Two summers ago, I experienced the liberation of completing my first year of seminary. At the age of 42, I went back to school despite the fact that it had been twenty years since I completed my undergraduate degree. After that first year of seminary, the intensity and demands of graduate school weighed heavily on me. In June 2008, the summer had finally arrived and the hours of pouring over thousands of pages of assigned reading, and the writing of endless research papers and sermons were behind me. Yes, I was ready for a break.
“Holy Week: From ‘Hosanna’ to the Triduum to The Feast”
by The Rev. Eric S. Cooter
“Holy Week” for Christians has been and is just that, the holiest of weeks in our liturgical calendar. Through the liturgies of Holy Week, we experience a tradition that is centuries old. Palm Sunday, the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil), all lead us to the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord. The richness of these liturgies though, can be overlooked as we move from “Hosanna” to the “Triduum” to the “Feast.” Therefore, it is important for us to understand the history and nuances of deep meaning, which Holy Week embodies, as we recall the Passion of Our Lord.
Palm Sunday gets us into the week. On this Sunday, there are really two services (The Liturgy of the Palms and the Liturgy of the Passion). A discontinuity in these two liturgies provides a tension between the shouts of Hosanna as Our Lord entered the City of Jerusalem, and the Passion Gospel that provides the narrative for the Crucifixion of Our Lord. The Liturgy of the Palms should begin in a place apart from the Nave. The procession itself helps us to rediscover how a procession works on the body. The actual movement that covers some distance and helps to make present the reality of the day when Jesus entered the city. The entry into the church provides a shift in our focus and at this point, we move into the Liturgy of the Passion. This part of the liturgy sets the tone for the “Triduum” to come, which prepares us for the remainder of Holy Week.
The “Triduum” represents a complete liturgical narrative of the Passion. The focus in many parishes has been on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, but the Easter Vigil, the first Eucharist of Easter, has fallen into a lesser place of devotion. These three days are a complete, interconnected liturgical journey that expresses the dramatic narrative of Holy Week. The Triduum has its roots in the fourth century when Christians made pilgrimages to the Holy Land in commemoration of the Feast of the Resurrection. As these Christians moved about the city, special observances (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil) developed over time, and when the pilgrims returned home, these liturgies began to take root throughout the Roman Empire, and they stand as the forerunners of the liturgy we have today.
Maundy Thursday (from the root word “Mandatum”) is representative of Our Lord’s command to “Love one Another.” This command is expressed in the liturgy of the “foot washing.” The emphasis on this night is on community, the washing of the disciple’s feet by Our Lord, and our call to serve one another. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are a seamless whole and is expressed as such, because there is no dismissal on Maundy Thursday. We move directly from the foot washing, to the last celebration of the Eucharist until sundown Saturday, to the stripping of the altar and then to our exit in silence, to await the liturgy of Good Friday. The church remains bare throughout Good Friday until the first Eucharist of the year at the Great Vigil of Easter. Some parishes observe a “Gethsemane Watch” right after this service. The Body and Blood of Our Lord remains in the open tabernacle overnight, and pilgrims are invited to stay and observe the watch with Our Lord. This is a special time for reflection, prayer, and silence.
Good Friday recalls the death of Our Lord. We do not offer the Great Thanksgiving on Good Friday however, at the service we do receive the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Our Lord from the reserve sacrament, consecrated at the Maundy Thursday service and stored in the tabernacle. The liturgy itself is subdued and solemn. While the congregation is kneeling in silent prayer, the clergy enter the nave in silence. There is no musical procession during this entry. The gospel readings remind us that Jesus was in charge of the events of his passion, and it sets the tone for the liturgy. The focus is on remembering that Jesus offers himself for the rest of us. From the entry, then to the Liturgy of the Word, we move to the Solemn Collects. These are the oldest prayers that we know about and they are the ancient from for the intercessions offered by the congregation. The form that these prayers take begins with all standing and a ‘bidding’ said by the clergy, then with all kneeling, a lengthened silence is observed, and then with all standing again, a collect is offered by the clergy. After the Solemn Collects, the service concludes with the procession of a large cross, brought into the Nave and placed near the altar. The congregation kneels in silence and is invited to express some form of veneration to the cross. Some people come and kneel at the cross, some kiss the cross or touch it, and some remain kneeling at their seats. This is a very powerful moment in Holy Week, and your personal sense of piety should dictate how you respond to this invitation. We then move to the Confession of Sin, the Lord’s Prayer, Communion from the reserve sacrament, and then the final prayer. There is no blessing or dismissal, the clergy process in silence and the congregation leaves in silence.
