Do Not Be Afraid . . . He is Risen!

The Rev. Canon Jeunée Cunningham is a priest in the Diocese of Southern Virginia, serving as Canon for Congregational Development for the Diocese and Rector of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Appomattox, Virginia.

The Easter Vigil has been the highlight of my year ever since I first came into the Episcopal Church. I grew up “generic Protestant” and although I had had a relationship with Jesus ever since I was a young child, I had never been baptized. I figured I had “missed the baptism window” – that baptism was for babies, or adults who had had a conversion experience, but that since I believed, it wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t until I began to worship in the Episcopal Church as a newly married 20something with a newborn son, that I began to understand the importance of baptism, not only for the individuals baptized, but for the church community as well.

I entered a time of preparation and my son and I were both baptized at the Easter Vigil in 1989, which in the early church, was the primary time set aside for baptism. Our two other children were baptized at the Vigil as well. Each time we rose in what seemed like the middle of the night, preparing our babies in hushed tones trying to keep them asleep for as long as possible, driving off to church in the dark, and gathering with others in the courtyard of the church for the lighting of the new fire at 5:30 in the morning. When the time came, we stood around the font in near darkness, gazing out to see the beautiful faces of the congregation lit by the fire of the candles they each held. How powerful it was to me to realize that through this ancient service we were linked to our brothers and sisters in Christ, not only in our congregation, but around the world and through the ages. As the opening prayer to the vigil states “the church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer.”

Now, as a priest, the Vigil for me continues to be a powerful time that mysteriously connects the people of my local church community with the whole human family Jesus came to redeem. As the Exsultet, that ancient prayer celebrating Salvation and Light, says, “How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”

When I chant the Exsultet, (there being no deacon in my current congregation) I am often brought to near tears by the line “How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving-kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son.” This is the essence of the mystery that we proclaim at all times, that God has come to us in Jesus, to make reconcile us to himself, at great sacrifice to himself.

Marion Hatchett says that the ancient Easter Vigil, recovered in our 1979 Book of Common Prayer, is

“the keystone about which the rest of the church year is built. Other baptisms of the year reflect this primary baptismal rite. Other Eucharists of the year are, to use the anology of Augustine of Hippo, the repeatable part of this rite. In the Great Vigil of Easter we celebrate and make present (anamnesis) the pivotal events of the Old and New Testament heritage, the passover of the Hebrews from the bondage of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land, the Passover of our Lord Jesus Christ from death, and our own Passover from the bondage of sin and death to the glorious liberty of new life in Christ Jesus.” (Hatchett, p.242-243)

Each year I celebrate the vigil, it brings new meaning to my life as a baptized Christian, to my understanding of the sacred stories of our faith, and to the mystery of communion I enjoy with God and my neighbors, with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven through the Eucharist.  Alleluia. Christ is Risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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It’s not just about Palms!

This week our guest blogger is The Rev. Elizabeth M. Magill.  Liz is the Pastor of Worcester Fellowship, an affiliate of Ecclesia Ministries. She graduated Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA in 2002 and coordinates the EDSConnect, their distance learning program.

When I grew up, Palm Sunday was just about Palms. Probably Jesus, too, and a donkey, but in my memory, it was just about Palms.  Today Palm Sunday has grown into something more–we start with the Palms, but then proceed into the passion. For those who attend the Holy Week services and spend time in Holy Week reflection, Palm Sunday provides a preview, or an overview, of the week to come. For many, it is their primary connection to Jesus last days living among us.

But the thing that matters most about Palm Sunday for is that it doesn’t have any baggage.

I serve an outdoor church in Worcester, Massachusetts.  We are reaching out to homeless and at-risk adults. We provide pastoral care, a listening ear, lunch and worship on Sunday afternoons. The rhythms of the church year are important to our ministry, providing a framework for people to connect their very real, and often very hard, lives to the life of a Jesus who they understand had a very hard life himself. We celebrate Christmas by acknowledging the times their families may not have had money to buy gifts. We celebrate Easter recognizing that some years their family dinner turned into a family fight. We honor Mother’s Day and Father’s Day by naming the way that sometimes Mothers and Fathers have not come through with the love that God has promised us. We name the fact that Thanksgiving is often a holiday when childhood memories include excessive alcohol, drugs, and violence.

But Palm Sunday doesn’t have any baggage. It’s an un-burdened holiday.

And the story that is told! What a glorious story.

This year St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Grafton, MA provided palms along with lunch. They brought cheeseburgers! A hot lunch is an unusual delight on the streets. People made crosses with Palms while we cleaned up lunch and set up the altar. And then worship began.

