Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Reflections on Holy Week

Today, we mourn the passing of Anne Busterud and we celebrate the beginning of our Easter season.  We look forward with the sure faith that Anne is celebrating her favorite holiday with us, in her new life in Christ.  Join us for her memorial service at 2 p.m. on Saturday (11th) at Nativity.

This  past week was a wonderful, prayerful Holy Week.  We prayed together in nine services including Palm Sunday and Easter morning.   So many people contributed to our worship—lectors, choir, eucharistic ministers, lay assistants, altar guild, RUTH BANEY (who worked tirelessly producing service bulletins), musicians, vestry members, and our clergy (the Revs. Rebecca Morehouse and Lizette Larson Miller and visiting deacon, the Rev. Kate Salinaro).  It was a marathon, but somehow, that intensity of the work contributed to the depth of our spiritual preparation for the renewal of our baptismal covenants and the celebration of resurrected life at the Easter Vigil and Easter morning services.  For me, highlights were the chanting of psalms at Tenebrae, the foot washing at Maundy Thursday and the sense of place and time and transition that came with our gatherings at the fire, the Paschal Candle, the font and the altar at Easter Vigil.   Of course,  I loved having a full sanctuary on Easter morning and the joy of so many children singing and Easter egg hunting.

I hope that all of you who participated in the Easter week services will join Rev. Lizette in a forum at 9 a.m. next Sunday (12th) to discuss how these services contributed to your experience of Easter.  Reflecting on this past week will help us prepare for our services next year.  I am posting Rev. Lizette’s survey below so that you can look at it before Sunday.

Here is the Song of Moses and Miriam,  who danced when the people of Israel had crossed the Red Sea.  Like Miriam, we dance today at the triumph of life over death.

I will sing to the Lord, who has triumphed gloriously, ♦ the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song ♦ and has become my salvation. 
This is my God whom I will praise, ♦ the God of my forebears whom I will exalt. 
The Lord is a warrior, ♦ the Lord is his name. 
Your right hand, O Lord, is glorious in power: ♦ your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. 
At the blast of your nostrils, the sea covered them; ♦ they sank as lead in the mighty waters. 
In your unfailing love, O Lord, ♦ you lead the people whom you have redeemed. 
And by your invincible strength ♦ you will guide them to your holy dwelling. 
You will bring them in and plant them, O Lord, ♦ in the sanctuary which your hands have established. 
(Exodus 15.1b-3,6,10,13,17) 

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning is now and shall be for ever. Amen.

Here's Rev. Lizette's survey for discussion at 9 a.m. on Sunday (April 12th).  If you attended any of the Holy Week or Triduum Services (or you want to hear about the services you missed), please come join the conversation.

Episcopal Church of the Nativity, San Rafael
Reflections on Holy Week 2015

Palm Sunday
I attended the Palm Sunday liturgy (2015)   ____ yes       ____ no (8:00 or 10:00? circle)

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday combines elements of two ancient liturgies from two important Christian cities, Jerusalem and Rome. From Jerusalem comes the procession that ‘enters’ into a holy time and place. We remember Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, carrying palms or large branches from local trees, not as if Jesus was again entering the city, but rather it is our invitation into the story by remembering with our whole being and community. From the tradition of the city of Rome we inherit the retelling of the passion story on this morning, recounting the events of Jesus’ salvific passion and death through which God’s love for us is remembered. Telling this story at the beginning of the week is crucial to keep us from slipping into Holy Week as a travel guide to Jesus’ last week on earth, “now he does this, now he does that”…Jesus is not re-crucified, that was once and for all, but the benefits of that action are recalled for us so that we can recall – be re-presented - with what has been done and what we are to do because of these events.
At Nativity this year, we proclaimed the passion according to Mark in a deliberately different manner. The ‘traditional’ way – for the past 800 years – is for three male voices to chant the passion with no congregational parts (sung or spoken). In the 1970s the production of missalettes in the Roman Catholic liturgy gave the congregation the part of the crowd, often limited to lines like “crucify him”. This allowed the parts of Jesus and the disciples to remain with the clergy, while adding congregational elements. The problems with this are many, but particularly the gathered congregation is not the same as those who were against Christ, but is composed of Christ, Christians. We interspersed different voices proclaiming the gospel with a text from the early church “Glory to you O Lord, for your love poured out for us.” It allows for breaks in the proclamation, and allows us, the congregation, to express one of the primary theologies of Holy Week – our response can only be awe, to stand amazed at what God has done for us (the response was spoken at 8:00, sung at 10:00).
Did the proclamation of the passion in this style allow you to hear the story in a different way? What was different?

