This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
In this chapter we are going to see how churches worship, and that the one Church is made up of many churches.
1 Gathering – Baptised into One Body
The Church is the love of God, opened to man. This gathering, procession and worship make us visible and available to us. In the Church all people are being called together and reconciled in this love. We are called out to be this distinct gathered people, and we are sent to our society to be witnesses of this reconciliation. The Church is distinct from the society around it for the sake of that society. We are brought into the Church not only for our own sake, but the sake of those who are not yet members of the Church. We enter the Church in baptism, sometimes also referred as conversion. Since there is one baptism, Christians must regard all other Christians as members of the Church. as the baptism service puts it: ‘In joyful obedience to your Son we baptise into his fellowship those who come to him in faith.’ Through all the great variety of church and discipleship, there is one Church, and the great variety of the churches is for the sake of the world. 1. We may enter the presence of the Lord When we enter Church, the building and the worshipping community, we enter the presence of God. The Lord is enthroned before us. He is high and lifted up, his glory fills the temple. The whole company of heaven stand around him. He holds audience with all creation, and each Church service is our peek into this audience. We recognise and acknowledge the presence of the Lord and of all his company. Some bow or genuflect as they come into the building, some kneel and pray in silence until the service begins, while others greet their friends.
All people that on earth do dwell, come ye before him and rejoice. O enter then his gates with praise, approach with joy his courts unto (William Kethe) Welcomed in to the courts of the king I’ve been ushered into your presence. Lord I stand on your merciful ground Yet with every step tread with reverence (Matt Redman)
2. Baptism The Lord calls, and so we come. In the place where there was no evidence of God for man, there is now the community that is gathered to be this evidence. The Church exists because God has called into existence. The Lord says
‘Come’. So at once they got up at once, and left their nets and followed him (Matthew 4.19-20, Luke 5.29) So it must be with us. We may say ‘Lord where are you going?’, but the answer is ‘Come and see’. To be a Christian is to follow where Christ leads. We do not know everything about our way, but we are on the way with him and with all his people. He is at our head. We do not trail along behind him, as though we have been left to make our own way, for Christ not only leads us but carries us. Baptism is the start of life with Christ. It is the event of our conversion to Christ made public. It is our passageway from one life to another, so that in baptism we are dying to one form of life and being born to another. There are two sorts of life: there is the simple creaturely form of life, which always comes to an end, and there is the unbroken life of God, held out to us in Christ, which never comes to an end. In our creaturely life, death and life are two processes that go on side by side: we are running down and wearing out, and we will do so until we run out of life altogether. Life is pitted with death; when the holes in the fabric of life start to join up, our creaturely life is over. But in Christian baptism one life is being replaced by the other. The new life, that is unbroken, is replacing the old life that is stained and pitted with death, so that though we wear out, we are always renewed and regenerated. As the baptism service puts it: ‘We thank you, Father, for the water of baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. 2. The Church on the way Through water you led the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. Our immersion in the water of baptism is our dying to death and rising to eternal life. We say: ‘To follow Christ mean dying to sin and rising to new life with him.’ We go down into that water, and travel through it until we emerge from it on the other side. Our course is set for this long transition from life marked by death to that unbroken life. The whole Christian life is this baptism. We are going through this water with Christ. We are making a crossing and will go through a storm. But we are going to make this crossing together with the whole convoy lead by Christ. With him, the rage of the sea will not overcome us. In his ark we travel ‘in sure and certain hope of the resurrection.’ As one canticle from Isaiah puts it: The Lord makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, ‘I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people.’ The whole Christian Church is on the way. We travel together through the world, regarding it as our training and preparation. Every Sunday we stop and we celebrate publicly this anticipation of the Promised Land. Perhaps it looks as though we go to Church, sit still together for an hour or two and then rush off again to our separate lives. But this is not how it is. In the service, we are on the move, visibly and publicly travelling together through the world. We are travelling behind Christ: he leads, we follow. We are on the move through our city and society, passing through every community, members of it yet distinct from it. Christ leads his people through the world, as though he were showing
us off to it: Christ always leads us in triumphal procession (2 Corinthians 2.14). An event has started, it is ongoing and points to what we cannot yet see. So we sing: Lift High the Cross the love of Christ proclaim Come, let us follow where our captain trod Our king victorious Christ the Son of God (499) We are being formed and transformed, so we cannot yet claim to be human in the full sense, but we and when we have been, we will be human at last. We are changed by our encounter with other Christians and our shaping in the Church, transformed, individually, and corporately, as we are gathered, reconciled with one another and brought into one body. Though the cavalcade pauses, it does not stop. We are in procession because we are not yet what we will be. In this way Christian hope is built in. We are on the move right through this service. Perhaps this would be easier to visualise if we worshipped standing up, and so if we took chairs or pews out of Church. At one point in the service, as we go up to the altar to receive the eucharist the whole congregation is standing. This is how to see the service as a whole. It is the event in which line of God's people stretches from our places of work and our homes, all the way to Church and in church up to the altar. Christians are the people raised and made to stand upright by the resurrection. 3. The Church goes from church to church Each church gathers with other churches. We do not remain sitting in our separate churches but go out together to find other Christians in other congregations. We worship with them and ask them to share with us whatever insight their experience has given them, and we offer them whatever encouragement we can. The promise that Where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew) refers to congregations as much as it does to individual Christians. No individual group or congregation of Christians is sufficient. It must seek its own, and it must seek those Christians that it sees as unlike itself, and for this reason we are on the move. The Church gathers out on the street. It does so at particular seasons like Christmas and Easter when every part of the Church, evangelical and catholic, gathers and processes through the streets. In the season of Advent we all go carol-singing to tell the city that Christmas is the advent of God to man. The Church is on the street at Easter. In my part of the city, East London, Catholic and Anglo-Catholic processions on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Corpus Christi processions have always been a big part of church life. You can see churches processing along our streets on Palm Sunday, when we celebrate the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, and on Good Friday to celebrate the passion. We gather and walk again in the West End at Pentecost. At Corpus Christi, Catholic Churches take to the streets again. All Saints Church St Margaret Street meets with other churches and processes in a circuit around Oxford Street.
You can see this at other times too. In the run up to the millennium, when the Churches were working towards the cancellation of third world debt, some in London started to March for Jesus. The March became a annual event through the 1990’s to draw our attention to the Jubilee. The evangelical churches call this ‘prayer walking’ and these processions ‘prayer marches’. This year, as parliament was considering legislation which we walked from Westminster Cathedral to Westminster Abbey on the ‘Thousand Crosses for life’ as legislation that did not seem to safeguard life was being considered by parliament. My part of London is also where the Salvation Army started. These Christians adopted a particularly disciplined life because they saw how strongly despair and with it alcohol, drugs, gambling and prostitution gripped this part of the city. They knew that only the disciplined and communal Christian life will withstand those pressures. The Salvation Army has stood on pavements, its bands played and sung hymns, prayed and celebrated the victory of Christ here for more than a century. The forces of self-destruction still make themselves visible, and is always obvious in this part of London that some are losing the struggle, becoming victims of the cravings and dependencies that turn us in on ourselves. But by gathering to celebrate Christ’s victory over all the addictions, all hurts and rancour, and by singing and praying as we walk on these streets we demonstrate that God has not abandoned anyone of us to hopelessness. As the Church does so, it raises the hopes of the whole city and society. As the Apostle Paul says ‘We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2 Corinthians 2.15). We are the Church on the way, so we meet and process through the streets of our city. We confess ourselves to be pilgrims, so we sing: He who would valiant be ‘gainst all disaster let him in constancy follow the master (Bunyan To be a Pilgrim) 4. The Church gathered In every church service we see how the Christian people are underway. Their pilgrimage is a public procession in which the more experienced lead and the new comers follow them. As we sit in church there are people in the rows in front of us and behind us, just as there were Christians before us and will be Christians after us. As we look towards the altar we are looking forward towards the future. But we can only see this future by looking backwards, as it were, through all the generations of Christian history, to Jesus and the first disciples. By looking at the incarnation we can see glimpse the shape of the future, when all Jesus’ people are finally united with him. As we down the Church we may glimpse in the crowd some of the Christians whose lives have impressed us. Who shall we look for – Saint Francis of Assisi, St Columba and the saints of the Celtic Church? Or Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Bunyan, John Wesley? Or the Christians of the twentieth century, like Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Mother Theresa or Lesslie Newbigin? They set out before us, and they have travelled
further and waited longer than us. We can say that: These fought valiantly as a disciple of Christ against sin, the world and the devil and remained faithful to Christ to the end of their lives. These more experienced Christians ahead of us in this procession are also here to serve us. This long line of Christians is also a supply chain by which good things are passed to us by those ahead of us. What they receive, they pass on to us. They are waiting for us and are not going to finish without us. Whatever they receive, it makes them a distinct people, different from the wider world. This communion of persons made holy very slowly mediates this holiness to us, so we can share in their fellowship and become holy too. They pass back to me the instalments of holiness that we call ‘sacraments’, each of which is an intangible piece of the indivisible union of Christ with his people, and of the holy and indivisible union of God with man. This imperceptible stream of holiness is the resurrection, seeping into us. The community that is slowly gathering around Christ, and which we know as the Church, is the first glimmerings of the resurrection. This is why at your baptism we pray: May God who has received you by Baptism into his Church, pour upon you the riches of his grace, that within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit and come into the inheritance of the saints in glory. 5. Rival gatherings The Church is these people whom Christ gathers and sends to us so that we can also gather around him. But there are many other assemblies and gatherings, of course, focused on other individuals or other movements. The world is made up of people swirling around, gathering around one event, and then moving on to gather around the next. The worship the Christian community proclaims that the God of Jesus Christ is the only God. But it does not say this in a vacuum, but in a world of voices all saying something about what we want or need, and therefore about who we should be gathering around. All human beings give themselves away: we cannot help ourselves. We worship and adore, and we give ourselves away. We leak or bleed: adoration seeps out of us, and this makes us utterly needy. We need recognition and we throw ourselves as anyone and anything to get it. If we do not give ourselves to Christ we give ourselves away to some other power. Either we love and adore God and give ourselves to him, which is of course to give ourselves back to him. Or we direct all that love and adoration to other individuals, and the movements that gather around them. If we do this, we give these individuals more adoration than they can manage, and so we inadvertently make idols of them. Our whole consumer culture is a vast adoration service which interposes itself here, opening up a gap in order to fill it with whatever love service it is able to concoct. The love industries percolate between each man and woman, always setting before each the image – the idol – of a more perfect woman or man. As such it is a vast displacement activity that keeps us from receiving, sharing and returning the true love that comes from God.
