An Instructed Eucharist: Rite II, Part 2 – The Liturgy of the Table

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 20th Sunday after Pentecost, October 22, 2017

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Introduction

This morning’s Instructed Eucharist, covering the second part of the service, the Liturgy of the Table, is intended to give us a greater understanding of the Holy Eucharist, “the principle act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day.”[1]

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 544 – Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Opening Acclamation, Book of Common Prayer, page 355

Collect for Purity

Gloria in excelsis – Glory to God in the highest                      Hymnal 1982, S – 280

Collect of the Day – Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

First Reading – Exodus 33.12-23

The Psalm – 99

Second Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1.1-10

Sequence Hymn 493 – O for a thousand tongues to sing

The Gospel – Matthew 22.15-22

Sermon – Of Loyalty & Love

The Nicene Creed, BCP, 358

Prayers of the People, BCP, 392

Confession, BCP, 393

Absolution, BCP, 360

The Peace

Announcements

The Holy Communion or the Liturgy of the Table

Narrator: The Offertory Sentence calls us to bring our gifts to the altar. God provides grain and grapes. We produce bread and wine, which we now offer to God that through the Holy Spirit they may become spiritual food and drink. We offer our money as a gift of our life’s labors to support the mission of God’s church.

Presider: Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; bring offerings and come into his courts.

Narrator: The choir sings an anthem. In the words of the hymn, “When in our music God is glorified and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried, ‘Alleluia!’”[6] music is another offering of our praise to God.

The Offertory Anthem – Amazing Grace/Pachelbel’s Canon

Narrator: The altar is prepared. Water is added to the wine, reflecting Jewish tradition meant to promote temperance. Water also is a symbol of baptism.

In the Great Thanksgiving, we pray that Jesus feed us with the spiritual food of his body and blood to strengthen us for the ministry of service in the world. In the Sursum Corda, Latin for “lift up your hearts”, we give voice to this joyful expectation.

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.

Narrator: The Proper Preface expresses the theme for the season or the day.

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:

Narrator: Thankful for God’s blessings, we sing the Sanctus, Latin for “holy”, joining our voices with the heavenly hosts, who ceaselessly sing God’s praise,[7] followed by the Benedictus, Latin for “blessed.” The crowds in Jerusalem greeted Jesus with these words during his triumphal entry; an event we commemorate on Palm Sunday.[8] So we now, in our anticipation of his coming to us in this sacred supper, sing these words.

All: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

All may kneel or remain standing.

Narrator: The priest recites the Christian story of God’s love in creation, our disobedience and consequent bondage to sin, and God’s persistent love in offering Jesus to live among us and to die for us to redeem us.

Presider: Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.

Narrator: The priest affirms that Jesus fulfilled the purpose for which he was sent.

Presider: He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.

Narrator: The Words of Institution or Consecration are found in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples[9] and in the historically earlier writing of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.[10]

Presider: On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” After supper, he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”

Narrator: Our redemption by God through Jesus Christ is a mystery; not fully knowable by reason, but believable by faith. In worship, we also recognize that we enter another dimension; stepping out of secular time[11] into God’s time or holy time.[12] In the Memorial Acclamation, we recall the past, claim the present, and hope for the future.

Presider: Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith.

All:         Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Narrator: The Anamnesis, a Greek word meaning remembrance, connotes something more than recalling a past event, but the calling of the past into the present. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we enter the life of God’s kingdom; not yet fully, but no less truly.

Presider: We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O God, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

Narrator: Remembering Jesus’ redemptive work, in the Oblation we offer the bread and wine to God.

Presider: Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts.

Narrator: In the Invocation we ask God to send the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine that Christ may be present. We also pray that the Spirit strengthen us for continued service, now and unto eternity.

Presider: Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.

Narrator: The Great Thanksgiving concludes with a Doxology, a prayer of praise. The priest elevates the bread and wine symbolizing the completed act of consecration. We respond with the Great Amen; the only “amen” in the Book of Common Prayer that is printed in capital letters. Having participated in the retelling of God’s act of salvation in Jesus Christ, the appropriate response is the assent of a loud “AMEN.”

Presider: All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ. By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever.

All:  AMEN.

Narrator: The Lord’s Prayer expresses the essence of our being open to God.

Presider: And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say,

All: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Narrator: The Fraction or the Breaking of the Bread is a visual symbol of Christ’s sacrifice in his body broken on the cross and, in the breaking of the bread to be shared with us, that we are members of his body.

Presider: Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.

All:          Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.

Narrator: The Invitation welcomes all to receive – and expresses the intent of receiving –  Communion.

Presider: The Gifts of God for the People of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.

Communion is administered.

Communion Hymn 325 – Let us break bread together

Narrator: In the Post-Communion Prayer we again thank God and recall that we have been strengthened for service.

All: Eternal God, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Narrator: The priest pronounces the Blessing, making a sign of the cross; a final reminder of Christ’s sacrifice.

Presider: The blessing of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be upon you now and always.

All:         Amen.

