The Word Made Flesh: Making Worship Available To the Senses

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I have been thinking of doing this post for a while……but now I finally have the time to sit and write it. πŸ™‚

A few weeks back I attended a night of Hymns and Anthems @ the cathedral here in London. During that performance, something happened which left an indelible impression on my soul.

For those who have never been to a hymns and anthems concert, they are quite unique. The event is organized as a sort of back and forth between the choir and the audience. The congregation is urged to sing along to familiar worship songs, and then invited to listen to choral and instrumental pieces…. Rather like a musical conversation.

Anyhoo, about half-way through the show, the conductor of the Fanshawe Chorus invited those of CRC background to sing a traditional Dutch hymn.

I kid you not when I say that well over 30 people flooded the chancel and altar where the chorus was assembled. Voices from all sides–trained and untrained–burst into worship:

Translation: Glory to God in the Highest. Peace be on earth. Amen.

Granted, it may be that I was struck so profoundly by this because my girlfriend was raised Dutch Reformed…a denomination that has incredible faith and devotion attached to it…..but I think it has more to do with the fact that I was reminded of something more fundamental.

The act of worship is not supposed to be completely intellectual…..and–contrary to what most Anglicans would have us believe by their actions–it is most definitely *not* supposed to consist of having your head buried in a liturgical book like so:

Maybe it’s because I grew up RC and learned the liturgy by rote…..but it never made sense to me to concentrate so heavily on the words. That is only one aspect of worship.

There are all kinds of ways in which the worship of the Church seeks to engage the whole body:

Sight:

Smell:

Touch (the kiss of peace):

Hearing :

and of course Taste:

I realize that not all of you who read this blog may be sacramental….and yet it seems to me that to short-change any of the senses in worship is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the Incarnation.

We stand on the cusp of Advent…a season where we contemplate the coming of Christ….not just in the spiritual sense, but in a real and bodily way.

Jesus Christ is living proof that our God is a messy God. A loving community of Three Persons, One God….that literally puts hands into the mud and molds man out of clay…..a Father, Son and Spirit who literally get down and dirty….all so that we might be saved and lifted up. πŸ™‚

The next time you are at a worship service of any kind…..Look around you…..try to find the ways in which different communities try and engage all of the senses. Senses that the Christ-child has made holy by his immanent arrival.

To look with intention about how we live, breathe and move in the Spirit is to make our faith more than words and intellectual assent. It is Incarnational theology lived out…..it is a resurrection people finding their heritage, and a way of life that involves God in every part of our well-being…..whether in body, spirit or mind. +

Morning Prayer: Feast of All Hallows (Nov. 1st)

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Psalm: 111, 112
Old Testament: 2 Esdras 2:42-47
New Testament: Hebrews 11:32-12:2

Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honour and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures for ever.
He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
he is ever mindful of his covenant. (Psalm 111:2-5)

A few months ago, I was talking with a friend on FB about reading the Bible. She is genuinely interested in reading it, but–like all of us–has a hard time with some of the more miraculous stories, and the depiction of God as a vindictive deity.

I promised her that I would post on this blog about how the Bible might be read in a different way. A way that focuses on relationship rather than by myth, theology or narrative…so here’s my best shot at it. πŸ˜‰

Like the psalmist says this morning, all of God’s works are known….and like all great acts of history, those deeds tend to be recorded. πŸ™‚

The central themes of the Old Testament are many…..but they tend to revolve around two important aspects…creation and covenant.

In Genesis, God creates the world…..and it is not just good but very good. He also establishes a covenant with humanity that he will make them prosper…and that He will constantly be at their side.

But human beings–made in the image of an all-creative Father–also have an innate desire to be independent…..which causes them to sin….and to turn away from their one true companion; the God who made them.

At the risk of being overly simplistic, the rest of the Bible focuses in on how that broken relationship is lived out, and repaired…..that intimate bond between Father and children is built up, broken, and established again in a constant cycle. A cycle that ultimately ends with God and humanity coming out in joy and praise to take care of the earth and each other.

At its core, the Bible is a multi-faceted library of documents. I would go even so far as to say that it is an ongoing and eternal conversation.

As the reader flips through the pages of text, they are exposed to a multitude of voices……some divine, some human. Some sentiments of anger, hatred, and frustration…..met in turn with compassion, forgiveness, and Grace.

Despite what the reformers would have us think, Holy Scripture does not interpret itself …Adhering to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy will only leave with a pounding headache and a broken heart.