All the voices that make up our consumer culture tell us who we are, and what we should demand from one another. They are making claims to power too, since they suggest that we commit ourselves to them. The Church must be able to put names to these. It calls them ‘gods’ or idols: they are images of what is good, which have somehow become distorted. Whenever it is in session its worship brings the Christian community into confrontation with all other gods. The Christian community speaks out to the world, warning both how powerful these delusions are, but also how demeaning its gods are, and how powerless and illusory. Every Sunday morning the Christians meet together to tell the gods of their defeat. The gods are being taken out of us, and growing less with our every act of confession of Christ. 6. The service of Christ The worship service is Christ’s service and worship of God. But also Christ makes himself our servant and serves us. So the service is two things: it is the Son’s eternal conversation with the Father, and it is his service to us. This means that the Church is the labour and ministry of Jesus Christ for us. He works for us and provides for us. This second meaning is the basis of the first. God creates Christian worship for us. It starts before we arrive and continues after we have left. This service and song of the whole company around God goes on over our heads, and it spills over from heaven in the form of the events of worship that we know, so what we experience in Church is a relay from heaven. The Church service generates the Christian ministry to the world. The Church service powers the Christian mission. By publicly withholding all worship from everyone who is not God, and doing this so all the rest of the world can see, the Christian community provides a service to the world because it de-bunks all our excessive claims and demythologise all who seek power without acknowledging its source. It withholds excessive acknowledgement or adoration from every other authority. The possibility of this true worship, and thus the possibility of truth, and the consequent denial of false worship, is itself witness to God and so service to the world. The Church service is the event of God’s work for us. God not only works for us, but he is at work on us. He is opening us up to one another. He prevents us from finally writing one another off and closing down on one another. All of us who do come to church, come for others. We are here for those who are not here. Our identity and the truth of human society can be found in that worship service, so that when we are with God we discover how to be become human together. The Church is public and visible and therefore institutional. It is a generous thing to be available so that anyone and everyone knows how to find us. Our buildings are visible and opening hours are just as long as they can be. You don't have to make an appointment or join a queue. The Church is for the sake of the world, indeed it is dedicated to the world. But the Church is only good for the world because it is different from the world. Christian life is communal life and it is discipleship.
The Church has long term positive impact on society. In order that the Church cannot be concerned about the form of that impact. The Church is not good for society because it sets out to be so. The more it is aware, and nervous of how this will play with ‘society’, the less good for society the Church will be. Only by being true to the gospel can the church be good for society. We meet together with other churches The Church gathers in a particular place. We meet here on behalf of the whole people of London. London is my place, yours is somewhere else perhaps. When it gathers, the church intercedes for its own locality, speaking on its behalf to God. But we in London are under a common discipline, and it is this that keeps us one people gathered from many. We are the Church in London only as long as we are under the discipline of the whole worldwide Church, and indeed the whole historic Church. They hold us to account and keep us honest. They insist so that we do not withhold any part of the gospel from London. Without this discipline would we become a clique of the like-minded and in the longterm we would be in danger of becoming a sect. As long as we are connected to the other churches in London we remain under the discipline of the whole Church. We are able to say that:
We are members together of the Body of Christ We are children of the same heavenly Father We are inheritors together of the kingdom of God
2 Hearing – Truth and Judgment
The Church that hears the Word of God also passes it on to the world. It tells the world that there is there is an authoritative judge who can tell what is true and what is not. That God and no one else is this judge is good news. The Church says: Look, the Judge is at the door! 1. The Word, the Spirit and the Church The Church hears Scripture read in public. Scripture is read, morning and evening, in every act of Christian worship. His mercies are new every morning. When we are ready to admit that our predecessors in the Christian faith have been faithful, and have handed on to us the truth of Jesus Christ and his apostles, an extraordinary adventure opens up to us. As the hymn goes: Our fathers owned thy goodness and we their deeds record (NEH 479). The Word of God is heard in Scripture. For this reason the Christian church reads all Scripture and thus that it reads the Old Testament. We may not divide the Old Testament from the New, for so we will divide the indivisible testimony of God. If we were to demote or discard the Old Testament it would be because we did not understand that we are the gentiles, the latecomers introduced into the long-existing community of God. This community may only be known to us as the people of the Old Testament, the people of Israel who looked forward to Christ and finally bore him for us. The work of God began 56
before us, and has created a community that precedes us. We may read the Scriptures because of the many prophets and people of the people of Israel have transmitted them to us. If we do not see the Old Testament as the testament and testimony of God we cannot hope to join the people of God revealed to us there. The sermon connects all the readings, the Old Testament and New Testament together, so that each part of the bible is the view-finder through which we read every other part. As a whole, Scripture is the viewfinder through which we can see our own world. The sermon shows us how to see all that happens to us, together and individually, in the light of the progress of the whole people of God. The narrative of the way that the Christian people has to go unfolds through all the readings of the year. It is marked by the liturgical calendar. Each sermon helps us follow our own progress around the year, and so shows us that the whole Church is together on pilgrimage. The people of Israel and every generation of the Church are our guides and marshals on the path that we are taking together. The sermon unpacks the word and action What is the purpose of the sermon? Imagine you are in a place that you have never been in before, packed with people, watching a ceremony that is taking place in a language you do not speak. You are baffled by everything you see. Then, because he realises how lost you feel, someone next to you in the crowd tells you what you are witnessing. He points out the action going on above the assembled worshippers and he gives you just enough whispered commentary to pick up what is going on. This is what the sermon is. It is a murmured commentary on the action going on all around us, in this worship, in the Scripture of the people of God, which is the plot of this worship, and in the world around us. This action is the entire action of Jesus Christ and his company in the creation and redemption of the world. The action of God that is recorded for us by the people of Israel in the two books of the old and new testaments, is going on live above and around us. It is reports of this action that we hear when the bible is read to us. The sermon is to help us see what is going on above us and before us. Psalms and morning and evening worship The Christian faith requires us to learn vast swathes of text by heart so that the words found good by many generations bubble up from within us. We read the bible on the train, as we come back in the morning from our night work in the city. We say our prayers as we walk work and we sing inwardly. As we read the history of God's dealings with his people Israel, we learn their prayers and so learn what to say when things go wrong. From them we have the psalms and prayers to use for every eventuality of life with God. as the hymn puts it: Our fathers held the faith received By saints declared, by saints believed By saints in death defended (NEH 479)
3. Judgment When we are gathered together we are in the presence of God. We say: The Lord is here. His Spirit is with us. God sees us and knows us. He is the one whose good opinion we value, whose judgment we trust. His Word comes to us as judgment. If he did not give us his judgment he would be no help to us, and thus not be our friend. The Lord is not merely present in our worship, but present in judgment. He is the judge who now holds session for us. All the world is present in this assembly and can see how it is. Every secret is made known, nothing is hidden; no one is left with only half the picture. The whole truth is revealed here, and everyone can see it for what it is. When we say that this is the judgment of God, we do not mean that it is not ours. The truth is there to see. We can agree with the Lord and assent that things are indeed as he describes them. This judgment will be entirely ours too, for it will be clear that the judgment the Lord gives is the right and the only judgment, and the judgment that everybody concurs in and is pleased with. All who are present will declare themselves satisfied and glad. In Christian worship the ultimate judgment, the last word, is being given. This judgment is not fate, it is not cruel or arbitrary or unwished for: we look for it, we demand it and protest when it is withheld, and it is a relief when it arrives. Judgment is a good thing. Judgment is decision-making, and through decision-making we gain the experience that can help us become makers of good decisions. Good judgment is good: only bad judgment is bad. Being able to tell the difference between a good decision and a bad one, is good. If you see someone heading into danger, you shout a warning. You make a judgment, a decision, based on instinct and if your judgment is right, perhaps you have saved a life. We act for one another, and judge and make decisions on one another behalf. Let us take a homely example. I present myself poorly. When you see how I hunch my shoulders, you demonstrably relax your shoulders, to show me that I am holding myself too tight. Each time you do this, you are enabling me to see how I look, and how way-off my self-image is. Imagine that you see how badly dressed I am, and decide to take me shopping for some new clothes. Each time I emerge from the changing room wearing some new item, you indicate with a slight nod or wince how suitable it is. Each of these is a little judgment. Because you do this gently and subtly, I welcome this rather than resent it. I rely on your judgment, and learn how to judge myself, and so I grow into greater self-control and self-possession. We are able to judge positively for one another. Then we can tell each other not to be afraid, not to harm ourselves, and we can trust one another to seek the best for us, and so seek one another’s opinion. We all seek judgment. The point is only to find the judge who is not needy and so has no designs of his own on you.
