presence and power that I may…that I will do and be as God does and is, through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.

“go and come”?

The choral anthem planned for tomorrow’s service at Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, is a rendition of My Shepherd Will Supply My Need; the great Isaac Watts’[1] paraphrase[2] of Psalm 23.[3] Chosen by our fabulously gifted choir director, Randall Traynham, it is a lovely piece (though the highest note of the tenor part is F above middle C; not the easiest climb for my voice early in the day or at any time!).

This morning, as I continued to learn my part (Randy says “It’s easy!”, but that’s easy for him to say!), I found myself studying the text. It’s familiar. I’ve sung various versions of Watts’ wording many times. And that’s the thing. Over the years, I’ve learned that when I am faced with well-known lyrics set to a new tune I have a tendency to focus more on the notes and less on the words, thus potentially missing the essential mark of singing with meaning. So, again, I spent a quiet moment or two reflecting on Watts’ words and I noted something previously unseen by me that had been present all along. Or perhaps better said I thought for the first time about something I’d seen countless times…

Watts’ verse 3, his interpretation of Psalm 23, verse 6, bears words nowhere found or even hinted in the psalm: There (in God’s house) would I find a settled rest, while others go and come.

Psalm 23 is, for me, among many things, a song of confidence in the steadfast goodness and kindness of God, which attends the faithful pilgrim’s trek through, verily, in “the house of Lord”, that is, in God’s presence, both in this world and the next.

So, I wonder. Who are those to whom Watts refers as the “others (who) go and come”, who, as I construe his intent, depart and return or arrive and depart from God’s house, who, either way, are, perhaps, transient seekers of and dwellers in God’s presence?

I don’t know. Though I would hazard a guess that Watts was criticized in his day by detractors who could not have imagined, much less dared, and might have considered it blasphemous to add words to scriptural texts. I also think that Watts, the biblical scholar and theologian, knowing that the Psalms, as a part of the Hebrew scriptures, were not written with a Christian consciousness, felt free to amend psalmic texts, particularly for Christian worship, to reflect his belief in Jesus Christ.

When I think of it that way, then I behold something characteristic about me and God.

About me? I, as human, alway subject to flights (and fits!) of unfaithfulness, am one who goes and comes, in and out of God’s presence.

About God? God, who loves me unconditionally, allows me, in my freewill, to go and come, in and out, and, so far, akin to the blessed father figure in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, alway welcomes me home.

Believing, knowing that this is so, I will sing this anthem tomorrow as a prayer that I, with Watts, will find in God’s house my “settled (unwavering, everlasting) rest.”

 

Footnotes:

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

[1] Isaac Watts (1674-1748), English Christian minister, hymn writer, and theologian; recognized as the “Father of English Hymnody” and credited with over 750 hymns, among them, Joy to the World, O God our Help in Ages Past, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

[2] The full text of Watts’ paraphrase of Psalm 23:

  1. My Shepherd will supply my need: Jehovah is His Name;

In pastures fresh He makes me feed, beside the living stream.

He brings my wandering spirit back when I forsake His ways,

And leads me, for His mercy’s sake, in paths of truth and grace.

  1. When I walk through the shades of death, Thy presence is my stay;

A word of Thy supporting breath drives all my fears away.

Thy hand, in sight of all my foes, doth still my table spread;

My cup with blessings overflows, Thine oil anoints my head.

  1. The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days;

O may Thy house be my abode, and all my work be praise!

There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come;

No more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.

[3] Psalm 23, King James Version:

  1. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
  2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
  3. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
  4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
  5. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
  6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

On the air

There are 300 or so FCC[1]-licensed radio stations in South Carolina. Of them, 50 or so or a healthy 16% of market share are religious (read: Christian);[2] their perspectives tending, trending toward the conservative evangelical end of the theological continuum. The programming runs the gamut of biblical studies, sacred music, both traditional and largely contemporary, church services, especially sermons, and religious oriented talk and news formats, covering topics of local, national, and international interest.

