A Christ Chapel homily for the 6th (Palm) Sunday in Lent, 28 March, 2021
By Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter,
It’s Palm Sunday! We had our blessing of the palms, and we distributed them. We could have done a procession! One day, we may. We have a circle to process around. One day, we just may. But, today, we’re wrapping up our series on worship.
Six weeks, about the Worship of the Church. Liturgical worship, mainly, though I have suggested that even the most evangelical Christian worship is more or less liturgical. It’s different from ours, but it still has Ceremony and Ritual, and that’s what makes a Liturgy.
We’ve looked the Order of Worship; the music of worship, concentrating on Hymns, and Psalms, those being the definition of worshipful music as given to us by the Apostle Paul; we’ve looked at Prayer in worship, and talked about the different kinds of prayer, especially as contained in the Book of Common Prayer. We considered especially prayers of Adoration, Confession, Petition, or Supplication, and Thanksgiving, though we also considered the possibility that prayers of Reception may also be effectual. We looked at the physical component of our worship: the general layout of Churches; the colors of hangings and vestments, and the vestments of the clergy. We looked at the orders of clergy, and for all of this, we looked at the similarities between our modern Christian traditions and early Church styles, Synagogic worship, Temple worship, Tabernacle worship, and the template for worship given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Then we took a serious look at the Sacraments: the two that Protestants cherish and the seven (which include the two) of the Greek and Roman Churches. The things that God told us to include in worship as well as things that the Apostles who were there instituted, and that the Church Fathers recommended to us. Today, we’re going to consider the “why” for all of this.
That is, why sing? Why pray? Why build our buildings according to a three-part plan? Just because God told us to? Well, that’s certainly all we ought to need, but no, there’s more to it than that. I’ve mentioned Fr. Paul Castellano’s book before this, and if you are interested in the subject, I suggest you read it. He answers the question far better than I will, in this short homily. But there is more to it than “God said it, I believe it and that settles it” as a bumper sticker I once saw said it. I told that to Bro. O. D. McKendree once and he corrected me. “You don’t need that middle one”. He said. “God said it and that settles it. What I believe makes no difference at all”. Well, yes, O. D. had it right. But still…, Why did God tell us to do it?
I used to have very serious doubts about the answer to that question. I used to go around telling people that I had no interest in a God who wanted us mere humans to worship Him. I was stupid, in those days, but many of you knew that, already. But the truth is that God does want us to worship Him. What we need, desperately, is to understand what that means. So, let’s try to understand it.
God is our heavenly father. He is our creator, but He is not a toymaker. He made us in His own image. He made us to be just like Him. He made us even more like him than we make our own children to be like us. And, our children are very much like us. Their very DNA; the building blocks of their every cell comes from us, their parents. How much more like God are we, for God is a Spirit, as St. John tells us, and He put His Spirit in us. What do we want from our children?
We want them to talk to us. We want them to love us, and respect us. To take our advice, or, if they go another way, to share with us their reasons. We expect them to perform a bit for us; to demonstrate to us that they have learned the lessons we’ve tried so hard to teach them. We want them to carry on certain family traditions. We want them to come see us occasionally. To spend some time with us. We want them to share our values.
That’s what God wants, too. That’s what worship is.
Read Psalm 51: “open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth will proclaim thy praise. For thou desirest no sacrifice…, delightest not in burnt offerings. The sacrifice of God is a troubled Spirit; a broken and contrite heart…,” Look “worship” up in a dictionary. Modern ones focus on the religious implications of the word, but down at the bottom of the definitions, we’re told what it used to mean: “adoration, dignity, great love”. God doesn’t want our money, any more than He wanted David’s bullocks or Isaiah’s sheep and doves. He want’s us to love Him. God invented money, and He created sheep and doves and bullocks and elephants! And He put us in charge of all of those, and more besides. The most worshipful thing we can do is to be grateful, and to follow His guidance in using the gifts He’s given us. And, to talk to Him about it.
How do we do that? We feed the hungry. We clothe the naked. We visit those who cannot get out; the sick and the incarcerated. We spend the money he gives us; some on ourselves, of course: that’s why He gave it to us, but also on our brothers and sisters who for whatever reason have not been as blessed as we are. I’ve told you the story about Bishop Millsaps and his injunction to the people of his flock in Monteagle to stop by the Volunteer Fire Department and help them rather than put money in the collection plate one morning during a fire emergency. That’s what the Psalmist was telling us. That’s what the Prophets were telling us. Most of all, it’s what Jesus Christ was telling us. God loves us, and He wants us to love Him. And, He wants us to show it. That’s what worship is, and that’s why we do it.