The news of our redeemer God is judge, and he presents himself before us in Church to give us his judgment. It is because he is indeed our friend that God comes to us as our judge. There is someone who can really tells us who we are. When we hear Scripture, we receive that scrutiny and that examination, and we see how things lie with us in how he speaks to us. To conceal this news from one another is an unkind thing to do. When this news is not clearly expressed and welcomed, but ridiculed and belittled, the Church suffers. But when we ourselves are complicit in covering up the news of this true judge, that is a disaster. Getting the information about any public service is a fundamental to the success of that service itself. The news of God, the access to God and the name of the true God is essential to the service. The name of God is the means by which the service of God can be accessed. Knowledge of this access is access this service. And the reach of the name of God's name and the extent to which he is known is the extent of the cover he offers. God is known not for his sake, but yours. The glory of God, the extent of public knowledge of him, is not for him, but for us. To proclaim the name of God is to proclaim salvation. As we say in the eucharist:
He opened wide his arms for us upon the cross; he put an end to death by dying for us
4. The Word of God The Word God comes to the words of man The Word of God comes to the word of man. The world is made up of the many words of God and of man, and all the words of man are the words he is given by God, which he must some day return to God so that they be renewed. Whenever this contrast between the word of God and the word of man is not made, the Christian faith is seen in abstraction from the world to which it speaks comes in service, pointing to this salvation. Our confidence in our accounts of the work of Christ, and of the atonement and sacrifice is low when we do not understand that the Gospel comes into a world made up of many ‘gospels’. The whole truth, of the Word of God, confronts the many half-truths, of the many words of man. The gospel enables to identify and diagnose all half-truths as no-gospel. The worshipping community of the Church therefore has to contrast the Christian message to all the other messages; it says that there are two liturgies. There is the Christian liturgy, which is true worship. And there are the many pagan liturgies, in which man’s worship is turned in the wrong direction. The first liturgy is directed by love of God to the perfecting of all God's creatures, while the others take us in all sorts of other directions, dissipating us until the truth of our identity is broken and lost. The task of expounding Scripture to proclaim the work of Christ. In its worship the Church says and sings many things about the work of Christ and cross. In the songs we sing in our worship one Scriptural statement is piled on another. But when we explain what we mean, we have to unpick things a little and show how they cohere in a single narrative, the narrative of Christ and his
people. We have to preach and expound the atonement. We have sermons for this purpose, and we have an educated clergy to give these sermons. 5. The cross of Christ Sin and death In our worship we link the act of confession and judgment, forgiveness and absolution. We understand what these are by the cross. And we understand what the cross is because the Old Testament is read and preached on. The Church that reads the Old Testament is able to see Easter as Passover, and see that this Passover lies ahead of us. the baptism service tells us: Through water you led the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. In water your Son Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us from the death of sin to newness of life. The Old Testament is given to the Church so that this holy community may find in it the means to read the New Testament, and so understand that these two testaments are not just about Christ, or about a timeless moral truth, but about what lies ahead of us. The Church that receives the Old and New testaments together can see the promise of its rescue from darkness, the forgiveness of sins and so it is enabled to marvel at its salvation and sing the praises of God. The Church that does not read the Old Testament will understand the New Testament only as an expression of timeless moral truth without any hope of forgiveness and transformation. That Church will then be withholding that forgiveness, and leave its people in their sins. Then the witness and priestly office of the Church to the world will be left unperformed, the world will remain its sins, and the Church will be responsible to God for the misery of the world. If we do not feed from Christ, the Word who is the living bread, we feed instead on food from other sources. When that eternal bread is withheld, the Church feeds on what it gets from other masters, and the news of true judgment and salvation does not reach those most in need of it. Their lives will be held to our account. Just as there are always two cities and two liturgies, that of Christ and that of all masters, so there are always more than one cup set before us, the cup of Lord and the cup offered by other masters. If we do not see ourselves as Israel ready to undergo this Passover, we will have turned ourselves into Pharaoh, who attempted to put himself between God and his people. 6. Hearing worship The Word of God is heard in the entire prayer and worship of the congregation. Scripture forms all the acclamations, songs and hymns that make up the service. All hymn books and song sheets are there to teach us the words to sing. The aim of these books is that the congregation come to know its hymns and songs off by heart. The Christian faith requires us to learn vast swathes of text, so we can reproduce them from memory: we want the words of Scripture to bubble up from within us. These are the words found good by previous generations. We should learn the hymns and know them off by heart, along with the bible and the rest of the service. The words of our
hymns and songs should respond to the preceding Scripture. That is why we say: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. You have the words of eternal life The Church must pass on the Word that it receives. The prayers and responses collected in ‘Common Worship’, the worship book of the Church of England, represents the repository entrusted to this generation for the sake of a new generation for the Church in our society. We have to pass this worship on to them. The narrative of the Church service is given by the narrative of Scripture, and the narrative of Scripture is the narrative of the events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. This narrative of those events are told us by Jesus Christ himself. Jesus Christ spells himself out to us through these readings. In short, what is going on in the Church service is Christ coming to us and taking us with him to God. As the witness and servant of God, the Church is constantly watched and judged. For the Lord intends that we pass on the Word that we have received. When the Church does not do so, it sins. It sins against those for whom this word was entrusted to it, and since God has taken the side of these, it sins against God . The Church is most under the scrutiny and judgment of God. Liberation comes from naming the creatures of God truthfully. In the worship of the gathered Christian community we participate in the Son’s worship of the Father. His worship calls into being a company that worships with him and so participates in the conversation in which the Son hears and receives and replies to the Father. The Christians must also listen to the world, compassionately but critically. They do not have to accept its own account of its predicament. They are summoned and gathered to judge, and so the judge the liturgy of the world. Only the Church says that that man is a mystery and a wonder, knowable yet never utterly known, who will always surprise us and about whom there is always more to learn. He cannot be truly known through the reductive concepts of power which the liturgy of the world deals in. Only the discourse of the Church of love and service can point to the whole depth of God’s relationship to man and of man’s dignity as God's beloved creature. It is this insistence on the depth of man and the world that makes the Church essential to the functioning of civil society. In this liturgy we can speak directly to one another. We can charge one another with failing to live in peace and truth. And we can forgive one another. So in the power and fellowship of Christ we are reconciled, our state of war brought to an end and we are brought to peace. The Christian life and teaching is the grace of God mediated through the experience of previous generations of Christians. It allows to us grow and become this distinctive and holy people, able to hold out to our society what it cannot receive from any other source.
3 Singing – Joyful People
We are sent to the world to celebrate the goodness of God and of the creation that that he has given us. We are planted and established here, so we rejoice and are glad before the world. 1. We enter the presence of the Lord As its enters the presence of God the Christian community sings its thanks, with psalms and hymns. The psalms are the basis of Christian worship and praise. We praise daily. In our psalm and hymns we encourage one another to come into this praise. O Come let us sing unto the Lord Let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation (Psalm 95) So we sing… Be still, for the presence of the Lord The Holy One is here Come bow before him now With reverence and fear.. (47) And we sing: Welcomed in to the courts of the king I’ve been ushered into your presence. Lord I stand on your merciful ground Yet with every step tread with reverence And I’ll fall face down as your glory shines around (Matt Redman) Every Christian congregation sings and proclaims this glory: Salvation belongs to our God Who sits on the throne And to the Lamb Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks, honour, and power and strength Be to our God for ever and ever (Source 443) 2. Celebration and the young church The Christian life witnesses to the coming together of age-groups. The Christian life of young Christians operates on cycles that are longer and shorter than that of the Church as a whole. Whilst we are in our teens, or students or young adults, we do not always keep the same time as the rest of the Church. On the shorter cycle is the worship music of the young church. The young church meets on Saturday or Sunday night for worship and teaching, but also to eat out together, to go to concerts or to see a film. On the longer cycle are the annual festivals. The Summer festivals, such as Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest, New Wine and Home Focus, are the distinct way in which young Christians come together in worship. There are similar youth movements, large-scale Youth Days, renewal and charismatic movements
and open-air masses in the Roman Catholic church. These festivals are regarded as new, but they are not. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Presbyterian churches held vast church camps, called ‘conferences’ or ‘conventions’, perhaps four times a year, with days of confession and preparation leading up to a communal celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The antecedents of these could be traced back into medieval history. The Church has always met and worshipped out of doors in large summer events related to the Church calendar or harvest, with fairs and festivals. The worship of the young Church expresses yearning and desire. They express what all humankind feels, but most humankind suppresses and is in denial about. Our hearts are restless, says Augustine, until they find their rest in God. There is a dignity in admitting that we are restless because we are not complete in ourselves. As long as we say that we yearn for what we do not yet have, we keep one step ahead of the love industries, that intend to trade on that desire, claiming to fill it while making it less and less tempered and under our control. The Church yearns for its Lord, the bridegroom who is on his way. Who is this that rises like the dawn fair as the moon, bright as the sun, My Lord Many waters cannot quench your love, stronger than death, sweeter than wine Always your light shines in all of the earth Always I love you (Source 1627) 3. Old songs and new The Church has many musical cultures, but most obviously there is traditional worship and new styles of worship. The Church must always have both. Let us look at the new worship songs. We sing sets of songs, one after another, uninterruptedly in a ‘time of worship’. Song by song we progress from through rooms of the palace and into ever-closer presence of the Lord into intimacy with him. Be still, for the presence of the Lord The Holy One is here Come bow before him now With reverence and fear.. We stand on holy ground.. (Source 47) God loves man. Between them there is a love affair. To be in your presence To sit at your feet, Where your love surrounds me And makes me complete This is my desire O Lord this is my desire… (Source 524) We might say that these songs are too repetitive, or too focused on the experience of the individual Christian. But there are psalms that are equally heavy on repetition, and focused on the fear and hope, and joy and love of the
individual. We might say that not very much goes on in these songs, but perhaps that is how love affairs appear to those outside them. Isn't he beautiful, beautiful, isn't he? Prince of Peace, Son of God, isn't he?... Yes, you are beautiful, beautiful, yes, you are (Wimber 242) We are promised and engaged to Christ. Christ loves us and gives us his praise. In much of our worship though we put this the other way around. Lord, you have my heart (Source 341) It is complete intimacy, even ecstasy. In your arms of love Holding me still Holding me near In your arms of love (Source 239) Christ is wooer. We are wooed. So we are sometimes passionate. I am my beloved and he is mine, I am my beloved and he is mine, … and his banner over me is love (Source 152) No one but you Lord can satisfy the longing in my heart nothing I do Lord can take the place of drawing near to you Only you can fill my deepest longing Only you can breathe in me new life (373) But our passion for Christ is also intermittent. Sometimes we are faithless, a run-away bride. For this reason, these songs must be accompanied by our act of confession and repentance. We cannot sing alone, but must also hear Scripture, pray and confess our unworthiness, and celebrate the steadiness of Christ’s love for us. Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; For love is strong as death passion fierce as the grave; its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it (Canticle – The Song of Solomon) 4. Marriage Jerusalem the bride Love is fundamental to human life. We give love and seek love, with the same seriousness as we exist. There are many forms of love and friendship, and they can all be gifts of God when they are received and exercised within Christian discipleship. But the chief mode of love, created for us, is the love of man and woman. The love of the two sexes is the basic gift of God to all mankind, whether or not we experience it at first hand. The distinction of the sexes is the basis of all human relationship and society. As the Prayer Book says:
When you made us in your image, creating us male and female, you gave us the gift of marriage.
In marriage two people are brought together publicly in a relationship of love without limit or end. They give themselves away, to each other, with no intention of withdrawing that love again. This exclusive relationship is ‘a holy mystery in which man and woman become one flesh.’ Their marriage is a little society which is good for society as a whole. As the prelude to the service puts it: ‘The hospitality of their home may bring refreshment and joy to all around them; overflowing to neighbours and embrace those in distress or need’. They are receptive to the possibility of children first of all. Marriage is ‘given as the foundation of family life in which children may be born and nurtured.’ Children can only be brought into the world in the security of the relationship of one father and mother. All children have the right to a permanent relationship with the two people responsible for their existence. Their relationship is the covenant which gives a child the unchanging foundation on which all his or her other relationships can develop. Marriages are the basis on which a new generation can grow to emotional maturity and discover the permanence of love in their turn. Marriage is the basis on which our society can receive a new generation and look forward in confidence about its renewal and continuation. It is the source of the continuity, hope and confidence of society as a whole. All marriage is based in the covenant of God with man which is the ‘mystical union’ or marriage of Christ and his Church. ‘Marriage is a gift through which husband and wife shall be united with one another as Christ is united with his bride, the Church. Chastity or celibacy is fundamental to Christian discipleship and of the spiritual gifts it is the most central gift. All the gifts relate to love, and support and define love, making it deliberate and intentional, so that it ceases to be frantic or indiscriminate love, by which we rebound from one infatuation to the next. Love becomes free when it is self-controlled. For Christians, marriage is a particular form of chastity: these two Christians give themselves to support one another in this discipled life. The woman you marry is the exclusive channel through whom you may love all other women: she is all womankind, for you, so you can explore her forever without ever reaching the end. If you imagine that you are subsequently driven to love some other woman, you are getting less woman, not more. Along with an individual loss of self-control and personal integrity, all society is weakened when the unity created by love is broken. This is why the Church prays:
Bless all whom you make one flesh in marriage. May their life together be a sign of your love to this broken world, so that unity may overcome estrangement
5. Hymns The worship of the Church is always both old and new. Through its relationship with all previous generations of Christians, the contemporary Church can nurture the future generations that are given to it. For this reason we must look at the issue of old and new in our worship. If ‘worship songs’ are new, hymns are old, so why do we continue to sing them?
