How do you make time for renewal and re-creation? Do you go for a walk? Bake a cake? Garden? Watch television? Go tinker in the garage? Browse the web or facebook? Sit down with a good book? Have a glass of wine?
A favorite author of mine, Lauren Winner, explains in her book, Girl Meets God, how she was using her spare time. One year when Ash Wednesday rolled around, Lauren decided that she wanted to give to God her love of food. She was determined to spend time fasting during Lent. Except her priest challenged her. He asked her to instead give up reading for all of Lent. And you might be thinking, why would a priest ask a parishioner to give up reading? It’s good for you! Except Lauren loved to read. So much so that she had 3,000 books crammed into her graduate student apartment. When her priest suggested she move the books out of the apartment so she wouldn’t be tempted, she simply laughed. But what happened to Lauren during those 40 days was pretty interesting. She found that the times when she wanted to relax, or needed some comfort, she would turn to her favorite activity: read a good book. And now that she couldn’t do that, she turned to God in prayer when she needed comfort. She realized she wasn’t spending nearly enough time with God in prayer. And that reading- albeit a very healthy practice- was actually keeping her from having a more intimate relationship with God.
Sometimes our beloved hobbies keep us from sitting with our real feelings. They keep us from delving into a deeper relationship with Christ. And when we strip away the activities we love, and we find ourselves with one of those quiet moments, how do we feel? What do we notice in our hearts? Do we find loneliness? Do we find sorrow? I hope the one feeling that we will all find, when we slow down long enough, is a sense of joy.
In the gospel today Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
What is joy? And for that matter, what does it mean to have joy dwelling within us? The English language tends to intertwine words like joy, happiness, pleasure, and bliss as one word with the same meaning. But they have different meanings. They have different realities. When we experience happiness, a good feeling bubbles up unexpectedly, usually brought on by some external event. It’s often noticeable by others-- a smile, a laugh, a pleasant disposition. Happiness though is a mood, and it can come as quickly as it can go.
Joy is a completely different matter. When we experience joy, we have a delightful happiness. Yet this delightful happiness comes from within. Joy is something constant. Joy is a way of being, a way of living. I like to think about joy as a rock at the center of our being. A rock, keeping us firmly grounded so we don’t drift away during times of great sorrow and pain. And yet there are others times, when joy is a rock preparing to explode within us. Sort of like when the Grinch’s heart triples in size. We literally can’t help but spread that goodness to those around us. Joy is something you can see in another person’s eyes, the gateway to their soul. And we know from today’s gospel that the joy that we have experienced, comes from following Christ. When we choose to follow Jesus, to be baptized into this new life, Christ’s joy abides in us. Christ’s joy dwells within us.
Henri Nouwen once said, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” We wake up each day with the chance to follow Christ. And when we follow Christ, we will experience that joy. I’ve yet to meet someone who truly gave their life over to God and didn’t experience that radically, life changing joy. Because joy isn’t a simple happiness, of things going the way we want. Joy is Christ dwelling within us. Joy is that feeling of wholeness that we experience as we receive the bread and the wine at communion. No matter how badly things are going, no one can take away the joy that Christ gives us. And we wake up each day with the chance to choose that joy when we choose to follow Christ.
There is a prayer that I say regularly for my children. That God might continue to keep them safe, healthy, and full of the joy that comes from knowing Christ. And today that is my prayer for all of you. When the joy of Christ dwells within us, we’re going to be okay. Even if we’re not safe from harm, even if we’re not healthy. The joy of knowing Christ will guide us, it will carry us. And once we’ve experienced that kind of radical, life changing joy, we can’t keep it to ourselves. We must share it. In fact Jesus commands us to share this joy. To love one another as he has loved us.
Each of us has the power to help someone else’s life be forever changed by joy of Christ. We live in a hurting world, a world where there is so much danger, there is so much hurt, there is so much darkness and emptiness. We are called to share this joy, to share this light that dwells within us. The question is how will we share this joy. It goes back to evangelism. How do we spread the Good News of Christ?
A friend of mine is a missionary on a college campus. He’s a young man, working in a more evangelical tradition. And most of the ministry he does is through small group ministries and one on one conversations. But occasionally, they do what he describes as, “Cold Turkey Evangelism”. They ask people if they know Christ. It’s actually pretty hard work, and it’s not meant for everyone. But there are people that can do cold turkey evangelism, and it works, it changes lives.