Now it’s Palm Sunday. Today, our Lord and Savior rides into town mounted on a donkey: Not on a stallion, like a warrior king; not in a chariot, like Caesar or a circus hero; not even on a camel, like a prince of the desert: on a lowly (but exalted!)beast of burden, very much like the one his mother is believed to have ridden on to get to Bethlehem to bring him into the world. But the story is not about the donkey, and it’s not about the palms, or even the cheers of the crowd. It’s about the love he felt for us: you and me; love so great that he was willing to die on a cross to make it possible for us to come home to God, our father. It’s about love. It’s ALWAYS about love.
A Christ Chapel homily for the 5th (Passion) Sunday in Lent, 21 March, 2021
By Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter,
It’s Passion Sunday. The 5th Sunday in Lent. The Season is almost over! Or, if you prefer, it’s just about to begin! The “great fast” is about to end, but the Passion; Palm Sunday, the entry of the King into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the agony in the garden and the even greater agonies of trial, torture and crucifixion are still before us!
So, why is it called “passion” Sunday? Well, there used to be a season of the Church year called “Passiontide” that starts, today, but really it was just the last two weeks of Lent, and the second week of Passiontide was always “Holy Week” to a lot of people anyway. Perhaps it comes from the Gospel lesson for today, from John. It’s the lesson where Jesus proclaims himself as God. “Before Abraham was, I am”, he said. That’s pretty clear. The Jews picked up rocks to stone him with, we’re told, but he avoided them. Certainly that was an early indication of the Passion to come. In any event, it is Passion Sunday among Continuing Anglicans, though most Episcopalians and the whole Roman Catholic Church (except those in the Anglican Ordinariate, who celebrate it like we do) have demoted it and don’t give it a feast anymore.
In any case, it’s still Lent, and so we’re still working through our special series of Homilies written for this year, our detailed look at our Christian worship. In the First Week, we looked at Liturgical worship in general, then in the Second, at the role that Music plays in our worship. We looked at and defined Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, to use St. Paul’s words, and we considered the role of instrumental accompaniment as part of worship.
Then in the Third Week, we looked at Prayer, and considered the various kinds of prayer and how they fit into a worship regimen, and in the Fourth, at the physical surroundings that we expect to find in Churches: the general shape and arrangement of our places of worship, the articles we find being used in worship, such as incense, a table or altar, colorful hangings, and equally colorful vestments for the clergy. Connected with the vestments of the clergy, of course, we considered the three orders of clergy: High Priest, Priest and Levite, or, in Christian terms, Bishop, Presbyter and Deacon.
Today we’re going to consider the things that Jesus commanded us to do as part of the worship of the Church: the Sacraments. There are seven such “sacraments”, or “holy things”, though they differ slightly between East and West, and only two are widely included in actual regular worship, in the Post-Reformation west. They are: Baptism, Confirmation (called “Chrismation” among the Orthodox), Confession, Penance (also called “reconciliation”), Healing (also called “unction”), Marriage, Holy Orders, and Holy Communion. Article 25 of the Anglican Articles of Religion discusses all seven.
When I say “discusses”, what I mean to say is “lists”, then describes. It also tells us that five of the seven aren’t really “sacraments”, at all, as far as worship goes. In this, we may differ somewhat with our Roman and Greek brethren, and indeed, even those two observe them differently. On the other hand, we ought to be careful not to let te meaning of the descriptive word confuse us as to the nature of the acts the word describes. Article 25, as well as the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church designate two of the seven as being of special significance for having been created by Jesus himself, and for his having prescribed specific words to be said and actions to be taken in performing them as part of worship. Those two are Baptism and Holy Communion, or, The Lord’s Supper. Jesus was himself baptized by John the Baptist. We are told in John Chapter 4 that Jesus did not baptize followers, himself, but that he had his disciples do it, but for sure Jesus gave specific instructions to his Apostles before he ascended that they should “baptize disciples in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”.
The Lord’s Supper, too, whether called “The Eucharist”, or “Holy Communion”, or “The Lord’s Supper” (and to be truthful, none of these truly capture the meaning as well, perhaps, as what they all translate as: Thanksgiving”) he spelled out, and again, the Evangelists report it as such: “He took bread and after he had given thanks, he brake it and gave it to them saying “eat, this is my body which is given for you. As often as ye eat of it, do this in remembrance of me. And after supper he took the cup and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them saying “drink ye all of this, This is my blood of the New Testament which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. As oft as ye drink it, this do in remembrance of me”.
