August 31, 2018


Worship in the Episcopal Church is sometimes jokingly referred to as "Liturgical Calisthenics." Sometimes we stand, sometimes we kneel...how do we know which to do when?  And why do we stand, sit, or kneel at various points in the service? The easy one to explain is sitting.  We sit when we are learning in church.  In worship, we generally stand or kneel when we are praying.  Standing is especially associated with prayers of praise or thanksgiving, while kneeling is associated with penitence. Standing is a body posture that signifies a number of things.  When we want to show respect for something, we stand up for it...this is true in many different parts of our lives.  In a courtroom, you stand for the judge to enter. I always stood up when my grandparents walked into a room to greet them.  And that instinct toward respect is the same reason why standing is one of the oldest prayer postures. But probably the other oldest prayer posture is kneeling.  Kneeling is also a sign of respect, and a sign of submission.  When we kneel toward something it's a gesture that acknowledges power or authority. In the Book of Common Prayer, the rubrics (which are often written in italics) frequently give the option of either standing or kneeling at different parts of the service, and it's each worshipper's choice of how they'd like to observe that prayerful moment. So we stand when we sing hymns because we're singing hymns of praise to God. We sit when we listen to the readings and the sermon, because we're learning about the Word of God. But we stand when we hear the Gospel read as a sign of respect.  Also, think about how we end the Gospel reading - "The Gospel of the Lord."  "Praise to you, Lord Christ."  The Good News of the Gospel is something for which we always praise God. We stand for the Creed because we are praising God as we name God's three-fold nature. Then you actually have the option of standing or kneeling for the Prayers of the People, but we always kneel for the Prayer of Confession and the Assurance of Pardon because those are penitential moments. The Eucharistic Prayer is another time when the congregation has the option to kneel or stand.  Some might kneel because they understand the prayer as a remembrance of Christ's sacrifice.  Others might stand because it is "the Great Thanksgiving," a moment of gratitude and praise.  Both of those are the right answer (though in the season of Easter it is most appropriate to stand as in Easter we celebrate our redemption through Christ). But then we sit and sing while everyone else is receiving Communion because otherwise that is a lot of standing (and many people kneel and pray for a time when they return to their pews after receiving). A lot of this is also determined by local practice, and different Episcopal congregations will have different patterns...here at The Falls Church we tend to lean toward standing.  And of course, people have different bodies.  For some the knees don't bend as well, and for others standing for a long time is hard.  God knows all that, and even if someone can't do liturgical calisthenics, God knows the intentions in our hearts.


See you Sunday,

Kelly

August 24, 2018


Many of you may remember a time when you didn't receive Communion every Sunday.  It may be because you were raised in a different Christian tradition that didn't emphasize weekly Communion, but rather had it monthly, or even quarterly.  It may be because you were raised in the Episcopal Church during a time when Morning Prayer was the dominant Sunday service.  Why do Episcopalians now celebrate Holy Communion every week? Since the Protestant Reformation, many branches of the church moved away from sacramental observances and emphasized prayer and the reading of scripture believing that prayer and the Word of God was enough to sustain the people. For a long time, many, if not most, Episcopal Churches went in that direction.   When the Book of Common Prayer was revised in 1979, it returned Holy Communion to the place of primacy in Episcopal worship practices.  This was the result of increased scholarship by liturgical historians and archaeologists who pointed out that the traditions of the church 1800 or 1900 years ago revolved around Holy Communion.  Weekly Communion was the practice of the earliest Church. And there are two major theories about why the early church placed such an emphasis on Communion (and these theories are not mutually exclusive).   The first (and probably better known) theory is that the earliest Christians continued to gather together and share a meal because of Jesus' command at the Last Supper that they continue to break the bread and share the wine "in remembrance of me." The second theory is that if you read the Gospel accounts of Jesus' appearances after the resurrection, many of them involve food.  After the Road to Emmaus, the disciples knew Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  After that, Jesus appeared among them and asked for a piece of fish.  The resurrected Jesus shared breakfast on a beach by the Sea of Galilee.  Some think the disciples were gathered for a meal at the time of the appearance to Thomas. So the second theory is that the early church continued the practice because they knew from experience that it was when they shared a meal together that Jesus was most likely to show up. Now we celebrate Holy Communion every week for three major reasons: 1) it ties us to our ancestors in faith, "the communion of saints," who have been observing this practice for 2000 years, 2) Jesus asked his follower to "do this in remembrance of me," and 3) because we believe and our scriptures tell us that Jesus shows up when we break bread together.


See you Sunday,

Kelly

August 16, 2018


A question a number of folks have asked me recently is "why do you add water to the wine before Communion?" This is something you've probably seen the priest or deacon do before the Eucharistic Prayer begins. There are several different explanations for that practice - one is historical, one is scriptural, and one is theological.  Hey, we're Christian...we like things in threes. Historically, the wine that was drunk in ancient Greece was thick, gritty, and strong, so the Greeks always watered it down.  The Romans were obsessed with the ancient Greeks, so they adopted that practice too. That means back in the earliest days of the church when the celebration of the Eucharist was in the context of a full meal, they would have watered down the wine because that was the common practice. On the scriptural front, the crucifixion scene in the gospel of John includes a moment where a Roman centurion pierced Jesus in the side with his spear.  When he does so, John 19:34 says "at once blood and water came out" of Jesus' side.  So when we celebrate Communion, we mix wine with water to symbolize the blood and water that flowed from Jesus. On the theological front, a doctrine developed around this practice.  The idea is that the wine symbolizes the divinity of Christ and the water symbolizes his humanity.  When you mix the water and the wine together, there is no way to fully separate them again. And in Jesus, humanity and divinity are mixed together in such a way that that it is impossible to fully separate humanity from God again. One act, three different explanations: one that ties us to our ancestors in faith, one that ties us to the Word of God, and one that ties us more deeply and intimately to God's self.  I wonder which explanation resonates with you the most?


See you Sunday,

Kelly