Since February 2015, retiring to South Carolina from Washington, DC (the last nearly 17 years spent on Capitol Hill where everything was within walking distance[3]), I have done more driving. Lots more.

I describe myself (well, one of my self-descriptions) as a religious progressive. I am more suspicious of certainties or declarations of certainty and more trusting in life’s ambiguities. I believe most, perhaps all things are open to doubt and question, even the existence of God and, if not, then, given my ceaseless wrestling with the reality of evil in this world, God’s benevolence. (In all of this, I also believe that if or as God is God, then God can handle, perhaps even welcome my wonderments!) In league with my native (for I’ve been this way for as long as I can recall) propensity to think, then rethink, then think again about any and all things, I once described myself as “flamingly liberal” by which I meant and mean that the older I get my list of “negotiables”, things that are open to review and revision, gets longer and my list of “non-negotiables” grows shorter.

All this is to say that, as I drive, I listen to religious radio, especially those stations whose raison d’être it is to espouse a bedrock of unassailable belief in an immutable God. Why? My reasons, at least those of which I am conscious, are legion.

Mini interior

In the unswerving articulation of Christian conviction, I am confronted, at times convicted in my bewilderments and called to rethink my questions…

In the fundamentalist interpretations of biblical texts, I find myself deepening in my admiration and respect for what I consider a purity of understanding and application of foundational truths. I also marvel at how a text can be interpreted in myriad ways…

In listening to the sacred music, especially olden gospel tunes, I, remembering the melodies taught by my stalwart, sanctified Baptist grandmother, give full-throated assent in song; sometimes, in the face of my doubts, yearning to reclaim what I wish I used to believe…

In a word, I’m happy for the existence and happier still to listen to the many religious radio stations.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Federal Communications Commission

[2] In South Carolina, oft it is said that to throw a rock in any direction is to hit a church building. So, it seems is true of the radio dial, nearly every turn, whether clockwise or counterclockwise, tuning into a religious broadcast.

[3] By “everything, I mean everything – homes and apartments, stores and shops of all sorts, markets and restaurants, doctors and dentists, lawyers and realtors, banks and financial centers, post offices and commercial shipping offices, and in proverbial accord with that 18th century English nursery rhyme, “butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers”, and, when occasion necessitated, two stations on the fine Metro subway system that stretched throughout the DC and near Maryland and near northern Virginia region.

Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

Keep Calm and…

I love T-shirts. I’ve never been flashy (save, perhaps, for an emotive personality!) in dress; preferring an über-casual mien. And now, in retirement, except for Sundays and special occasions, rarely will I so much as don slacks and a laundered shirt; favoring jeans and, yes, again, T-shirts.

And though tending toward an understated appearance, eschewing the display of labels or slogans, this T-shirt, showing all the signs of repeated wearing and washing, is my favorite.

my fav T-shirt

For a variety of reasons…

It plays on the theme of the British government’s World War II word of inspiration, Keep Calm and Carry On; meant to bolster the morale of the English people under the gravest threat posed by the German aerial blitzkrieg. Nowadays, multiple are the words following Keep Calm and…, ranging from the wondrously sublime to the supremely humorous; all advocating a serene and steely perseverance in the face of trial and tribulation.[1]

And it bears the image of the fish; long a symbol for Christianity.[2] As such, it proclaims to others without my having to say a word that I am a Christian.

And it completes Keep Calm and… with Love Your Neighbor, which, further in keeping with the Christian lore I hold dear, is the second part of Jesus’ summation of the Law, generally, the Torah and, specifically, the 10 Commandments.[3] As such, it expresses my daily conscious intent to love[4] my neighbor, who, in the light of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, is everyone.