These two, then, were designed by Jesus himself and we were ordered to continue them, and we do. The others? Their provenance is excellent, too, if not quite as rarefied as those two. All are special, and we shouldn’t get too wrapped up in the word, in my opinion. Confession? The Prayerbook tells us that “Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our many sins and wickedness”. St. James, Jesus’s own brother tells us in Chapter 5 of his letter that we should “confess our sins to one another”. Healing, or “unction”? Not only did Jesus do a lot of it while he was alive, he specifically directed his twelve to go and do it, as reported in Matthew, and Paul tells us, in his First letter to the Corinthians that healing is one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Confirmation became necessary almost from the first, for as soon as Baptism was performed on infants, an adult rite of initiation was needed. Happily, there was already a tradition of the “laying on of hands” to mark the descent of the Holy Ghost, and so that was adapted. Holy Orders, as we know them today, with the exception of Deacons, are not spelled out in the Gospels, but Bishops and Presbyters are clearly and repeatedly described by Paul, and we’re told in detail how the apostles came up with the idea of Deacons to do the physical work of the Church while the leaders did the thinking and praying. Things haven’t changed very much. Jesus himself honored Marriage by attending weddings. Making restitution or Penance was certainly what was in Zacchaeus’s heart when he declared his intention to Jesus that he would restore anything he had wrongly taken “fourfold”. That story is in Luke Chapter 19, if you’re interested.
So all those are good things, and all are well worthy of being practiced. We ought to do them and honor them, and we do. But we have to practice Baptism and Holy Communion. Jesus himself told us to.
A Christ Chapel homily for the 4th (Rose) Sunday in Lent, 14 March, 2021
By Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter,
Rose Sunday! The Sunday that we get to take a little “break” from our rather dour Lenten regimen. Hallelujah! Every Sunday, of course, is a Feast Day, and Sundays in Lent are no exception, so it’s not quite fair to have a “day off” from our Lenten Fast, but still, it IS reasonable to designate one day out of forty as a little bit special; a day when we can have flowers on the altar, for instance, and it is, in some years, the only day of the year when we get to show off our daffodils! It’s also often a day when we get to speak a little less about the lesson, and a bit more about the traditions of Rose Sunday. This year, though, we’re doing a special series of sermons on the worship of the Church, and so we’ll be continuing with that, today.
During the first week, we talked about the Order of Worship; that is, with Liturgical worship; worship as practiced by the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, and since the Reformation by the Lutheran and the Anglican Churches. It’s a little different for the Reformed Churches—those in the Calvinist tradition—but actually not all that much. The Liturgy consists of the things that are said in worship, the Ritual, and the things that are done, or, the Ceremonial. Liturgical worship is, by definition, only one of the three kinds of congregational Christian worship. The others are “evangelical”, or “Baptist”, which focuses worship (including song and prayer) upon the speaker, and most of the time is spent listening to him (or her) speak, whereas in Liturgical worship, the people either participate in the worship or watch as the priest performs the Liturgy. The other form of Christian worship is Pentecostal, which tends to be very much more participative, and may often include dance as well as song, and an exhibition of the gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues. Sometimes it is difficult to be sure exactly who is in charge during Pentecostal worship, and neither the ritual nor the ceremonial are central to the worship, with, often, preaching, singing, dancing, and instrumental music going on all at once, along with prayer and various physical manifestations. We are looking at Liturgical worship because that’s what we do.
During all this, during the following two weeks, we looked, respectively, at music and prayer, as we include them in our worship. We found similarities in our Liturgical worship with the worship practiced in the First Century in house Churches and Jewish Synagogue worship, which was itself a form of house worship. We continued back in time, then, and examined Jewish Temple worship and considered also worship in the Tabernacle, during the years in the Wilderness and in various locations in Israel before Solomon finally built a permanent structure. The original tent was built according to a plan laid down on Mt. Sinai, by God, himself. Although the materials seem to have varied somewhat over the years, perhaps due to materials availability, the general plan remained the same, and it is the one we follow yet, today, in more traditional Churches. In that original plan, there was a large enclosure surrounding a courtyard, and inside it a smaller structure, a tent, containing two rooms. The first, upon entering, the “tent of assembly” was the largest, and contained the menorah, a table with the shewbread, and an altar for incense, and the smaller, at the far end, making up about 1/3rd of the total enclosed space, was the “Holy of Holies”, the inner room where the Ark of the Covenant rested.