As a piece of literature, inspired by God and touched by the human hand…..it is a mixture of perfection and inadequacy….a living encounter between the Creator who wants his presence to be known…..and a world that struggles to listen for it’s Maker’s voice.

On this Feast of All Saints, one thing to keep in mind that we too are saints…by virtue of being baptized πŸ™‚

Whenever we open the Bible we join with the thousands who have come before us in trying to discern God’s will and true hope for us. We add our 2 cents (or 5 cents or 25 cents) to the conversation.

In the struggle to understand what God is saying to us and what we are saying to one another, Christianity is changed from a hollow, inanimate religion into a living, breathing, challenging Body of faith

Sure, this Body is weak and wounded at times….but is also glorious and triumphant when we get the message of Jesus right ;)….a message that we as Gentile North American inheritors of the Gospel have come to know through the written translation of the Bible.

Thanks be to God for the gift of his word on paper….but more importantly for the Word made Flesh that speaks from within those pages. Alleluia! +

Evening Prayer: March 30th (Combo Post)

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Psalms: 119:97-120, 81, 82
Old Testament: Jeremiah 8:18-9:6
New Testament: Romans 5:1-11
Gospel: John 8:12-28
Patristic Reading: An excerpt from the writings of St. Theophilus of Antioch

I take my cue for reflection from the Patristic reading again tonight:

A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.
But if you will you can be healed. Hand yourself over to the doctor, and he will open the eyes of your mind and heart. Who is to be the doctor? It is God, who heals and gives life through his Word and wisdom.

In one of the companion readers to Eastern Orthodox theology on my shelf, I read an essay written by Nonna Verna Harrison which focused on Creation and the Fall of Man.

It forever changed the way I thought about the Incarnation and the Atonement and is certainly not a very Protestant view; but the beauty about being Anglican is that I can tread a middle road :)….so hopefully what I m about to say next makes at least a little bit of sense and doesn’t offend too many readers πŸ™‚

The essay is entitled “The Human Person as the Likeness and Image of God.” In it, Harrison says that the Likeness and Image of God are actually two distinct characteristics. The Likeness of God refers to the way in which we resemble God…in our free choice, in our dominion over creation, in our capacity to create, the ability to act justly.

The Image of God is simply our identity as a created being….given the breathe of life from our Creator, and of our need to live in community and mutual love.

Unlike the Western model of total depravity, in which the human being can do no good at all, Harrison points out that the Orthodox understood the transgression of Adam differently.

The disobedience of Man caused forgetfulness…..a kind of amnesia……in which we forgot our true origins as “good” and reflecting the glory of the Father. Both our image and likeness to God were covered up by the dirt and grime of sin.

With the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection….all of that changed! πŸ˜€

In winning the victory for us over sin…..Jesus removed the veil from our eyes, and the dirt from our souls. We were able to see–as if for the first time–who we really are: Sons and Daughters of the Most High God.

In promoting a time of fasting, cleansing, and repentance, Lent seeks to remove all of the filth that resides in us. To purge those things which keep us out of touch of our true selves.

Perhaps even more importantly, this process of healing and purification allows us to see God’s holiness reflected not only in ourselves…..but in everything and everyone all over the world.

I pray that as we continue our journey to the Passion of our Lord, our hearts might be touched and given a clean slate to see Christ in all his glory, and to truly rejoice as we remember the One who made us, and invites us to new life through his Body and Blood. Amen. +

Evening Prayer: Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th)

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Psalm: 110, 132
Old Testament: Wisdom 9:1-12*
Gospel: John 1:9-14

β€˜I will not enter my house
or get into my bed;
I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling-place for the Mighty One of Jacob.’ (Ps. 132:3-5)

The sentiment being echoed here by David matches his earlier desire in 2 Samuel to build a temple to YHWH as a place to store the tabernacle….the place where the tablets of the Law and the Bread of the Presence reside.

Normally you would think that a central place of worship would be something that God would openly endorse…..except….He doesn’t πŸ˜›

In response, God mockingly asks the king if he would build a house for the ruler of the universe?? Acting as though the Almighty could be someone who could be contained.

In Christian theology…..Mary, the Theotokos (God-bearer) is said to be the tabernacle of the LORD. In her womb she carries the Word made flesh, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords….and yet that too is temporary.