Hymns have narrative. They give us the story of the gospel and teach us to place ourselves within its this narrative so that we understand ourselves as the people of Christ. These hymn-writers and all those who have passed them on to us, teach us who we are. Many hymns and songs are interpretations of the psalms, or of those other songs in the bible, known as canticles. The ‘Magnificat’, song that Mary sings when the birth of Jesus is foretold, is an example of a canticle. Every part of the bible can be plundered for song material. We have to learn our hymns and songs. If we know them by heart we will be able to remember them when we are in trouble and hymnbooks are out of reach. As long as we sing the praises of God through it, no trouble will be fatal. These hymn-writers give us the words to sing when we are in trouble, and that makes them our friends. Their rhymes help us remember, and that is why hymns come in verses with lines that rhyme. All spoken languages are always changing, so any version of a song is always slowly becoming archaic. If we left our hymns unchanged, changes in the language will eventually make them difficult to understand. Many of our hymns have an air of Victorian sentimentality. That is not their fault of their writers. It simply means that we have to re-touch them and untangle their tangled syntax to show the sense of what we are singing. One reason why we have sermons is to point out what we are singing and to make all our worship plain. And we can also write contemporary versions of them, which is what the Victorians did: they took the songs they inherited and brought them up to date. We can translate them closely or we can paraphrase them loosely. The point is not simply to carry repeat these hymns, but to re-write them in our own language so that what they said to earlier generations they now said to us. This does not mean that we should only sing the contemporary versions, but we should keep singing both the old hymn and the contemporary version. They often diverge enough to become separate songs, and often enough is the earlier version that preserves the richest theology. This brings us back to the problem of versification. Rhythm, rhyme and versification Why did the earlier generations use rhyme and so write songs in rigorous verse form? Why did they cramp the natural sense of the sentences by cramming them into verse? They did this because we also sing God's praises when we are not in Church, but in the week when we are doing something else. At all earlier periods Christians did much more manual work than we do, and they travelled on foot. We may sing when we are washing up, cleaning the house and particularly, walking. Walking is rhythmic. The first and most natural rhythm is the unhurried rhythm of walking along. So songs are for singing as you work and as you walk, and particularly as you do so with lots of other people. A good song helps a company to travel a long way. Every earlier generation knows this and this is why the songs with the strongest narrative, images and rhythm are best for singing on the road and survive the longest.
We can try to re-interpret songs keeping the rhythm and versification, or even putting new songs into better versification. We need to do this so we can sing it with all our minds as well as all our hearts. It is possible to sing these hymns without noticing what we are singing, or even being able to make much sense of it when we do notice. But let us at least begin to notice. Our Victorian hymn writers rediscovered some of the of treasures of the early Church. Here is a hymn by Fulbert of Chartres (960-1028), in the version by John Mason Neale:
Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, to sweet new strains attune your theme; the while we keep, from care released, with sober joy our Paschal feast: When Christ, unconquer'd lion, first the dragon's chains by rising burst: and while with living voice he cries, the dead of other ages rise. Engorged in former years, their prey must death and hell restore to-day: and many a captive soul, set free, with Jesus leaves captivity.
Fulbert tells the saints in heaven to keep singing, because we are celebrate the triumph of the resurrection on this Easter day. As he starts to give reasons for his joy he sets out into his narrative: Christ has broken the bonds of death, and is leading all his people out of death’s captivity. If we sing these songs, making new sense of them, we will have joined Fulbert and those choirs of new Jerusalem. The Church will rediscover versification when it starts to sing and walk, worshipping while travelling. The Christian pilgrimage can be a long trudge. We will persevere if we sing the songs that keep us going us, in step, and which give us the narrative that tells us where, why and to whom we are walking, why we are doing so together, and why we are journeying through a world that does not like to see us do so. But we can sing: O Jesus I have promised to serve thee to the end Be thou ever near me, my master and my friend I shall not fear the battle if thou art by my side Nor wander from the pathway if thou wilt be my guide (538) 6. Blessing and honour God gives his Spirit to all creation and to all creatures. Words not only name things, but they also bring things into being. Words create life and take it away again. People receive new strength from the words of recognition we give them. When the right words are withheld from us our confidence and strength run out. Praise is the fundamental currency of human being. We talk some people up, and we talk others down, promoting some, but ignoring or denigrating others. The world is a blizzard of praise, glory and honour, recognition, esteem and respect, and it is also the place where praise and esteem is withheld, misdirected and perverted. As long as we honour people, giving them praise and gentle judgment in proportion, they flourish and their 67
lives take their proper healthy course. When we withhold recognition from them they decline, first in morale, and then socially and economically. When, as a result of being made socially and politically invisible, they run out of the material means of life, they die. God sends his praise to man: When you send your Spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the earth. When you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust (Psalm 104.29-30). Christians acknowledge that man receives his true praise and affirmation from God, and say so, sending their praise back to God. Prayer is ‘God's breath returning to him’, as George Herbert put it. We may not take the recognition or glory that comes our way and assume that we deserve it and that it is ours in an absolute sense. That ‘honour and glory’ must be returned to its source. If we have done well, it is because we have been done well by. It is good for us to point out where all our happiness comes from. The origin of our worship is that God speaks in our praise. He gives us words of love and acknowledgement. It considers us worth it, he attributes us with ‘worth’, which is the original derivation of the word ‘worship’ after all. So in our worship, we re-direct this the traffic of praise back to God. We say that it is God who loves man, and our love of God is recognition of the source of all human love. So we sing: Jesus we adore you, lay our lives before you, how I love you We may adore God. Adoration sent in other direction will corrupt its object. But we may adore God with complete safety. We may and must, adore him only. All human loves, even of parent and child, even of husband and wife, need to be defined by this love first, or they may cease to be true. God loves and adores us, and we receive this love and so we have to give it. The more we give ourselves to him the more secure we become. If we do not give our love to God, we give it to someone who is not able to deal with it, who is not able to return our identity to us. The way to love someone truly is to recognise that that they are creatures of God: that recognition keeps them and us safe. Our love can be corrupting and destructive if it turns to adulation. As creatures we are so needy that our love tends to make them more than creatures, it cannot recognise the proper limits. Our adoration is too strong a force for any creature to deal with. Our adulation will press them out of shape and tempt them to think of themselves both as more, and as less, than they are. Our whole existence in the marketplace is searching for, and inventing, compensations for true love. That true love and perfect recognition God gives. It enables us to withdraw our worship from all other objects, and denounce our misdirected loves, mediated through the market and the various ideologies in the public square. This true love comes to us from God, and is mediated by God through the Church, the community he has made for the purpose. Then we can sing: Overwhelmed by love deeper than oceans high as the heavens. Ever-living God
Your love has rescued me… (422) 7. The Spirit of freedom and discipleship The Spirit brings freedom. But for us freedom has to be learned, which means that we need guidance, direction and control. Freedom does not mean that we are abandoned to our own devices. This freedom comes together with fellowship. The Lord provides for his Church, giving it the practices of discipleship by which we can learn our freedom. So the Spirit does not leave us on our own, but puts us in good company, giving us other Christians to look after us. The Spirit gives us apostles who are the gentleness of Christ for us, who will sustain us with the guidelines, teachers, practices and exercise that comes from service. Singleness, celibacy and self-control We want to be disciples. This means that we see the point of discipline, and are ready for instruction and correction. Only the Christian who has accepted and been chastened by correction is able to offer correction. A true friend does not just tell us we want to hear, but is able to bring us some gentle word of correction. Not to give people the discipleship they need and want is as irresponsible as not sending children to school, or teaching them good manners and how to manage their emotions. They need guidance and discipleship in order to find out how things work, and to do so by both telling them and by letting them experiment and find out for themselves. These laws, guidelines, teachers, practices, exercises, books are the gifts of the Spirit. These are what the Spirit gives us, and there is no way to the Spirit except via the gifts by which we introduces us to himself and prepares us for increasing proximity to him. Christians are taught a self-controlled lifestyle, which involves turning away many apparently more compelling choices. As soon as we are able to turn some of these options away we get better at deciding between them. When we can say ‘no’ so some choices, we start to develop some character of our own and cease to be so easily moulded. When we do not acquire this selfcontrol or self-possession we are shaped by whatever the market is selling. Worship in Spirit and truth God has married man to himself. Christ is the groom and the Church is his bride. In the words of one canticle: I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. The marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready. The resurrection is the demonstration that the Spirit has united us to Christ and, in him, to one another. Though we break the marriage-vow, we may renew it and be restored to him. What the Spirit binds nothing can unbind: the Spirit has bound Christ to himself, and he has bound Christ’s people to Christ, without limit, forever. No created power, not even death, can tear Christ away from God: as a result, no created power, not even death, can tear us away from Christ, or oblige Christ to let go of us. The Spirit has broken the bonds that held us and brought us into this communion and now we can open our mouths to speak, to judge and to praise.
The Lord is the Spirit. His people can worship him only in Spirit, for only the can bring us into communion with the Son within which we may see the truth. The Spirit who raised Christ from us will also raise us to him. Christ’s resurrection is promise and warning of our own future resurrection. Our new freedom is the demonstration of the resurrection, which has put its indelible mark on us, sealing us for a future with him. We are that community that knows itself to have been brought together by the resurrection and overcome the power that set each things against all others. The Spirit makes a great company, the train that follows the Son, and which is his glory. Jesus is no longer alone, but with all the prophets and servants of Israel behind him. This whole company of heaven is a totality cannot be broken or divided for the Holy Spirit makes us members of an impregnable – a ‘spiritual body’ which is to say, one which is no longer subject to decay. The Church is drawn into ecstatic praise of Christ in which all sing in chorus and unison. But this impulse that brings them to into one voice, or harmony of voices, intends to make them reasoning and speaking people. This singing is not beyond our control, but strengthens our own self-control and enables us to subordinate ourselves to one another. The whole congregation is at work in this worship, so every part of the service is antiphonal. We confess that it is Christ is who is doing all the work in this worship by his Spirit and that we are simply his passengers. We do not know or comprehend or control Christ or his worship. Singing is ‘with your heart’, that is, with the whole person, body and mind. Speaking is reasoning, ‘with your mind’. The whole body alternates between singing, acting as whole (spiritual) persons and speaking-and-listening, which is to act as minds that reason with other created minds. Reasoning, mind to mind, enables us to participate in the singing, in which we communicate as whole person to another. Everything that the Church does ‘must be done for the strengthening of the Church’, says the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 14.26). This participate in the service of the Spirit makes us free. He brings us to Christ and so releases us from every other master, and enables us to confess no lord but this one. Now we have identified the Lord, the right Lord, we are not taken in by any other and can be fearless in the face of them. Whenever it is in session the Christian community speaks out to the world, telling it how demeaning, and how powerless and illusory, its gods are.
4 Praying – Confession and Release
The community that has received the promise of the resurrection is able to confess their sins and receive forgiveness and new life. 1. The cross When we come in to Church we gather around Christ. We identify him by the cross. There is a cross on the altar and in the window above it, and the cross is at the head of the procession that leads us in and out of our assembly. We sign ourselves with the sign of the cross or wear a crucifix around our neck.