The same 3-part plan was followed in the building of several wooden and stone tabernacles during the period of the Judges and was again followed by Solomon when he built the Temple, in Jerusalem. There was, of course, an altar in the outer courtyard, for the offering of animal sacrifices. The whole thing was administered by Priests and Levites, themselves organized into three levels for actual conduct of worship: a High Priest, several Priests, and a number of Levites. The three orders of clergy each wore distinctively styled and very colorful vestments while they were serving in their official capacity, and likewise very colorful (red, blue, purple and white, the same as the vestments of the clergy) hangings were arrayed within the tent. Later, in the Solomonic Temple (and the even later Herodian one), there was rich wood paneling, too.
It’s not hard to make the comparison, here, with modern Liturgical worship, though there are some Christian organizations who have made it a bit of a shibboleth to use plain, drab, and even ugly garments and decorations (not to mention buildings), thinking it to be evidence of their piety. Even some Liturgical Churches have fallen into this, and, let us be honest, some, including some Liturgical offices, have gone overboard in the other direction. God specified red, blue and scarlet wool, and white linen. It is not recorded that he wanted cloth-of-gold, as well.
In any case, it is easy to see the correspondence between courtyard, tent of meeting and Holy of Holies with our more modern Narthex, Nave and Chancel, or Sanctuary. The Sanctuary, by the way, is not, whatever our Baptist brethren think, the entire inside of the building. It is the space immediately surrounding the altar. It got that name in the Middle Ages, when a fugitive, if he could get to the Church and lay hands on the altar, was immune from capture. As long as he had his hands on the altar. The more proper English name is Chancel, and there used to be a screen between the seats of the public and those of the Choir and Clergy, which would be closer to the altar rail. Thus we get the word “chancel” from the old French, meaning “lattice”, the divider between the public and the clergy (the “rood” screen, in Anglo-Saxon, from the habit of hanging a cross (rood) on it).
Our clergy who conduct worship, too, are vested, whatever their everyday clothing, in specific brightly colored vestments often made of fine materials in the same array of colors: white, red, blue, purple. We also use green, of course, but the intent is the same: to differentiate between clergy and laypeople as the worship takes place. Neither is it coincidental that our clergy, Bishops, Priests and Deacons, each with specific jobs to do in specific ways, looks very much like the three-part clergy of the Tabernacle and Temple: High Priest, Priest and Levite. With the exception of animal sacrifice, it is very much the same thing. And during this season of Lent, especially, we remember why the altar of animal sacrifice is no longer necessary. Our Paschal Lamb was sacrificed once, for all on a cross outside Jerusalem, nearly two thousand years ago.
A Christ Chapel homily for the Third Sunday in Lent, 7 March, 2021
By Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter,
This is the third Sunday in Lent, and so this is the third in a special Lenten series of homilies dealing with Christian Worship. First, we looked at the general topic of the order of Liturgical worship, and then last week we looked at the role of music in our worship. Today’s topic is prayer.
We know that prayer was a regular feature of Jewish Temple worship (and earlier Tabernacle worship) for several very good reasons. Among them is the fact that prayer is mentioned almost 100 times in the Old Testament, often in connection with the Tabernacle of Temple (and this doesn’t even count the several hundred appearances of “pray”, “prayed”, “prayeth” and so forth). We also have the testimony of all four of the Gospel writers, who tell us that Jesus himself called the Temple “a House of Prayer”, and the book of Acts relates several times that Peter, James, John or others went to the Temple after Jesus’s resurrection to pray. Acts, again, tells us that Paul, on his Missionary Journeys, emphasized prayer as a part of worship. So prayer is part of the liturgy.
But what is prayer? Well, at it’s simplest, “prayer” is “talking to God”. Prayer is an intentional communication from us, members of the Church, to God. It’s just that simple. Of course, we, being human, complicate it. We have to muddy up the waters, and so we have invented several kinds of prayer. At least one source on the internet says there are 650 different prayers referenced in the Bible. I’m not going to speak on each of them. Most of the Bible scholars who have studied prayers in some detail list five kinds that cover most of the alternatives. The five are prayers of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, and reception. So for our purposes, and using our definitions, we can and should talk to God five ways in worship, in Church. All five, obviously, can be found in the order of liturgical worship. Do we have to pray all five kinds in every worship service? Of course not, but if we use the catholic liturgy as our standard, the Order in use today and that was in use in the Middle Ages, in the house churches and Synagogues of the early Church, in the Temple and Tabernacles of the Jews, as revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai and, we believe, in use in Heaven, since the beginning of time, then we probably won’t be too far off. So, let’s look at these five.
