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.
Sometimes, anger is a good thing. In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds us there are times for a holy anger. Like all faith traditions, Jewish practices around God’s law evolved over time. Certain animal sacrifices were required when offering a thanksgiving; for seeking purity after a time of impurity; or for seeking forgiveness of sin. The law required that the animals be unblemished, and the way temple priests could ensure this was if they had some say in where those animals were purchased. As a result, in front of the temple was a marketplace. You could purchase unblemished animals for sacrifice. You could also exchange your Roman coins, which proclaimed Caesar as God, for another type of coin, a tyre, in order to enter the temple.
Today’s gospel lesson is in all four gospels. Given the tone in the other three gospels, where Jesus refers to the marketplace as a ‘den of robbers’, I think it’s safe to assume there was some corruption in the temple. Which is part of the reason we see a righteous anger that Jesus rarely unleashes. He pours out the coins of the moneychangers, overturns their tables, and drives all the vendors away from the temple. He tells the vendors selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”(John 2:16).
Jesus is angry about the corruption religious leaders have allowed and participated in. By setting up the marketplace in front of the temple, requiring people to purchase their sacrifice from marketplace vendors, and the requirement of dealing with money changers, pushes God further from people’s reach. It also makes the temple leaders seem more concerned with making a profit than with helping connect people with God. They’ve gotten their priorities a bit askew.
Jesus is also angry that people don’t seem to understand God’s nature and why he is there. When the people in the crowd ask him, “What signs can you show us...?” he responds by telling them he will, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2: 18-19).
But since the temple had been under construction for the last forty-six years, they blew him off as some self-righteous show off. Yet after he was raised from the dead, his disciples, and all of us, know what he really meant. He meant himself. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is God incarnate. Jesus is the temple that is destroyed and raised up again on the third day. Jesus is what will consume our hearts with zeal. Once Jesus is on the scene, there is no more need for sacrifice. It means God will interact with us in a whole new way, God becomes accessible in a way that was not possible under the temple system. Instead of sacrifices in the temple, God comes to meet us where we are.
Jesus felt that temple life, limiting access to God, was an injustice, particularly given in John’s gospel, Jesus already knew exactly who he was and why he was there. Why didn’t everyone else understand this? But we’re human, and need a few dozen memos for this kind of news to sink in--so the temple authorities and the crowd did not quite understand what Jesus was so worked up about. They didn’t understand his very presence meant God was already with them and they didn’t need to pay a tyre to enter the temple or purchase an unblemished sacrifice to be forgiven. God was with them, right then and there.
Like Jesus, we sometimes get angry when we witness injustice. I remember feeling stunned and angry after Columbine. Yet after years of politicians arguing about gun control, very little changed, as the list of school shootings grew exponentially long. I remember feeling heartbroken and outraged after Sandy Hook. The image of those small children startled our country into a bit of action, but still the arguing in Washington ensued, limiting how much change was possible, and the list of school shootings grew to an unacceptable length. By the time Parkland happened this past Ash Wednesday, I felt too weary to be angry, at least at first. But then, for the first time in my memory, the students, the most recent victims, harnessed their righteous and holy anger and have spoken up in a way I have rarely seen. They have turned on the heat in a way no one else could, a way that may finally lead to much necessary change.
I’d like to read you a letter from the Episcopal Bishops of Massachusetts, including our own Bishop Doug Fisher.
From Lamentation to Action: Joint Statement from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts March 1, 2018.
We have all had enough of our children dying in their classrooms. We have had enough of mass shootings in which a semi-automatic rifle was the weapon of choice.
They lurk in ambush in public squares
And in secret places they murder the innocent;
They spy out the helpless (Psalm 10:8).
We have all had enough of the cycle of trauma, shock, anger, grief and numbness, fatigue and inaction. As followers of Jesus we have a two-fold mandate: lamentation and action. We must bring all of this to prayer for that is where we are held by the God who weeps with us. Prayer is the way we can come to some recognition and understanding of our complicity. It is the doorway to a transformed life.
As your bishops we join with Bishops United Against Gun Violence in designating Wednesday, March 14 as a Day of Lamentation for the lost and for the guilty, and to seek the transformation of our hearts. We ask you to gather in your congregations, or pause wherever you may be, at some time on that day, to weep, to mourn, to cry out to the God of justice.
We are grateful for and blessed by the initiative of young survivors of the recent Parkland, Florida, shooting who are leading the way in calling for the removal of weapons of war from our streets, and we thus encourage participation also in the March For Our Lives on Saturday, March 24. The mission statement on the event site reads as follows:
"March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to stop the epidemic of mass shootings that has become all too familiar. In the tragic wake of the seventeen lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now."
On March 24, many will make the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. Many will travel to Boston. Still others will march in locally organized “sister” marches throughout our Commonwealth. It is our fervent prayer that these coordinated events will be effective in moving the leaders of our nation to enact common sense gun safety measures to proactively address the security of our schools and public places, including reinstatement of an assault weapons ban.
The Episcopal Church stands with the brokenhearted. Let us pray together on March 14. Let us stand up on March 24. Let us move from lamentation to action for the sake of our children, for the soul of our nation and for the love of Jesus Christ.