We live under this cross. He opened wide his arms for us. Arms outstretched, Christ covers and shelters us. He is the canopy of the covenant under which our redemption is possible. The cross stands for Christ, even when no crucified Christ is explicitly portrayed there. It looks as though Christ is alone on the cross and therefore as though we are not that cross. But Christ is only there as us. Man is on that cross: the cross is an image of us. Man is the figure distorted by pain and anguish. It is not just Jesus on that cross we see before us. That is also us there. We are man, and this pain is ours. The cross shows us that Christ sees us, and knows that this is what we are. He is fully aware of who and what we are, for ‘no secrets are hidden’. We are the ones squirming in the grip of our passions and being slowly consumed by them. We inflict this conflict on ourselves and on each other. We are on this cross, and in this misery, and heading for this death and hell. But we are not alone there. Christ does not leave us alone there. He remains among us and stands with us. The figure on the cross is a composite figure, of Christ and us together, represented as a single figure. We shut ourselves in a small and vicious place where we were sure that God could not reach us. But Christ has entered that place, and become one of us, man in agony. Christ has come to the man who is pulling himself apart, and even taken on the body of this man, entered this process of mental and spiritual disintegration. He knows the place we are in, from inside. He has no reason to be here, with us; he could leave at any moment, but he remains here. It is we inflicting this pain, on ourselves and also on him. We do not stop inflicting it, and seem ready to destroy ourselves and him. But Christ remains here: he abides and withstands what we inflict. Finally our ability to sustain this agony it is broken. Man is exhausted by his own conflict and agony and his power to inflict it is broken. Christ has withstood the power of man to inflict this passion. The ability of man to destroy himself is overcome by the ability of Christ to withstand man, and end his career towards destruction. On this cross Christ has triumphed over everything that bound us. This is why we sing: I bind this day to me for ever, by power of faith, Christ's Incarnation; his baptism in Jordan river; his death on cross for my salvation; his bursting from the spicèd tomb; his riding up the heavenly way; his coming at the day of doom (St Patrick – Alexander) 2. Repentance and Forgiveness In the eucharistic prayers we hear that: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son Jesus Christ to save us from our sins Christ saves us from our sins. We may therefore confess our sins, be released from them and be free of them. Sin is made of all our unfinished
business, all that we cannot cope with. It is not initially serious. But if this nonserious sin is left unidentified and untreated it becomes serious. The only treatment for sin is confession and repentance, that is, we may name it, drop it and walk away from it. We can repent. This is where the Christian faith is on its own. No other worldreligion offers forgiveness. They can offer bravery in the face of fate, and they can offer oblivion, and the destruction of your personality. But the gospel brings the forgiveness of sins. We can let go of the past so we are not trapped in a cycle of revenge and retaliation. Forgiveness lifts us out a closed system and gives us a future. The prayer of forgiveness is spoken over us:
Almighty God, who forgives all who truly repent, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and keep you in life eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We are the people who can let go off our mistakes, and let them be taken away from us. Without that release, we are like an old computer with so much on its hard-drive, that its has slowed to a crawl. Its memory is taken up with the all junk it has processed. So put down your burdens, for they do not belong to you anymore. We sing: I heard the voice of Jesus say Come unto me and rest Lay down thou weary one, lay down Each of us is curved in on ourselves. Sealed in our separate bubbles we float by one another. I am in flight from you and you from me. Each of us stands on our own planet, defending ourselves from the incursions from others, but is utterly lonely, and ridiculously repeating that this is not loneliness but independence. Christ prickles the bubble in which each of us is trapped, releases us and puts us in one another’s embrace. Christ unrolls us, and stands us upright before one another. He gives you to me and me to you, and so puts us together. By this absolution the Church publicly authorises and empowers me to go free. The exchange of the peace is my release from the relationships I have not be able to sustain and my reconciliation with all those who have rightly laid their charge against me. The Church prays: May almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness, restore in you the image of his glory and lead you in the light and obedience of Christ 3. Confession We can confess our sins. We confess our sins in the course of our worship service. We may also confess them before the service, and we will be taught the prayers that will carry us through such trials in the future. We can go to the priest and tell them whatever we like and so unload everything that we ourselves cannot deal with. Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, looking to Jesus in penitence and faith. 72
Confession is shared. We carry one another’s burdens. The real threat represented by any sin or any difficulty is that it isolates us from all others. The first step is to share it with other Christians to ensure that it does not have this effect. Let go of it: whatever it is, go and tell them. We may sing: Burden down, Lord, burden down, Lord, since I lay my burden down, … wonder will my sister know me.. wonder will my brother know me, since I lay my burden down. In Orthodox churches you can see people making their confession as the service is getting underway, whilst the psalms of morning prayer are being sung. They kneel before the priest, who sits on a bench at the side of the church, and make their confession at his feet, with the priest’s long stole drawn over their heads, concealing them from the congregation. The long stole of the priest represents the covenant of God, the covering by which we are all protected. As a result of this confession their sins are no longer their own, and they are ready to receive communion. We encourage one another and talk one another up. We ask one another to give us their judgment, that is to give us some constructive criticism. We all need an external eye to see what we cannot see for ourselves, and to suggest ways to achieve a better, less laboured way of doing things. Of course this is painful business, that results in hurt feelings. But we should tell them when we see someone still doing something that they don't need to do, speaking the truth in love, and examining and testing what we hear from people. You are free to bear the sins of others, free to put up with the bafflement and misrepresentations. By sins, we do not of course mean simply fault and guilt, but the whole weight of promises not kept, expectations unmet, projections imposed, and all the unfinished business which we have created for ourselves or which other people have left us with, and which we have wrongly or rightly taken as our own load. 4. Healing and release I give myself away. We beg others to take notice of us. We are so needy for praise. We spend our careers looking for the one thing that will make us stand out, that will finally turn heads, and bring eyes on us so we hear. We pray constantly, soundlessly to one another, and our prayer is a single plea, Look at me!. We are needy and we send out a stream of demands and desires that reflect this neediness. Our entire career is premised on keep this plea disguised, and not letting this neediness become public. All the entertainment industry hears us and comes to our aid, translate our longings into demands that they can meet and, if we let them, they intercept the desires that should only be heard by God and interpose themselves between us and God. The Church service identifies where we have been cheated of recognition and love. When such wounds remain unhealed, the original injury must be named Maybe the Church can help us reconstruct whether it was some particular member of the family or group who undermined our confidence or gave us some pervasive sense of hopelessness. They committed the sin perhaps without any awareness at the time that this is what they were doing. But over
the years we may have nurtured this offence too, turning the original act against us into a charge that we hold against everyone else. We may forgive those who have sinned against us, and we must do so. We may sing: Right now the presence of the Lord is in this place he will heal the broken hearted he will bind up their wounds the healing cleansing fire of the Lord is in this place (Source 949) When we come into the assembly of the Church we are called back into our right mind. The worship of God punctures my excessive claims, and releases me from the misery of my desperate self-promotion. The Church service, which is the service of Christ to us, takes away from us all the substitutes that we have interposed between one another, and between ourselves and our Lord. As we gather to sing, pray, listen and eat we let go of all that diverts us into inconsequential forms of life. The Church service is a form of letting go of all that has enthralled and consumed us in the course of the week. We sing: Reclothe us in our rightful mind, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence praise As we gather to sing, pray, listen and eat we let go of all that makes life easy and that diverts us into inconsequential forms of life. The Church service is a form of letting go of all that enthrals us and consumes us in the course of the week. It is therefore a form of fasting, which is what we call the period of preparation before any feast. We receive again the ability to decide what is important and let go of the rest. We are released. We can sing: As through man death comes to all, So has man unlocked death’s prison. As in Adam all are dead, So in Christ shall all be risen (155 Le Grice) 5. Prayer is learned Only the people of the resurrection can suffer and experience the passion, and become intercessors for the world, and experience and acknowledge its redemption with worship and thanksgiving. Prayer also has to be taught and learned. The whole service teaches us, how to speak and pray. But prayer and worship as a whole requires catechism. We have to be taught to pray, and we have to be led in prayer and worship, by good example. For this reason we should not prefer spontaneous prayer over learned and practised prayer, but equally we should make room for spontaneous prayer. We follow the forms given to us. So we follow the form that we received from the Lord himself: Our Father Who art in heaven Hallowed be thy name… Our worship sets out patterns which set out an alternation between prayer leader and people. He gives pauses in which we put our own prayers for the particular people and situations that concern us. They introduce their prayers,
and then gathering them in a prayer (the ‘collect’) that collects and summarises all our prayers. This prayer must refer to the Scripture we have heard and all the other people we have prayed for. Once again we have a conversation. The congregations learn this pattern and so they know when it is their turn. For this reason it is not a good thing that all prayer be made up on the spot, ex tempore. It is no kinder to suggest that this is possible, any more than it is kind to insist that a beginner get up and give a concert without rehearsal. We make public confession of our sin. We do not attempt to portray ourselves as either better or worse than we are. The jury is out on us, but we point out that there is a just and merciful judge and we entrust ourselves to him. We pray Forgive us our trespasses And we pray forgive us all that is past and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
5 Eucharist – New Life
God draws us into communion with himself. God himself prepares us for life in his presence. In his communion we brought into lasting encounter with one another. In the Church we learn how to be with the other people of his communion. They are given to us in instalments and represent a long passage for us. At the end of that passage we will have learned how to love and be present to them in the fellowship of God. We receive the presence of Christ as we wait with his body, and from him we gain presence and through him become more truly present to one another. 1. Passover Christ is our way into life. He has breached the prison wall which enclosed all humanity and broken out, so he is our escape from death. He put an end to death by dying for us. He now takes us with him. The Christian life is the long passage that we will follow through the whole course of lives. We are passing over from mortality to eternal mortal life. When we gather around him in the eucharist, Christ takes us through the opening he has made, and which we identify with the altar and the broken bread on it. On this side is the narrow confinement, and on the other side is the whole infinite space of the communion of saints who enjoy all time and are of all places. But between this gateway and that eventual kingdom there is a long passage and a rough crossing. We pray: You delivered Noah from the waters of destruction You divided the waters of the sea And by the hand of Moses You led your people from slavery Into the Promised Land (All Saints, Common Worship 368).
