My articles published by Ministry Matters online magazine
FRESH EXPRESSIONS: EVANGELISM FOR OUR CULTURE
By Eric Cooter
My articles published by Ministry Matters online magazine
By Eric Cooter
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 move us from “Hosanna” to the “Triduum” to the “Feast.” It is important to understand the history and deep meaning embodied in the ancient rituals of Holy Week, which recall the Passion of Our Lord.
The liturgy of Palm Sunday begins the journey of Holy 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 usually begins in a place apart from the church. The procession to the sanctuary itself, helps the participants to rediscover how a procession works on the body. The actual movement in some communities covers some distance and it helps us to experience the reality of the distance traveled when Jesus entered the city. The moment the congregation enters the church facilitates a shift in focus and at this point, the Liturgy of the Passion narrative begins. It is this prelude in the liturgy that sets the tone for remainder of the week, the “Triduum” which is to come, the liturgies that prepare us for the great feast of Easter.
The “Triduum” represents a complete liturgical narrative of the Passion. The primary focus in the past in many churches, seems to rest merely on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, but the Easter Vigil, the first Eucharist of Easter is the culmination of this week of ritual and mystery. The “Triduum,” the three days of Holy Week are a complete, interconnected liturgical journey that expresses the dramatic narrative of the Lord’s Passion. 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 werethe forerunners of the liturgies we often observe 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 usually 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 reserve sacrament (the Body and Blood of Our Lord) remains in an open tabernacle overnight, and pilgrims are invited to stay and observe a “Holy Watch” of devotion Our Lord. This can be a very moving, special time for reflection, prayer, and silence.
Good Friday recalls the death of Our Lord. Most Christian churches do not offer the Great Thanksgiving on Good Friday however, at this service, some congregations offer the elements of the Body and Blood of Our Lord from the sacrament, which was consecrated at the Maundy Thursday service and reserved in the tabernacle. The liturgy of Good Friday 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 offered on Good Friday, remind Christians 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 offered himself for the rest of us. The ritual moves from the entry into the sanctuary, to the Liturgy of the Word, and then to the Solemn Collects. These are the oldest prayers known in the Christian tradition, and they are the ancient form for the intercessions, offered by the congregation. The congregation stands and these prayers begin with a ‘bidding’ said by the clergy. Next, with all kneeling, a lengthened silence is observed. Next, with all standing again, a collect is offered by the clergy. In some congregations, after the Solemn Collects are said, a large wooden cross is brought into the church and placed near the altar. The congregation kneels in silence and is invited to express some form of veneration of 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. The Good Friday service can continue with 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 church and its history. Historically, this service has been one of the most important of the week, as it represented 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. Because it is usually observed in darkness, the beauty and richness of this liturgy, stands in contrast to the liturgy of Christmas Eve. In some churches, outside the doors of the church a “New Fire” is ignited and from it, the Paschal Candle is lit. The clergy, servers, and the congregation together, behind the Paschal Candle, move into a completely darkened sanctuary. The Paschal Candle, the “Light of Christ” is placed in its stand and from it, the congregation lights their individual candles, and the Exsultet (an ancient chant is said or sung. From this point, all present take their seats and patiently listen to the “History of Salvation” which includes readings from Exodus and other biblical narratives, interspersed between chants or readings of the Psalms. If there are candidates for baptism, the Great Vigil is an appropriate day. 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 liturgies of Holy week, I encourage you this year, to come and experience the deep richness and celebration of these ancient and beautiful liturgies.
The Rev. Eric S. Cooter
There are several days throughout the Christian year that are appropriate for Christian baptism, one of which is the Easter Vigil. This year, we will have the opportunity as a community to welcome a new member to the Body of Christ on this wonderful night through the Rite of Baptism. Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. Baptism is not a private affair, but a communal event in which we welcome candidates into the community. It was through the waters of the Red Sea that the whole people of Israel were set free, and it is through the waters of Baptism that the Body of Christ is set free our bondage of sin. It is through baptism that we follow the example of Christ and by it we participate in the Paschal Mystery of his death and resurrection: “In it we are buried with Christ in his death,” and “by it we share in his resurrection.” (Book of Common Prayer p. 306) In the Thanksgiving over the Water, our theology of Baptism is clearly stated in the phrase, “We bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305)
In a feed trough in a small stable over 2000 years ago, salvation appeared as God the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer was revealed in a small infant in swaddling clothes. It is a hard thing to fathom isn’t it? Theologians have wrestled for years with this core doctrine of our faith. We call this blessed mystery the Incarnation. “This foundational Christian position holds that the divine nature of the Son of God was perfectly united with human nature in one divine Person, Jesus, making him both truly God and truly man. The theological term for this is hypostatic union. ” Stated simply, God’s love for creation was so beyond our imagine, that he walked among us. God accepted us and by this work of salvation, we are healed; our relationship with God is restored in the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This blessed mystery of our faith is something we claim each week in the words of the Creed and in the prayers of the Eucharist.
For some folks, taking a risk comes with feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and eventually, maybe a strong refusal to budge from the safety of status quo. However, taking risks are key to growth in our Christian journey, both as individuals and as a community. In a recent article on the “Faith and Leadership” website of Duke Divinity School, Tom Arthur wrote, “Failure is a key to growth. Joshua Foer in his book, ‘Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,’ introduced me to the ‘OK plateau,’ a place where we are no longer risking failure. We don’t take risks anymore, because we’re ‘OK’ as we are.”1 Arthur asserts that a willingness to accept failure in our endeavors especially when it comes to our spiritual journey, is key to maturing in Christ. In other words, it is essential to accept some risk so that we may grow in a deeper love and commitment to Jesus Christ.
