Mission = expanding the Eucharist

Scott Gunn has resurrected his blog and written a cogent explanation of why the passing of the peace during the Eucharist is not best served by turning it into a hugging-and-chatting marathon.the peace

I’ve been a part of churches like that and it’s been fine. But he’s also right that the purpose of the peace is not to ask our friend how the weekend has been but to embody the reconciliation with one another that is ours in Christ. As he notes, it is Christ’s command in the Sermon on the Mount to “be reconciled” before bringing our gifts to the altar that provides the grounding for the act. Moreover, in the earliest recorded teaching on the Eucharist (I Corinthians 11) St. Paul lambasts the Corinthians for the divisions in their community when they celebrate the Eucharist—the rich eat well together and the poor stay separate and eat, well, not a lot presumably (v. 21). Paul says this amounts to showing “contempt for the church of God.” (v. 22) It’s no mistake that in the following chapter Paul offers his lengthy teaching on the body of Christ, a reminder of how we are all in this together. So if we’re not reconciled with one another before receiving the Eucharist, we’re kind of missing the point.

This raises a particular question, one that a commenter asks of Gunn in his post:

I am not aware of reconciling being possible at that time. If I need to reconcile it would require more than an smile and a handshake.

How are we supposed to resolve the pressing divisions in our community and in the world with a handshake, a hug, or—if we’re being properly Biblical—a kiss?

The answer? We’re not.

The passing of the peace is simultaneously both a handshake that reminds us of our need for reconciliation with our neighbour and an embodiment of the work of reconciliation that has already been wrought on the cross. The bread and wine that we use at the Eucharist is both “just” bread and wine and at the same time the mystical body and blood of Christ. When we enact the liturgy, we are both doing normal, everyday acts—reading, speaking, handshaking, giving, receiving, eating—and participating in the work of salvation and redemption—hearing the intertwining of our life with the Biblical narrative, embodying reconciliation, returning to God what has been given to us, receiving the body and blood of Christ.

The liturgy, therefore, prompts us to ask questions that help us gauge the rest of our lives. The passing of the peace, I find, raises some of the following questions for me:

  • With whom in this congregation am I trying to avoid passing the peace? With whom do I genuinely need to seek reconciliation?
  • Does it feel particularly false with anyone when I say, “Peace be with you”?
  • Most importantly, who is not in this congregation? With whom am I missing opportunities for reconciliation because of their absence from this Eucharistic community? Whom should I be looking to invite into this community?

And that leads to a reminder that our liturgy is not just something we do to feel good about ourselves. It is not something we have to get through before we can get on to the important stuff. Our liturgy is mission(al). It is the enactment of our faith.

Indeed, my favourite definition of mission is simply this: expanding the Eucharistic community. When we draw more people into this community of people who are in right relationship with God (confession/absolution), with another another (passing the peace), and gathered around the crucified and risen Christ on the altar, then we are truly sharing the love of God in Christ with the world.

Dislocated Liturgy

In her new book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Lauren Winner has a section on “dislocated exegesis.” That’s the practice of reading a familiar Bible passage in an unfamiliar context, say, in front of an immigration detention facility.

I thought of that when I read this post from my fellow seminarians at Nashotah House in Wisconsin. It seems a bunch of them put on cassocks, left behind the confines of their seminary, and went and chanted the Great Litany and Compline.

My friend Nathaniel, who wrote that post, calls it one of the most profound liturgical moments of his seminary training:

I was deeply impacted by the juxtaposition of the rhythm of liturgy with the pulse of the city.  Indeed, we might call it a “secular liturgy.”  The ebb and flow of quotidian humanity passed before us: buying and selling, eating dinner, parking, going from point A to point B and back again, waiting for a rendezvous, panhandling.  I was overwhelmed with the sense of how God delights in his creation, and how he yearns to bless, and to transform, and to open all of these to being Eucharistic.  He longs for these liturgies to be transparent to his work and to his love in the world; to turn all of these banal experiences into sacrifices of thanksgiving through union with Christ.

Slowing down, being still and silent in that place, and listening to the Spirit, I suddenly had a sense of the presence and the nearness of God.  I have never experienced this in a city before.  I have always experienced cities as being somewhat cold and godless, full of noise and distraction.  And yet, standing in silence, hearing all the noises of the traffic, and distant conversations, and doors opening and closing, I experienced a beautiful cacophony that is no different than anywhere else where human hearts beat, and that God is no further there than in the monastery secluded in the deepest wood or emptiest desert hermitage.

Liturgy is one of the great strengths of the Anglican tradition. How else could this idea be adapted in your context?

Demographics is Destiny – Evangelicalism and Anglicanism

Last night, our community service at Berkeley Divinity School was in the style of Anglican evangelical worship—think Holy Trinity Brompton or Holy Trinity Cambridge: praise band, a Eucharistic prayer I wrote which only quoted the writings of St. Paul, the whole works.

The idea behind the service was to challenge our understandings of what constitutes distinctively “Anglican” worship. Evangelical churches may worship in ways other than those set out by the prayer book but still consider themselves Anglican. (I experienced something of this when I was studying in England a while back.) There was some, predictable, grumbling about the service. Evangelicalism, for a variety of reasons, has historically been weak in the American church so it can seem particularly foreign to us.

By chance—and this is the kind of thing that happens when you go to a place like Yale/Berkeley—we had with us last evening principals of two English theological colleges, Martin Seeley of Westcott House and George Kovoor of Trinity Bristol. (Rev. Kovoor is also the international general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion, which, I think, raised the stakes for our praise band a bit. They rose to them. Of all the guests to have on all of the nights, this was pretty ironic.)

Westcott is a moderately Anglo-Catholic place where I once spent a term. It has maybe 70 to 80 students training for ordination. I was chatting with Rev. Kovoor after the service and learned Trinity Bristol has 160 students training for ordination in the Church of England. Now, these are not the only training colleges in the Church of England, but these numbers should, I hope, give pause to those of us who sometimes are eager to dismiss evangelicalism as not truly Anglican (as if we can somehow get to decide that). If demographics is destiny, it seems like the evangelical wing of the church is certainly in a good position.

And, if one purpose of our seminary training is about learning about the breadth of the church and preparing for the future church, then a single evening of evangelical worship seems like a very good thing.

Our senior student preacher, Josh, put his sermon on YouTube