Tag Archives: SSJE

NT Wright on Scripture in worship | A big, exciting room we come in and inhabit

I couldn’t possibly agree more with N.T. Wright’s comments in this five-minute video on Scripture in worship from Glenn Packiam’s Mystery of Faith Blog.

With attention to what we are doing, we are fortunate in our “gentle Anglican liturgy”  — in the morning and evening offices and in the Holy Eucharist — “to inhabit the world of Scripture” just as Wright describes:

What one is doing is turning Scripture into a world where you come in and live, a big exciting room that you come in and inhabit.

Wright gently bemoans how the public reading of Scripture is too often sidelined in worship. He even describes being invited to preach at a “modern-style” service and at the last minute being asked, “Would you like a Scripture reading?”

The public reading of Scripture is itself the primary act of worship. It is not conveying information to the congregation; it’ll do that as well, but it does that as the byproduct … of celebrating the mighty acts of God.

And so what do we do in this “big exciting room that you come in and inhabit”?

When you have built this great house of praise and worship, which is the scriptural story surrounded with the psalms and the prayers of the people of God, then you turn it into intercession, because you’re now living in a room where intercession makes sense.

I’m reminded here of what the founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Fr. Richard Meux Benson, says about praying for others:

As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.

In the first half of the video, Wright has actually been describing the Daily Office, a point that I think might have been lost on his listeners, because he then goes on to clarify that the same thing is happening in the Eucharist.

I am grateful to Packiam and his colleagues for sharing this short glimpse of Wright’s deep, lifelong meditation on Scripture.

However, I find Packiam’s comment as he introduces the clip so poignant:

It is precisely because Prof. Wright is an ‘outsider’ to our modern worship world that his thoughts may be helpful. He may see things we miss. What he chose to address was the absence of Scripture in worship.

Here as elsewhere in his books and videos, I think N.T. Wright is explaining historic Christian worship from the “inside,” especially when he calls it “an act of humility, a way of saying ‘I’m not making this up as I go along.’ It’s a gift from the whole worldwide church, and I inhabit it gratefully.”

The public reading of Scripture — and especially the pattern we have inherited in the Daily Office — is a gift from the worldwide church, indeed, and I inhabit it gratefully. I hope you do, too.

Advertisements

For ourselves and on behalf of others

Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy,
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich,
and of the derision of the proud. (Psalm 123:4-5)

In light of the renewed anger in Ferguson following last night’s announcement that the grand jury will not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, and in light of the repeated calls for “peace, peace where there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14), the Daily Office and today’s readings speak a word we need to hear.

We begin Morning Prayer each day by reminding ourselves that we come together “to set forth [God’s] praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and for our salvation” (BCP 79).

For ourselves

Morning Prayer begins with the Confession of Sin for a reason. We need first and foremost to admit what we’ve done wrong and recommit to doing right. We do this every day because we stumble and fall every day.

In today’s Gospel reading, the blind beggar from Jericho speaks with our voice: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38). We are all blind to the depth of our sins, but God’s mercy opens our eyes so that we can see truthfully. We see our sin, but we also see that we are held in love.

Seeing clearly convicts us, every day, of our need to repent.

And we have a lot to admit to and repent for. In today’s Old Testament reading, God has Zechariah act out a prophecy against us.

“Be a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter,” God tells Zechariah, for “Those who buy them kill them and go unpunished; and those who sell them say, ‘Blessed be the Lord, for I have become rich’; and their shepherds have no pity on them” (Zech. 11:4-5).

We who are rich and comfortable and safe in our houses — that includes me and that includes nearly everyone reading these words — we benefit from the same social order that kills young black men and goes unpunished.

We are made to feel safe and secure by the police and the legal system and courts and judges, by a system that focuses our attention on the career of Darren Wilson instead of on the body of Michael Brown.

In the media coverage of looters whom we can look down on, in public officials’ calls for peace and order and restraint, in our own desire to get back to our Thanksgiving cooking and Christmas shopping, we demonstrate that we “have no pity on them.”

On behalf of others

But “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). We who are called to follow Christ are called instead to put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

When we pray for others in the spirit of Christ, we see that they need the same love that we depend on day by day. We see that even though their experience is different than ours, their human spirit is the same.

The founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Richard Meux Benson, writes:

In praying for others we learn really and truly to love them. As we approach God on their behalf we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal Love, and as we go into the being of him who is eternal Love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there.

As we approach God “on their behalf” …. on their behalf, not ours … we ask different questions.

What do they need in the midst of their situation? The looters, the police, the young people, the larger St. Louis community?

What strength do they require to endure their heartbreak? What consolation do they need in their grief? Michael Brown’s family, Darren Wilson and his family, the young and old who live in Ferguson?