Did the words of the congregational response help you reflect on the passion in a different way? How?

Tenebrae (Wednesday evening)
I attended the observance of Tenebrae this year at Nativity   ______yes     ______ no

Tenebrae is not one of the essential liturgies of Holy Week, but rather an additional opportunity for an extended meditation on the suffering and death of Christ. Originally a medieval monastic service of matins and lauds (generally beginning about 3:30 in the morning), in Tenebrae’s 20th century reconstruction, three mornings of liturgies were combined and moved to an evening celebration. The pattern of psalms, versicles and responses, and scripture (and patristic) readings are faithful to the monastic tradition dating back to the 3rd century. The use of candles is meant to be dramatic – in the dark, each section ends with the extinguishing of a candle, until the only light is a single candle – the light of Christ – accompanied by a loud noise that is to remind us of the inbreaking of God into the darkness of the world. The liturgy is meant to be filled with images inviting us into reflection, tied together with silence and darkness, private prayer meeting public prayer.
At Nativity we observed a shortened version of Tenebrae while the church was still light. We chanted the psalms and canticles, read the responsories and readings, and extinguished individual lights after each section of prayer.
For you, what was the most helpful (most prayerful) part of this Tenebrae service?

Maundy Thursday
I attended the Maundy Thursday liturgy this year (2015)   _____ yes     ______ no

Maundy Thursday (the word is an old English corruption of ‘mandatum’ – commandment, from the gospel “I give you a new commandment”). Over the centuries this liturgy has taken different timing and shapes, but in the ecumenical liturgical movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, it has been restored as the first of the great three days (Triduum), the heart of the liturgical year for Christians.
These three days (what ‘Triduum’ means literally) are reckoned in their Jewish understanding, a day = sundown to sundown, (so day 1 = Thursday sunset to Friday sunset; day 2 = Friday sunset to Saturday sunset; day 3 = Saturday sunset to Sunday sunset). This means that Thursday evening is several different things: it is the beginning of the Easter Triduum, the unified observance of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ; it is the beginning of Good Friday; it recalls the Last Supper of Jesus with the disciples before his arrest; and for centuries it reconciled serious sinners to the church so they could be part of the Easter Vigil. This evening, and on Good Friday, we hear from the Gospel of John, a tradition dating to the 3rd century. John’s gospel has no institution narrative (the institution of what we call the Holy Eucharist), but rather, in the setting of the Last Supper, focusses on the foot-washing, the outward expression of true love and service to each other. John moves right to what the eucharist leads us to, rather than focusing on the eucharist itself. The celebration of holy eucharist, holy communion, the Lord’s Supper, the mass, the divine liturgy, the great offering (these are all titles given in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 859) was the central way that Christians were reconciled, and this liturgy also historically consecrated extra bread and wine for communion on Good Friday, a day on which no eucharistic celebration is allowed. Today, some congregations focus preaching and action on the eucharist (with an agape meal) and symbolic service (which might or might not include washing), while others  focus on discipleship as a response to eucharist.  At Nativity we made the latter choice this year.   Because the Triduum is a single liturgy, there is no ending to the liturgy tonight – it ends after the Easter Vigil.
The gospel is preached in three different ways on this evening: first it is proclaimed in our midst, then it is preached on, then it is done in the footwashing. How did this liturgy, calling us to service to others in different ways, help you see what the celebration of the eucharist calls us to? Did it ‘preach’ that the body and blood of Christ is the means by which we become Christ for the world?

At the end of the liturgy, the altar, the primary symbol of Christ in our midst, is stripped, washed, anointed – what we see is the altar as the body of Christ, the burial of Christ (remembering this is the beginning of Good Friday). What did you see, what did you feel?

