Worship 1 Gathering

The Lord be with you
Every Sunday morning Christians gather together in worship. What are they doing in these worship services? What is this meeting and praying and singing all about? I am going to look at what is going on in Church in six talks. I am calling them ‘Gathering’, ‘Hearing’, ‘Singing’, ‘Praying’, and then ‘Eucharist’ and ‘The People of God’. These titles loosely correspond to the stages in any service, and allow us to talk about the Church and the Christian life.

1. The Church gathers
I think the best way to talk about the Church is by talking about one particular church, so I have chosen one – mine. My church is St Mary’s, Stoke Newington, here in London.

We leave our homes and offices to gather as this church. Every week we are roused out of our everyday existence, dragged away from our computer or our sofa, to join these many other people. On Sunday morning we leave the house, and cross the borough of Hackney, to join all the others at St Mary’s. And we once we get up the steps and into the church we go down the aisle and take our places next to each other. We are called together, so we come together.

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Worship 2 Hearing

This second talk on Christian worship is about what Christians hear when they worship. Last time we said that the Church is this people gathered together, and that they are the people gathered by God. We ourselves confess that we are this people gathered by God, and we confess that we are surprised to find ourselves here and saying this. Now we have to say that we have been summoned together in order to hear the Word of God.

1. Scripture as address
When we are together in Church the bible is read out, loud and clear so we all hear it. God has promised to speak to us through Holy Scripture, so the Scriptures are read. As often as we meet, the bible is opened, and read out loud and so the gospel is heard by those who have gathered to receive it, and what we hear we receive as the speech of God to us.

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Worship 3 Singing

In my first talk I said that that the Christian community is gathered. The Lord God brings us here before all these other people and holds us together, making us one. This community is an entity of love, and our identity is hidden somewhere in it. In the second talk I said that this community is brought into being as it reads Scripture and hears the Word of God. This community may hear God as God. In this, the third of these talks, I am going to talk about Christian worship and in particular why Christians sing.

1. Singing
Christians sing. We sing because we can. We have been freed to do so. We may address God because he has addressed us and so opened the lines of communication. Like calves let out of their stalls after a long winter’s confinement we kick up and frolic about, enjoying our new freedom. The whole body feels it.

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Worship 4 Praying

We have been looking at the Christian service of worship. So far we have said that Christians gather, that they hear the readings from Scripture and they sing.

The next thing is that they also pray and intercede. The Church comes together in order to pray. This gathering of people has been spoken to and the result is that it may now speak, and purposefully. God is expecting us to say something. We may say what we like and ask for what we want. The Church gives thanks, it acknowledges its neediness and it discovers how to intercede on behalf of others. Christian worship makes us an articulate people, who pray and speak up for one another.

1. Jesus prays
Jesus prays.
He ‘withdrew to deserted places to pray’ (Luke 5). His disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.’ (Luke 11.1-2)

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Worship 5 Eucharist

Christians are gathered together, they hear God’s Word, they pray, and they worship God. These four elements are part of every Christian service.

Traditionally, each service has two parts to it – the ministry of the Word and of the Sacrament. Each service has the Word, since Scripture is always read, but we tend to refer to some services, ‘worship services’ or ‘healing services’. But not every service is a eucharist. But in another sense, every service in which Christians gather and worship God, is part of the one eucharist of God for man, so every Christian service is eucharistic from beginning to end, even when we don’t get as far as the bread and cup.

1. Thanksgiving
He took bread and gave you thanks
Eucharist means thanksgiving. God is with man, and from him we receive our life, and when we are able to acknowledge this we give thanks.

The eucharist is the whole Christian worship service with nothing left out. Every part of this service is a giving thanks. In Christ we are able to see that God is our God. But every act of worship is Christ’s act for us: in each service Christ ministers to us, so we express our surprise and our delight at finding ourselves served by him. And the eucharist is fellowship with the Lord, and so it is a holy communion. It is the fellowship in particular for those who found no room in any other fellowship.

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Pope Benedict on Jesus and sacrifice

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is a pastor. He preaches and teaches around the Church year, his homily at every feast telling us something about Christ and something about us. Through his Easter and Corpus Christi homilies in particular he teaches us how to relate the passion, crucifixion, resurrection, the eucharist and body of Christ.

His very impressive little book on Jesus of Nazareth takes us through the ministry up to the transfiguration. We come to it in the knowledge that there is second book dealing with the passion and resurrection to follow. But a work of Christian teaching theology would not put incarnation and ministry in one book, which would then look very like a work of biblical studies, and the resurrection in another, and the Church and eucharist in a third. That would attempt to divide the indivisible, Jesus in one book, Christ in a second, and so divide Christ from his people, take away his anointing, until ‘Christ’ becomes the corpse over which the dogs of biblical studies have fought these many years. So it is a joy to find that the passion, resurrection and worship and eucharist are everywhere in this volume.