What inspiration will show them how they can serve? The lawyers and the judges, the pastors and the police, the protestors and the property owners?

God knows what I have done and left undone, God knows what I need, and God loves me every day.

As I turn my thoughts and prayers to the needs and concerns of other people, whom God also loves every day, as I approach God on their behalf, perhaps I can begin to learn to love them as God does.

Perhaps I can also learn to act toward them like God does through Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

20140413-055308.jpg

Friends abiding in Christ

The Fellowship of St. John is composed of men and women throughout the world who desire to live their Christian life in special association with the Society of St. John the Evangelist … Together [with the brothers] they form an extended family, a company of friends abiding in Christ and seeking to bear a united witness to him as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” following the example of the Beloved Disciple. (Rule of the FSJ)

Singing the Daily Office

I was first drawn to the Society of St. John the Evangelist because of the Daily Office.

When I was in the Diocese of Chicago’s discernment process leading to ordination as a deacon, I attended a weekend retreat held at the DeKoven Center in Racine, WI. In the bookshop (a necessity wherever Episcopalians gather) I found a cassette tape of the SSJE brothers discussing and singing Morning and Evening Prayer.

I’m a devotee of the Daily Office, as those who read this blog will understand.

What I found most attractive about SSJE was that they were a monastic order who worshiped according to the Book of Common Prayer. That meant they were praying essentially the same prayers I was, using the same forms for Morning and Evening Prayer, for Noonday Prayer, and for Compline.

My own project, so to speak, has been to pray the Daily Office “by the book” these last 20 years — and I find immense support and encouragement knowing that the brothers are praying from the same book.

A sign to the Church

Later I came to value even more the Society’s wisdom about Christian community.

When the Church Insurance Company began to mandate training in sexual misconduct prevention in the early 1990s, the Diocese of Chicago’s pastoral care officer (Chilton Knudsen, who went on to be Bishop of Maine) invited me to help write the curriculum for the diocese.

All told, I spent more than a dozen years training lay people and clergy in the Dioceses of Chicago and Milwaukee in the prevention of child abuse and sexual harassment.

The early years of teaching were very difficult. Nobody wants to talk about child sexual abuse in the first place. Lay people, especially vestry members, resented the mandatory training that focused so heavily on penalties — up to and including the threat of losing insurance coverage. Clergy resented being told how to practice pastoral care and being required to accept limits on their freedom.

The tension was palpable; I would finish each four-hour training session with a splitting headache.

When the community published their Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in 1997, I discovered in its pages an extended meditation on right relationship in Christian community.

The contemporary Rule helped me reframe my teaching, away from penalties and toward a vision of ministry and interpersonal behavior so clear, so transparent, that any attempt at abuse would stand out by sharp contrast.

That vision of right relationship also transformed those who attended the training in later years. Rather than grudging, reluctant attendance, parish leaders became more eager to invite each year’s new Sunday School teachers and youth workers. Many parishes even began scheduling training sessions a year in advance.

Christ’s gift of enduring love

Meditating on the SSJE community’s Rule transformed not only my teaching, but also my own spirituality.

I began training sessions with an icon of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple — an image of the intimacy which God desires each one of us to experience with God and with each other.

Icon of the Beloved Disciple from Mt. Angel Abbey

Icon of the Beloved Disciple from Mt. Angel Abbey

My teaching focused on the ordering of our affections and our disciplined care for vulnerable children and adults, over against the disorganized, scatter-shot attention to safety that is too prevalent in our institutions.

My spiritual life these last 17 years has blossomed with extended reflection on the Beloved Disciple and intimacy with God.

That’s not to say I don’t fall short, and sometimes pretty spectacularly. Disorder and lack of discipline, sin and failing, are a daily reality. The Rule of Benedict, on which most Western monastic Rules are based, observes that “every day we begin again to follow our Lord’s teaching.”

What I have come to understand in the company of the SSJE brothers is that I do not need to hide from that suffering, for it will be transformed by Christ and will bear fruit in my life.

If we abide in that perfect love shown on the cross we will receive the grace to face together all that we are tempted to run from in fear. Christ’s gift of enduring love will be the heart of our life as a community … Love will make us [people] of faith who know God’s power to bring life out of death. (SSJE Rule, Chapter Two).

 

Bearing witness to victory

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:26-28)

Flying our flag

At the parish I serve, St. Thomas Church in Menasha, WI, our rector’s sermon on Easter Day urged us, in the face of other people’s grief and loss, not to tell them what they should believe about the resurrection, but instead simply to “fly your own flag” of witness.

This is wisdom for so many situations.