Adoration. A prayer of adoration is one in which we exalt, esteem, bless and honor the Lord. We reflect upon His character—holiness, goodness, love, mercy, power, grace and dominion, among other things. In Revelation 4:11, we read that in Heaven, during worship, 24 “elders” lay down their crowns before the Throne and pray “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created”. Essentially this is what we say when we open the Lord’s Prayer with the words “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. We proclaim God’s greatness to, well, God!
Confession. This one is pretty self-explanatory. A prayer of confession is when we confess our sins to God. Any time we’re talking to God, we’re praying, so whenever we confess, that’s a “prayer of confession”. There are several in the BCP, and we ought to use them regularly.
Thanksgiving. Again, this is pretty easy to figure out. A prayer of thanksgiving is when we tell God “thank you” for any or all of his goodness to us. As with Confession and the Lord’s Prayer, we give thanks in every worship service.
Supplication. This is a prayer where we ask for something. This is what most people think of, when we think of “prayer”. “Give us this day our daily bread” is a supplication. So is “Fulfil now, oh gracious lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants”, from the Prayer of St. John Chrysostom”, from the closing of both Morning and Evening Prayer.
Reception. This is kind of an odd one, but we use it, so let’s look at it. First, what is a “prayer of reception”? It is a prayer here we ask God for blessings, then wait passively for HIM to give us what we need. Note that we wait for HIM. In a prayer of supplication, we ask God for something specific. We may only ask for God’s mercy, or His blessing. In a prayer of reception, we don’t try to tell him what we want; we ask him humbly to give us what HE knows we need. In that prayer of St. John Chrysostom that we mentioned earlier, we pray ““Fulfil now, oh gracious lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them”. We put ourselves in God’s hands; we submit to Him, completely.
And number six is Obligation. Wait! What? I thought you said there were five. Now, you’re pulling a sixth? Well, yes, I am, but let me explain. We accept five, but there are some people who add a sixth. Among them are Muslims who believe very strongly in the sixth kind of prayer, prayers of obligation. A Muslim is obligated to pray to God (the same God) five times a day, every day. Doing so is one of the five “pillars” of Islam. Certain other world religions also oblige their followers to pray certain prayers at certain times, and in certain words. Christians do not. We see prayer as a privilege, not an obligation. We do not have to pray, at all. We are able to do so. Prayer is a gift to us: an opportunity to speak directly with our Father in Heaven. And, that’s what we do.
A Christ Chapel homily for the Second Sunday in Lent, 28 February, 2021
By Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter,
Today is the Second Sunday in Lent! During Lent, this year, I am preaching (though it is much more teaching) a series on Christian worship. Last week we looked at the whole Order of Christian worship, and we focused on the catholic order. On, that is, Liturgical worship. We believe that liturgical worship most closely resembles what the early Church did, even during the time when they were worshipping in Synagogues, and indeed, we believe liturgical worship is what the Jews did (and continue to do) in their worship, today.
In fact, if we look closely at it, we find that most so-called “protestant” or “reformed” Christians also have a pretty well “fixed” liturgy, as well, though they deny it. Things start to change pretty dramatically with the Pentecostal movement of the early 20th Century, but we’ve moved past that, and so don’t have time for it, today.
Today, I intend to take a cue from the Second Lesson in Morning Prayer for this morning: “ The Apostle Paul, writing to the Colossians, said this: “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” So. That tells us quite a bit about what we’re supposed to be doing, doesn’t it” We’re supposed to “teach and admonish one another”; and, we’re supposed to do it, at least in part, in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”. Therein lies the subject of today’s homily.
“Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” We are supposed to sing! Or, at least we’re supposed to engage in the speaking of religious messages set to music or at least metrical patterns. I don't really care what the governor says; the Apostle Paul said we’re supposed to sing. And we’re supposed to sing certain kinds of songs. Now, allow me one minor quibble: “Singing”, “chanting” and “choral reading” are all varieties of te same thing. One does not have to be able to carry a tune to “sing out”. But, one does have to make poetic noises along with other people.
“Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs”. What’s a Psalm? What’s a Hymn? And for that matter, isn’t almost any song that mentions God a “spiritual” song”? Well, yes and no. Let’s talk about it.
Definitions first. What’s a “Psalm”? We know about “the” Psalms, of course. So “A” “psalm” is one of those odd sort of poems in the “book” of Psalms, right? Right. But not entirely. “Psalm” means something else, as well. “Psalm” is derived from a Greek word, of course, “psalmos” which means “a set piece of sacred music accompanied by a harp or other such instrument. But “psalm” is also how we translate the Hebrew word “zamar”, which actually means “to strike”, or “to strum”, meaning “to play a stringed instrument”, with the implication of accompaniment with the voice. So to sing a “psalm”, in both the old and the new Testaments meant to recite or sing a piece of sacred music while strumming a stringed instrument. That practice was so important to Jews and early Christians that they assembled a selection of such pieces of music into a book and included it in the canon of scripture: the book of Psalms. That’s why we still include psalms (from the Book of Psalms) in our every worship, even today. So, what, then, is a Hymn?
