Holy Asides
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September 9, 2014, 5:00 PM

I Hear Bells Ringing in My Head


As we have begun the new program year and lectionary, we have also added the ringing of Sanctus bells at the 8:30 service. I have had several inquiries to the meaning and significance of the bells and I thought I would address the multi-layered significance of the ringing of bells during the Eucharist.

 

The first place the bells are rung is during the Sanctus (“Holy Holy, Holy”), which announces the coming of our great high priest, Jesus. In Exodus 28:33-35 and again in Exodus 39:25-27 instructions are given to sew golden bells on the robe of Aaron, the high priest. Exodus 28:35 states: "And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the holy place before the LORD, and when he comes out, lest he die." Here the Lord demands that bells be rung when the high priest enters his sanctuary.  It is a matter of life and death.  It is only appropriate that we too should hear the ringing of bells when our great high priest Jesus Christ enters his sanctuary to give us life. The Sanctus recalls Isaiah's vision of worship with the angels of heaven in the presence of God, and the "Hosannas" that Christians have added to Isaiah's hymn remind us of the coming of Jesus as the Christ to the temple in Jerusalem. Now Jesus is preparing to make our bodies his temple as he comes to us in his holy supper. 

 

Next, we hear the ringing of the bells at the Words of Institution after the blessing of both the bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus. This ringing punctuates the action of the liturgy. It draws special attention that these are the words and command of Jesus himself. Concerning the use of the bell at this point, the great theologian Martin Luther writes, ". . . the priest's elevation of the sacrament and the cup, together with the ringing of the bells, has no other purpose than to remind us of the words of Christ. It is as if the priest and the bell-ringer were saying to us all, "Listen, you Christians, and see, take and eat, take and drink, etc. ‘This is the body and this is the blood of Christ,'. . . With these words you must now edify your hungry heart and rely upon the truth of this divine promise, then receive the sacrament, make your way to God, and say, ‘Lord, it is true that I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but I need and desire your help and grace to make me godly. I now come to you, trusting only in the wonderful words I just heard, with which you invite me to your table and promise me, the unworthy one, forgiveness of all my sins through your body and blood if I eat and drink them in this sacrament. Amen. Dear Lord, I do not doubt the truth of your words. Trusting them, I eat and I drink with you. Do unto me according to your words. Amen.'

 

Finally, ringing the bells at the conclusion of the Eucharistic prayer announces that the mystery of the consecration is complete and prepares worshipers to both respond in the words that Jesus taught his disciples, the Lord's Prayer; and to answer the call to come to the altar and partake in this most holy sacramental union of Christ's Body and Blood.

 

Is the Sanctus bell necessary? No. But, as an instrument for calling attention to and accenting the mystery of our Lord's presence in the sacrament, the Sanctus bell has an important place in twenty-first century multi-sensory worship. When properly understood, bells can enrich the worshipers appreciation of the great treasure of the sacrament; and recognize that the Eucharist is no casual or ordinary eating and drinking, but a mystical communion with our Lord and Savior.

 



August 28, 2014, 10:00 AM

Keeping a Rule of Life


Six months ago I wrote about Crafting a Rule of Life in this space. Crafting a Rule of Life was quite a difficult process for many in the class, including me. However, I am not sure keeping said Rule of Life is any easier. The picture to the right is my adjusted Rule of Life. It’s not terribly different from my first one. But I discovered quite a few things in keeping a Rule—and the first is: your Rule of Life is organic and ever-changing as life itself changes. So today I wanted to share with you a couple of reflections, successes, and failures in keeping this Rule.

 

My first reflection is that I am thankful that I was able to begin and adjust this Rule in the midst of community. For the past six months a group of us have gathered most Tuesday mornings to share our lives, support and encourage one another, and tweak our Rules of Life. It was during these times that I realized how I was neglecting my monthly retreat time, because it was hidden among so many other monthly items that I do automatically. I removed several items from monthly, not because I would stop doing them, but because they are already ingrained and imbedded into my life: balancing checkbook, adjusting exercise plans, and even tithing. These important aspects were allowing me to check off most of the items on my list, giving me the false sense of accomplishment. Meanwhile, the one facet of my monthly Rule that I really felt God calling me into was omitted.