On the other side of the spectrum is lifestyle evangelism. As Lauren Winner puts it in Girl Meets God, “Being a lifestyle-evangelist doesn’t require handing out tracts; it just requires living a good, God-fearing, Gospel exuding life. I like to assume that most people know I am a Christian and when they see that I am sometimes joyful and sometimes peaceful when they are not, they will want to know my secret.”
I think that many Episcopalians would consider themselves Lifestyle Evangelists. We are a tradition that likes to respect people’s beliefs and allow others enough space to come to their own conclusions. We truly seek to live our lives in such a way that those who don’t know God, can come to know God through us. And when we are in touch with the joy we experience from knowing Christ, I believe others will meet God in us.
As we go about our lives, there will be times when the Holy Spirit will call us to spread this good news to others. Often in a way that might surprises us. May we embrace those unexpected moments, and risk the transformation that is possible within each of us and our neighbor, when we share the joy of Christ dwelling within us.
Let us pray: O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding. Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Several years ago, when the film Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring came to theaters, a friend’s family asked me to join them. I had no idea what the film was about, let alone ever heard of the book, but was happy to go to the movies. The story captivated me. I was completely drawn in. Nearly three hours went by in a flash. The next thing I knew, Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee had left the fellowship, for fear the ring might corrupt Frodo’s friends, and they wandered over a mountain on their journey to destroy the ring in Mordor.
As the closing credits came on screen, and my friends got up to leave the theater, I was a bit indignant. How could this be the end of the movie? Good had not overcome evil in a happy ending. This is when my friends broke the news to me that this was just the first of three films that would be released over the course of three years. But I didn’t want to wait years, so they suggested I read the books, which I promptly did.
We count on great stories to teach us about good overcoming evil. We seek out J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Madeleine L’engle’s Time Quintet, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter to discover how good overcomes evil. How love overcomes fear. How light overcomes the darkness. It’s not easy for us to discern in our everyday lives, but these authors tell us stories that can open up the possibility within each of us, within the story of our own lives. In many ways, these authors draw the arch of their story, from what I would argue is the story, the story we are here to celebrate today: the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Except much like my viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring, we don’t get our happy ending. We don’t get to close the book and move on. Not one of the gospel writers ended their story, “...and they lived happily ever after.” Easter is remarkably good news, arguably the best news of all, but it’s not the end of the story. Instead, what we see is how Christ overcomes death and the grave, how good is overcoming evil, how love is overcoming fear, and how light is overcoming the darkness. We live thru Good Friday to find the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. But the Good News isn’t over, because we are still only in the middle of our story, act two in a three act play. Like those who’ve gone before us, we a part of the story. Characters that come on mid-scene, and our ancestors were characters in the chapters before us. Our role in the story began with Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James, and Salome when they went to anoint Jesus’ body within the tomb.
The women worried as they walked towards the tomb--who would roll that very large stone away? Yet when they arrived and looked up, the stone had already been rolled back. Instead of Jesus’ body, they find a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side of the tomb. Understandably, they begin to freak out. But the young man tells them not to be alarmed. After all they’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, and he has been raised. He’s not in the tomb.
The young man instructs the women to go and tell the other disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, and there they’ll see him, just as Jesus told them. The women fled the tomb, seized by terror and amazement. But a bit surprisingly, they don’t seem to follow the young man’s instructions.Because the last line of the gospel is, “...and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
“...they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
I’m sure we can all relate to that experience, locked in our own fear, unable to proceed forward or return backward, stuck in our own fear. Yet if the women had never told anyone, we might not be here today. Just like those great pieces of literature, the story continues, just not on paper. It continues with the women’s choice, after the written story has already ended. Something happens for them, something encourages them, to dig deep and share with their fellow disciples that Jesus is indeed risen. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here right now.
Unlike a good book, we don’t get to put it down and walk away, having enjoyed a good story. We have a job, a role, a part to play in good overcoming evil, in love overcoming fear, and in light overcoming the darkness. Because no matter what anyone may have told you, following Jesus is not a spectator sport. It is a full body, mind, and spiritual experience that defines our very existence.