We sang “We are Marching in the Light of God” and paraded through the park that is our sanctuary, up around the fountain, and back to our folding table altar. And then a team of six readers took on the story of the passion, five from our congregation, and one of the youth visiting from Yarmouth, Maine.

We put the prayers of the people into the middle of the story, right after Peter denied Jesus, and the prayers showed the heartfelt way we recognize that we deny his life by failing to change our own lives every day. And then we heard the rest of that great passion story, continuing through the hard stuff of betrayal, being found guilty, and death. A cliff-hanger ending, but we all know the good news we’ll hear next week.

At the Peace several were emboldened by our marching around, and they marched over to the other side of the park offering peace signs and hand-shakes to the confused members of Occupy Worcester, which meets in the same park. And then we shared Eucharist, moved deeply by the gift of forgiveness and the healing of our brokenness that came on that night before he died.

We carried the extra palms with us to the homeless shelter up the street, and to our Bible study at the local hospital’s atrium. Some people looked startled by the offer of Palms, but many were thrilled.

I love the “Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday”. It’s a holiday without any baggage, and because of those missing weights from the past we can be fully present today. Hosanna!

To learn more about Pastor Liz and the Worcester Fellowship read her blog about outdoor church at www.outdoorchurch.livejournal.com or friend Wordester Fellowship on Facebook.

Holy Saturday and Easter Week

In his post this week, Canon Howe gives us perspective about Holy Saturday and Easter Week:

For many Episcopalians, Holy Saturday is a liturgical down day – of preparation for Easter dinner. Some are fortunate enough to attend a well-executed Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. I grew up with an earlier version of this service more than 50 years ago. This is the heart of our liturgy, and if you have never experienced the Easter Vigil I urge you to get to one, if possible, or to read 239-250 in Hatchett’s Commentary. The Exultet is one of our most glorious liturgical hymns, and encompasses the whole history of salvation. It is followed by what used to be called the Prophecies, a series of readings, psalms and collects which again recount the history of salvation from Creation to Zephaniah’s vision of the gathering of God’s people. Then follows the oldest celebration of Baptism, and the Eucharist.

Several decades ago, I had a generous sabbatical which found me studying atSt. George’sCollege,Jerusalem. It was a rare year in which Passover, Western Easter and Eastern Easter all happened at the same time. In Jerusalem Holy Saturday is the day of Holy Fire. Thousands of pilgrims squeezed into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher/ Resurrection on Good Friday evening, and in the late morning of Holy Saturday police and ecclesiastical officials escort the Greek Patriarch, the Armenian Patriarch and the Coptic Archpriest through the crowd to Jesus’ tomb. For some time nothing happens, while expectation builds.  Then the two Patriarchs thrust bundles of lighted candles through oval gaps in the sides of the tomb structure with cries of “Christ is risen!” There is a scramble to light many candles from the first two. Pilgrims burst from the Church to light the candles of those who wait in the courtyard and others light lanterns and run for taxis to the airport so that they can fly home to carry the flame to their own Easter Vigil.

I would not presume to improve upon the collects for Easter Day and Easter week, but if your parish doesn’t have daily Eucharists during Easter Week, a careful study of the readings can be rewarding. The Year B readings from Acts trace the beginnings and early growth of the Church, with Peter’s first sermons, and a major healing.

 The Gospel portions for the week are the cornerstones of our faith. We have Matthew and John’s accounts of the resurrection, in which the one constant is Mary Magdalene, the first witness to Jesus’ new life. Jesus may have called only male disciples, but he certainly called Mary too. Then there is the beautiful Emmaus story, which has fascinated many great artists. Could it be that we don’t recognize our risen Savior until the bread is broken? The week ends with Luke’s promise of the Holy Spirit, John’s post-resurrection appearance in Galilee, where it all began, and the ‘long ending’ of Mark. Many scholars have assumed that this is a later addition – that the Gospel ended with verse 8. This is certainly more comforting than “they fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.”

To learn more about Canon Howe and the work of the Custodian, check the previous post dated April 26.

The photo of Holy Fire was taken at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Fr. Johannes Jacobse – 2011) and the painting is Walk to Emmaus (c. 1565) by Lelio Orsi, an Italian Renaissance painter.

Introducing the Custodian

A Year with the BCP is very pleased to announce that this week’s guest blogger is The Rev. Canon Gregory M. Howe, Custodian of the Standard Book of Common Prayer.  Today Canon Howe offers an explanation of the nature of the Custodian.  His post about Holy Saturday will follow in the next few days.  Thank you, Canon Howe, for serving as a guest blogger!