 

The second reflection is that it is OK to fail and start over. I can not tell you the number of times this summer that I have had to restart my habit of praying the Daily Office. Too many. I do not write or send notes every week. It’s been a month since my last blog post here. And I had not been attending any of the Diocesan overnights at the Monastery. But this is why keeping a Rule is so important, because it serves as a constant reminder and encourager of those things we long to do. And last week, I was finally able to join my fellow clergy for a retreat at the Monastery. It was wonderful to be in community and prayer with them, and fills a completely different need than a silent personal retreat day.

 

Which leads me to my final reflection. The items in my Rule are things that I want to do. They feed me, nourish me, and give me passion. This is something that one can quickly forget in the months that follow crafting the Rule. While crafting the Rule, we are constantly reminded that these are things that give you life and passion. These are things that you want to be doing... the things you would be doing, if not for all those other things that you have to do. This is why it was even more important to de-clutter my Rule, so I would not miss the things I love to do, want to do, and am called to do.




July 28, 2014, 1:00 PM

Covenant: Traits or Doctrine?


We are a covenant people. This is who we are and who God invited us to become. God has created covenants throughout the scriptures: with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and all of Israel. All of these covenants culminated in the coming of Jesus Christ as the "New Covenant," which we enter through his death, resurrection, ascension and promise to remain always with us until the end of the age. Covenant is a promise of relationship.

  • "I will be with you."
  • "You will be my people."
  • "I will never again destroy the earth."
  • "This land I give to you." 
  • "I will bless those who bless you."

Moreover, with God these have nearly always been unconditional promises. Even when we fail, God has pledged to keep his promise. He has still never again destroyed the earth. He made Abraham's descendants like the "stars in the sky." The "King of Israel" did descend from David. God has been and continues to be Holy and Righteous for his Namesake.

All of which has made me wonder, when I first began thinking about covenant (specifically a covenant for St. Joseph's), that I began with all of the things we "believe." Part of this stems from always wanting to distinguish ourselves from other churches, both outside and inside of our own denomination. But, a bigger part of this came from investigating other church's covenants on their web sites. And the more I investigated, the more burdensome it appeared. Many of these were multi-page, small font, tons of bullet-point doctrinal documents. I had no idea how we would undertake such a huge task of figuring out a covenant that all could embrace.

Then I realized three things. First, God is brief. One sentence. Two sentences. This is what will happen; this is what I will/will not do. The end.

Second, in our own Baptismal Covenant, we affirm the Apostle's Creed. We then commit to being part of the Church and what it means to live in community with each other and the world through five pledges.

Third was the revelation that these pledges are not so much "doctrinal beliefs" as they are traits. This thought was reinforced from re-reading "Becoming a Healthy Church." What makes a church healthy is not the belief about every theological nugget, but the traits of being caring, forgiving, and loving. Healthy churches are committed to prayer and worship. Healthy churches look outside of themselves. Healthy churches are good stewards and exercise their gifts in ministry.

The Vestry is going to be investigating our Covenant traits as a parish over the next month or so (a trio have already been hard at work on this), and putting together a brief document that I pray we as a parish can embrace and live into. I believe that this will be good not only for determining our life and vision as a parish, but create a mechanism for welcoming in our new members on a regular basis that will be separate from Confirmation. But most importantly, it will serve to remind us that being the Church, the Body of Christ, is more about relationship with one another than the doctrines we believe.  

 




July 10, 2014, 9:13 AM

Looking at Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes


I wrote before that I would mention in this space some of the authors and books that have shaped me. I was fortunate enough to not only read Kenneth Bailey’s books, but to hear live lectures and audit a class taught by him. Ken Bailey spent forty years teaching the New Testament in seminaries in the Middle East, and his writings and scholarship presented me with a whole new way of reading and studying the Bible.

 

I had always enjoyed many of the stories and parables of the Bible. Stories like the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan and the Woman at the Well were already insightful and interesting passages. But Dr. Bailey’s teachings specifically delved into looking at cultural background. In other words, what did the original audience see and hear? For instance, the reader knows already that the woman at the well is an outcast because she is at the well at noontime, when no one else will be around. The Prodigal Son, asking for his inheritance, is saying, “I wish you were dead.” The priest in the parable of the Good Samaritan was “keeping the law” by avoiding the unconscious victim, because he was not legally able to get close enough to the body to see if he was alive or dead without risking becoming “unclean.”