The Rt. Reverend Douglas J. Fisher, Bishop Diocesan of Western Massachusetts
The Rt. Reverend Alan M. Gates, Bishop Diocesan of Massachusetts
The Rt. Reverend Gayle E. Harris, Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts
On Wednesday, March 14, we will join in the Day of Lamentation with prayer at our 9 a.m. Lenten Holy Eucharist. I invite you to join us in those prayers by worshiping with us in person, or we will post the prayers online so those working or without transportation can join us from afar as we lament the loss of our children lost to gun violence. And I encourage all that are able to join in the March 24 March for Our Lives. In addition to the one in Washington, D.C. there is a sister walk in Northampton.
Another way to act, is shareholder activism. If all of us who have stocks in our 401Ks or portfolios use our voice at the table to speak out, we can effect change. Three years ago Trinity Wall Street effected change at Walmart by using their shares to address their carrying assault weapons. More recently, the Episcopal Church’s Committee on Corporate and Social Responsibility, helped institute a similar change at Dick’s while working alongside other faith based groups. We do not have to sit idly by, we can take action that will make our children safer.
So as we head back into the world today, wonder, pray, with me and consider if we let zeal for God consume our hearts, how we might just have the energy and holy anger needed to transform the world. What part is God asking you to play? Amen.
During the church year, there is only one day when clergy across the globe will stand before their community and invite the gathered people of God to fully immerse themselves in the season. There is no Christmas or Easter invitation; nor is there an Advent, Epiphany, or Pentecost invitation. There is only one invitation, and it is to the observance of a holy Lent: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word” (The 1979 Book of Common Prayer 265).
In anticipation of this invitation, which will happen right after today’s homily, I’d like us to spend a few moments pondering what it might look like to observe a holy Lent. Lent is an opportunity to go deeper in your relationship with God. For some this means getting reacquainted with God after losing touch, for others it is a chance to take their spiritual life to a new level. It’s a bit like a spring cleaning of the soul, and the only way it happens is if we are intentional. If we say we want our house to be clean and tidy, to smell the freshness and appreciate the beauty of a home that has been deeply cleaned, but never make the time in our calendar, our home will continue to be a bit dusty and likely full of things it’s time to let go of. The key to observing a holy lent is to be intentional about your desire to grow closer to God, to deepen your connection to Christ and the Holy Spirit.
In addition to being intentional, it also helps to be realistic, to set a simple goal. Sometimes it is helpful to let go of something, and other times it is helpful to add a practice. Sometimes it’s a matter of doing both. Spend some time reflecting on what your turn to instead of God. When you are feeling tired, stressed, anxious, sad, or angry do you turn to sweets or alcohol? Do you turn to television or social media to numb the pain and fill the time? What might you let go of so you can turn your focus towards God?
When Jason and I asked our kids what they wanted to give up during Lent so they could better focus on God, we got some interesting answers. Lucas, our 6 year old, gave us a series of answers. First he offered to give up lunch, then playing, and finally, feeling particularly generous, he offered to give up school. We said we didn’t think God would want a growing boy to give up an important midday meal, playing, or learning at school (much to his disappointment). At that particular moment, Logan, our 10 year old, started to walk into the room, and Lucas slammed the door in his face. We suggested he consider giving up being rude to people (i.e. not slam doors in peoples faces and in general, mind your manners). Well he liked that idea, so Lucas has given up being rude for Lent. (His Sunday School teager suggested he might want to continue this practice after Lent, too). While it might seem a bit silly for a 6 year to give up being rude, to work on minding his manners, we talked about the deeper meaning behind it. That as followers of Jesus, we make promises in our baptism, and one of them is to respect the dignity of every human being. An easy way to start this as a kid, or as an adult, is minding manners, holding doors, and putting others first.
Like Lucas, I’m choosing to give up a behavior, or rather, to work on it. I want to give up my temper, something that more easily flares when I don’t consistently take enough time with God walking in the woods. I’m hoping to make more time for God in the woods, and in turn surrender my frustrations to God, letting go and knowing God has all of my struggles, all of my hurts, and all of my joy. I wonder, how is God calling you to be intentional this Lent? What is impeding your relationship or keeping you from going deeper? What are you surrendering yourself to instead of God? Or what practice might you add to go deeper?
Another way to frame our intentionality during Lent is to remember the prophet Isaiah’s words in today’s excerpt from the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah was speaking to a fractured Israel and Judah, who were on the rocks again, even after surviving the Babylonian exile. There’s a cyclical nature to the story of God’s people: people cry out for help, God saves them, they forget and go astray. When the people find themselves in trouble again, the cycle repeats. Even though God had recently saved them, the people had already forgotten, they’d already gone astray, and once again found themselves in trouble. Isaiah, who aches and hopes for a restored Israel and Judah, is once again pointing them towards God. He is telling God’s people that they’ve misused fasting. Instead of fasting in a way that points people towards God, leaders were using fasting in a way that caused further injustice, further oppression of God’s people. He gives them the answer to receiving God’s help on a silver platter, he says:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am (Isaiah 58:6-9).
If the people want God’s saving help again, all they need to do is have greater concern for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized amongst them. This good news was not just for the people of God thousands of years ago. This is good news for us too. If we really want God’s help, we must take action and fast against injustice: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless.
So I wonder, once again, how God is calling you to be intentional this Lent? What do you need to surrender to God? What spiritual practice might you need to add? What injustice in your life needs fasting--who in your life might God be asking you to help? Amen.
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