  In the 1860’s the General Convention was concerned about page and text uniformity or congruence as the Book of Common Prayer was being printed by several different publishers – so that any edition could be used with ease in any congregation. Since theBCP was/is not copyright, there was a certain amount of confusion. One publisher was found to have the bulky collection of metal plates then necessary to print theBCP.

General Convention decided that a presbyter should be appointed to take custody of the printing plates, and be responsible for certifying and circulating all future revisions. At the revision of 1892, a Standard Book was established so that all other editions should conform to it under the direction of the Custodian. The first Custodian had been appointed in 1868 and I am the 8th of the line [a complete list can be found at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Custodian_of_the_Standard_Book_of_Common_Prayer ]. I was nominated by the Presiding Bishop and confirmed by the House of Bishops.

Happily, I don’t have to worry about a large pile of heavy metal plates, but I am a sort of living copyright. I check all new editions of the BCP, or parts thereof, as well as any music that employs text from the BCP, before granting a Certificate that the material is congruent with the Standard Book. In addition, I am an ex officio member of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music [voice, but no vote], and sit with Legislative Committee #13 Liturgy & Music at General Convention.

And to all a good night!

Welcome to our guest blogger, The Rt. Rev. Brian Thom, Bishop of Idaho.

There are days when I believe that the Order for Compline should be the primary worship experience of every Christian.  Eucharist has its Jesus-God-incarnate-sacrificial-in-remembrance-of-me thing going on, which is nice.  It also comes with tasteful snacks.  However, Compline has the potential to do the most good for the most people. I am talking about sleep.  I ask you, would not better, deeper, more restorative sleep actually cure many of the ills of the world?

The Augustine prayer (Keep watch, dear Lord) and the Song of Simeon (with its antiphon) that close Compline are at the center of my hypothesis.  Simply put, Augustine’s prayer relieves me of my obsessive night watch duties and the Song of Simeon reminds me that I have ministered enough for one day… or perhaps, even for a lifetime.

I can remember the feelings I had when I first encountered Augustine’s nocturnal bidding.  It seemed a welcome misfit in the services of Evening Prayer and Compline that rolled by daily in seminary.  While all the collects of our prayer book flow with grace and truthful character, one could observe that they lean toward a formal theology and literary structure.  Trinitarianism, atonement, and separation by sin abound.  In this rendering of Augustine’s fifth century appeal, we step away from theological formality into human reality.  I find it so real, that I was flabbergasted to learn it came from an ancient and honored Father of the Church. I was certain that the BCP crafters had allowed a humble, yet weary, middle-aged WASP on to the editorial board.

This prayer was obviously written by someone who had worked a night shift. Or who had spent a night in worry and tears. Or who had run out of blessings, tender loving care-giving, and pity.  Or, certainly, by someone whose gift of temporal or spiritual joy had been destroyed by an envious sour-graper.  Someone like you and me – a modern, well-intentioned, compassion-fatigued, multi-tasker.  The prayer spoke/speaks to me.  Admiringly, the person who sincerely prays this prayer turns each of these needs over to the Lord.  At least for the night.  Well placed, we’d assert.

The Song of Simeon has a similar effect.  While the antiphon bids God’s kindly oversight of both our waking and sleeping hours, Simeon’s proclamation of divine fruition acknowledges that there will come a time when our time has come.  Not by frailty or chronology, but in the blessedness of fulfillment of God’s promise to each of us: God with us now, God with us after now.

Back to my theory.  Really, if we could each find the true rest (which is peace) that comes from letting go and allowing God, which Compline asks of us for only one night at a time, our human sleep could serve us as it’s meant.  CPAP machines and aging bladders notwithstanding, we might arise each day more able to re-take up our crosses.

Of course, they’d be smaller.

Morning Has Broken

Our guest blogger this week is Jerry Campbell who is currently the Director of “Dollars and Sense,” a fundraising consultancy firm providing professional guidance to churches. Jerry recently retired as Vice President for Advancement at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. He now lives in Carlsbad, California, where his wife, the Rev. Laura Sheridan-Campbell is the Vicar of Holy Cross Episcopal Church. He is also a musician (Bachelor of Arts in Music from Arizona State University), and an amateur juggler!

Despite 17 years as an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church, I was in my mid-40’s before I started using the Book of Common Prayer with any regularity.  I was not impressed.  It seemed stiff, formal and old-fashioned to me.  But then it was old – 1979!  Surely the church would be producing a more modern version soon.  I found it mildly comical that the two versions of the liturgy were characterized as Contemporary (Rite II) and Traditional (Rite I), while my sense was that they were actually Traditional (Rite II) and Antiquated (Rite I). 

