Following the Offertory is the Sursum Corda dialogue. This marks the beginning of what ancient liturgies call the “Thanksgiving” or the Great Thanksgiving. The “Thanksgiving” spans from the Sursum Corda through the people’s great Amen (The Bold AMEN at the end of the Eucaristic Prayer BCP p117). This unit of prayer is commonly called the Eucharistic prayer. The meaning of the word Eucarist is literally “thanksgiving”. The section titled Sursum Corda has three parts; Salutation, lifting of our hearts, and an invitation to give thanks. In our liturgy the Sursum Corda is preceded by the greeting “The Lord be with you”. This continues our worship as a dialogue between each other and our Lord. We are praying these words together.
The Sursum Corda is a Latin phrase that means “lift up your heart”. It comes from an ancient hymn used in synagogue worship. This phrase has a double meaning. Traditionally it was when the people would stand for prayers. The first ecumenical council of Nicea tells us that standing for prayer is the most appropriate posture. This is why the Othodox church typically has no pews or chairs. They follow the ancient tradition of standing for prayers. To lift your heart was a call to stand. To literally bring your heart higher up.
In addition to this, the Sursum Corda has taken on a deeper meaning. The people respond that they will “lift them up to the Lord”. This is more than just standing. The heart was seen by the early church as the “essence of human identity”. Jesus “came down” and was “made man” as the Nicean creed states. He shared in all that it means to be human, including death. When we lift our hearts to the Lord we are asking to be lifted up and share in all that it means to be Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. This includes his life and his special relationship with the Father. In the Eucarist, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man become one thing. God comes down and we go up and together we Give Thanks. This image of heaven and earth worshiping alongside one another is made even more clear in the Sanctus which we will address later.
The final section of the Sursum Corda is the celebrant inviting the people of God into the action of Eucarist. The celebrant says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” We remember that Eucarist means, to give thanks. The Celebrant is requesting “permission to offer thanks in the name of those present.” The response of the people is a consent for the priest to speak on behalf of the gathered people of God.
The offertory begins with a sentence of scripture. The celebrant has 20 different options that start on page 149. Many of these remind us that God is the first giver. Our offerings stem from his original generosity. “The offertory is composed of all those actions that represent the offering of the people.” This is when the collection is taken up. This is when a special song might be offered by the choir or by a soloist. This is also when the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward and placed on the altar. When we put all of these things together they signify our whole lives. They are our livelihoods and our talents and our sustenance. We offer to God all the first fruits of our lives. We give these gifts to Lord not because He needs them. Our God gave them to us in the first place! We give them so that we might be more like our Lord. Generous and selfless.
What the Lord does with our gifts is truly amazing. We offer the Lord the ordinary stuff of our lives. We offer Him things that we might not consider sacred. The money and the bread and the hands and the songs that are placed on the Altar would be in any other context simply common. This is the point. God makes our simple offerings of ourselves into something extraordinary. He takes our daily lives and breaths His own life into it. He takes fishermen and turns them into fishers of men.
Sometimes it is hard to imagine this. The deep connection between our daily life offering and God’s work in the Eucharist has been strained with re-imagining of some of the symbols. The bread doesn’t look like bread or the offering is quickly taken off the altar. The wine isn’t made by the people. In the early church the congregation would bring the bread from their own tables and the wine from their own cellars to be offered in the Eucharist. “The problem is that most of us are so removed from bread baking and wine making that these things that were so ordinary in the ancient world are exotic to us and therefore somewhat unreal.” When we see the unconsecrated bread and wine we are not thinking of all the labor and sweat and work that went into making something to offer the Lord. The bread and wine are hard to identify with our own work or our own table. Yet, this is what is represented in the offering. We give to the Lord our everyday ordinary selves and trust in His goodness.
After the absolution or comfortable words comes the peace.
The passing of God’s peace has a biblical root. Saint Paul talks about a Holy Kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20) and a sending out of peace to brothers and sisters of Christ (Ephesians 6:23-24). Saint John speaks of sending peace as well (3 John 15). Jesus speaks of giving us His peace through the Holy Spirit. (John 14:27) It is indeed the supernatural peace of Christ that we share during this time.
It is no coincidence that the passing of the peace is placed where it is. We have all just received God’s peace through our repentance and God’s forgiveness. We respond to God’s action by bringing God’s peace to our neighbors and the world. As a part of our devotion to God we make right all our relationships.
So what is it that we are doing when we Pass the Peace?