The Lord has come to us, and is now bringing with him the whole life and communion of God. This gathering of people in the eucharist around this altar locate this coming and enable us to recognise this holy life and communion of God that comes to us from Christ. Led by him we begin to march through into the unlimited territory of the communion of God in which all creatures can meet. Christ has opened up this passage and he keeps it open for us by his body. Christ opens the Church to let us and all humanity enter through it into his kingdom. The Church lines this route and accompanies us along it, so that we travel along it together. Those with the most experience of captivity sing the best songs about waiting for this redemption: Deep River, my home is over Jordan. Deep River, Lord I want to cross over, into camp ground Jordan stream is wide and deep, Alleluia, Jordan stream is wide and deep, Alleluia Wade in the water, wade in the water children, wade in the water… Run river and darkness come, Alleluia, Run river and darkness come, Alleluia Jesus stand in the other side, Alleluia, Jesus stand in the other side, Alleluia 2. Release In baptism we are stripped and washed. Baptism commences the permanent purificatory service of the eucharist. Christ removes our sin from us, giving us what we do not have and taking away what we cannot cope with. We receive this stripping and cleansing. In the eucharist we receive the strong medicine that drives out all other toxins out of us, and divested of all that does not fit us. As canticle from Ezekiel tells us: I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and purify you from all defilement A new heart I will give you, and put a new spirit within you This stripping, washing and purification continues all our lives. The Christian life is the public continuation of our baptism. The whole Christian life is preparation for the resurrection to eternal life. It is preparing us for the celebration that will follow. We prepare by concentrating on what is ahead, and this concentration effects our whole routine and the place of food in it. ‘Fasting’ is what we call the preparation before the eucharist. We tend not to eat before the eucharist. We fast together: if you fast on your own your fasting may separate you from your community, which is the opposite of what our preparations are for. The whole Christian life is a preparation, punctuated by regular anticipations of arrival. Each Sunday and festival of the Church year is an anticipation of that celebration. We are waiting for our Passover and we are already undergoing it. 3. Living sacrifice, permanent service Christ gives presence to his body Christ carries us, serves us and cares for us as anyone one of us cares for his own body. He serves and renews us with his life. He is the source of the life of each one of us and of the whole body together. We sing: O Risen Christ today alive Amid your church abiding
Who now your risen body give New life and strength providing (NEH 487 Morgan) God dispenses himself to us gently. He is always able to give himself to us, yet slowly and always waiting until we are ready to receive more from him. The whole created world represents the provision Christ has made for us and is the tangible aspect of the service that he makes to us. He refreshes the world, so that it remains good for us, and he brings us into closer and more lasting relationship with it. We are being made members of that communion of God. We are members of this communion in the material world that God has created for us. We are receiving the spiritual and permanent life, which will preserve us as biological creatures no longer constrained by the limit represented by mortality. We are thus being made real and present to one another with a presence that will no longer be constrained by sin or death. So we shall be biological and spiritual creatures. As the Liturgy of St James proclaims: Lord of lords, in human vesture In the body and the blood; He will give to all the faithful His own self for heavenly food Sacraments are instalments of the presence of God. They come to us in the form of creation redeemed and made holy. These instalments are sanctified, that is to say, dedicated to us by the Holy Spirit to do us good. 4. Presence We go up to the altar to receive the body and cup. They are given with the words: The Body of Christ, The Blood of Christ. We reply with our: Amen In this service and in this cup, we receive the presence of Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit he took flesh. He makes himself present to us and he gives us presence, so that we may become truly present to one another. For we are not yet truly present to one another, not yet real as Christ is real, not solid as he is solid. We have a sketchy being, which requires to be constantly renewed, added to and filled out. But supplied by him with his abundant life, we gain greater reality and become more truly and constantly present to one another. Then, formed and transformed by the presence of Christ, we may appear before one another truly as representatives of Christ and so as servants of one another. According to the canticle from Ezekiel:
A new heart I will give you, and put a new spirit within you And I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh
The sacraments are instalments of reality. In that cup is the presence of Christ, gently portioned out so that, given time, we gain more presence from him and so we become truly established. The eucharist provides us with instalments of reality which will make us more real and more permanent. Christ is present with his body in the eucharist, and within that body each
other us is being made more truly present. How is Christ present, and we are becoming present? Christ is present here by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings us here before all these other people and holds this disparate community together, making it one increasingly holy body. The Holy Spirit holds Christ distinct from us, out of our grasp and beyond the powers of our perception, so that he is hidden from us. And the Holy Spirit, and reveals him to us infinitely slowly in the persons of whom this community it made up. So we sing: Pray we then O Lord the Spirit On our lives descend in might Let thy flame break out within us Fire our hearts and clear our sight (NEH 142 Hewlett) Christ has come within the bounds which we inhabit. He has broken these bounds and leads us out of them. But he also waits until each of us decides that we will follow. We have to want to be free of death and so it is for us to pray that he will lead us. The Holy Spirit allows us to call Christ, and willingly to receive him and be transformed by him as he comes. This takes time, and all the time in the world is given for this purpose. Because Christ holds out this life and gives each of us all the time we need to take it from him, it is not an unilateral imposition. We do not lose our identity it in accepting it, but rather we gain our identity, for in time his act for us becomes our act too. So the Holy Spirit humbles himself before each one of us. He never makes himself available as a single person visibly before us. He leaves no trace of himself. He is here to give us what we need and take away whatever we cannot cope with. Having prepared the place for us, he withdraws just we enter, like a good servant, so that it may be entirely ours. For our sake the Spirit subordinates himself to every other person, making possible for us to receive them without coercion and so in complete freedom. He is able to outlast the resistance each of us puts up to one another and to Christ. He waits for us to consent to receive Christ, freely. For this reason he does not yet allow Christ to become visibly present to us. So we sing: Holy Spirit come renew us Come yourself to make us live Holy through your loving presence Holy through the gifts you give (NEH 140 Foley) Christ makes himself present to his gathered people, and extends his presence to them so that they may gain from him a lasting presence. The people gathered at the eucharist are with Christ, and are on the way to Christ. The body is becoming present, so it is not yet present in the way that it will be. There is a presence and an absence, so we have to look forward to, and yearn for, he who is not yet here. 5. Waiting for the body We who are many, are one body, because we all share the one bread Christ is not yet all in all. The body is not complete, so it waits, for the last and least to come in. Our account of his presence with us must include an account
of his continuing absence. The continued waiting and suffering of the body of Christ and our imperfect communion is acknowledged in the eucharist. ‘He is not here – he is risen!’ We look for his coming again in glory. In our intercessions and anaphora we have to name those for whom we are waiting, or from whom we are divided: by naming them, our intercessions make them present to us. We discern the body of Christ correcting when every member of the body is present. Anyone who eats or drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Corinthians 11.29). In our own church this means waiting for those who are not present, and not beginning to celebrate until they arrive. When they do not arrive, the Church must go to find this particular Christian and bring him back. We name those who are not present because they are still separated from the Church. The community may not start celebrating the feast without last member brought to safely within the body. To start before the last arrives would indicate that this member is not a vital part of the body, and that he does not matter to the body. But we cannot be the Body without him; every last member must be brought in before the body is whole and present. The body that eats before this moment, swallows division and weakness and condemnation. To remind ourselves of this, we sing: One body we, one body who partake One Church united in communion blest; One name we bear, one bread of life we break With all thy saints on earth and saints at rest (Briggs) All created things are good for us when they bring us into proper relationships. The things we use and consume have to be released by those who were responsible for their production. We may not eat alone, our group without all other groups. Only when they are given their proper position in this worship do created things become blessings and so good for us. We have to eat with the ‘least of these’ before our food will do us any good. In the prayers of the eucharist we ask God to give us all those whom we are waiting for, and so make this body complete. We mourn for those who are not yet present, for their absence means that we ourselves are not yet present as we want to be. In our intercessions and offertory prayers we raise them. We are not all present, but we are here for those who are not. 6. Embodied persons We are persons, made up of soul and body. Because we are bodies we are present to each other. It is our bodies that make us present to one another, so without them we would not communicate or be with one another in any sense. Because we are more than bodies, we are not entirely controllable and definable by each other. Each body, in all its particularity, is a gift from God. it is the gift that God has made to the rest of us, and it is a good gift. It is only our bodies that make it possible for other people to find us, access us and address us. Our bodies make us available to one another; they are the medium of all our communion. Our bodies are made up of material elements taken from the creation which is given to us for the purpose. They are made up of all thing things that we have eaten, crops and vegetables and the meat of the animals which have
themselves been nourished by vegetation. This animal and vegetable matter, taken from the soil and transformed by the inputs of sunlight and water, makes up the tissue of our own bodies. All creation is summed up in man, who is witness to, and his own body is evidence of, this marvellous complex of relationships. Each human body is a miniature version of the world. As we stand before one another, and in particular as we are gathered to do so in the eucharist, we are each of us a microcosm of creation. This theme becomes explicit at harvest festival. But imagine we brought to the eucharist some tokens of whatever we are engaged in during the week. Orthodox Christians bring to the eucharist some bread along with the names of those they want included in the intercessions: some of this is blessed and sanctified, while the rest is distributed to the hungry congregation as the eucharist ends. The sanctified food we brought with us is taken home again to be shared with whoever did not come to the service, the old, sick, and otherwise absent, and eaten during the week. But the harvest is only secondarily the crops brought in at the autumn harvest. It is the whole of mankind that is the harvest of God, and that means clearly those who have not yet received any of the good things of creation. All who are thirsty All who are weak Come to fountain Dip your heart in the stream of life (Source 627) We bring bread and other gifts of food that will be given to the poorest members of the congregation. The church looks after its own first, those better off providing for the poorest. And then the church looks after other people’s poor, those not claimed by any other section of society. The church looks after other poor, sick and children. It starts hospices and hospitals and nurses and binds up other people’s bodies. It sets up schools and gives other people’s children an education. All this is an extension of the service of Christ, and an articulation of what is going on the service for those who have not come into it. So we sing: Grant, O harvest Lord that we Wholesome grain and pure may be (Alford) 7. Persons embody creation Every human being, being a creature with a body, embodies creation. Each of the bodies which make us visible and present to one another, constituted of all the vegetable and animal bodies we consume, is itself a gathering of the material elements of creation. Since Christ clothes himself with his people, in him all persons and all material creation are forever present with God. In his liturgy to God and service to man, Christ unites all creation with God. So: We hail thy glorious presence O Christ our great high priest Over sin and death victorious At thy thanksgiving feast (NEH 310 Parsons)
