Monday, July 7, 2014

A Timeless Liturgy

Today, I'm going to take a break from my normal Monday musings on the sayings of ancient and modern Desert Fathers and Mothers, and write about an experience from yesterday that gave me joy. 

Over the July 4th weekend, we stayed at a hotel in Omaha, Nebraska, and just a few blocks away was Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, sitting among the downtown skyscrapers.

I noticed they offer a Rite I Eucharist on Sunday mornings at 8:30 a.m., so I decided to attend that service (one of the rare occasions when I am able to worship somewhere else on a Sunday morning).  For those of you who aren't familiar with Episcopal-ese, Rite I is the worship setting in the current Book of Common Prayer which maintains the "ye olde English" liturgy, complete with language such as this post-Communion prayer:

"Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that though dost feed us in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom.  And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father; so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen."

Use of that language is decidedly counter-cultural in 2014 - most churches these days stay as far away as possible from the type of language found in a Rite I Eucharist.  But, there is something about that language which reminds us that worship is a gathering of ordinary humans to experience something extraordinary.  Worship is not intended to be a gathering to learn about self-help methods, or listen to music with a religious sheen, but about an encounter with the divine "other" revealed to us as the Trinity - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Since I would be attending a worship service at 8:30 a.m. on a holiday weekend, I was fearful that I would be the only one there to worship that morning.  Fortunately, I was wrong!  It was not a huge crowd, but there were several others of various ages (from young couples with small children on up) there that morning.

Why were they there at 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning during a holiday weekend?  Each worshiper would have their own unique reasons, of course.  But, regardless of their individual reasons, they came together as a community where there was a tangible presence of God, communicated to us through a timeless form of the liturgy, the hearing of the Word, and the reception of the Sacrament at the altar.   Those means of grace renew, strengthen, and nourish us, so that we can go out into the world with the following exhortation (spoken by the priest during each Rite I Eucharist service) in mind: 

"It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty everlasting God."

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