First, this peace proclaims the supernatural unity that we share in Christ. “The natural divisions of race, class, age and social status that keep people apart are overcome. Even the categories of righteous and unrighteous, decent and indecent people, are overcome.” (In the Breaking of the Bread p 43) The Bible tells us that we are one body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:12) and that it is the peace that Jesus gives us through His Spirit that makes us one. (Ephesians 3:1-3). When we greet one another and especially those we might not naturally be connected with we make visible the unity that we have in Christ.
Second, the passing of the peace gives us an opportunity to fix any unforgiveness that we might be harboring with each other before we receive communion. Saint Paul warns us that we are to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in a worthy manner. (1 Corinthians 11:27) Part of this is doing our best to live in peace and unity with our neighbors. Jesus tells us that we should reconcile with our brothers and sisters before coming to offer anything to the Lord. (Matthew 5:23) The passing of the peace gives us a place to accomplish this act.
Celebrant The Peace of the Lord be always with you.
People And with your spirit.
Then the Ministers and People may greet one another in the Name of the Lord.
Immediately following the absolution the celebrant may say one or more of the sentences of scripture that make up the comfortable words.
Thomas Cranmer included these sentences from scripture in his original prayer book and they have become a part of the Anglican liturgical tradition ever since. They act as a scriptural warrant and guarantee of the forgiveness of sins. They reaffirm the absolution through biblical authority. What the priest says about our sins being forgiven is backed up by the scriptures. You don’t have to take the priest’s word for it but you can also “hear the word of God” spoken to you. Those who turn to Jesus are loved and forgiven.
Although these sentences may be said independently from each other they are written as a whole. They follow the biblical narrative of God and man. Our sin has caused us to be heavy laden. (Matthew 11:28) The Genesis account talks about the difficult labor that comes after the fall. (Genesis 3) When we try to live life without God we find that we are burdened and have no life in us. God does not leave us in this state. He loves us. He loves all that He created. (John 3:16) Jesus the only-begotten Son came to save sinners. He came to save those who want life back. (1 Timothy 1:15) Trusting and following the way of Jesus brings us back into a right relationship with the Father. Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. He is the relationship fixer. (1 John 2:1-2) Once we understand what Jesus has done for us we realize that He has done this for the whole world. We become people who proclaim the way of Jesus to the heavy laden of the world.
When read together these sentences encapsulate the Gospel message in a beautiful way. I hear these words and am reminded that Jesus is indeed good news! A tradition that I learned from my time at Trinity School for Ministry is to walk down the center aisle while reading the comfortable words. This is reminiscent of the way we read our Gospel accounts. We do this because the good news is always moving to reach the people. In the great commission Jesus tells his disciples to go to the people of the world and proclaim the Gospel. (Mark 16:15) The Gospel, the good news of Jesus, is always going forward.
THE COMFORTABLE WORDS
The Celebrant may then say one or more of the following sentences, first saying
Hear the Word of God to all who truly turn to him.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. MATTHEW 11:28
God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. JOHN 3:16
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1 TIMOTHY 1:15
If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 JOHN 2:1-2
This week we explore the Confession and Absolution of Sin.
The Priest or Deacon begins with an invitation to confess our sins to Almighty God. We are reminded that the church along with the rest of humanity struggles with sinfulness. The church is a community of people looking for healing. It is a hospital for those who recognize that life could be so much more but are unable to heal themselves. Both of the invitations included in the Anglican Standard Form remind us that it is God alone who has the power (is almighty) to forgive our sins and make us well. The gospel accounts tell us that Jesus stirred up the ire of many of his fellow Jews by forgiving sins (Matthew 9:1-11; Mark 2:4-6; Luke 5:19-21). This is one way that Jesus proclaimed his divinity to the world.
Christians have practiced one form of confession or another since Christ himself. The act of corporate or general confession is not found in the oldest liturgies but is found in the most ancient Anglican liturgies including the 1548 Book of Common Prayer. Confessing as a group reminds us that Christians are united as one body. We all bring our individual sins to this confession but we recognize that our sins affect the whole body of Christ. We come as one body or as a family before Almighty God because that is how He desires us to be. Saint Paul speaking about our Christian unity states that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26) We confess together sharing in each other’s suffering and rejoice together in God’s mercy and forgiveness.
