An Appropriate Observance

IMG_1618“The First Book of Common Prayer, 1549, is appropriately observed on a weekday following the Day of Pentecost.”
Book of Common Prayer, page 23

For the Prayerbook observance this year, the Blogmistress was invited by her rector to give the homily at the mid-week services on May 22nd. The homily is today’s blog post. It is a little short for a sermon and a little long for a blog post, but I hope you enjoy it. As a side note – the Church of the Ascension was undergoing some repairs in the nave and we were worshipping in the Memorial Room.

While I was in high school I became a devotee of folk music. Well, not all folk music because I didn’t really know how to get hold of anything very interesting, but I did have a couple of Peter, Paul and Mary albums and a Kingston Trio or two. My prize album was Four Strong Winds by Ian and Sylvia. Not only did I love the music, but since I lived in Alabama I thought my choice made me quite sophisticated because they were from Canada.

The first song on the album is Jesus Met the Woman at the Well. We all know the story. Jesus meets a woman and asks her where her husband is and she says she doesn’t have a husband. Jesus tells her she has had five husbands and the man she is with now she isn’t even married to. The song ends with the woman running into the city to tell everyone that Jesus told her everything that she’d done.

For years this is all that I knew about Jesus and the woman at the well. It’s odd because the song doesn’t talk about anything theological and the lyrics make it sound like the whole point is that Jesus is a mind reader or a lucky guesser. That there could be more to it didn’t occur to me when I was listening to Ian and Sylvia in high school, but in today’s Gospel we are reading Page Two – the rest of the story.

Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman. Okay – that right there is wrong. Jesus should not be talking to a Samaritan. He is talking to a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation – second mistake – and he is talking to her at a well. Some of you may have noticed that in the Bible a lot happens at wells. Isaac’s servant meets Rebecca at a well. Jacob finds Rachael at a well. Moses meets Mrs. Moses at a well. A well is kind of like a Hebrew singles bar.
When first century Jews read this story they must have gasped in shock. Well, the writer of the John’s Gospel had to get their attention somehow because this next part, the part of the story that we are reading today, is important.

The woman engages Jesus in a theological discussion,
The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’

This is an important conversation. In first century Palestine, twenty-five years after the destruction of the Temple when John’s Gospel was written, Jews were asking themselves where they were going to worship. Christians who were separating from the Jews were asking themselves where they were going to worship. Heck, yesterday, when I came in and saw the scaffolding and the drop cloths in the nave, I wondered where we were going to worship!

And four hundred and sixty-four years ago the people in England wondered where and how they were going to worship. As Henry VIII separated the church in England from the Church in Rome, his brilliant Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer began work on a book for the people that would make worship understandable to all by having the services in English and accessible to all by including more opportunities for lay people to participate. Henry wanted to retain the Latin Mass and was reluctant to allow changes so Cranmer worked secretly, biding his time until Henry’s son Edward VI became king.

By the spring of 1549 Parliament had approved the new Prayerbook and it went on sale. The book included services for Morning Prayer or Matins, Evening Prayer or Evensong, Holy Communion, Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Visitation of the Sick and Ministration for the Dead. All services that we are familiar with in our Prayerbook today. The services were printed in black and the instructions in red which is where we get the name “rubric” – from the Latin word “ruber” for red.

Because the book was smaller and cheaper than a Bible it became a bestseller. There was even a paperback version. Some of the services could be performed by lay people and most importantly, the Prayerbook was in English. All of the various Prayerbooks in the history of the Anglican Communion descend from this Prayerbook which was first used on Pentecost, June 9, 1549.

That we are united in worship by a Prayerbook does not mean that we are united in thought. In some ways we aren’t that different from the Jews and the Samaritans. We could stop here and have a discussion about what went into the Prayerbook and what should have been left out, whether it is more Protestant or Catholic, whether the 1789 Prayerbook is treason or the 1928 is more genuine, but let’s not have that discussion. Instead I would like to read something from Sam Portaro’s book, Brightest and Best about how we Anglicans are in a communion of life and worship:
We have never known “good old days.” We have burned and beheaded one another over theology and politics in our English origins. We have shot one another over prayers for monarchy in the midst of a revolutionary bid for democracy in America. We have depleted our resources to build churches that will burn incense across the street from ones that will not. We have marched for civil rights while supporting segregated churches. We have celebrated the Eucharist on the steps of the Pentagon in protest of a war while consecrating a bishop to serve the armed combatants of the same. We are thoroughly inconsistent because our worship is the way we work at living with and loving God, neighbor and self.

When the woman asks Jesus about worship Jesus tells her:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . . . But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”

It may be that spirit and truth is found in the tension of the very different ways we live together. God has not told us that we have to meet in a temple in Jerusalem, on a mountain in Samaria or in a church in Twin Falls. As much as we love all of our accoutrements, we don’t need altars or vestments, candles or crosses or, dare I say it, a Prayerbook? We are called to worship the Father in spirit and truth, with our whole hearts wherever we are.

One response to “An Appropriate Observance

  1. Butch Wonderlich

    Thanks for the copy. Sorry I missed this past Wednesday but was out of town. Will you be e-mailing also. Thanks, Butch

    [Butch Wonderlich]

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