Choir Camp is still knocking around in my head and heart, I couldn’t help but write more about it! Today, I reflect further on how God is at work in Trinity’s Choirs of Boys and Girls over on Covenant, The Living Church‘s blog. Check it out here!
As we gather for worship this morning, I’m going to paint you a picture of our life together; something that might—or might not—help us understand and imagine how we work together as one body, how we are God’s hands and feet in the world.
Somewhere near the middle of our Eucharist service, we read from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John together. When this happens, have you noticed that a lot of people move? The deacon, or the celebrant, in the Keenan Chapel services, walks into the middle of the nave, right into the heart of the congregation, if you think of us all gathered here as a “body.” Once the deacon is there, she proclaims the Gospel to us all. She’s not just reading what’s written on the page; just like there’s something special about singing together and praying together, as we do when we gather here, there’s something special about listening together—most of us learned about that in kindergarten: we learned how important and transformative it is when we all listen to the same words and instructions at the same time. Not least, it’s easier for our teachers and leaders to help do their jobs if we’re all paying attention to the same place at the same time.
Many of us turn to face the deacon as she or he shares the Gospel with us from the middle of our gathering. This is a great and beautiful symbol—someone who has been appointed by God to spend all their time taking the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection into peoples’ everyday lives does that on Sunday mornings, too, in order to remind us that God belongs in the middle of our lives, in the middle of our relationships, as the focus of our attention and our bodies—God is the one toward which we turn and orient ourselves.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come!
Ian Cron puts so many things so well; here, exactly why I wandered into a Roman Catholic Church seven years ago:
“Much of the liturgy for the mass, filled with its formularies, prayers, and creeds, is well over a thousand years old. I was moved that people were offering up the same words, giving expression to the same truths in different languages and time zones all around the globe that very day. Some were singing the liturgy in grand cathedrals in Europe, and some under a lush canopy of trees in Africa. Some were performing the liturgy in secret house churches in China, and others in prison chapels. Where or how it was said it didn’t matter. Solidarity mattered.
As I pondered the faces of saints captured in stained glass, the frescoes that adorned the walls and ceilings of the nave and apse, it dawned on me that the liturgy was connecting me to a long and ancient line of believers. Time had become irrelevant. We were one chorus, one communion of saints. I was but one soul in the long procession of the faithful that wound its way down and along the hilly landscape of history. I was appropriately small.”
– Chasing Francis, pg 90
From the earliest years of Christian worship, the faithful have covered religious symbols—whether crosses, statuary, or paintings, from the Fifth Sunday of Lent through Good Friday. It used to be on the Sunday before Palm Sunday that the church would hear read the entire passion narrative, and so from that point during the liturgical year, through the end of Holy Week, crosses especially, but any symbol of God’s revelation to humanity, would be covered with a veil to remind us of the veil which was torn in two, according to Matthew, at the moment that Jesus died. Now, we cover the crosses throughout Lent here at Trinity, and other Episcopal, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic parishes observe a similar tradition; there isn’t a set rule about exactly how far in advance such items should be veiled, though Ash Wednesday, when we cover up the crosses, is the earliest appropriate moment.
The veil which was torn in two was the huge cloth curtain that divided the Holy of Holies in the Temple from the rest of the temple’s sacred space. In the Temple of Jesus’ time, there were three parts—the temple courts where anyone could walk around (this is where the money-changers were, who Jesus threw out), the Holy Place where only ritually-pure Jewish men could go, and the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies where the Temple priests would dare to go only once a year to offer sacrifice on the altar. This is where we get the altar rail—that is a symbol of where it used to be that no one could cross, or even see very well, what was beyond. Because of Jesus’ willing sacrifice of himself on the cross for our own sins and waywardness, veil—the separation, physically and spiritually—of God from humanity, no longer exists.
When I was growing up, I belonged to and served a church that met in an elementary school’s cafeteria. Being part of a church plant for most of my young life significantly formed the way I understood “church”–I was a Sunday School teacher for elementary students sometimes, though mostly I played guitar on the worship team. A high schooler was able and allowed to help lead the entire congregation in worship, or to plan and lead a Sunday School lesson, because there weren’t a lot of other people available to do it. I was given the opportunity to lead and to teach before I was able to drive!
Somehow, ten years later, I’ve ended up serving in a church with a huge, impressive building, though I’m still leading worship and teaching Sunday School.
There’s a great energy, freshness, and openness in church plants, young church communities, and groups not saddled with an arduous history or heavy buildings. The groups are lithe, flexible, not constrained by the past or by mortar.
So why shouldn’t all churches, all church groups, all faith communities, be new and fresh and young and building-less?
After the flood, God promised humanity that he’d never again destroy the earth by water, he’d just deal with whatever evil schemes and habits we humans came up with, he’d work with what he had. I wonder if our old buildings and old-faith-community-habits are sort of like that–baggage-y and frustrating, perhaps, but also demanding continuity and faithfulness of us, the people who come later on.
The leaky, traditional, literally inflexible building in which I now work and worship is beautiful–there’s really no question there. It’s been excellently restored by master craftspeople, and it serves as a stunning backdrop for weekly (and daily) worship. Part of the reason I became Episcopalian was because I realized that God is the epitome of beauty, and the way that Episcopalians worship emphasizes that truth.
In past ages, Cathedrals were built over the course of a lifetime, with the skills of hundreds of artisans offering their greatest gifts to the glory of God. Houses of worship are a place where the talents, skills, and gifts of God’s people can be offered back to him, and where those of us who aren’t as artistically gifted can enjoy and affirm these gifts which help us to see God’s beauty a little more clearly.
Ecumenical efforts to serve the poor are a vital part of the ministry of Christ; honoring God’s beauty and the beauty he instills in human hearts is vital too. In an age where efficiency, economics, and perception hold such sway, abundant beauty is especially necessary to help humanity understand God–what better place to experience heart-rending beauty but in the sights, sounds, and words of a church service?