In our Prayer Book tradition we see that confession is connected to receiving communion. At its base element a true confession is all about fixing relationships. We cannot truly receive what God has to offer us in communion unless we first desire to be in a good relationship (in communion) with Him and His people. The first invitation makes the connection with receiving communion more explicit by stating that we are to draw near with faith. “In the 1548 form draw near literally meant that those who intended to receive were to move from the nave to the chancel near the altar.” We no longer draw near the same way but we still have the same intention. The act of repentance is intimately connected with the act of communion. The Book of Common Prayer tells us that if we do not first repent we should not come to God’s Holy Table. (Book of Common Prayer 2019, p.147)
After the invitation a moment of silence is observed. This is done so that we may all reflect on our heart’s disposition to the Lord. What are the thoughts, words and deeds that may have taken us away from a right relationship with our God? What have we been placing between ourselves and our creator? How have we neglected to love our neighbor?
After this silence we join together with the words of the confession. We find that this prayer can express what we might have trouble putting into words. It guides us into a right disposition before the Lord. We say that God is justified in being angry with us because of our sins and offences. Our sin has justified our condemnation and death. This prayer captures the depth of pain our brokenness has caused in both ourselves and in God. We see our broken relationship as a burden that is too heavy for us to lift. I am reminded of the Icon Anastasis or Resurrection. In this icon, Jesus is standing on the gates of death and he is pulling a weak Adam and Eve out of the grave by the wrists. Their burden is intolerable. They are dead. They are unable to lift themselves up out of the grave. For Jesus Christ’s sake they are saved! We call upon the Lord knowing that He offers mercy on all who are burdened.
The rubric or rule says that the bishop or priest pronounces the absolution.The reason the prayer book stresses the bishop as the pronouncer of the absolution is because of the apostolic authority that comes with his position. The apostles were primarily witnesses of the truth found in Jesus. Jesus tells His apostles to proclaim this truth to the world and in doing so gives them the authority to testify to His words and deeds. Our bishop is the apostolic witness in our diocese. He has been given authority by God to tell people the truth about Jesus. When he says that God has forgiven your sins through the work of Christ, he can be trusted because of his apostolic connection. The local priest’s authority comes from serving under a bishop. Without a bishop a priest does not have this authority. When you hear the words of the absolution we understand the celebrant of the service as echoing what God pronounces to His people.
God’s mercy does not leave us where we left off. In our confession we ask God for newness of life so that we with God’s help can serve and please our Lord. It is this theme that the words of the absolution picks up on. God does not just forgive us but wants us empowered to live rightly with Him. The priest prays that the Lord would confirm and strengthen you in all goodness! Our liturgy tells us that this confession is a springboard for God to work in our lives.
This week we continue our look at the New Book of Common Prayer by examining the Prayers of the People.
In the Book of Common prayer we have two options for the prayers of the people. The first option is printed in the Anglican Standard Text and the second is found in the Renewed Ancient Text. Both of these prayers include the traditional concerns for the church, the government, the people of the world, those who suffer and those who are departed. Both of these forms assume that the people of the parish will add their own specific intentions at the right times. Within the Anglican Standard Text silence is added between prayers to facilitate this. In the Ancient Renewed Text the people are invited by the lay leader to verbally express their petitions. At the end of the Prayers of the People churches can opt to add additional prayers such as a prayer of thanksgiving or a prayer for guidance. The verbage from the Anglican Standard Text’s Prayers of the People are very similar to the prayers that we use now. So much so that many will not notice the slight differences.
The Prayers of the People continue the back and forth conversation with God that found in our Anglican worship. As we pray we are reminded that worship is something that the people of God participate in. We act and move in response to what God is doing and has done. Prayer is an invitation to join God in his work of bringing salvation to the world. The laity typically leads these prayers. This is yet another sign that prayer is the work of all the people not just the professionals.
Following the example of Christ, Christian prayer is addressed to our heavenly Father and in the name of Jesus. I am reminded of this fact when I look at the last line of the Prayers of the People. “Heavenly Father, grant these our prayers for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and advocate, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” We are reminded in our prayers that it is by the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus that our prayers are heard. Jesus makes our conversation with God possible.
Prayer is a mysterious act. What happens when we pray? The tension between the sovereign and omniscient will of God and our own is revealed when we try and understand the mechanics of prayer. We might not ever really know how prayer “works” but we do know that prayer is a critical part of being a disciple of Jesus. Christians are people of prayer. This is part of the work to which all disciples of Jesus are called. We believe that our conversation with our heavenly Father has an effect on the world, ourselves, and loved ones.
A life of prayer has an effect on the world but also on the hearts of those who pray. I believe this is why we are called to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. Prayer has a profound effect on our own soul. When we enter into a conversation with God He transforms how we think and feel about the problems we bring to Him. We cannot help but be transformed when we come into the presence of God.