Good Friday
I attended the Good Friday liturgy this year (2015) ______ yes   _____ no

The liturgy of Good Friday, like the liturgies above, draws from patterns and practices established in the 3rd and 4th centuries, and practiced first in Jerusalem and Rome. The veneration of the cross is a tradition of Jerusalem, the solemn intercessions and reading of the passion according to John come from Rome. The reception of communion has sometimes happened, others times not. The veneration of the cross is often done in the early medieval tradition, the announcement happens three times: “this is the wood of the cross on which hung the savior of the world” to which the congregation responds: “come, let us worship.” After the procession (which will be repeated with the Easter or Paschal candle on Saturday night), we are invited to venerate the cross by touch, kiss, or other gesture. We profess our faith in the incarnation, the Word become flesh, every Sunday. Our worship of the living God must be more than words, we worship with our whole being, knowing that God invites us into encounter and relationship through the good things of creation – ‘matter matters’ - and so we use bread, wine, water, oil, wood, feet, touch, light, darkness, icons, pictures, music, silence, and human bodies to worship the living God and venerate those elements we have set apart that enable us to encounter the divine – to touch our history and know its connection to us today. Because this is the second of the three great Triduum liturgies, there is no formal beginning and there is no formal ending… Since 1922, the Episcopal Church in the United States has expressed its support for the Churches in Jerusalem by dedicating the collection of Good Friday to Christians who live the passion and suffering of Christ day in and day out. This year, more than many, our ancient and our very modern connections to the place that gave birth to our religion are more urgent and raw and in our awareness.
At Nativity, we followed the pattern of passion proclamation used on Palm Sunday (but with John’s gospel), we prayed the solemn intercessions (spoken, not sung) with their pattern of invitation to prayer, silent prayer (kneeling), and the collecting of each prayer with the officiant’s collect; we venerated the cross by announcing what it meant and inviting all to come forward and touch the cross. What part of the liturgy was the most meaningful for you, and why?

The Easter Vigil

I attended the Easter vigil at Nativity this year (2015) _____ yes    ______ no
“This is the night” – the startlingly beautiful proclamation of Easter (the Exultet) comes to us in several different versions from the south and the north of Italy, written between the 5th-8th centuries. The Easter Vigil, what St. Augustine called the “mother of all vigils” is the central liturgy of the entire liturgical year. “This is the night” when four different liturgies have been combined since the 3rd century, First, we light the lights to see after dark, and this leads to the fire (from medieval Germany) and the lighting of the Easter Candle (from Jerusalem), the light of Christ that spreads throughout the church in the candles held in everyone’s hands. We recall the history of our salvation in the office of readings, we baptize and welcome new Christians, we celebrate the first eucharist of Easter – a Sunday of Sundays that will continue for 50 straight days. “This is the night” when Christ will return – you don’t want to be anywhere else! “This is the night” that recalls all the passages from death to life that brought us to Christ’s breaking the bonds of death and freeing us to new life. We exchange the ancient Christian Easter greeting: “Christ is risen” “The Lord is risen indeed.” We sing the ancient Easter song: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.” We renew our own baptismal vows, in word and water. We have passed over again – into joy from sadness, into fulfillment from preparation, into dance from work. Christ is risen – now we begin again as Easter people.
At Nativity this year, we celebrated the light of Christ, heard the stories of our salvation, did not celebrate any baptisms so renewed our own baptismal promises, and celebrated the first eucharist of Easter.
What did you find helpful in beginning Easter with this liturgy?

The office of readings is different than a Sunday morning liturgy of the Word – the pattern is reading, psalm, and often prayer. The responses (psalms) were done in different ways – did that help you reflect on each reading as the story unfolded?

The Easter vigil was a stational liturgy – outside, centered around the word, gathered around the font, gathered around the table. Did that help you get a sense of how the liturgy moved and how we move on our journey of Christian life into God?

What else would be helpful for the worshipping community of The Episcopal Church of the Nativity in reflecting on all of these liturgies and using these reflections in the preparation of liturgies next year?

(Optional) name:

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