 

These little nuggets (along with countless more) transformed the scriptures and allowed me to begin making the connections of cultural realities in that day to the present. The excuse one man makes of not being able to attend the wedding because he has just bought five yoke of oxen and has to see how they work together, is as preposterous as someone saying, “I just bought five used cars and I need to see if they have engines in them.” In other words, it’s a lame excuse. And everyone knows that it’s a lame excuse. That’s the point. What does it mean when we make lame excuses to the King of kings? 

 

In this Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus teaches the Parable of the Friend at Midnight. The cultural background transforms not only the story but the theological reality concerning prayer and why we pray. The importance of hospitality and community is so important in the Middle East, compared with much of our Western culture today, that we can miss the true message of this passage. When Jesus asks the question, can you imagine someone saying, “Sorry, I can’t get up because the doors are locked and my children are sleeping,” when his neighbor came looking for bread?—The answer was “NO!!!!” That is ridiculous, no one would do that. Hospitality is too important.

 

How then does this parable address the way we pray? You can find out two ways…come Sunday and hear the sermon (or wait until it’s online) or read about it in one of Kenneth Bailey’s books. Through Peasant Eyes  or Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes provide the best starting places. I would classify these as intermediate books—they are not so basic as a Max Lucado, but not so theological as a commentary either. I promise you will be blessed through these readings, and the scriptures will be opened to you in a whole new way. 




June 26, 2014, 10:00 AM

Swings, Kickball and Worship


This is my second reflection from the Festival of Homiletics conference, and luckily for all of you it has nothing to do with one of the speakers. It is actually a scene that has been with me for the past several weeks. While on break at lunchtime, I rented a bike at a bike share station, which is a whole other post—it was so cool. I rode on the bike paths of Minneapolis, around the Target Stadium, where the Twins play, through neighborhoods, and past a school where the playground was bustling with kids at recess. The joy of riding a 35-lb behemoth, as opposed to a lightweight racing bike, is that you can take in the surroundings much better as your speed is cut in half. As I rode by, I noticed girls on the swings and jumping rope, a mixture of boys and girls playing kickball, four-square, and basketball, one boy was alone attempting to dunk on a low hoop and a triad of girls were away from the blacktop near the fence, picking dandelions. There were shouts of joy, laughter, and bustling conversation. The teachers were supervising and interacting. As I was taking all of this in, and reminiscing about my own childhood recess days, I began to reflect that this is very similar to worship.

 

Worship is filled with praise, joy and laughter. Of course, there are times worship is much quieter, more reserved and reverent (although not in the narthex before service). Moreover, worship is like recess in its variety. It is eclectic and the components make the whole. If the point of recess is to blow off steam and have fun, how is this accomplished? Not everyone experiences this the same way. For some it’s the energy of kickball, running or swinging. For others it’s the socialization of friends and jumping rope or gathering flowers. And others are focused alone with quiet determination on dunking a basketball. Of course, this desire also changes based on days and seasons. Kickball is difficult in 18 inches of snow—I know this firsthand.

 

And worship is exactly the same! If the point of worship is to give glory to God—the word literally means “draw near so as to kiss,” how this is accomplished is different for each person. For some they love to hear the Word of God read and expounded; for others they love to sing—hymns, contemporary music, and a blend; some love the taste of the sacrament, the touch of being anointed with oil, or the fragrant scent of the offering of incense; and some just like to sit in quiet contemplation before the altar of the Lord. And even this varies from day to day. This highlights the importance and necessity of there being a variety of worship styles and services. Recess would be a disaster if there were only swings or if everyone had to play four-square. We need that variety. We need to express ourselves in prayer, singing and sacraments. We need to rejoice loudly in praise or weep in sorrow through the Psalms. Both are worship. As well, we must look around the Church—not just our parish, but at the denominations around us—and give thanks that while we may like the "swings", and others enjoy "jumping rope", we are all at recess with the living God through worship.


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