A “hymn”, as used in our lesson, was a song of praise sung to God. That is the noun form of the word, “humnos”. It’s also used as a verb in the form “humneo” where it means “to sing praises to God”. Hymns, then, in the First Century, meant “a song of praise addressed to God”. By this definition, you’ll of course note, any “psalm” is a “hymn”.
We modern Christians have not changed the definition of “psalms”, perhaps because we have a whole book of them, but we have changed the definition of “hymn”, just a bit. A modern dictionary defines “hymn” as “a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to the deity. “ You see in that definition a couple of interesting additions. Modern hymns are still addressed to God, but they may be either praise, or they may be “adoration”, or even “prayer”.
Obviously, in the first Centuries of Christian worship, the singing of a variety of psalms, hymns and “spiritual” songs were sung during and as part of the services. We didn’t talk about “spiritual songs”, but I think we get the point. What happened? A number of things. One was that Churches very early on adopted some of the ideas of Greek worship, which included practices from the theater. Greek theater (and Roman) employed the use of choruses to advance the plan, and Greek worship was sometimes difficult to separate from theater, at all. So trained, professional choruses found their way into worship. At the same time, instrumental accompaniment tended to depart. Strumming stringed instruments simply didn’t make enough noise to be heard above the large choral praises, and the piano and organ were still a thousand years in the future, not to mention electrical amplification. The idea of congregational singing only began to creep back into worship during and after the Reformation, and it was well into the 18th Century before the practice became widespread (or acceptable to many). And it was generally accepted doctrine that such hymns ought to come directly from Scripture. We were well into the Twentieth Century before that changed. Instrumental accompaniment is still controversial in some quarters!
So: are modern “praise songs” hymns, in the way Paul was using the words in our lesson, today? Yes, arguably, they are. What about even more raucous offerings, such as Country anthems (Hank Williams’s “I saw the Light”; or the equally rockabilly “Just Over in the Glory Land”), for instance? Yes. They count. Pop tunes (Sandi Patti’s pretty hard rock and roll no less than Cristy Lane’s “One Day at a Time”)? Yes. If they praise God and are addressed to Him, they’re hymns. Does that mean we’re going to start using some of them in our worship? People, we refuse to even sing out of modern hymnals! No, we’re not going Pentecostal in our musical tastes. But it’s still worship. We mustn’t criticize our evangelical and Pentecostal brothers and sisters too pointedly. We’re not going down that road, but they seem to be in good company, when they do.
A Christ Chapel homily for the First Sunday in Lent, 21 February, 2021
By Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter,
Usually, I “preach”, or, more accurately “teach”, (for I am not nearly as good a preacher as I am a teacher, and I prefer to do what I can do best), an homily, or occasionally a sermon, based on the Gospel lesson for the day, if it’s a Holy Communion Sunday, or on the New Testament lesson, if it’s a service of Morning Prayer. Sometimes, though, I vary that. I do that varying most often during one of the fixed “seasons” of the Christian year: Advent, or Lent, or maybe Epiphany. In any case, when I do vary the order, I try to do a series of lessons that relate to one another as well as illuminate some passage of scripture. Having said all that, I thought that this year, for Lent, I would do a series on our worship. Not just our, Anglican, UECNA worship, but on all Christian worship.
You may comb through the New Testament to your heart’s content…, or exhaustion, looking for an order of worship for Christian congregations to follow. You will not find one. There is none there. There’s a reason for that: Jesus and all 12 of his closest associates, were Jews. They already had an order of worship! They worshipped in the Temple, when they were in Jerusalem, or in a Synagogue, if they were out in the country. As a matter of fact, our own Christian worship follows much of the Synagogic plan.
You see, official, approved Jewish worship, that is, Temple worship, was laid out by God to Moses. The plans for the Tabernacle were laid down by God atop Mt. Sinai, at the beginning of the 40 years in the Wilderness. The number of rooms, the size of each one, the dimensions of the altar, the kind and number of vessels, the vestments that the priests were to wear;all of that was spelled out by God, and that lasted for a thousand years, give or take. It came to an end, when the Jews were taken to Babylon in Captivity, but it was re-established some 70 years later, upon their return. In the meantime, the captives had not had a place to worship, so they had invented a whole new system, one that was not technically worship at all, as they had been doing it ever since Mt. Sinai, but rather getting together to pray, to read lessons, to hear the scriptures read and explained; to sing psalms and hymns…, does all this start to sound familiar?
