Monday, March 26, 2018

Alleluia: Our Word for the Season

Finally!  On Easter Day, finally, we welcome the word Alleluia back into our worship – and we do so in droves!  In Easter season, Alleluia is the first and last word of every Eucharist.  We begin with, “Alleluia.  Christ is risen,” and we end with, “Thanks be to God.  Alleluia!”  And in between, we sing hymns full of Alleluias.  Throughout these 50 days, the word Alleluia punctuates our worship.

Alleluia is a form of Hallelujah, which comes from the Hebrew Hallel Jah, or Praise God.  Praising God is a very appropriate thing for us to do – especially in Easter season, as we raise our joyous shouts of acclamation for the miracle of resurrection, the gift of new life.

We are accustomed to dropping the use of Alleluia in the somber season of Lent (although occasionally we forget – even clergy!!).  But did you know that the rubrics of The Book of Common Prayer also call for a limited use of the word Alleluia in seasons other than Easter?  If you look at the rubrics on pages 340 or 366, you’ll see that the words Alleluia, alleluia are to be added to dismissals only in the 50 days from Easter through the Day of Pentecost. That’s why our clergy add them to the dismissal only in Easter season and not all year through.

Why would the BCP limit the use of Alleluia in such a way?  My guess is that saving it up only for the 50 days of Easter marks Easter as the exceptional, priceless, ultimate season that it is.  We make unfettered use of the joyous word throughout these 50 days, and then we restrain ourselves so that we may celebrate more fully when the season circles around again.  So let those Alleluias roar this Easter!  And then let us lovingly store them up for our celebration next year.


Walking through Holy Week

Dear friends,

It has arrived: the holiest time of the year, the days when we commemorate Jesus’ saving actions that give our lives their ultimate hope and meaning.  We are poised once again to walk through the searing sorrow of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday to the all-encompassing joy of Easter, when we will once again proclaim, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!"

How shall we mark these sacred days?  By walking through them together, by gathering with one another for prayer and song and reflection, by recalling once again the boundless depth of God’s love for us.  No matter what else is happening in our lives – whatever joys and sorrows, tragedies and triumphs – all of it is eclipsed, reclaimed, and given new meaning in light of the Resurrection.  I am reminded of a line in the Eucharistic prayer we use at funerals: For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.  That’s what we learn through Jesus’ death and resurrection: through him life is changed, not ended – even when we die; even when things we’d hoped for die.

We are Easter people, resurrection people.  We need to be together in this holiest of seasons to remind ourselves of who we are (and Whose we are).  Why?  Ultimately, so that we may go back out into our troubled, suffering world and be spreaders of light, catalysts of hope, proclaimers of resurrection.

I hope that our Palm Sunday and Holy Week services have helped you to immerse yourself anew in the miraculous story of death leading to life, sorrow giving way to joy.  I look forward to celebrating Resurrection with you on Easter Day.

As is customary here at St. Andrew’s, an Easter offering envelope is enclosed for your use.  Please bring it with you on Easter Day along with your Mite Box offering for Episcopal Relief & Development.

May God bless you abundantly in this holy season.  And may you and your family join us here at St. Andrew’s so that together we may walk in faith and hope through these holiest of days.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Maundy Thursday: What Does It All Mean?

Dear Friends,

As we prepare to walk through Holy Week together, I thought it might be helpful to share with you some of the rich symbolism embedded in our Maundy Thursday worship.  Because we do this liturgy only once per year, it’s easy to lose sight of the many layers of meaning it contains.

Holy Eucharist
We celebrate Holy Eucharist in almost every worship service, but this is where it started:  on the night before he died, Jesus gathered his disciples together for a meal and “instituted” Communion, identifying the bread as his body and the wine as his blood of the new covenant, and asking the disciples to continue the practice in remembrance of him.

In John’s gospel, there is no mention of bread and wine at the Last Supper.  Instead, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and tells them to serve one another in the same manner.  Maundy Thursday draws its name from John’s account—“Maundy” comes from the Latin Mandatum, which means “commandment.”  Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment:  to love one another.  

The Stripping of the Altar
This ritual does not appear in the Book of Common Prayer but is practiced in many churches, including St. Andrew’s.  It symbolizes what happened to Jesus:  being stripped bare and left naked and vulnerable.  During the stripping of the altar we remove all of the usual adornments, and we also empty the aumbry, the storage space behind the altar which normally contains consecrated bread and wine.  In essence, we remove Jesus from our midst, just as the crucifixion removed him.  I wash the stripped altar in remembrance of those who washed Jesus’ body once it was taken down from the cross.  The stripping of the altar can be done in silence or can be accompanied by psalm 22, which this year Sarah Charlock will chant for us.

I pray that our worship together on Maundy Thursday will be a blessing to you and to us all.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

An invitation to Confession…

Dear friends,

One of the five sacramental rites in the Episcopal Church is The Reconciliation of a Penitent, more commonly known as “Confession.”  This is the rite in which a parishioner meets privately with a priest to confess specific sins and receive absolution.  Our Episcopal understanding of this rite can be summed up in the adage:  All may; some should; none must.  In other words, no one is required to make a private confession, but for some folks the practice is extremely healing and helpful.  Naming aloud the wrongs we’ve done is hard and scary; hearing the words of absolution afterward is freeing and healing. 

Reconciliation of a Penitent is available at all times, but in Lent and particularly during Holy Week, it is customary for clergy to encourage interested parishioners to partake of the rite in preparation for Easter.  Making my personal confession has often been part of my Lenten practice, and I have always found it helpful.  If you would like to include this rite in your Easter preparations, please let Lorna or me know, and we will make arrangements to meet privately with you.  Rest assured that anything said during the rite is completely confidential and is never a matter for subsequent discussion unless you bring it up again.

Whether or not you are planning to make a private confession this Lent, I encourage you to take a look at the two forms of The Reconciliation of a Penitent found in the Book of Common Prayer on pages 447 to 452.  As you do so, I hope you’ll be reminded of God’s deep and unending love for you and deep desire for reconciliation with all of us.


Monday, March 12, 2018

EYC to participate in March for Our Lives

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example
in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
1 Timothy 4:12

A few days after the shootings at the high school in Parkland, Florida, which took the lives of 17 students and staff, I sat down with the EYC, the Episcopal Youth Community.  I cannot tell you enough about the great sensitivity, openness and wisdom that our youth possess.  They talked about the reality of gun violence, and how that drastically impacts their feelings of safety in their schools.  They want change, the kind of change which makes their schools and the rest of society a more secure place. 

We will be attending the March for Our Lives event, which is a nationwide and international effort to speak out against gun violence in our schools and to advocate for the safety of young people. We will be attending the march that will be happening in Newport News at the Christopher Newport University Ferguson Field on Saturday, March 24 at 10:00 a.m.  Please feel free to join us and show our young people that we care.

The Rev. Lorna H. Williams