Behold the Lamb of God

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When I was a parish priest, I concluded that two themes in sermon always met with comprehension and satisfaction, regardless of the relative merits or lack thereof in the sermon as a whole: “God loves you as you are” and “in rest and quietness is our strength.” This says something about us, who suffer from deficient self-esteem and distraction. Both themes are genuinely related to the Christian tradition, in the first grace and the second contemplation. And in each case more needs to be said: grace is God’s work that calls then for a response from us, and contemplation is really about adoration of the One contemplated, and not the outcome it produces in our state of mind, blood pressure, etc. 

In light of all this, we can readily admit that we are hardly ready, upon entering Church, to begin worship. The liturgy recognizes this by adding a number of items, which are the equivalent of a pre-game warm-up: the hymn, the Collect for purity (and in Morning Prayer the confession and the Venite). We need a lot of calming down and focusing (I address here, first of all myself, especially as one with a tad of ADD). In this age of sensory bombardment and frenzied pace, our nervous systems alone could use some gearing down before lifting up our prayers.

So I have been thinking recently about the tradition of Taize. It was an ecumenical movement that began among Reformed Christians in France in the wreckage of post- WW II France. Soon it drew a continuing stream of young people from throughout the world. Its worship is simple, repetitive, adorational, rich with candles, chants, icons, interspersed with silence. I think it is just the medicina animi for our time.

One theme of Nativitytide is beholding the Christ-child: the shepherds, the angels, the wise men do just this, and John the Baptist exhorts to do just this in John 1. I hope that we will, this season and increasingly at all times, include this wordless wondering of beholding of the Word made flesh in our own spiritual lives. It is a timeless calling most apt for our time.



So What's Episcopal?

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The most stark and basic questions are the best. This one came to me during the evangelism conference here, since what we are sharing is simply the Gospel, but we are bound to do so in an Episcopal mode.  How do we keep those distinct but in the right order?

It helps to start with some practical candor. Sometimes we are Episcopal out of habit or inertia, though these don't remove the value of having a reason as well. Sometimes people have become Episcopal as the mid-point between Presbyterian and Roman, which has some rough- and- ready sense.  These days, denominations are brands, and people sometimes come as they shop for a good sermon, Sunday school, or choir, though we realize they may leave for the same reason. Finally the question is made harder by the range to be found just within our own congregations.

So where does that leave us? In this at least somewhat ecumenical day, the reasons don't need to be unique to us so long as they do accurately describe us. First we are an apostolic tradition, by which I mean one that emphasizes that the Christian faith is “deep and wide,” going back to the beginning, on to our Lord's return, and global. This means that, though features may vary from one locale to another, they should be recognizable. This is the point of those living symbols called “bishops.” Secondly we are Prayer Book.  A shared way of praying that seeks to conserve all it can of our heritage has historically bound us together. This principle will continue to be tested from various angles. Third and finally, as I know Dean Kevin Martin likes to stress, ours is a tradition which has sought a lively encounter with local culture within the contours of Biblical faithfulness.

Will these prove enough to hold Anglicans together over the long haul? God himself knows. Are they contestable?  Of course.  That is one reason we continue to need serious theological education in the church. We also need to think hard about how we present ourselves to newcomers in a way consonant with these.  We are first Resurrection- people, but also ones who have a “goodly heritage.”  



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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.