It is the proper purpose of creation and of every material thing in it to be the medium of man-with-man and man-with-God. The materiality of creation is not recalcitrant stuff that represents an obstacle to redemption. It hears its master’s voice and obeys, leaving exposed whatever forces that resist the Spirit. Christ’s people embody creation. Each of the bodies which make us visible and present to one another, constituted of all the vegetable and animal bodies we consume, is itself a gathering of the material elements of creation. Each of us embodies a particular part of the earth, so creation exists within the body, or as the body, of each member of Christ’s assembly. Creation lives in and through us, just as much as we live in it. In Christ we are the ‘person’ of creation, the indivisible unity that preserves creation immune from time and death. In the eucharist, material creation is able to sing the praises of God and so participate through us in the freedom of God. so we sing: O Living bread from heaven Jesus our saviour good Who they own self hast given To be our souls true food (NEH 310 Parsons) Since Christ clothes himself with his people, in him all persons and all material creation are forever present with God. In his liturgy to God and service to man, Christ unites all creation with God. This work of bringing these many into one, is what is going on in the great eucharistic prayer of offering, the anaphora. For the benefit of world, the saints who are assembled behind Christ participate publicly in his office of raising and embodying the world to God. As Christ and his body speak for it and present it to God, creation’s divisions disappear, there is reconciliation between the social and the natural worlds, and so we are able to live with, rather than against, the order of creation. As the eucharist is the reconciliation of mind and body, intellect and materiality, so the Church is the union of nature in humanity and nature, and freedom come to creation. People and bread The bread is the life of the people of God that are given to us through the Scriptures. Since wheat is harvested and milled, bread represents something that is broken. ‘Bread’ includes the sowing, cultivating, harvesting, threshing, milling, baking and serving that nourishes our bodies and makes glad the heart of man (psalm 104) a combination of natural process and human input, that ‘earth has given and human hands have made’. This bread is distributed, as Christ has handed himself over to us. But bread also represents what is unbreakable, an indissoluble unity that will remain for us forever. This bread is the body of Christ, that is to say, Christ with all his people, glorified together in this holy communion. So we sing: Life-imparting heavenly manna, stricken rock with streaming side heaven and earth with loud hosanna Worship thee, the Lamb who died Alleluya 81
Risen, ascended, glorified! (Bourne NEH 296). The kingdom of God makes itself present to us now, in a hidden way, in the eucharist. His kingdom is many people and it is they who in the Spirit make themselves present to us now in this eucharist and worship. The eucharist gives us this thumbprint view of Christ, of Man-who-is-with-God. And the composite figure of the priest, the altar and eucharistic bread and cup are the view-finder through which we can glimpse this view. The altar is the throne, where God is always available for us. The priest, surrounded by the deacons and server, is the future of man glorified, man-with-God. The bread and wine are the redeemed and consummated presence of Christ, his body and all creation. We see God with man, and so we can see one another, and see ourselves, with God. We can see the future, and we can decide that we do indeed want this to be our future. So: Sing, my tongue, the Saviour's glory, of His flesh the mystery sing; of the Blood, all price exceeding, shed by our immortal King, destined, for the world's redemption, from a noble womb to spring (St Thomas Aquinas) And we pray: O Lord of Heaven in this sacrament you hast brought us near to an innumberable company of angels and to the spirits of the saints made perfect As in this food of our earthly pilgrimage we have shared their fellowship so may we come to share their joy in heaven. (CW p. 514)
6 Whole People – The People of the Resurrection
The Church is the demonstration that the power of death has been overcome. Christ holds his community together so that it will endure forever. 1. The Church as promise of the resurrection The Church is the promise of the resurrection. The Holy Spirit now brings the foretaste of the resurrection to us so we can participate in this future kingdom in the Church. Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity within itself (psalm 122) In the Church we experience that glorious city and become that settled and established people. A city radiant as a bride and bright with gold and gem, a crystal river clear and wide, the new Jerusalem; a city wrought of wealth untold, her jewelled walls aflame By ‘new Jerusalem’ we mean that Jerusalem that is always being renewed, and which is therefore never grows old. Glorious things of thee are spoken, 82
Sion, city of our God; he whose word cannot be spoken formed thee for his own abode: On the rock ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose? (NEH 362 Newton) Jerusalem is founded on the rock of ages, so it is eternal. Time does not make it old or worn. Many other things seem urgent and overwhelming now, but these will all disappear. The City of God will remain standing there, and it will be clear that it was here all the time. God formed this city, that is, this society of our, for his own abode, in other words to dwell here with us. This is his place for us and for him together. It stands forever. The Church as the love of God God loves us. The point is not that we love God, but that God loves us with a love that is all from him to us. The love that we express in our songs, is just the shimmer of a reflection of this true love, of God, for us. So we sing: Create in me a pure heart that’s yours for ever Yielded and steadfast, secure in your love. Restore to me joy in belonging to you. Make me yours, Lord, make me yours, I long to be devoted to you (Source 670) We are created for life with each other, with God. God's love calls us into being. It is not that we adore Jesus: this is not the significant thing. Rather Jesus is wooing us and singing to us. This is the direction that all the singing is going in. His love for us is not just some venture of his own; it is the same love that he shares with the Father, so that this love that inexplicably comes our way, is the love of God, the same God who made all that exists. So, however puzzling this may appear, whatever exists, is desired and is good. We can spend our lives discovering how creation is to be valued and other people are to be cherished, and despite all horrors, we should not try to flee from them or discard any part of it. The Lord intends that we love, and love each other, and that means that we do so freely. Our love and freedom are just as fundamental as our existence. The little gatherings of the Church is our evidence that Christ is drawing all humanity to himself. As the baptism service says: Faith is gift of God to his people. In baptism the Lord is adding to our number those whom he is calling. The resurrection is the demonstration that the Spirit has united us to Christ and, in him, to one another. No created power, not even death, can tear Christ away from God, tear us away from Christ, or oblige Christ to let go of us. So the resurrection of Christ is promise and warning of our own future resurrection: the Spirit who raised him from us will also raise us to him. This resurrection is hidden within the present world, and the worship of the Church is the place where we tumble upon this secret. But the Church is all the evidence of this being drawn together we get. The Church is made holy, distinct from the world. It is the promise of the resurrection, in fact it is the sign that the resurrection is underway. The Church is the anticipation of the resurrection
The Church is the big fact with which God confronts the world, and that the distinctiveness of the Church is the single contribution to the world that the Church can make. Just by being different from the world, the Church demonstrates that the world is not yet everything it claims to be. The Church does not yet look settled; its glory can only be recognised by those who are being sanctified within it. Whether the Church looks dull and grey, or sinful and appalling, its shortcomings do not ultimately prevent the Church really being God's message to the world. The sinfulness of the Church does not prevent the world getting the witness and message of God. The church is the promise of the resurrection. Although we now only see the people immediately around us in Church. But in this worship we are brought together with all those who worshipped in this building before us, and in the first Christian church in this place. So we worship with all those who came before us will come after us, and all those in other communities in other parts of this city and country. We do not see these previous generations, but that is not to say that they don’t see us. Christ is hidden here, before our very eyes. Who Christ is, dawns on us only as we realise the people standing around at the gathering of the church as increasingly disparate people are gathered around him. We learn who he is as it becomes clear that all these different people are part of his entourage; they are his because they know that they have all been served by him. They are his train and his glory. As more of them come into the gathering, we may realise that he brings together and reconciles people who are so different, who come from all opposite corners of the world, and that thus all the people of the world are his, and that his rule extends worldwide. A very unassuming man, nothing in him that you would recognise him by, other than this entourage. We get the first inkling of his worldwide reach because the people brought into the eucharistic gathering are so entirely different from one another that they represent the whole variety of humanity, from every imaginable class and condition of man. Even those who take their identity from their hared of one another and were enemies, now sit next to each other. They speak in all their various dialectics and in the assembly they listen to each other, and search to find someone to translate what each, no matter how humble, or from no matter how remote a part of the world, in the belief that Christ has spoken to that part of the world too and that they are also his ambassadors. This is ‘orderly worship’ (1 Corinthians 14). 2. Christian service is living sacrifice Christ is our head and we are his body for the world. Christ regards us as part of himself, as his own body. He is our captain and leader, and he lends his identity and very being to the Church. He considers the Church his own, and considers its sins and deficiencies his own. He calls all humanity into reconciliation in this body so that no part is any longer at war with any other, and he steadily and with inexhaustible patience he keeps up this call. Christ sustains his body so that it resists all contrary voices, and remains unified, so that together with him these many people make this one indivisible unity. When we see the Church, we see him. We have the paradox that Christ is sin-loaded and sin-covered, and we are justified and sin-free.
So though we are two distinct entities, we are also one, and we may not think of ourselves without him. The unity and order of this body can be seen in the way that its members order themselves to one another in love. Everyone is ordained to a place within this people, and so to a particular station and office in it. Each of us is served by those more experiences than ourselves and is given (ordained) to serve those who are less experienced than we are. So united to its head the whole Church is priestly. There is one priest, Christ. But Christ joins us to himself to make us his body, and so the whole people together make one single priest for the world who makes one single offering and service to the world. So we can pray: Through him we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice. The Christians are the service of God to the world. They take the worship of God with them wherever they go. Each Christian is the whole eucharistic service, and each takes that service with him through the world through the week. When the Church meets together on Sunday we are brought back into the indivisible time of God. We are brought together to participate in the celebration that takes place uninterruptedly before the throne of God. This week’s service is not really separated from next week’s service by six weekdays. The weekdays do not break up the worship that goes in heaven, for secular time does not divide what the Spirit holds together. The worship of God constitutes a single, unbroken Sabbath day. But we have this by faith. This little gathering, the Church, is all the evidence we get that Christ is drawing all humanity to himself. It is not thrust on us. The unity of Son and Spirit, evident in the resurrection, holds all these otherwise incompatible persons together in the love and communion that is the Church. In this communion we learn to see all humankind patiently, not only as we presently are, but also as we may be. We learn to see people together with their future. We are in the world and so surrounded by it, but in the Church we are in particular surrounded by those who are being sanctified. And we hold on to all others in this company. We must hold on to one another and not let the buffeting forces loosen our grasp on one another. These people are being prepared so that they can accompany us, and help us to recognise all persons as Christ’s. So these people of the gathered Church are being made our friends. According to Richard Baxter: He wants not friends that hath thy love and converse and walk with thee and with thy saints, here and above with whom for ever I must be The Lord presents these people to me. Christ sends these friends ahead of himself, so I have to meet them first, until through them we have become ready to meet all men. Throughout our life in the Church, the saints come to us and help us to receive all mankind, and so finally to receive Christ. Within the fellowship of saints is wisdom, safety and delight
and when my heart declines and faints it is raised by their heat and light This hymn by Baxter, who was a seventeenth century Puritan theologian, shows that the Protestant Church has always celebrated the communion of saints. Everything going on in Church is this movement in which Christ gathers us into relationship with these many other members of his communion. Christians are not merely saying and singing this as though it is so much disembodied information, but they are also moving towards it, and this is the movement we see in the church service. Everything that we sing is commentary on this movement, so the worship service is our communal body language seen over the long term. It is not only addressed by us to God, but it is the address of God to us. It is not only directed to those of us presently in the building, or presently looking on, but to all generations of the Church, those who for us and in the past and those who are still on their way. The earthly eucharistic liturgy is a relay station for the heaven liturgy. We listen for the singing of the heavenly crowd, pick it up and stay in synch with it. They look forward to our arrival. Heaven reaches down to earth, holding earth and bringing into union with heaven and made it one communion and reality with it. The Church is not assimilated or absorbed into the world, but remains forever. 4. Receiving the body in faith Jesus Christ is calling, gathering, ushering all humanity along towards the Father. He overcomes all rival masters to bring the whole human body together. Christ comes to us first in the form of these other Christians we encounter here in the Church service. They are all that Christ yet is giving us of himself. He does not come to us as the single figure of Jesus, for Jesus has been glorified and we are not yet prepared to encounter that glory. He comes inasmuch as we take him from the least of these, for ‘whatever you did for the least of one of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 26.40). He is really giving us himself, but these people are the form in which, for now, he does so. They are the non-negotiable form in which he comes to us. We have to receive them from him. There is no way to Jesus except through the people he gives us and whom he calls his own body. If they are exasperatingly different from ourselves, this is because Christ is utterly different from ourselves. We have to master our own exasperation in order to receive them, for these people are our preparation for receiving him, and indeed they are hard-to-decipher form in which we are already receiving him. We may exhaust ourselves trying to control these people or avoid them. But in this very trying character, they are the hardness and difficulty of Jesus to us and the way in which he assesses our readiness. We have to learn to take these people as the very gift of Christ, indeed as the very appearance of Christ. It is in this form that Christ has emptied himself, and in this form that we may and must receive him. The good order of the Church
