Good morning! Today’s sermon includes commentary on the liturgy. There will also be an abbreviated, but wonderful sermon preached by our guest, Maurice Dyer. Plan to bring a cup of coffee back into church after the 10:30 service and enjoy Maurice’s slides and stories about his mission work in South Africa.
The liturgy is the work of the people, undertaken for the sake of their local community and the world. Our work is to praise God from whom all blessings flow, and to extend God’s dominion of love by participating in Christ’s death and resurrection. In doing so, we allow God to shape our lives into the image of the Incarnate Son.
We respond to the work of Jesus Christ by giving thanks, which is what the word “Eucharist” means. The first part of the Eucharist is the entrance rite. The entrance includes any prelude and hymn, the opening acclamation, a hymn of praise which is usually the Gloria, and two collects. Collect means “to collect.” The first prayer collects us into the Body of Christ by invoking the Holy Spirit upon us, just as the celebrant will invoke the Spirit upon the bread and wine. The second prayer is the Collect of the Day, which sets forth the theme. Normally, the congregation stands for the entrance rite. So please stand as you are able.
Collect for Purity
Collect of the Day
The entrance completed, we continue with the Liturgy of the Word who is Jesus Christ. We are not here to think, or talk, or learn about Jesus, so much as to revel in his presence. The Liturgy of the Word comprises the first half of the Eucharist, while the Liturgy of the Table makes up the second half. The Peace demarcates the two.
The Liturgy of the Word includes the four scripture lessons we offer to God each Sunday.
The Bible is read as worship, not as a teaching. Our posture during the readings is one of openness to God. We listen to the Bible passages in order to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us. The Bible passages also help us praise and honor God. We might learn something as we listen, but finding a takeaway is not why we are here. Yesterday I met with a young couple about their upcoming marriage. They’re very much in love, as you might imagine. When they go out to dinner, or stroll hand in hand under the stars, Chris might well be delighted to learn something about Sara’s childhood and high school experience, but he does not spend the evening with her in order to glean such knowledge. They spent the evening together because they are in love. We gather because we are in love with the God of love.
An important word about the sermon: the sermon enacts a love-triangle between the preacher, the congregation, and God. The sermon is not a text, but an interaction of the three parties. The sermon is enhanced by our receptivity to God as we interact with the preacher. The responsibility for the sermon is shared equally by all parties. We are confident that God is busy inspiring and correcting, so that leaves us and the preacher. As one who preaches regularly, I can often tell who is distracted, who is listening with an open heart, and who is busy judging the sermon as a performance. I long to encourage them to focus on what God might be saying to them. It goes without saying that preachers can be equally distracted or judgmental. The preacher prays throughout the week about what message to give, and then strives to proclaim that message. But each member of the congregation must listen for God’s particular message. A good sermon is one that helps people to receive the Word of God who is Jesus Christ. Thus, a clever sermon might well hinder people from hearing or receiving the Word of God more than an average sermon does.
The Creed might be the most misunderstood part of the liturgy in our day. We might mistakenly think of the Creed as a set of dogma, we are supposed to affirm. “Credo” does mean “I believe,” but it also means “I have faith.” Chris and Sara’s future marriage will require some common beliefs, such as remaining faithful to each other, showing respect, wanting children, organizing finances, and accepting forgiveness from the other. But their marriage will only be sustained and enriched by their faith in each other. So it is with the Creed. We will do well to approach the Creed as a song or story about God’s love.
Prayers of the People
We conclude the prayers by exchanging the Peace of Christ. This exchange of peace involves more than greeting the people next to us; it also incorporates all of the people in our lives. By exchanging the Peace of Christ, we do not simply eliminate animosity or end fighting; we actively forgive and seek reconciliation. Forgiveness melts resentment and bitterness. Reconciliation brings into God’s harmony all that we have divided and broken. Please note well that when exchanging the Peace we exchange God’s forgiveness and God’s reconciliation, not our own. Our life-in-Christ embodies Jesus’s ministry of reconciliation. As we prepare to receive the oneness of God in Holy Communion, we need to practice oneness with each other. Conversely, if we cannot forgive and be reconciled with one another, we will not be able to commune with Christ.
The gifts of bread, wine, and money laid on the table represent our life and labor, which we present to God. Leaving the money on the table is a powerful symbol of our commitment to follow Jesus. For this reason, it is good to give something each time we attend. As you know, the first ten percent of our income is the norm for Christian giving. We present ourselves in order to be spiritually fed, but also to be transformed, to be changed. Comfort and security are worthy gifts, but even more important are the gifts of strength, courage, inspiration, and power. As Christians, we participate in the revelation of God’s love… and how the world desperately needs such a revolution!
Watch the celebrant during the prayer of consecration. You will see her enact the Last Supper. You will see her offer God the bread and wine by elevating them. You will see her invoke the Holy Spirit by holding her hands over the elements and blessing them. You will see her break the bread that has become the Body of Christ. You will see her offer us the Bread of Life. Finally, listen to the celebrant utter words that are too wonderful to understand, “Hallelujah. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” today, in this Eucharist. Christ is the sacrifice who is risen from the dead and offers the world life upon life upon life.
Birthday and other blessings
The liturgy does not really provide for announcements, but we want to repeat the welcome people experienced in the liturgy. We who are welcomed by God gather first and foremost in order to glorify Christ. But we also assemble in order to be the Body of Christ, so that we can welcome each other in his name, especially those whom we do not yet know. During the announcements we also invite people to participate in our outreach, education, and fellowship activities.
After this pleasant disruption, we sing a closing hymn so that we can process out into the world. The final words of the liturgy are the dismissal, by which we are sent out to be Christ in the world. For true spirituality is the love-making between God and the world. We have wondrously become small and imperfect versions of Christ, which is why we are called Christians. We carry the Holy Spirit into the world in order to further God’s revolution of forgiveness and reconciliation. We do so by glorifying Christ and lovingly serving others in the name of Jesus.
The Rev. Rick Matters preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Carmel