When the Temple was destroyed, in 70 AD, Jews had to find a whole new way to worship, and they settled on something they already had: that is, they took the teaching center they already had, the synagogue, and made it a place of worship.
Christians had been meeting in Synagogues, too! The Apostle Paul almost invariably went to the Synagogue first, when he preached in a new town or city. But after the destruction of the Temple, and the making of Synagogic attendance into worship, Christians were no longer welcome. And, to be perfectly truthful, by this time, there were beginning to be about as many Greek congregations, thanks to the Missionary work of Paul and his closest friends, and many were ready to leave the Synagogues, anyway. Most began meeting in houses; private homes. But what was the order of worship they followed, in these early “house” churches? Reading lessons from the Old Testament, reading from Gospels that were beginning to appear, reading from the letters of Paul and James and John and Peter; singing psalms and hymns, praying to God…, in other words, exactly what they had been doing in the Jewish Synagogues, for more than half a Century. What the Synagogues had been doing for hundreds of years.
So, the Christians, those we would call “Catholic” Christians, Christians who taught what the Apostles had taught them, and who themselves had learned from Jesus, himself, organized their worship in accordance with the Jewish Synagogic worship, which was built on getting as close to Temple worship as they could without animal sacrifice, which was done exactly in accordance with instructions given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and which are written down, in great detail, in the Book of Leviticus. So, there are instructions; they just don’t appear in the New Testament. They appear in the Old.
Fr. Paul Castellano is a UECNA priest who lives in California. In fact, he is the Vicar-General of the Diocese of the West of the UECNA. Fr. Paul has recently published a book on this very subject, called “On Earth as it is in Heaven”. Fr. Paul’s thesis is that Christian worship, done correctly, can be traced through exactly the path I’ve outlined back to Mt. Sinai, and from there to Heaven, itself. We’re told in Revelation about the worship that was revealed to the Apostle John on his heavenly visit there, and there are references in some of the Prophets to it, as well. Ezekiel, especially, was given visions of heavenly worship. Fr. Paul’s opinion is that, if our worship can be so traced, then we are in fact not making it up, ourselves, but rather following a heavenly patten, and that, if we want to be close to the pattern (and why would we not?), then we ought to learn what Heaven considers to be correct, and to try to emulate that, rather than trying to make it up ourselves, as we go along. He makes a compelling case.
So, where does Anglican worship fit into all this? Well, we fit rather nicely, as a matter of fact. We assemble to read lessons from both the Old and New Testaments. We pray. We sing songs designed to teach lessons. There’s nothing wrong with “praise music”, but it’s not for worship. Psalms and Hymns are for worship. We sing or recite Canticles taken from Scripture (the Magnificat, for example) and the Psalms (the Jubilate Deo, for instance, and the Venite). We celebrate Holy Communion using the exact words that Jesus used to establish it. We do not innovate.
Fr. Paul obviously thinks we’re on the right track. So do I. I think the apostle Paul would have agreed. And King David. And Moses. That’s why we worship we way we do. But the important thing, I think, is that we follow the precedent that was set for us during all those earlier dispensations. We don’t make it up as we go along. Nobody in that long, long chain of tradition ever came out with a declaration that the past is dead, and that we need an entirely new form. We’re supposed to follow the old. And we do.
An Ash Wednesday homily for Christ Chapel, 17 February, 2021
By Rev’d Dr. Tom Hiter,
Much of this is Adapted from several pieces by the Rt. Rev. William Millsaps, EMC Bishop of the South
You’ve all heard my favorite Ash Wednesday story, how I wiped the ashes off the forehead of Sue Koniecy, sometime ROTC sweetheart and full-time MSU Majorette, back in the 1960s, so I won’t make you listen to it again. Suffice it to say that I learned a lot about the subject during that early morning German class, way back when. So, I’ll skip that part, and get straight into what we’re doing here.