After the lessons are read and the sermon is preached the congregation is invited to stand and say together the Nicene Creed. This continues the back and forth flow of the liturgy. The Creed becomes a response to the sermon and the lessons. It is the people joining in on the conversation of God.
In the Prayer Book the celebrant bids the creed by saying, “Let us confess our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed”. The Prayer Book understands the Nicene Creed as a confession of faith. It is the document that points towards the core of all christian belief. It tells us a plainly as possible who we are worshiping and why.
The Nicene Creed came into existence at the first ecumenical council at Nicea in 325. It was a response to those in the church, called Arians, who denied the divinity of Christ. Since 325 this creed has been the standard for Christian faith and doctrine regardless of denominational affiliation. All Christians affirm the Nicene Creed and those that do not are not Christian.
The Nicene Creed was probably influenced by the older Apostles creed. These two creeds functioned differently in worship however. The Apostles creed was used by the ancient church as a part of the baptismal initiation into the family of God. This could be why the Apostles creed is written in the first person singular, “I”. This emphasizes that our relationship with God is a personal one.
The Nicene Creed was developed with the community in mind. It was used to defend the people of God against heresy and to bring unity to the faithful. The original wording of the Nicene Creed included the First person plural “We”. This inclusive language makes clear the creeds intent to assemble the faithful into one like minded group for the purpose of worship.
In 381 the Nicene creed was revised by the Western Church and the first person plural “We” was changed to the first person singular “I”. The western church also added the infamous filioque clause ‘and the Son,’ to the clause concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father. These changes were not adopted universally and especially not in Churches in the East.
In the Prayer Book the Nicene Creed will use the first person plural “We” as is the most ancient custom. It will also bracket off the filioque clause with a footnote stating that this was not apart of the original greek text adopted at Nicea. This leaves the individual worshiper with the choice of saying the filioque or omitting it.
Towards the end of the creed we say, “We believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” It can sound to some that we are professing believe in the Roman Catholic Church. The word catholic means all embracing or universal. This includes the faithful in the Roman tradition but also in the protestant traditions and the eastern tradition. We are reminded that God desires our unity. The catholic church is present everywhere the Spirit of Christ is breathing life into people.
Today we look at The Sermon section in the Anglican Standard Text. The Anglican priest and poet George Herbert (1593-1633) wrote a poem called The Windows that speaks deeply to this topic of The Sermon.
Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?
He is a brittle crazy glass;
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.
But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy preachers, then the light and glory
More reverend grows, and more doth win;
Which else shows waterish, bleak, and thin.
Doctrine and life, colors and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and awe; but speech alone
Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the ear, not conscience, ring.
The various facets of this poem bring to light the awesome responsibility and purpose of preaching. God has spoken through the prophets, and teachers and apostles of the Bible. What we hear in the lessons is God’s word. This word is a living Word that transcends time and space. God is still speaking to us today through His written word.
The preacher’s task is to be faithful to the original meaning of the text while discerning what God is saying to His people today. The Rev. Herbert starts by acknowledging how unqualified any person is to preach God’s Word. Preachers are all brittle crazy glass. This is indeed the human condition.
Fortunately, preachers do not rely solely on their own wisdom or knowledge to preach. Preachers are to become a window towards God. It is God’s grace that fashions the crazy brittle glass into that of a stained window. He takes all the pieces and makes something beautiful. When the life of a preacher is “annealed” or colored with the story of God then God is revealed within the life and words of the preacher. It is God who does this work within the preacher and not simply lots of effort. This does not mean preaching does not take hard work or knowledge but that these humble offerings of man are made into something wildly better and more beautiful through the Spirit of God.
The point of preaching is to be a window for God so that He might bring His light into the dark world and “win” those in the darkness over to the light. This is an especially powerful point that The Rev. Herbert makes. Preaching is not teaching but more than teaching. Real preaching always comes with a call towards Godly transformation. This call might be one of repentance or it might be one of Godly mission and evangelism. The Rev. Herbert says that “speech alone doth vanish like a flaring thing, and in the ear, not conscience, ring.” Preaching is a call to action even if that is an action of the heart. If preaching ends at the ears of the hearer than it has not accomplished its job.
When we gather to hear The Sermon we are not looking to learn something new. We are opening our hearts and our minds to hear God and be recast into His beautiful stained glass.
This week as we gather for worship may you hear God’s voice and be transformed.