Recessional Hymn 522 – Glorious things of thee are spoken

Narrator: The Dismissal declares that the liturgy is complete. We are to go into the world offering our lives in love and service to God and to others.

Presider: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

All:          Thanks be to God.

 

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] The Hymnal 1982, #420, verse 1; words by F. Pratt Green

[7] Revelation 4.8

[8] Matthew 21.9, Mark 11.9, Luke 19.38, John 12.13

[9] Matthew 26.26-28, Mark 14.22-24, Luke 22.19-20

[10] 1 Corinthians 11.23-25

[11] Chronos

[12] Kairos

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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.

a message for my people…

Note: Following my February 1, 2015, retirement, I entered, as I’ve written in this space previously, my “rehirement;” since December 20, 2015, being privileged to serve the good and gracious folk of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, as their part-time Priest-in-Charge.

At the start of each month, we publish an e-newsletter, The Epiphany Star (well, by what other name would a missive from Epiphany Church be called?). Usually, my message pertains to the seasons of the church year or a coming event. For September, given the tremulous tenor of our times, I have been given different words.

Epiphany, Laurens, SC, facade

My Dear Sisters and Brothers,

As I survey the world around us, the words of Thomas Paine, who wrote at a time when the American Revolution seemed unsure, come to mind, which I paraphrase: These are the times that try (our) souls…

Though every historical age has its weight of woe, our time seems…feels to me particularly burdened.

Globally, we Americans are engaged in our longest war, in Afghanistan, with no sign of its end, and

The terrorists’ malevolence, which, save for 9/11, not so long ago seemed still far beyond our shores hath drawn closer, indeed, hath come ashore…

Nationally, however you voted in our last presidential election and whatever your political sympathies, daily we are witnesses to the roiling, tempestuous waters of our federal government in which the Leviathan of rank factionalism swallows the fair seagoing spirit of bipartisanship, and

We behold a renewed rise of cultural and racial turmoil that perhaps many of us, surely I, had thought, had hoped that we, as a nation, had resolved, and

The storm with a benign name, Harvey, has unleashed catastrophic horror on Texas cities and towns, especially Houston, and damaging the home of our own dear Bill and Marilyn Ladd.

At times like these that try our souls, one thing we, each and all, can do is pray; lifting our minds and hearts, souls and spirits in petition and intercession to God.

Recently, during a Sunday announcement, I shared this 6-fold pattern upon which most of the Collects in our Book of Common Prayer are constructed:

  • Our call or address to God
  • Our citation of an attribute or act of God
  • Our prayerful request
  • Our anticipated result should God grant our prayer
  • Our invocation of the Name of Jesus (or of the Trinity)
  • Our “Amen”, meaning, “so be it”

I offer this prayer for our daily use (I also encourage you to write and pray your own):

O God of glory and grace, from your almighty hand all good gifts are given to your children and your creation: We pray you spread abroad your Spirit of solace and strength that we, empowered and emboldened, in all our living may do your will, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

vocation & vacation

Sirius

Early July through mid-August, generally associated with the rising of Sirius (the Dog Star), encompasses much of the summer’s hottest, most inclement “dog days.” All South Carolinians know this. Latter-July through August also is the occasion of the final flings of summer travel and recreation before the annual reality of the return to school and work. This puts me in mind of the essential, ineradicable connection between labor and rest.

Vocation, from the Latin vocare, “to call”, refers to our working occupations or professions, and vacation, from the Latin vacare, “to empty” or “to vacate”, to our leisure or release, usually temporary, from our labors.

A full and well-rounded life, I believe, embraces both. In this, I am reminded of the gospels’ witness to the rhythmic cycle of Jesus’ public ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing always preceded and followed by his moments of prayerful solitude. In this recognition, I confess that for much of my life, I’ve been far more generous in giving my time and energy, my careful attention, even conscious appreciation to vocation than vacation.

During most of the 35+ years of my full-time ministry, I had the benefit of 4 weeks of vacation; the days of which, being thoughtful (or so I thought!), I sought to intersperse throughout the calendar year – a few days, a long weekend, and week or two here or there. It was my bride and ever-sage counselor Pontheolla who encouraged (read: required!) that we use the bulk of our annual leave at one time, saying, expressive of her enlightened self-interest, “Paul, it takes you at least a week, sometimes more to unwind. When we go away for only a few days, it’s no vacation for either of us!” True. Very true.

Epiphany, Laurens, SC, facade

Still, now in retirement, as I shared previously in this space, I’ve entered my “rehirement”, serving the marvelous community of folk of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, as their part-time priest-in-charge. I love them. I love what I do. And though long ago I realized I am a human being and not a human doing, what I do forms and frames a large part of my sense of who I am. Always has. Always, I presume, will. This means “vocating” remains easier for me to do and to be than “vacating.”

 

Photographs: Sirius by Akira Fujii and my photograph of the facade of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC (October 2015)

“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)…

About Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, South Carolina

On February 1, 2015, I entered my retirement.