The Great Vigil of Easter has been observed in many different ways, and with different fervor and commitment, depending on the parish and its history. We have to remember that this service is one of the most important of the week, as it represents the first Eucharist of Easter. Remembering that in Jewish tradition, the next day begins at the sundown of the previous day, the Great Vigil of Easter really is the first Eucharist of Easter. The timing of the Eucharist of the Great Vigil of Easter has traditionally been set after civil twilight, which begins at sunset and ends when the geometric center of the sun reaches 6° below the horizon. On that Saturday in 2011, official civil twilight begins at 8:24 p.m. and thus, the service begins at 8:00 pm so that the Eucharist will not be celebrated prior to civil twilight. The beauty and richness of this liturgy, stands in contrast to the beauty and richness of Christmas Eve. Outside the doors of the church, the “New Fire” is ignited and from it, the Paschal Candle is lit. The procession consisting of the clergy, servers and the congregation, join together behind the Paschal Candle and move into the completely darkened nave. The Paschal Candle, the “Light of Christ” is placed in its stand and from it, the congregation lights their individual candles, and the Exultant is said or sung. From this point, all present take their seats and patiently listen to the “History of Salvation” with readings from Exodus and other biblical narratives, which are interspersed with chanting of the Psalms. If there are candidates, the Great Vigil is an appropriate day for baptism however; the Renewal of Baptismal Vows takes the place of the Nicene Creed on this night. From this point in the liturgy, the words “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!” is shouted, all the lights in the Nave are ignited, and the joyous celebration of the first Eucharist of Easter begins. The Great Vigil of Easter traditionally stands as the culmination of Holy Week and most appropriately, stands as the Great celebration of Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If you have never attended the Great Vigil of Easter, I encourage you this year, to come and experience the deep richness and celebration of this service.
As we move through the next few weeks of Lent, I encourage all of us to prepare for Holy Week with prayer and anticipation. I also encourage all of us to participate fully in every service of Holy Week, especially the “Great Vigil of Easter” and the “Stations of the Cross” at noon on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week. As we enter our own pilgrimage in Holy Week, just as those early pilgrims made their pilgrimages, may God bless you and keep you, and may the Love of God and the peace, which passes all understanding, remain with you always.
“Advent: More than Four Weeks before Christmas”
By Fr. Eric Cooter
In just a few weeks, the liturgical calendar will shift from what the Church refers to as “Ordinary Time” (the Sundays after Pentecost) to the “Season of Advent.” Advent, the four Sundays before the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, has through certain symbols, taken on some erroneous nuances of meaning and significance. One of the most obvious symbols that we are in the Advent season will be the appearance of purple vestments and banners used during worship. In addition, at the beginning of the worship we will light one of the Advent candles each week until all are lit on the last week. The first two weeks of Advent, we will light the first two purple candles, the third week we light the rose candle, and finally we light the last purple candle on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Although these traditions have significant meaning to us, Advent is much more than merely an interim season before Christmas, more than purple vestments, and much more than merely a wreath with candles on it.
Advent is about anticipation. During Advent, we await both of Christ’s comings: we anticipate His second coming in judgment, and we await the celebration of His first coming at the Nativity. There is a rich tradition associated with the Season of Advent. Originally, it was a penitential season (not unlike Lent) in which the people prepared for Christ’s coming through a period of fasting and self-examination. The purple vestments and purple candles are traditions, which we still love today, but are emblematic of the former penitential nature of the season. In its earliest observance, the third week of Advent’s rose candle was emblematic of the relaxation of the fast. Today, the penitential theme has diminished from our observances, and we now focus on the “Coming of Christ.” We will notice that in the last two weeks of Advent, the readings and hymns will focus primarily on the first coming of Christ at the Nativity and thus, differ greatly from the first two weeks.
In the first two weeks of Advent, the scripture readings, the hymns, and collects, all focus on our anticipation of the second coming of Christ. The belief that Christ will return in glory is not anything new for us. We refer to His return each week when we recite the Nicene Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” As Christians, we live in the hope that Christ will return to restore the Kingdom of God, to restore justice and righteousness, and to restore all creation to God’s dream for creation. We live in hope of the resurrection. This is our faith, this is our hope.