This week we look at the Sunday lessons prescribed to be read in the Anglican Standard Text.
The lessons that are read in the Sunday service are based on a three year lectionary. Every three years most of the biblical account is read in our worship services. We are currently in year C of our lectionary. Starting next Advent we will move to year A. The lectionary is a great value to our Anglican tradition because it ensures that much of the bible is read. It helps preachers to contemplate passages of scripture that are not in there typical purview. In other words, it forces preachers and congregants to look beyond favorite passages or topics and consume scripture in a holistic way.
Sunday services have four lessons appointed. These include a lesson from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a reading from the New Testament and then a Gospel reading. Following ancient Christian custom the Old Testament lesson is structured around the theme of the Gospel reading.
Lessons from the Apocrypha are occasionally appointed for Sunday readings. The Apocrypha are books found in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), but not found in the Hebrew Bible. Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles states “the Church doth read [these books] for example of life and instruction of manners, but yet it doth not apply them to establish any doctrine.” The Thirty-Nine Articles put Apocryphal readings on a sub level to those found in the Bible. Traditionally this has been expressed by the reader concluding the Apocryphal reading by saying “here ends the reading” rather than the typical “The word of the Lord”.
The Gospel lesson is the climax of the first part of the liturgy and “from the earliest times the people have stood in reverent attention while it is read.” The procession from the altar to the middle of the congregation is a powerful symbol of the “Good News” coming from heaven to the people. In the Gospel according to St. John we read “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14. When we see the Gospel read in the midst of the people we are reminded that Jesus first came to us.
One of the exciting updates that come with the 2019 Prayer Book is the Psalter. In 1539, under the direction of King Henry VIII, Miles Coverdale produced what became known as the Coverdale Psalter. Coverdales translation has made it into every Anglican prayer book until the 1960s. “In 1963, the Church of England attempted to update the Coverdale Psalms to more modern language – with a committee including notable members T.S. Elliot and C.S. Lewis – but the Cathedral musicians opposed the revision [musical psalters would have to be rewritten] and their update was not adopted.” The 1979 Book of Common Prayer departed from the Coverdale Psalter. In the 2019 Book of Common Prayer the 1963 Coverdale, Lewis, and Elliot Psalter will be recovered and slightly renewed with modern language and musicality.
One or more lessons, as appointed, are read, the Reader first saying
A Reading from __________.
A citation giving chapter and verse may be added.
After each lesson, the Reader may say
The Word of the Lord.
People Thanks be to God.
Or the reader may say Here ends the Reading.
Silence may follow.
A psalm, hymn or anthem may follow each reading.
All standing, the Deacon or Priest reads the Gospel, first saying
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according
People Glory to you, Lord Christ.
After the Gospel, the Reader says
The Gospel of the Lord.
People Praise to you, Lord Christ.
Today we continue our walk through the Anglican Standard Text by examining the Collect of the Day.
The Collect of the Day
The Celebrant says to the People
The Lord be with you.
People And with your spirit.
Celebrant Let us pray.
The Celebrant prays the Collect.
The ancient salutation of “The Lord be with you” marks this as a beginning of a new section of the liturgy with a shift in emphasis. We move from a time of gathering and praise into a time focused on a biblical theme. This theme is brought out by the Collect of the Day and the scriptures prescribed by the lectionary.
Just like the Collect for Purity the Collect of the Day sums up the prayers of the community and follows a four fold pattern.
The Collect of the Day offers worshipers a guide post for where our worship is heading. It orients us to where we are in the Church Calendar. It reminds us that we journey with Jesus even in the way that we think about time. Each prayer is carefully worded to bring to mind pertinent seasonal themes.
The Collect of the Day is also connected to our Sunday Lessons. The prayer finds a theme that runs through these readings as a way to connect our prayer life to what it is we hear from the Bible. The lessons from the Bible inform how we pray in our collect. On days of special observance such as saints days or feast days The Collect of the Day introduces the theme of the day. One scholar described the Collect of the Day as the red dot that says “you are here” on the map of a vast shopping mall. We can find our way through the lessons that are read that day by listening carefully to the Collect of the Day.
The order of The Collect of the Day prayers has been slightly modified within the church year to match up with the theme of the Sunday readings. The Prayer Book committee has also restored to use some of the original Collects written by Thomas Cranmer. The assembled list of Daily Collects for the Prayer Book will sound very familiar to those from Holy Trinity.
I pray that as you hear the Collect of the Day this Sunday that God would reveal to you His heart in the Scriptures!
Holy Trinity Anglican Church
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