We have a choice to make: Are we going to remain paralyzed by our own complacency, our own doubt and uncertainty, our own fear, our own anger, our own darkness? Or will we dig deep to find the Christ within us, and embrace our role in the story as followers of Jesus?
Just like that cold winter day in December of 2001, when I indignantly left the theater, frustrated that we didn’t get to see the end of the story, we leave here today without seeing the end of the story. We know, we believe, we affirm like those who have gone before us that…
“On the third day [Jesus] rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the [Creator].
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end” (Nicene Creed, BCP 358).
We know that “We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come” (Nicene Creed, BCP 359).
But as we look ahead, we are not sitting on a park bench, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the Jesus train to show up. We don’t see the end of how this story plays out in our earthly life, but boy does it matter that we play our part during our lives. That we live into our baptismal promises so that in our daily lives we are joining Christ in the work of good overcoming evil, love overcoming fear, and light overcoming the darkness. When the women discover the empty tomb, what they realize in fear and trembling, is that their work is not over, it has just really begun, and so has ours. At first they were afraid, but in Christ overcame their fear, or we wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t know about that empty tomb.
So I wonder, as we engage in this work of overcoming, what are you afraid of? What are you called to deal with, work thru, take on, or embrace? How might we together as a united body of Christ join in helping good to overcome evil, love to overcome fear, and light overcome the darkness? Amen.
Rev. Heather Blais
Again this week we are having an Instructed Eucharist, which simply means we will be pausing at a few different times in the service to talk about why we do what we do. Our tradition is rich with symbolism and meaning, and my hope is that this will enhance our worship experience. Let’s start with the beginning of the service.
Our service usually begins with a hymn, and when we are in the main sanctuary with a Processional. The processional gets the altar party to their designated places. The procession is formal, featuring a verger, crucifer, torchbearers, and the Gospel book held high. They process while the congregation sings a hymn. The processional stems from when Christianity was first legalized under Constantine in the fourth century. At that time, services became more formalized, which increased participation in the liturgy, and worship began to take place in larger buildings.
The Opening Acclamation is a greeting which marks the beginning of the liturgy, and serves as a reminder that the purpose of this gathering is to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
You may have noticed, that in the season of Lent we begin our worship with a Penitential Order, moving the Confession and Absolution to the beginning of the service. In Lent we are preparing ourselves for the Passion, Jesus’ suffering and death, and so the opening acclamation fits the theme of beginning worship by acknowledging our need for God’s grace and forgiveness and by confessing our sins and hearing God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, pronounced by the priest.
When we are not in Lent, the opening acclamation is followed by the Collect for Purity – “Unto you all hearts are open and no secrets are hid…” It asks for God’s grace as part of our preparation for worship, and has been part of our liturgy since 1549.
We then move immediately into a hymn of praise to the Trinity. For most of the year we use the Gloria in Excelsis, which means, “Glory to God in the highest”, and begins with the song the angels sang to shepherds in Luke’s nativity story. Its use in worship dates from the fourth century. During Lent (and often in Advent as well,) we substitute another hymn such as the Kyrie, “Lord, have mercy”.
The central aspect in the first half of the service is the Liturgy of the Word, where we hear scripture lessons, listen to a reflection on God’s word, and respond with prayer.
Ordinarily there are four Lessons. They are assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary, which helps us get through most of the Bible in a three-year cycle, known as Years A, B, and C. Most mainline Churches use the lectionary. The first and third lesson are read by a reader from the congregation at a lectern. Lecterns are often in the shape of an eagle, to remind the congregation of John the Evangelist, who proclaimed Christ as ‘the Word of God’ at the beginning of his Gospel. The hope being the Word of God will reach the ends of the earth, when read from the eagle lectern.
The first lesson is usually from the Hebrew Scriptures, sometimes referred to as the Old Testament. These were the Scriptures that Jesus knew.
The second lesson is a Psalm from the Psalter, (which are really hymns intended to be sung, which is why we sometimes chant the psalm.) The Psalms are attributed to King David, but in reality they come from many different authors, during many different periods of Israel’s history.