For our culture, the same four weeks before Christmas, which we call Advent, finds many of our neighbors and friends frantically hanging lights, decorating trees, running to parties, and buying presents. The anxiety of the season runs high these days. For Christians, Advent serves as a time in which we can stop the frantic nature of the upcoming season, and prepare ourselves for the Christ child who sleeps silently in the manger. It is a time for us to prepare ourselves for Christ who will return in glory, to restore all creation and establish God’s Kingdom. Advent allows Christians to walk a different path than that of the frenzied, hysterical, worried anxiety-filled holidays. Advent provides Christians a reflective moment, a four-week season in which we can sit, pray, meditate, and prepare while we wait with expectation, with exceeding hope, and overwhelming eagerness at the arrival of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“Stewards: Taking care of the master’s vineyard.” By Fr. Eric S. Cooter
Back in the day, I was a retail associate buyer for a large national retail chain. I managed a specific portion of the resources, inventory, advertising, and multi-store selling space for this rather large corporation. The merchandise was not mine, the advertising investment was not mine, the stores were not mine, nor were the fixtures, signing, sales or profit. I knew that I was not the owner of all this stuff, but I still had to answer to, and I had ultimate accountability to the stockholders. I was in a sense, the steward of the stockholder’s investment. Even though I did not own it all, when I spoke to my suppliers or fellow associates, it was common for me to refer to all this stuff as “my product lines,” “my departments,” or “my staff,” but the reality was, none of it was “mine.”
Many of you may have had similar experiences in your careers. The idea of stewardship is not difficult to fathom, when we consider relationships like that of employee and employer. The concept sometimes becomes a little fuzzier when we think about stewardship in terms of what is ours and what is God’s? Many of us have no problem referring to the homes we live in, the families of which we are a part, the cars we drive, the time we have (the very breath we breathe), in terms of personal ownership. We have no problem naming each one of these (home, car, time, breath, or life) as “mine.” However, saying “mine,” begs the question, “is our lives our own?” Who is the source of our life; the very breath we take? As Christians, we confess that the God is the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of our lives. God is the ultimate stakeholder of all creation, and we as those created by God, are the stewards, the caretakers, the managers of all of God’s treasures. There is great responsibility that comes with being the stewards of God’s creation. The responsibility becomes clear to us, when we recognize that our very lives should be an offering to God.
Living our lives an offering to God is not about giving God “His fair share.” Offering ourselves to God is about living each day knowing that our gifts of time, our gifts of talent, and our gifts of treasure are ultimately God’s, and not individually our own. So, offering to God the gifts of time, talent and treasure for the work of God’s kingdom, should be based more on a response to our growing love and commitment to Christ, and less on a mathematical formulation for determining how much we give. Giving is always a matter of the heart. Our Lord taught, “Where your treasure is, so your heart will be also.”
Our treasure of time is overlooked sometimes when we consider an offering to God. How do we spend our days? Do we make time for prayer? Do we set aside specific time each day for loving God, for listening to God, for just being with God? Do we set aside time for growing closer to our Lord through study and reading scripture? Sometimes we can be caught up in scripture study, merely because it is “something that is a so-called expectation.” However, when we delve into the narratives of scripture, we come to know Our Lord in an intimate way. Joining with the saints before us, who read the narratives of the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Old Testament, we begin to have a better understanding of the character, the nature and the loving acts of God throughout history. This fall and throughout the rest of the year, there will be additional ways to grow closer to Christ, through some new education opportunities for all ages (youth and adults). As these opportunities present themselves, I encourage each of you to participate. Also, there will be opportunities for some folks to put their talents to good use, as study facilitators as well.
“Our lives as an offering to God” is our response to God’s grace as creator, redeemer, and sustainer of our lives. I encourage us all to consider and pray about how God is calling us to be stewards of God’s treasure in this community of St. David’s, and in the broader community in which we are called to serve.
Whether we face challenges and uncertainty or even in times of relative peace, the phrase “I want to pray,” reflects a deep awareness of our reliance on God. Merely acknowledging a desire to pray can be a spark that ignites a raging fire of love for God. Prayer takes many forms, but we tend to only venture out so far when it comes to our prayer practices. We often overlook one of the most ancient prayer practices in our Christian tradition. Contemplative prayer focuses on listening to God, by simply becoming aware of our desire to be drawn into God’s presence. Listening is critical in the development of any relationship. As basic as it may seem, verbalizing and listening are the building blocks of all communication. Prayer, the sacred form of communication, includes both speaking and listening, and practicing prayer that includes both is essential to a richer prayer life.