And it sparks immediate responses and impromptu conversations with my neighbors, whether known or unknown, of all manners of humankind and in all places where I go…

I’ve been approached by Jews, Muslims, and Christians who, in a variety of ways, remark of their theological and ethical identification with the summons to love neighbors rooted in the Torah, the Koran, and the Bible…

I’ve been asked by some what I believe it means to love my neighbor, which, on one occasion, in a grocery store aisle, led to the inquirer’s confession of his struggle to love and forgive a relative whose words and actions had inflicted grave harm…

I’ve been hailed by folk, all strangers, walking by me on the street, once from a lady, smiling and waving to me, driving by in her car, with this astounding (at the first occurrence, but, now, it’s come again and again) greeting: “I love you, too!”

I treasure each and all of these encounters and interactions, especially given my awareness and sensitivity to what I consider the bitter-and-blaming-difference-disparaging-either-you’re-for-me-or-against-me zeitgeist of our days and times.

As T-shirts and banners of self-declaration go, Keep Calm and Love Your Neighbor is my favorite.

 

Footnotes:

[1] For example, Keep Calm and…Be Honest, Be Yourself, Call Batman, Dab On ‘Em, Dream On, Eat A Cookie, Game On, Go To Hogwarts, Hakuna Matata, Innovate, Just Do It, Make A Change, Never Grow Up, Party All Night, Press CTRL ALT DET, Stay Strong, Use The Force… The possibilities are endless!

[2]The fish (or, in the Greek, ichthys) was adopted as a Christian symbol prior to the 2nd century of the Common Era; some suggest as a secret sign of identification during periods of the state persecution of Christians. Through the 3rd and 4th centuries, as it grew in popular recognition and use, the letters (i – ch – th – y – s) were viewed as forming an acronym for the phrase, Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

[3] A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22.35-40).

[4] By “love”, I do not mean my expression of kindly affection, which arises from how I feel about others, but rather, for me, always something more spiritual and substantial; that is, exercising my Spirit-bestowed power in active benevolence toward and for others. Do I fail in doing this? Yes. Usually when I am hurt and angry, and then allow my not-so-considerate-feelings toward another to get in the way of my loving that person. Nevertheless, Jesus’ call to love my neighbor ever rings in my mind and heart, soul and spirit, summoning me to act.

behold our God!

a sermon, based on Genesis 1.1-2.4 and Matthew 28.16-20, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017

A story is told that Voltaire,[1] that French Enlightenment philosopher known, among many things, for his complicated relationship with religion, once doffed his hat at the passing of a funeral procession. A friend, surprised, said, “I thought you did not believe in God.” Voltaire replied, “We acknowledge each other, though we are not on speaking terms.”[2]

We, declining to share Voltaire’s sensibilities, claim the annual grace of Trinity Sunday (if not on any other day, then surely this day!) to acknowledge and speak of the threefold nature of God: alway transcendent, beyond all things, immanent, with all things, and spiritually in all things.

The Trinity - Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina

The word “trinity” is not found in the Bible. Still, the Bible, in one sense, is our record of our religious ancestors’ encounters with what 20th century German theologian Rudolph Otto[3] termed the mysterium tremendum et fascinans; that mystery called “God” before which we, in fascinated reverence and fear, tremble. Therein, we behold their attempts to make sense of that mystery, putting into language their experiences and perceptions.

Through the lens of this understanding, let us see what our spiritual forebears have to tell us about God and about us.

Before we do, I share a word about words. Words are symbols. Whether spoken or written, they are meant to conjure up the in the minds of the speaker and hearer, the writer and reader the realities to which they point. Hence, the word “God”, as a symbol, is not God, but only the term we use in our attempt to communicate our understanding of the reality of that mysterium tremendum et fascinans. And, as God is mystery (not a riddle to be resolved, but that which, in its totality, is beyond the reach of our reason), try as we might, we never can comprehend God completely. In a word (pun intended!), we never fully “get”, grasp God. Yet, in our continued quest for understanding, we hope, we believe that what we do get is fully God. For that reason, through prayer, study, and worship, we keep trying, remaining steadfast in the quest to behold our God!

Now, back to the Bible!

