Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Great Feast of Easter

A correspondent has reminded me that Easter does not finish with the evening service on Easter Day or the return to school a couple of days later. The Great Feast/Festival of Easter runs from Easter Day to Pentecost. (Keep eating those eggs!). Liturgically we acknowledge this fact by extending our greetings and salutations.

Thus in A New Zealand Prayer Book we find the following:

at the beginning of a daily service (e.g. p. 58)

Open our lips, O Lord
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
(In Eastertide: Alleluia.)

at the end of a daily service (e.g. p. 60)

the concluding Amen to the last prayer in Eastertide should be:
Alleluia, Amen.

A final observation about the Great Feast of Easter ... the 'Alleluia' of Eastertide is not merely a liturgical addition, its a, or should be a heartfelt expression of the joy of the risen Lord alive in ourselves and alive in our church.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Week and Easter Services

I love the progression of services beginning with Palm Sunday through Holy Week, Maundy or Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

But I have noticed one or two things about possibilities with these services such that the reality of how things are done undermines aspects of the progression.

Let me give two examples. First is Maundy Thursday evening. There are a range of possibilities here from a 'Commemoration of the Last Supper' through a 'Service of Shadows' to a 'Celebration of a Passover Meal' to a mixture of two or more of such possibilities. My suggestion, to avoid undermining the focus on the suffering on the cross on Good Friday, is to make Commemoration of the Last Supper the primary service for the evening (an alternative is to have a Passover Meal). If this is conjoined with a Service of Shadows then let that take place after the Last Supper and let it be more attentive to the events of the night of betrayal than to the suffering on the cross.

A second example is Holy Saturday when most Catholic but only a few Anglican churches hold an Easter Vigil, a service with fire and water, readings and eucharist, and baptism/renewal of baptismal vows. Technically this service should be held around the hour of Midnight so the first eucharist of Easter is participated in during the morning rather than evening. But it makes sense for various reasons to hold the Vigil earlier in the evening. Naturally this service does celebrate Easter, the rising of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead (not least because in times very long past, this was the only service the church held at Easter). But the trick is to mute the celebration just a little so as to reserve the full celebration for Sunday morning after dawn. One way to do this is to avoid having a supper after the service!

Of course its possible that I am being a little fussy here. And I recognise that in Kiwiland we can be keen on a holiday at Easter time so a 'one stop liturgical shop' on (say) Maundy Thursday or Holy Saturday can help us have our holiday and fulfil worship commitments for these great days of commemoration and celebration. But I am always keen that we should THINK about what we are doing and why we are doing it and what are the intended and unintended consequences of what we do liturgically! Hence penning a few thoughts!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Preaching Precisely

Here's two quick points about sermons, based on some recent observations. I'll probably develop them more soon.

(1) Preach from the passage about what the passage says (and - the point needs reinforcing negatively - do not preach about what the passage does not say)!

The problem here is this: to preach on a topic not found in the passage undermines the notion of 'biblical preaching' which is that preaching connects the Bible to the congregation. Preaching on a topic or issue disconnected from the text is a legitimate form of preaching but it is not biblical preaching. And it should come with an honest statement, 'What I am about to preach on is important but it has no relationship to the passage(s) from the Bible which you have just heard!'

(2) By all means retell what the passage says, but go beyond retelling the passage (and any associated restating Christian doctrine) to apply the passage to the daily reality of the lives of your hearers. The problem here is that the Bible is connected with the Bible, with theology, with Christian knowledge, but it is not connected with the congregation.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Some things speak for themselves!

OK I know this is a site for Lay Preachers (principally) but this post is about a lovely, arguably very great poem which captures the flavours of rural ministry.

The Country Clergy
by R. S. Thomas;
introduced by Mick Imlah
Fifty years ago, in March, 1958, The TLS published "The Country Clergy" by R. S. Thomas. Thomas, who died in 2000 at the age of eighty-seven, identified himself closely with the Welsh land and language, though he was not a native speaker of the latter. When he wrote "The Country Clergy", he himself had already been an Anglican minister in rural Wales for more than twenty years: at Chirk in Denbighshire, Tallam Green in Flintshire and Manafon, Montgomeryshire. Severe, stony, sometimes ill-humoured, scathing alike of Welsh peasant and English influence, his poems are widely taught in schools.
(From The Times Literary Supplement - Poem of the Week)

The Country Clergy

I see them working in old rectories
By the sun's light, by candle-light,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes: rather they wrote
On men's hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.

R. S. THOMAS (1958)