The third lesson is from the New Testament, which consists of twenty-seven early Christian writings that the early Church agreed should be considered Holy Scripture. We typically hear a passage from one of the early church letters, many of which came from the Apostle Paul, Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, or The Revelation of John.
The fourth lesson is an excerpt from one of the four New Testament gospels and it is the climax of the liturgy of the word. The word gospel means “good news”, and the writings tell the good news of God’s saving act in Jesus Christ. By tradition, the Gospel is read from the center of the congregation, so the word of God will be proclaimed with the people, not at them. Worshippers customarily stand and face the Gospel book to signify our heightened attention to this most important reading. If you have ever been to Jewish worship, you may have observed how closely our Gospel procession resembles the Jewish tradition of bearing the Torah scroll into the midst of the congregation.
After the readings we hear the Sermon. The point of a sermon is to “break open” the Word of God. The preacher will give thoughtful prayer and consideration to the lessons, in particular the gospel, any theme that might be present, the liturgical occasion, the congregation gathered, and the pastoral needs of the situation. Sermons have been a part of worship since the early church.
Following the sermon is the Creed, which is a basic statement about our belief in God. We have used the Nicene Creed in its current form since the 4th century, when it was developed by early Church leaders to help articulate and ensure consistency within the Christian movement.
We then express our concerns to God in the Prayers of the People. There are many different versions approved by the Church for use. The prayers usually cover six categories: the church, the world, the nation, the community, the suffering, and the dead. General intercessions in worship are an ancient practice of the early church.
The Prayers are usually followed by the Confession and Absolution, moved, during Lent, to the opening of the service.
This part of the service concludes with the exchange of the Peace, an ancient Christian practice where we share a sign of reconciliation, love, and renewed relationships in the Christian community by greeting one another “with a Holy Kiss” as it says in scripture—or just a handshake and a smile. As Christians, we believe making peace with one another is necessary before receiving the Holy Eucharist.
The second half of the worship, known as the liturgy of the table, opens with the Offertory, in which we offer ourselves as well as our material gifts to God. After an invitation from the celebrant, representatives of the congregation carry forward the bread, wine, and water used in the Communion. We also offer our monetary gifts that will be used to glorify God through our mission and ministry, and, often, food that will be used to help those in need. During the offertory, the deacon or a priest prepare the table with the elements to be used in communion
The service then continues to the heart and center of liturgy, the Great Thanksgiving or Eucharistic Prayer. Our Prayer Book includes five different Eucharistic prayers, and many others are authorized for our use, some of which we use once a month at our 10AM service. While each of the prayers has a particular emphasis or style, they all share the same purpose to give thanks to God for the creation, redemption, and sanctification of the world.
Immediately following the Great Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer is the Lord’s Prayer and Fraction. The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer Jesus offered to the disciples, and we use it in every service. The Fraction is the moment when the bread is broken: it serves as both a reminder of when Jesus broke the bread at the Last Supper, and, metaphorically, of his sacrifice of his life for the redemption of the world.
Next is the Invitation, “The Gifts of God for the People of God.” Traditionally, and officially, this is the moment when all baptized members are invited to come forward and receive the bread and cup. Saints James and Andrew is part of a movement within the Episcopal Church that believes that radical hospitality matters more than whether one is a baptized member. The belief being that if all are welcomed at God’s table, and experience being spiritually fed by Christ, they will in turn want to commit their lives to Christ in baptism. Here at James and Andrew, all are welcome to partake in Holy Communion. When you consume the bread given at communion, you have received communion in full. Those who may not want to receive communion are invited to come forward for a blessing from the priest.
After the altar party finishes communion and the Table is cleared, we share in the Post Communion Prayer. This is a prayer of thanksgiving that dates back to the fourth century and seeks God’s help for a life in Christ. After experiencing the mystery of the sacrament, the community is transitioning to going forth to participate in mission and ministry to the world.
Next is the Blessing, said by a priest or bishop, pronouncing God’s love and favor upon the community. There are literally thousands of blessings!
The very last part of the service is the Dismissal. The Latin phrase that describes this portion of the service translates to, “Go, it is the sending.” At this point, the worship service has ended, but our service as ministers of Christ is just beginning. We are to go into the world in the name of Christ.
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