Seventeen years of using the Prayer Book has helped me develop a greater appreciation for its wisdom regarding liturgical structure, and there are portions that I can say I actually admire.  One of those is the Daily Morning Prayer:  Rite Two.  It contains several elements that I often find lacking in Episcopal worship:  elegance, simplicity and brevity.  I do not wish to lead anyone into thinking that I’m a regular partaker of Daily Morning Prayer, but I have encountered it frequently enough to have a keen sense of how wonderful it would be to share in a community that started each day in this way.

Daily Morning Prayer does not require any clergy (that alone is enough to commend it!), and a regular practice of Morning Prayer will steep the participants in communal prayer and scripture (with a wonderful emphasis on the Psalter and Canticles) without dragging them to the communion rail every single time.  And much to my delight it is devoid of the pomp and ceremony (robes, incense, candles, linen, etc.) that clutter typical Sunday morning worship in the Episcopal Church. 

I sometimes feel that I came to the Episcopal Church too late!  I’ve learned over the last seventeen years that there was a time when Morning Prayer was the dominant liturgical form in the church.  I guess, in my own way, I long for “the good old days.” 

It seems to me that the real genius of the Prayer Book is in the way that it gives structure and form to worship without limiting the ways in which creativity and inspiration can imbue the static liturgy with meaning and relevance.  While worshipping at Trinity Cathedral in Port au Prince, Haiti, last September, it was a great pleasure to find “meaning” in the shape of the liturgy even though the service itself was conducted entirely in languages I do not understand (French and Creole). 

About five years ago I actually bought a Prayer Book of my own, and having it makes me feel more like a “real” Episcopalian, though I doubt that its pages will ever be as worn as the pages of the Bible it lies next to.

The Unsung Canticle

For months a tune has been running through my head.  I wake up hearing it and end up singing the song throughout the day. It is the First Song of Isaiah http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DOUinlwfn8&feature=related  – the tune is by Jack Nobel White – and I learned it from the Bishops Choir CD, Trouble at the River.  At any point or place in the day I might burst out with “Surely it is God who saves me!” or “Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy!”  Of course, at Morning Prayer we don’t sing Canticle Nine we speak it, but after listening and singing along with the bishops, the First Song of Isaiah is the one canticle I know by heart.

As children we learned many things and committed many more to memory by learning songs and rhymes.  “Thirty days hath September . . .” “Wednesday’s child is full of woe . . .”  “Ada, Adams, Bannock, Bear Lake . . .”  Today I can still name the 44 counties in Idaho because I learned them to the tune of Ten Little Indians.  I probably know the words to the Gloria better than I do the Nicene Creed because, instead of speaking it, we often sing it to the tune of S-280.

How much better would we know the words to all of the Canticles and how much more often could we burst out with “Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers!” or “Let the people of God glorify the Lord!” or “The white-robed army of martyrs praise you!” (Okay, maybe not that one) if we could sing them?

The word “canticle” means “little song” and doesn’t it just sound like it?  Say “canticle” and you can just feel the tiny notes trip off your tongue.  A canticle is similar to a psalm, but not part of the book of Psalms and canticles have been included in worship from the earliest days of the church.  The three canticles from Luke – The Song of Mary (BCP – p. 91), The Song of Zechariah (p. 92), and The Song of Simeon (p.93) – are called the Greater Canticles.  The others are considered the Lesser Canticles.  The Gloria and the Te Deum are the only ones that do not come to us from scripture.

The Rev. Dr. Hatchett helps us understand (p. 110-121) that each of these songs has its own history and conveys its own significance to our worship.  What can we do to learn and appreciate what these special poems contribute to our sense of spirit especially if we are in small churches with limited music support?

My go-to answer for all things “music” is YouTube.  Many of our canticles have been put to music, albeit several hundred years ago, and you can hear them – and some newer versions – on YouTube.  A few of the canticles can be found in the Service Music section of the 1982 Hymnal.

Deacon Tammy Jones, our guest blogger from last week recommends that we consider using the Table of Suggested Canticles on page 144 in the Prayerbook to mix it up a little.  Expanding on Tammy’s idea of reading the Psalms in different voices, we might try making up our own tunes or setting the canticles to familiar music.  After all, if Emily Dickinson’s poems can be sung to The Yellow Rose of Texas, surely we can find  existing melodies for our favorite canticles.

If you meet with success from any of these ideas, be sure to comment.  We would love to hear from you.

YouTube links:

8 – The Song of Moses                                                             http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miDydTQoV9k

13 – A Song of Praise                                                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7SlHXKrp2M

15 – The Song of Mary                                                                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0y67GDT2kwU&feature=related

17 – Song of Simeon                                                                 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCVvPmkXBgo&feature=related

21 – You are God                                                                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6t5rkg46kc