The first Genesis creation story is a rhapsodic Hebrew poem testifying that God is almighty! For through the agency of “wind”, in the Hebrew, ruach, Spirit, “sweeping over the face of the waters”, God creatio ex nihilo, creates out of the nothing of “formless void and darkness.” Whenever we humans “create” we always must take things that already exist to fashion something new. God begins with nothing and, through word, “Let there be…”, comes light, sky, earth, and sea, suns and stars, flora and fauna, and humankind. And this unfolding differentiation continues unto this day. Our God always is creating and we, made in God’s image, are called to create, not destroy. Our dominion over the earth is not, is never to be domination, but rather creative caretaking, loving stewardship.

In the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Jesus declares unto his first disciples the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” As important as this mission of baptizing and teaching has been and is for the spread of Christianity, the most important word Jesus says is “therefore.” Jesus can  (is able to) command his disciples because “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus claims the authority, the right to exercise power, of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the God of whom Genesis speaks as the almighty Creator.

It is this God revealed in this Jesus who, in the Spirit, is “with (us) always, to the end of the age.”

Behold our God!

 

Illustration: The Trinity, Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina (1475-1536)

Footnotes:

François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694-1778)

[1] Voltaire, the nom de plume of François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778) famous or infamous, depending on one’s point of view, for his attacks on the established church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and separation of church and state.

[2] Recorded in David Head’s He Sent Leanness: a book of prayers for the natural man (The MacMillan Company, 1959), page 36.

iottoru001p1

[3] Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), German Lutheran theologian and philosopher.

Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

“Bless your heart”

Living in the South for the past 2½ years, how often have I heard this phrase? Dwelling in the realm of time and space where much is measured numerically, though I cannot truthfully say “countless times”, truly I can say, “I’ve lost count!”

And hearing it daily, repeatedly in many a (every?) setting, I have learned that this über-utilitarian aphorism has manifold circumstantial uses and contextual meanings; the majority of which fall into two major categories…

As a pitying or insulting negative judgment of a person, whether behind the back or to the face. For example, “She/he/you had such good intentions, but her/his/your performance was sadly underwhelming, bless her/his/your heart.” When employed in this instance, usually the speaker arrives at that closing phrase with lowered tone and soft voice, having the effect of tempering the harshness of the critique and, at times, masking barely the passive-aggression of the criticism.

Blessedly, I have heard or overheard these three words used far more as an expression of earnest kindness. One does a good deed for another and the recipient of that grace says to the giver, “Thank you and bless your heart.” A loved one dies and one, seeking to offer a word of consolation, says, “Bless her/his and your heart.” In each case, the phrase oft is uttered with a breathy sincerity that infuses, inspirits the words, in the first instance, with genuine gratitude and, in the second, with sincerest sympathy. And in each case, the phrase oft is preceded by the sacred word, “God”.

I digress…

A word, as a symbol, points beyond itself to a reality (at times, in the instant moment of its utterance or script, unobservable), which the word, both for the speaker/writer and the listener/reader, brings into the view of the mind’s eye, thus, giving shape to and making sense of the reality. In this act of communication, usually, indeed, I think, always the speaker/writer and the listener/reader, each with her/his own experience and perception, do not, cannot mean the same thing. Hence, the necessity of their engaging in deepening interaction, frequently (always?) entailing the employ of more words to define the one word.

That said, here in the South, I discern a remarkable similitude in people’s use of the word “God” in reference to a reality, indeed, a Being, thus, not something, but rather Someone to whom is ascribed the agency of the power to create and sustain life. Moreover, in Christian circles of faith, I observe that folk speak and write of God in various ways, yet, again, with a notable likeness, as the principal actor on the stage of the universe and the primary protagonist of scripture’s sacred story as revealed through the life and mission of the people Israel, in the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and by the eternally illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit.

In this, I experience an inner, spiritual, nearly ineffable resonance; indeed, a kindred person-to-person blessing of hearts.