Today is, of course, Ash Wednesday, and Ash Wednesday is the official beginning of the Church season we call “Lent”. Lent ends with Easter Sunday. Some of what I am about to say involves differences between French culture and Scots-Irish culture. Both have their own unique ways and customs, but around here, whether we know it or not, we’re pretty firmly established in the Scots-Irish camp. That’s one reason you never hear much about “Mardi Gras” or “Carnivale” celebrations in this part of the country. Even when we do, they’re pretty tame affairs, compared to New Orleans. But, the French love to party. They loved to party before partying was cool. The Spanish love to party too, but the French made it clear they were going to be the dominant force in New Orleans, at least, and that’s where the idea of a huge Shrove Tuesday party first established itself in this country. Much the same thing happened in Buenos Aires, except there, the people were Portuguese. Now, the Portuguese in Portugal are much more subdued than their cousins in Brazil. Clearly, the Western world has grown fat and lost some self-discipline, but the French in Louisiana and the Portuguese in Brazil have given us “Mardi Gras”, and it’s now become a part of our shared cultural scene, for better or for worse.
Actually, all of the historic parts of the Church have always had a sense of need for some sort of “Spring Training”, and that’s pretty much what Lent is all about. The Eastern Orthodox go further than anyone else, even giving up cheese and eggs, and their Lenten Season lasts for eight or nine weeks. You see in the very early church maybe even in the first century A. D. there was a time when preparation for baptism was a very important thing. While Christians were not persecuted everywhere all the time in the Roman Empire, everyone knew it could happen and new believers, called catechumens, were carefully taught. Later on Lent became a time when those who had been separated from the Church by notorious sins, or denying the faith under persecution, were restored to fellowship after repenting.
The whole thing was wonderfully serious. But as the Church grew in numbers and the empire made its peace with its existence and with the passage of time, it is also true that some people grew fat and more than a little bit lazy. In many there was still a recognition that correction of one’s course, from time to time, was a needed thing. Fasting was, after all, Biblical, and yet why would you want to waste “all this good stuff?” So Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday was born. That’s what “mardi gras” means in French: “fat” Tuesday. On Ash Wednesday, so named because in many places they had begun to burn the Palms from the year before and put the ashes on their heads as an act of penitence and humility. The selection of Wednesday made the period of Forty Days, reflecting the days Christ spent in the wilderness after his baptism.
So, for many early Christians, on the day before Lent actually began, you could invite your friends over and consume all the “fat” in your home. Well, the English made it into a rather subdued day. They sought to be forgiven, and the words shriven, shrove and shrift come from this heritage. Some went to their churches and either made confession or said prayers. They too disposed of the fat in their larders. That is where the Pancake Suppers had their origin. But the French, and to a lesser degree the Spanish and the Italians, made more of the atmosphere of a farewell bash. Somewhere the original point got lost.
The problem is that Americans know all too well how to celebrate Mardi Gras, but we have been too long without knowing what we were supposed to do when the party is over. Do I dare say it? Maybe we need to think a little more like our own forebears, the Scots-Irish, and a little less French or even English. Most of us don’t even need the pancakes, much less the party.
The imposition of ashes, too, is of ancient lineage. The first time we see it is in 2 Samuel 13:19 where Tamar puts on ashes and tears her clothing as sign of sadness. This picture of Tamar in ashes is somehow poignant. We do not know the date of the writing of the Book of Job, but we have there another picture of the use of ashes when Job perceives the holiness of God and his own brokenness. He responds, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees Thee; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” Job 42:5-6). In the Book of Esther when Mordecai learns of the king’s decree to kill all Jews, Mordecai puts on sackcloth and ashes and his fellow Jews do the same thing. The prophet Jeremiah uses ashes as a symbol of mourning. There are many such examples in both the Old and New Testaments of using ashes on one’s head to signify repentance and regret. So Christians took up this custom. At first, only notorious sinners received the ashes as a part of moving toward restoration to the Church. Then others presented themselves asking to be marked as well. No one made anyone do this. The selection of Wednesday made a period of Forty Days before Easter, reflecting the days Christ spent in the wilderness after his baptism.
The Ashes are not a sacrament. Bishop Millsaps used to tell people that if they were unable to come by the church on Wednesday they could reach in their fireplaces or wherever they can get some ashes and sign their own heads with the sign of the cross and read the Ash Wednesday office (page 60 BCP) as best they can, asking God to give them a closer walk with Jesus during Lent. During a lot of our history since the Reformation, the Anglican, and then Episcopal, Church offered the Ash Wednesday service , but didn’t use "ashes", considering it too Romish. Now the Methodists and some Cumberland Presbyterians and Disciples congregations have them as well, and almost all Anglicans use them.
The point is not the ashes, just as the point of Mardi Gras is not, or should not be, the excess. The point is to focus our attention on our personal relationship with God. Shrove Tuesday reminds us all that there is unnecessary fat in our lives, that we need to get rid of. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we’re all sinners. Lent reminds us that it is a good thing to make a personal sacrifice. Easter will eventually remind us of the reward.