Contemplative prayer is a form of prayer that had its origin in the mid 4th to early 5th centuries. During this period, “Hermits, Ascetics and Monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt, beginning around the third century CE, were the first Christian hermits, who abandoned the cities of the pagan world to live in solitude. These original desert hermits were Christians fleeing the chaos and persecution of the Roman Empire’s Crisis of the Third Century.” (Merton) In times of uncertainty, one does not have to escape to the desert or live in solitude in order to find solace in God’s peace. Abba Isaac, one of the early “Desert Fathers” taught, “the person who continually invokes God as his protector, is aware that God is ever present at hand.” (Pennington, p. 18) Through the knowledge of God’s presence with us, even in times of trouble, uncertainty, and anxiety, we can have confidence. Abba Isaac also asserted, prayer that “contains an invocation of God, a humble confession of faith, a reverent watchfulness, a meditation on human frailty, an act of confidence in God’s response, is an assurance of his ever-present support.” (Pennington, p. 18) In other words, when we say “I want to pray,” we verbalize our heart’s desire to be present with God. “I want to pray” is an attentive acknowledgement of our reliance on God, which leads to a desire for conversation with God.
There are times in life when we face the unknown, when feelings of anxiety and fear emerge and threaten our sense of God’s peace. Anxiety such as this usually accompanies major changes or life transitions, but through prayer, we can recall that our Great Protector is always present. We can face uncertain times knowing that the Spirit lifts us to a place of quiet confidence. It is this confidence that gives us the strength to face any adversity.
O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and
rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be
our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray you,
to your presence, where we may be still and know that you
are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer p. 832 )
Peace and Blesssings,
1. Merton,Thomas (1960).”The Wisdom of the Desert, Abbey of Gethsemani”
2. Pennington, M. Basil (2001). “Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form” 3. 1979 Book of Common Prayer
by The Rev. Eric S. Cooter
Benedict of Nursia, better known as St. Benedict, would normally be commemorated on the liturgical calendar on Sunday July 11. Because all Sundays are feast days of Our Lord, we would normally move this Feast to commemorate Benedict, to the first weekday following the Sunday. St. Benedict has had a major influence on monasticism and especially on our Anglican spirituality. The Rule of St. Benedict focused on many aspects of life and it was developed so that anyone could follow it. One key to the rule was that it embraced the notion of moderation and balance. “Moderation is key to the Rule of St. Benedict. He did not want his monks fasting or praying too much, but he did not want them to do the opposite, either. Instead, he called for a healthy balance in life, and it is this that appeals to many lay people.” (Srubras 2010)
Balance in life is difficult to attain. We are pulled in so many directions, and sometimes one area of life is in competition with another, for our time and effort. Benedict however, encouraged balance in life. Three areas of our lives always seem to require particular attention: recreation, work, and our spiritual lives (corporate worship, spiritual disciplines, private prayer, etc). It seems that when any one part of our life gets too much of our time and effort, the other areas of life suffer. Too much work leaves little time for prayer and quiet time with God. Too much work also takes away from time for recreation. Recreation (re- creation) is not merely “killing time” and relaxing, but it is a time set aside to help restore us to wholeness. For some of us it may be hobbies like quilting, sewing, cooking, gardening, fishing, golfing, painting, flying or some other pursuit that is enjoyable, and one that harnesses our natural ability to create. We need this time to be whole persons created in the image of God. When any one area of our lives wars against another, we are out of balance and other areas and relationships suffer.
Keep in mind; our lives are not easily segmented into neatly defined boxes. For some of us, we find that the boundaries between recreation, work, and spirituality are very vague. When we discover God’s active presence in our work, recreation, and prayer life balance occurs because we are rooted in God. For Benedict, balance was not about meticulously dividing time and effort between multiple areas of life. Balance was about living in an awareness that our work and efforts do not have to war with our time of prayer, our time in silence with God, and in our time to join God in the act of ongoing creation. As co-authors with God in the narrative of salvation and restoration, we are vessels for the Spirit’s re-creation work in and through us.
Srubras, Rachel. “Oblation.” 2010. http://www.curledup.com/oblation.htm (accessed June 2010).
“There came a sound like the rush of a violent wind”
I had an interesting encounter in the post office yesterday. I was on my way home from Sewanee and I happened to be wearing clericals after serving in chapel that morning. I had my graduation invitations addressed and ready to mail, so I stopped at the local post office to get stamps.
In the lobby of the post office, I saw a woman who appeared to be a bit distraught. When our eyes met, she said to me, “You are obviously a ‘man of God’.” I smiled, and she asked me if I would pray for her because she had just been diagnosed with cancer. I asked her what her name was, and then asked if I could pray for her right there. She looked surprised and her eyes welled up and she said, “please.” We held hands in the lobby of that post office and prayed.
All of our circumstances are all fraught with unseen fears, tragedies, and challenges and it is when we are taken out of our selves, God allows us to be a part of the ministry of healing for others. Be ready and open to those times when, in the most unpredictable circumstances, God will call us to serve each other, to comfort each other, to pray with and for each other.