People struggling with substance abuse, dealing with issues of mental illness, in despair at the loss of a job, or grieving at the death of a loved one, may not be able to look to God directly and may resent being told what to believe.

But perhaps seeing our flag, hearing our simple witness, will “give them courage and hope in their troubles” (BCP 389).

Like Mary Magdalene, whose banner might simply read “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), we bring hope into other people’s lives by bearing witness to the possibility of victory.

Victory

Br. David Vryhof, whose meditation is shared today at Brother, Give Us a Word, reflects on the healing power of looking to God:

Jesus embodies that death-defeating, life-giving power, and even an evil force bent on destruction and death cannot overcome his strength to save and heal. Do not give in to despair. Look to God and believe.

In the picture Resurrection by Pierro della Francesca, the central image my rector used in his sermon, we see Christ rising from the tomb and planting his flag of victory over death and the grave.

Perhaps our own flags of witness — “I have seen the Lord” — are what the people around us need to see in order for them to believe that victory can be theirs, too.

Making all things new

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor. 15:1-8)

Of first importance

“Christ died for our sins … he was buried … he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”

Paul makes this simple statement here just a few years after the founding of the church in Corinth in 50 or 51 AD, and Christians repeat it to this day in the words of the Nicene Creed (BCP 358).

Paul goes on to say Christ appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve, then to more than 500, then to James, then to all the apostles, then to Paul himself.

These things happened.

They connect with the record of God’s saving acts recorded in scripture.

Real people, known to the first witnesses of the resurrection, also experienced Christ’s appearing.

Not just all people, but all things

In his Easter week meditation for Brother, Give Us a Word, Br. Mark Brown of the Society of St. John the Evangelist reflects that:

Something that pertains to the whole cosmos is happening in the death and resurrection of Christ. From the depths of the inner worlds to the furthest reaches of outer space. “Behold, I am making all things new” — not just all people, but all things.

IMG_0692

Life is being renewed in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have to work at driving away “wrong desires” or “keeping God’s law” or  following “the way of peace.”

We also still have to use the plunger on clogged toilets, as Lovely Wife and I discovered this morning.

Even the “things” sometimes resist this new creation in Christ, but as witnesses ourselves to the resurrection, we can see now that they are shot through with new promise — that even our struggles fit somehow into a larger pattern of new life at work in the world around us.

Signs of resurrection, seeds of hope

Signs of resurrection

Everything changes on Easter!

We reintroduce the Alleluias …

We recite or sing Christ our Passover in place of an Invitatory Psalm for the next 50 days …

We rehearse the salvation history of the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:1-14).

We remind ourselves in the stirring cadences of the Prologue to the Gospel of John of the present reality … “from his fullness we have received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Seeds of hope

A student in my Education for Ministry (EfM) class gave me a lovely gift in an Easter card this year.

The brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist share a daily reflection on their website entitled “Brother, Give Us a Word.” They have also made the Easter Week reflections available as meditation cards.

IMG_0690On this morning’s card (Resurrection), Br. Geoffrey Tristram asks:

How do we allow those seeds of hope and resurrection deep within us to burst into new life? One way is to open our eyes and see the signs of resurrection all around us.

Even the simple changes to Morning Prayer are “signs of resurrection.” The birdsong and the rain I hear through the window are part of the “bursting into new life” going on outside. The steps I have been following in my recovery are “seeds of hope” deep within me.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter Day

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 222)

For the extension of God’s kingdom

Charles Chapman Grafton

 

Today in the Diocese of Fond du Lac we observe the feast day of one of our “local saints.”

Charles Chapman Grafton was the second Bishop of Fond du Lac, a noted Anglo-Catholic, and an ardent ecumenist. He was also one of the founding members of the Society of St. John the Evangelist.

In between a Commission on Ministry meeting this morning and a dinner at my church this evening, I look forward to attending today’s Grafton commemoration at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Fond du Lac.

Since I was driving early this morning, I listened to Morning Prayer from the CD Singing the Daily Office by the SSJE community. At the Cathedral this afternoon, we will say Evening Prayer according to the Prayer Book of 1789, which Grafton would have used throughout most of his life.

Far from being an antiquarian curiosity, Grafton’s life speaks to me about the importance of both discipline and ecumenism — qualities vital to the Church’s life today, as always.

Collect of the Day

Loving God, you called Charles Chapman Grafton to be a bishop in your Church and endowed him with a burning zeal for souls: Grant that, following his example, we may ever live for the extension of your kingdom, that your glory may be the chief end of our lives, your will the law of our conduct, your love the motive of our actions, and Christ’s life the model and mold of our own; through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, throughout all ages. Amen.