Risk taking is nothing new in the biblical narrative. Great biblical risk takers include people like Moses, Ruth, Noah, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul, and yes, even Our Lord Jesus Christ. Each of these folks recognized that answering God’s call, following their particular ministry call, came with inherent risk. Moses risked safety and heritage to sojourn with a people in the desert to lead them to the land of promise. After the death of the family patriarchs, Ruth risked her own safety to stay with her mother-in-law rather than go to her own people. Noah faced ridicule and rejection in order to build the ark that sustained humanity through the flood. Mary Magdalene, Peter and Paul risked everything to follow the Messiah. The Almighty risked ultimate rejection so that through the Incarnation, God in Christ, through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Our Lord, we might come to know grace, mercy, reconciliation, and love.
When we are willing to step out of our comfort zones, when we try something we have never done before, when we attempt to venture into the unknown, we are taking steps of faith recognizing that God is not finished with us yet. From first breath to last, God is actively working in us to draw us unto Godself, to fashion a people of love, mercy, grace, and reconciliation. Whatever stage of life we are in; we are clay that is constantly being formed into a beautiful vessel that holds unimaginable love and grace. In order for sanctification to take place, we must embrace a pliability that is inherent in clay. Clay is a beautiful medium that moves and responds to the pressures and the nuances of nudges that the potter applies. If clay remains on the wheel without moving, it becomes no longer malleable and becomes rigid, and it cannot become the potter’s vision. By its very nature, clay risks its present form trusting that artisan will bring it into a new state of being.
Finding comfort in the possibility of “failure” is not a simple thing for any of us. We truly are a people who want to do it right and minimize risk. My father always told me, “If you are not going to do something right then, don’t do it at all.” I admire my Dad’s persistence and desire to be the best in everything. His drive was a great model because he was able with very little education himself, to put three children through not only undergraduate educations, but each of us were encouraged and driven to pursue and attain post-graduate degrees. By wanting to do it right, my Dad may have been seen as a perfectionist, but he was a risk taker. In the 1950’s he took a huge risk. He left the comfort of a supervisory position with a local electronics manufacturer to open his own small business. In this instance, doing it right did not mean doing it perfectly, it meant taking a risk with the knowledge that he might fail.
We as a community have in the past, and will in the time to come, layer on to our common life, creative new ministries, inventive programs, alternative processes, and “out of the box” education opportunities. May we be willing to accept the risks associated with stepping out of our comfort zones. May we be willing to risk failure to answer God’s call into the unknown. May we be like clay, willing to have the Spirit lead us and guide us, nudge us and forge us into the people of God, to whom we are called. Blessings, Fr. Eric+
1 “Tom Arthur – Plan to Fail”: Faith and Leadership: an offering of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity http://www.faithandleadership.com/blog/10-16-2011/tom-arthur-plan-fail
When you think of the word Stewardship you may think, “uh oh, it’s time to talk money again at church,” and you would be partly correct, but Stewardship includes so much more. Stewardship (as defined in Webster’s Dictionary) refers to “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” When we explore the nature of stewardship there are several questions that need to be considered (1) of what are we stewards; what has been entrusted to our care? (2) To who does that over which we are stewards, belong? (3) Are we all called to be stewards? If we can answer these questions, then we as God’s people will have a sound, theological understanding of one of the most important responsibilities we have as disciples of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Take a moment and breathe in, hold it for a second, now breathe out. Consider for a moment that every aspect of our lives is transitory. Each breath we take, each moment we spend in our lives, all the work we have been given to do, everything we have, and every relationship we share, is really not ours to control. We are stewards for a fleeting time. All this, which we have been entrusted to care is for the span of our lives alone. The time we have been given, the talents with which we have been graced, and the treasure with which we oversee are all gifts that we have been entrusted to us for a brief time.
The fact that God is the Creator and the source of everything, is at the core of our confessional faith. When we recite the Nicene Creed, we proclaim, “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven Earth.” When we make that statement, we are acknowledging that God is the source of everything we survey, everything with which we come in contact, and everything with which we are entrusted to care. We often struggle to grasp that God is the ultimate source of our Time, Talent and Treasure, because each one of us considers our own work and efforts as the catalyst for all that we have been given. Yet, if we acknowledge that God is the source of everything, then we acknowledge too that all that we have, all that we are, and all that we do ultimately is for God’s purposes. Our Time, Talent, and Treasure all belong to someone else; they belong to God and as such, their use and ultimate intention is for the fulfillment of God’s purpose.
The charge that “We all are called to be stewards,” is not something of which, we can “opt-out.” Whether we respond to the fact that we are stewards or not, whether we manage all that we are, all that we have been given, and all that we do in such a way that fulfills God’s purpose for our lives, the fact remains that we are stewards. Our Time, Talent, and Treasure have been given to us with the responsibility for conducting, supervising, or managing them so that they ultimately fulfill their intended purpose. Stewardship is our responsibility, not our choice.
My earliest memory of church is sitting beside my mother on Sunday morning at the age of five, in small Methodist parish which was situated in a rural part of East Tennessee. In this little chapel, there was no incense, no bells, and no pipe organ, but there was liturgy. We lit beautiful candles, the clergy wore neat vestments, we used a common worship book, we said common prayers, and it all seemed so holy to me. I was being formed for a worship expression that would be with me my entire life, but I did not realize it at the time. Later in my teen years, my family decided to move to another church (a much larger church) and a faith community within another Protestant tradition, which was very different from what I had known before.