IN THIS COMPANY

( Re-printed from Covenant, the online blog of The Living Church: )

Over the past thirty-five years, there has been an enormous revolution in the worship patterns in Episcopal Church parishes. The Eucharist has become the central act of worship on Sundays. Cranmer’s dream, that every parish should become, at least in worship, a Religious Community, a developed monasticism, in which the Daily Offices and the Eucharist should be offered daily, seems to be well on its way to fulfillment. (Cranmer would not be well pleased by the restoration of many of the outward signs associated with ceremonial and priestly vesture.) However, one of the less salutary aspects of the martyred archbishop’s theology may still stymie what at first looks like a Catholic revival.

There seems to be an almost universal appreciation of the Real Presence, a Presence poorly defined and less obviously accompanied by reverence for the consecrated elements. Rather than this becoming an appreciation for Catholic doctrine, or even Lutheran teaching, what seems to have emerged is a religious adjunct to individualistic devotion. One goes to church to receive something that permits one to get through the week, or heals one in some manner or another. If realized at all, the individual Christian, perched in a habitual pew or lining up in a shopping queue to stand or kneel in splendid isolation, does so to receive something to be evaluated as to its therapeutic effectiveness later in the week. Jesus has become a Pill. Rather than centering a Christian in a counter-cultural sense of the “otherness” of the Eucharistic offering, the revived Sacrament often seems to reinforce the concept that I am at the center of all things, I am who I decide to be, and God sits around waiting to shower me with approval and grace, whatever grace is.

Even the Lutheran ideal that the Real Presence re-enacts the sinner’s justification by faith, by which Jesus clothes one with his righteousness and makes him or her right with God is absent. We are, we think, basically OK. What we need is affirmation and a helping hand, if by chance we can’t manage by our own good sense.

The antidote to such individualized therapy-theology is associating the Real Presence within the wider theology of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and that in the context of the Communion of Saints. By itself, the ideal that somehow Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the Cross, eternally pleaded, saves individually leads to a similarly individualized notion, never taught, but widely believed, in the Middle Ages, that at every Mass, the priest offers Jesus for the individual, as the primary aid to that individual’s eternal hope.

There seems to be no end to the way Christians define the means of grace as things tailor-made to give them something extra, something that self-definition and self-reliance, aided by self-help books and perhaps the love of family and friends, can’t quite provide. The effectiveness of such Me-Devotion may be easily tested. Ask an Episcopalian to act on the Presiding Bishop-elect’s injunction to “Go,” to leave church and witness to friends and acquaintances the love of Jesus, and two things happen. The first is to join a Cause, and pour available enthusiasm in often web-based or committee-based activism. The second option is to decide that such activity is a clergy activity aided by a few activists. There are other symptoms of a me-based religion. All break down to a consideration as to whether prayer, worship, and church-belonging is for me.

If we are to walk with God in the cool of the day without being expelled from the Garden because we seek to be “as gods” (Gen. 3:5), we must embrace the status given us by the mark on our foreheads (Eph. 1:13; 2 Cor. 1:22), and join with the Apostles and Evangelists, saints and martyrs, the known and unknown elect, who gather around the heavenly Table with Jesus our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16), and share together in the marriage feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9). At every Eucharist, the people of God, gathered to form the local church, participate with the whole Church in heaven and on earth in worship: the self-communal offering whereby we show God what he means to the Church.

The measure of this communal offering and participation judges the validity of personal faith and ecclesial authenticity. It provides the only true antidote to personal, parochial, diocesan, and provincial self-absorption. Losing our lives to save them, we receive the benefits of Christ’s death and passion in the context of the redeemed community, all of whom have been washed in the Blood of the Lamb, clothed with the white robe of baptism, and made a nation of kings and priests unto God. In the fellowship of the saints, Christians form the perennial counter-culture, empowered to herald the coming reign of Christ, strengthened for service by the Real Presence of Christ in his Church.

FROM THE LIVING CHURCH TODAY

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2015/07/22/why-we-do-this/

OUT OF THE DEPTH

I watched too much of the Episcopal Church’s 78th General Convention on line than was good for my soul. I found myself thinking that I was watching the assembly of a denomination with which I had no connection. These people -for that is how I thought of them- worshipped differently, prayed differently, and on the whole, proposed a different religion than anything I connected with. Then, last Sunday, taking part of a Sunday off, I worshipped in perhaps the largest parish in the Diocese of Missouri. The service was Rite 1, the music traditional sung by an extraordinarily good choir accompanied by an amazing organist, and the celebrant and deacon were both under 35. For a summer Sunday, the church was comfortably full. During the service a group of young people were commissioned as Missioners.

I was comforted by worshipping in a community in which Anglicanism flourishes. I was given courage to soldier on, safe as I am, here in Southern Illinois, far from the madding crowd.  But then I think, this is all about me? LAm I free to adopt my own religion, or base my faith on what I want, or desire, or that affords me comfort? And if so, how really different am I from those Baby Boomers, who went wild by the evangelical preaching of the Presiding Bishop-elect, but then went back to their respective Houses, to adopt resolutions based primarily, not on Scripture, Tradition, the Fathers and Councils, but on contemporary social and political ideology, and choice-liturgy?

I didn’t choose the Church, it chose me when my mother took me to the parish church to be baptized. As I grew up, the Church provided me the building blocks of faith in Prayer Book worship, by learning the Catechism, and by being given access to the faith of the Early Christians. I learned to study Scripture, for then, in England, one studied a Gospel, Acts and an Epistle in depth for the state examination, taken at sixteen years of age. True, within the comprehension of the English Church I was exposed to Anglo Catholicism, Evangelicalism and a mild form of Liberalism, then in recovery from being almost battered to death by the reality of the Second World War and the evil shockingly present in their brave new world. Beneath these strands within Anglicanism, a belief in Jesus, the Christ, his saving work, his presence among us in Word and Sacrament, constituted the rock on which I tottered, stood, and occasionally fell off.

But now, nearly sixty years on, in a church much more resembling that reflected in General Convention than the Church of St. Michael and St. George, St. Louis, or my own two small mission churches, has the rock of my faith become a personal opinion, in a church where personal opinion trumps orthodoxy?  I don’t know the answer to that question.