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Zizioulas on eschatology

The Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas is most often associated with the Christian doctrine of the person. The concept of the person holds together the two issues of communion and freedom. Zizioulas argues that if there is one person there must be many persons: the concept is intrinsically plural, relational and yet safeguards our particularity. By making a distinction between person and individual, Zizioulas contrasts the human who is related and integrated, and the human who is disengaged and isolated from all others. According to Christian doctrine, Christ is the person in whom we may all be persons. Christ comes to individuals without relation to anyone else, and brings them into communion so that they become persons, related to all others, indeed related to everything that is not themselves. This catholic being who is simultaneously one and many is coming into being in history, and at the eschaton will turn out to be truth of all humanity. In Christ, time and history move towards this reconciliation in which all creatures discover their proper unity and difference; this coming together of all things makes itself known in history in the Church and in the event of the eucharist. For Christian theology, the concept of the person relates to time and purpose and so to eschatology. His confidence in the theology of the Greek Fathers enables Zizioulas to lay out the logic of the Christian doctrine of the person with the utmost clarity, and it is this that makes his account of personhood distinctive and rewarding.

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The Whole Christ and the Eucharist

Just as crucial as the concept of substance to our account of the eucharist is the concept of persons. With this concept we can understand that we are both distinct and particular persons, and that that we are in communion with one another and not threatened by it. The theology of the ‘Whole Christ’ is a theology of persons in communion and thus a theology of the Church, this specific communion of sanctified persons. With his account of the ‘Whole Christ’, Augustine is the great exponent of this theology of persons in communion with God. What does Augustine mean by the ‘Whole Christ’?

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Holy Week 4 Maundy Thursday Having given all things into his hands…

4 Maundy Thursday Having given all things into his hands…

Exodus 12, 1 Corinthians 11, John 13

1. Upper Room
The readings for today, Maundy Thursday, are from Exodus 12, the Passover, 1 Corinthians 11, the Lord’s instruction to break read in his name until he comes, and from John 13. On Maundy Thursday the clergy of the diocese gather with the bishop to receive the oil of chrism that they will use for the coming year.

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. John 13

Jesus Christ is free, for God is free. He is so free, he is free even to do the things that we most associate with loss of freedom. Our Lord did not regard divinity as something that has to be clung on to, but taking the inconspicuous form of a servant, made himself nothing (Philippians 2).

This servant-status, this priestly deaconate, is for those who in Christ have had ‘all things given into their hands’. This weight of glory is yours. It releases you. Now you do not need to busy yourself first with your own affairs before turning with whatever energy you have left, to help others. You do not need to look for glory or confirmation, for you have it, and need never concern yourself about it again. You have been released from concern about your own identity.

You have been forgiven. Just as your life is no longer yours to live alone, so your problems and your sin is not your own any longer. You are free to seek more and more of that forgiveness, and to do so with greater and great abandon, more and more publicly. You are free to confess your sins and to lead the rest of us in letting go of our own sins. You may be the most care-free of people.

This means that you are free – for others. You are servants, deacons, waiters-at-table, fetchers and carriers. You will wait at hospital beds, anoint the dying, find words of comfort for the frightened and anguished. You will baptize and teach, you will hear confession, you will marry and bury. You will explain the inexplicable to the baffled, the bored and resentful.

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Holy Week 3 Wednesday After receiving the bread…

3 Wednesday After receiving the bread…

Isaiah 50, Psalm 70, Hebrews 12, John 13.21-32

We have been following the readings for each of the days of Holy Week. We said that every day of Holy Week is a revealing of the risen Son of God. The passion is the unfurling of the resurrection, and the resurrection is our glimpse of the ascent of man to God. On Monday we said that all creation is filled with glory of God. This glory does not impose itself on us, but one sign of it is the presence of the Christian people. They are here to pray for the world and to speak back on its behalf to God; together they make up the Church, the house that is filled with the glory of God.

Yesterday we said that the Son of God has entered the creation. He has handed himself over to us. He has been dropped into the earth like a single seed, and we are there soil he has been dropped into. What will we make of him? Will this seed survive our handling, will it germinate and produce a crop and a harvest?

Today, we hear again from the Gospel of John, and from Isaiah and the Book of Hebrews. We will learn that what we have received we also pass on, so we must investigate some of the giving and taking and passing on of which the gospel consists. Christ has given himself, and he has taken us. Now we are able to give ourselves away, and take one another. We can now do this because we are given by God to one another, and given through time into one another’s hands.

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