With each other Church in the world we say the creed together. We say: We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The Church has these four distinguishing features: it is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. ‘One’ means that Christ is indivisible and he makes us indivisibly part of him and of each other. Since Christ is its head, the Church is the body of Christ for the world, and Christ and Church are one entity, the Whole Christ. ‘Holy’ means that Christ is utterly distinct from all others, and he makes us distinct from each other. By ‘catholic’ we mean that Christ is the universal who includes all creation. By ‘apostolic’ we mean that the Church has received the whole tradition of the apostles and witnesses of Christ and that it passes that on intact, leaving nothing out. These four features ensure that the Church is the communion of love. The distinctions incorporated and affirmed within the body of Christ are protected by offices within the Church. The Lord sanctifies specific officeholders in the body in order to serve us and do us good: they ensure that we do not form into narrower, less tolerant groups; their discipline enables us to accept the ordering of the whole catholic body within which all differences may flourish. Just as the whole Church is under the discipline given by Christ, each congregation is under the discipline of the whole Church, worldwide and of all generations. Each church sends apostles to other churches and receives them from other churches. Every church is part of the whole Church as it receives the teaching and discipline of these apostles from the rest of the Church. The apostle therefore represents the whole Church, and thus not only the church or the denominations we are comfortable with. We cannot turn away from other churches without shutting ourselves off from Christ and from our own future in his body. Every eucharist and every event of ecumenism is an event of judgment and repentance, and of forgiveness and reconciliation, in which we look forward to being reconciled with those from whom we are still separated. Every church must humbly offer its faith to every other, submit itself to the questioning of every other church, and attempt to learn from them all. The one Church exists as each church gives and receives the instruction and oversight of every other. A church without leaders and disciplinarians is not a well-ordered church. Christians who do not receive this discipline and oversight do not flourish, just as children become unsettled when they do not know where the boundaries are. The Christians who do not receive their shaping from the whole Church always push a little further; the Church has to understand that each episode of transgression is motivated by the desire to be more closely loved and more firmly guided. Each congregation pushes its leaders. If they do not push back, and reprimand us, it is because they fear us too much and love us too little. Let us pray for them. Whenever you see your minister, remind him of who he is and what he has been given to say to the Church and do not let him go until he gives you his blessing. 5. The Spirit and the resurrection
The Holy Spirit who always accompanies Christ can make him visible or invisible to us. The Holy Spirit holds Christ distinct above us, out of our grasp. And the Holy Spirit brings us here before all these other people and holds this disparate and implausible community together, making it one body. The Holy Spirit hides Christ from us, and reveals him to us, bit by slow bit, in the persons of whom this community it made up. So we sing: Each new born soldier of the crucified bears on his brow the seal of him who died The resurrection is the demonstration that the Spirit has united us to Christ and, in him, to one another. No created power can tear Christ away from God, not even death. The result is that no created power, not even death, can tear us away from Christ. Not even death can oblige Christ to let go of us. So the resurrection of Christ is the promise of our own future resurrection. The Spirit who raised him from us will also raise us to him. This resurrection is hidden within the present world, and the worship of the Church is the place where we tumble upon this secret. The resurrection will bring us face to face with all men. The resurrection that raises us to God will also raise to them, and them to us, so that we will receive Christ together with all whom he brings with him. He now sends us all these people ahead of him to us, so we may receive him by learning to receive them. Our resurrection, imperceptibly underway since our baptism, consists in meeting these saints who already make up the glorified body of Christ, until we finally meet the Lord himself. The unity of Son and Spirit, evident in the resurrection, holds all these otherwise incompatible persons together in this love and communion that is the Church. In the Church we learn to see one another patiently, not just as we presently are, but also as we will be. So we pray: Rejoicing in his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension and looking for his coming in glory 6. The mystery of the Church There Church is the big fact with which God confronts the world, and that the distinctiveness of the Church is the single contribution to the world that the Church can make. Just by being different from the world, the Church demonstrates that the world is not yet everything it claims to be. This must mean that God is also competent to make the Church mean what God says it means. And whether the Church looks dull and grey, or sinful and appalling, its shortcomings do not ultimately prevent the Church really being God's message to the world. The sinfulness of the Church does not prevent the world getting the witness and message of God. The church is the promise of the resurrection. I just see the people immediately before me, which is to say, that I see only the people in the building with me. But in every eucharist we are brought together with all those who worshipped in this building before us, and in the first Christian church in this place. We do not see these previous generations, but that is not to say
that they do not see us. So we worship with all those who came before us will come after us, and all those in other communities in other parts of this city and country. Christ is hidden here before our very eyes. Who Christ is, dawns on us only as we realise the people standing around at the gathering of the church as increasingly disparate people are gathered around him. We learn who he is as it becomes clear that all these different people are part of his entourage; they are his because they know that they have all been served by him. They are his train and his glory. As more of them come into the gathering, we may realise that he brings together and reconciles people who are so different, who come from all opposite corners of the world, and that thus all the people of the world are his, and that his rule extends worldwide. We get the first inkling of his worldwide reach because the people brought into the eucharistic gathering are so entirely different from one another that they represent the whole variety of humanity, from every imaginable class and condition of man. Even those who take their identity from their hatred of one another and were enemies, now sit next to each other. They speak in all their various dialectics and in the assembly they listen to each other, and search to find someone to translate what each, no matter how humble, or from no matter how remote a part of the world, in the belief that Christ has spoken to that part of the world too and that they are also his ambassadors. This is ‘orderly worship’ that the Apostle Paul sets out in 1 Corinthians 14. The Spirit makes the Church holy. In all our worship we make a distinction between the Church and the world. It is the Church that makes itself distinct from the world, and it is for the sake of the world that it does so. The Church exists for the sake of the world and is dedicated to it. But the Church cannot be assimilated to the world. It is only because it participates in the worship of God that Church holy has something that it can offer to the world. The Spirit glorifies Christ for us by drawing all people and all creation around him. Who Christ is, dawns on us only as we realise the people standing around at the gathering of the church as increasingly disparate people are gathered around him. We learn who he is as it becomes clear that they are all part of the entourage and glory of Christ. The whole diversity of humanity, from every imaginable class and condition of human being are brought into this gathering. We see Christ bring together and reconciles people from all corners of the world. Thus we discover that all the people of the world are his and that his rule extends worldwide. As the Canticle from Ezekiel (36. 24-28) puts it: I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries. You shall be my people, and I will be your God. Even those who were enemies, and identified themselves through their hatred of one another, now sit next to each other. In this assembly they speak in all their various dialectics, they listen to each other, and search to find someone to translate what each has said, no matter how humble, or from no matter how remote a part of the world. They understand that Christ has spoken to every part of the world and even those from the remotest corners of the world are the ambassadors of Christ for us, and bear gifts from Christ to us. This is the ‘orderly worship’ that the Apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 14.
The strangeness of Church Church is also an unfamiliar and even strange place. This great crowd of people is even easier to see if you go into an Orthodox Church. Directly before you is the ‘iconostasis’, the large partition that stands before the altar which is entirely covered with images of Christians of previous generations. They look at us and we look at them and even go up and greet them with a kiss. Going to Church is simply going to meet the saints and be with them. They are all clustered around Christ or beneath him if his image is high up above us all, in the apse or dome where is portrayed in glory, with all the members of his kingdom about him. You see the priests and servers bowing to one another. Why do they do that? Each bows towards the other because he recognises that person as Christ. Each member of the congregation is becoming translucent to Christ, and we could bow before every member. ‘Greet one another with a holy embrace’ (cite), as Paul says, for in doing so you are greeting Christ (cite). But for now, we let bowing to some serve for bowing before the whole body. We do not want this strangeness to get in your way. Many assemblies of Christians do not make use of these images or these vestments and do everything with as little ceremony as possible because they are determined that none of the ceremony should become a obstacle to you. But these images and movements are not intended to make you feel awkward. They simply mean that we understand that we are all becoming images of Christ, and that we will also radiate his glory. With them we pray: May God in his infinite love and mercy bring the whole Church, living and departed in the Lord Jesus, to a joyful resurrection and the fulfilment of his eternal kingdom 7. Well-ordered people The kingdom of Jesus Christ is made up of a vast assembly of people. It is this assembly that in the Spirit makes itself present to us in worship. We receive them in the persons of the people of this congregation. We receive one another from Christ and so our resurrection comes to us in this secret way one person at a time. Our refusal of one another is stripped off us. The purification that we call the passion is the way we presently participate in this slow resurrection of the body. When we are happy to receive from Christ everyone whom he sends to us. Then we will experience them as our joy and our reward. We regard all Christians, no matter different from ourselves, as those who have called by Christ into his body through baptism. There are many churches and many of ways of expressing their particularities. Their differences tend to be expressed first in terms of their denomination, then perhaps of their churchmanship, which is how they speak about the holiness of the bible or sacraments, and then in terms of their ethnicity or mix of ethnicities. But none of these differences is ultimately significant. What is ultimately significant is locality. What part of the city have they been sent to? To which specific set of
people have they been made the witnesses of God ? Locality is the identifier. Each church must hope to be the witness of God to people who inhabit these few streets, or speak this particular language. The unity between us is absolute, while the diversity of the churches that might seem to divide us is for the sake of the world. The Church is that vast assembly made up of all the members of Christ, both those who for us are in the past and the future. They want us to take up our place with them. This assembly, that is future to us, will make itself present to the present world in Christ and in the Spirit, all at once, at the judgment. In the incarnation we have a preview of this coming together of all things. And this future assembly makes itself present to us now, little by little, as his incarnation is continually set before us in every eucharist. The resurrection that raises us to Christ, will also raise us and bring us face to face with all men. He now sends us all these people ahead of him to us, so our resurrection, imperceptibly underway since our baptism, consists in meeting these saints who already make up his glorious body. So we pray: In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our frail bodies that they may be conformed to his glorious body Though for us they are dead, vanished and forgotten, no human being is so to Christ. He holds them in life, for nothing can remain dead or unhearing when he calls. In the body of Christ we stop running away from all previous generations, turn ourselves around and go back to meet and be reconciled to them. Our future consists in being joined to them, the present to the past. In the Church the saints are not behind us, in our past, but ahead of us, in our future. All the saints have to be poured into us, for only when we contain them all, do we become holy, sanctified, catholic. So we are able to pray: With angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you and saying: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory Hosanna in the highest And we sing: Lord thy glory fills the heaven Earth is with its fullness stored; unto thee be glory given Holy, holy, holy Lord (NEH 343 Mant).
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