Before that date, countless were the times, o’er my over 35 years of full-time active ministry, when I sat at the feet of my revered elder clergy, who, having led large congregations, spoke of the joys in retirement of serving smaller communities where pastoral relationships took on the character of a proximate, transparent intimacy. I oft wondered whether that would be my lot, indeed, whether I’d want it to be my lot! Or would I, in retirement, be ready, even needful of stepping away from exercising any form of clerical ministry?

On December 20, 2015, I entered my “rehirement” as the priest-in-charge, part-time, of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, South Carolina.[1]

Epiphany, Laurens, SC, facade

A year and a half into this still new ministry, I reflect…

What my elders told me has proven true for me. I love being a part of my Epiphany-community. Every Sunday, I have the exquisite pleasure of looking out at 30 or so souls and saying to myself, “You, each and all, belong to me and I belong to you.” Frequently enough, I say aloud to them, individually and collectively, “I love you.” Equally often, I open my sermons saying, “Once again it is my privilege to preach with[2] you in the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” (And they seem, so far, to put up with this Episcopal Church-born-and-bred, but black Baptist-rooted, coming by it honestly on my mama’s side, noisy-preacher!)

Moreover, I sense and receive from my folk a gentle, unconcealed deference for the ordained ministry (I haven’t been called “Father” this often since…since!) that, given much of my remembrances of my prior experiences and my reflections on the testimonies of my colleagues in other places, is a still-treasured characteristic of the South.

Still more, and most especially, I believe that God, who, in a Christian Trinitarian understanding, eternally dwells in the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in creating humankind in the imago Dei, the image of God,  hath hard-wired us, in our bodily, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual being-ness, for relationship. In this, I rejoice to be in relationship with the folk of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, South Carolina.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The Doric-columned edifice, built in 1846, listed in the National Register as part of Laurens Historic District, and the oldest actively-used church structure in Laurens County, South Carolina, is the home of a generously, generations-old loving community of people. The warmth of their affectionate care, person to person, permeates and emanates from the very brick and mortar and wood of the place.

[2] Long have I believed that I, as a preacher, do not preach at people, which, in my sense of things, means that I, endowed with especial Spirit-inspired wisdom, have the answers about God and life that I share with those who would not have the benefit and blessing of knowing save that I tell them. Nor do I preach to people, which, in my sense of things, is a kinder-and-gentler (read: more self-effacing, less arrogant) form of preaching at people. Rather, I, seeking alway to be in community, indeed, to be in communion with people, preach with them; the sermon, again, in my sense of things, being a form of ongoing communal conversation among God, people, and priest.

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

On preaching (Part 1 of 2)

“Paul, is preaching different in the South?”

In early 2015, following over 35 years of active ministry,[1] I retired to Spartanburg, SC. Since then, many times and in many ways, many people, most living in places other than the South, have asked me this question.

Usually, I answer with an immediate “Yes.”

Equally usually, I seek to intuit the assumption that provoked the question.[2] That assumption, for the most part, I characterize as a perception held by many of Southern illiberalism, manifesting itself, especially in regard to preaching, in a traditional (read: doctrinaire and dogmatic) form of biblical interpretation. However, I have not found this to be true.

Admittedly, as an Episcopal priest, I preach largely with Episcopalians, who, given our historic roots in the Church of England, the church of the via media,[3] whether North or South, East or West, span the widest and moderating range of the conservative-progressive biblical/theological continuum. Still, on the occasions I have preached in other settings with folk of the Church of God and of Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian communities, the common element of the experience, as fat as I can reckon, has had little, truly, nothing to do with my assumed or acknowledged conformity to one side or the other of the ideological spectrum. Rather, what I have found, what I have felt in the bones of my soul is people’s hunger to have an experience of God through the Bible. In this, I recognize the difference of preaching in the South.

Part 2 to come…

Footnotes:

[1] I emphasize the word active for three reasons. First, to distinguish my working life and my now retired life. Second, to testify to my belief that as long as one has breath and strength (no matter the vocation, but I also consider this supremely true of ordained ministry), there is life and labor to do in God’s Name. Third, in recognition of this second point, to acknowledge that, in December 2015, I “went back to work” as the part-time priest-in-charge (though daily I pray that God-in-Christ-through-the-Holy Spirit is in charge!) of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC.

[2] Over time and experience, I have come to believe that in order for me to ask a question, seeking to fill a void in my pool of knowledge or to resolve a lack of my understanding, I have had to base my inquiry on a starting assumption, which, given the response, either was validated or negated. To put this another way, I often ask myself: “What question did I have to answer first that formed the basis for my present inquiry?” I have found this tact useful in revealing my sometimes unconscious notions about the truth or reality of a person (including myself!), place, or thing.

[3] Via media, “the middle way” or “the middle road” has been a common self-identifier of the Anglican Church (Church of England) since its formal establishment during the 16th and 17th centuries; at that time in history descriptive of stance between Roman Catholicism and the Continental (European) Protestant Reformation. (Today, one way that I would characterize the Episcopal Church as via media is taking a position between nihilism, which, believing life is meaningless, rejects all religious and moral principles, and relativism, which, believing no principles have absolute value, views all ideologies as equal.)