For nine months our Saviour was cared for by the Blessed Virgin, and yet–like all mothers–Mary had to let go of her identity as an expectant mother once Jesus was born. The Son was no longer inside of her, but was revealed and given as a gift to the whole world. ❀

So I sit here on the Feast of the Annunciation wondering if we are building churches to contain God….or whether we are using church buildings as a place of nourishment, warmth and growth. A place where we are fed with the Word and Sacrament..

Not simply to stay in our wombs of comfort, but to give birth to our own witness of Christ saving the world through the wonder of His cross and resurrection. May God grant us the strength to push past the birth pangs and to rejoice at the arrival of new life. Alleluia! +

Morning Prayer: Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th)

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Psalms: 85, 87
Old Testament: Isaiah 52:7-12
New Testament: Hebrews 2:5-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, β€˜Your God reigns.’ (Isaiah 52:7)

In my parents parish, the choir used the following paraphrase of Isaiah as the Gospel acclamation during Lent:

“How beautiful upon the mountaintops are the feet of those who bring you Word, and how beautiful in the city streets, are the lips of those who speak your peace”

Kind of appropriate that we hear these words today, the day when a messenger from God harbingers our salvation to a lowly peasant girl in Judea.

But why is Mary important??? What is her significance???? Couldn’t God have manifested himself immediately without having to go through the messy process of birth…or the tedium of getting Mary’s consent??? After all, this is God we’re talking about…y’know…… the one who rules the universe?!? πŸ˜‰

But God chose to do it differently….God chose to take on the flesh so that all flesh might be healed through Him and brought to God. If the unassumed is the unhealed, as Gregory Nanzianzus argues…..then there was no other way God could act in this situation…..at least…not without redemption being a complete scam.

God spoke to Mary and sought her consent, because he wants all of His children to be free moral agents. One cannot truly love God if they have no other alternative. in that scenario, we are nothing better than automatons :(.

Today we celebrate the fact that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….not only as a corrective for sin, but as the ultimate sign that God suffers and loves just as we do. It is a sign of solidarity that God understands our pain, and that–more importantly– He will never abandon the works of his hands <3. +

Evening Prayer: Eve of the Annunciation

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Psalms: 8, 84
Old Testament: Genesis 3:1-15
New Testament: Romans 5:12-21

The Lord God said to the serpent,
β€˜Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.’ (Genesis 3:14-15)

As I think most of you know I grew up as a Roman Catholic…….and if you went through the Catholic school system (at least in Hamilton, Ontario) you have most likely seen the statue of Mary pictured above at some point in your life. πŸ™‚

In case you can’t see it all that clearly, it is a serene image of Mary. Her arms are extended in a warm embrace while crushing a snake beneath her feet.

This is a clear allusion to the Genesis passage. Just as Christ is the new Adam who brings abundant Grace and pardon in place of Sin, Mary is the New Eve who resists the temptation to follow her own will…and instead crushes the devil forever. ❀

I will freely admit that I have no particular devotion to Mary but I am starting to appreciate her more as I continue to study systematic theology. πŸ™‚

In Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Annunciation is a dual purpose and (in some sense) a reciprocal event. In becoming Flesh, Christ sanctifies all human Flesh, and yet, in Mary freely accepting the pregnancy, she is the one who gives Christ the tabernacle of her womb…to be nurtured, sustained, and to grow….so that all people might be able to see the face of God. <3. Ave Maria, Alleluia!+

Evening Prayer: Ash Wednesday (March 9th)

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Psalms: 102, 130
Gospel: Luke 18:9-14
Patristic Reading: An excerpt from a letter to the Corinthians by St. Clement

Le Penitente by Pietro Rotari

 

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities. (Psalm 130:7-8)

The whole point of observing fasting periods is not so much self-deprivation as it is about hope and re-orientation. As we journey towards the Cross, lost in the desert of sound, sight, smell, taste and touch…… we long for something that is real

That’s not to say that the five senses are bad…..after all, we are a Church that believes in the essential goodness of the body which has been redeemed through Christ.

At the same time, there is a temptation to become to reliant on the body…on instant gratification, and the raw rush of emotion.

Lent seeks to get past that….by subduing the flesh (or additionally, things which are causing us to be lazy, stressed, or spiteful) room is made to contemplate the Spirit….to let Christ take his throne in the hearts of each of us.

Take some time in these next weeks and months to listen to what the Spirit–our advocate and guide–is saying to the Church in and through us. After all, we are all members of the one body of the faithful.

May we all, in the name of the LORD observe a Holy Lent and wander hand-in-hand with our Saviour….trusting in his great mercy towards us. +

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