June 28, 2015

God has never been still...

Proper 8, Year B, RCL
June 28, 2015
On the occasion of using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer at Christ Church, New Bern

We find ourselves in a different place today than we did last week. And a different place than we will be a week from now. That’s Ok. Because God does not call us to be still or to stay in one place. We are taking a trip in the way-back machine today to celebrate our worship from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which was the official Prayer Book of Christ Church from her founding in 1715 until just after the American Revolution. You may have noticed a few things that are different from how we are used to worship:
·         I started at the altar, not in my usual seat.
·         We said the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of the service. We will say it again in a more familiar location later, but that notion of leading with the Lord’s Prayer is a good way of opening our eyes to the differences!
·         We have already had the welcome and announcements, as well as the Creed. These are pieces that usually follow the sermon, but under the order of worship in 1662, they came before.
·         We will say the Gloria at the end of the liturgy instead of at the beginning.
·         You’ll notice in a few moments that the Prayers of the People are shorter than we are used to hearing. They are said by the priest as a prelude to the Prayer of Consecration over the bread and wine. The words may sound very familiar, especially if you regularly attend a Rite I service.
·         The Prayer of Consecration will sound a little different as well, but I’ll get to the how and why on that in just a minute.
Among the several ways that we are breaking with a “traditional” 1662 liturgy is that we decided to use electricity. We thought burning candles would make it a little warmer than necessary, especially if we aren’t using the A/C.  And of course, when this service was being used at Christ Church, it is highly unlikely that lay people would have read any of the Scripture or assisted with the chalice. And you can bet your bottom dollar that it wouldn’t have been two women serving at the altar!
Using this liturgy today is a great reminder that God is not stagnant. God may be unchanging and unchanged, but God is never still. God is always moving. We have certainly come a long way in the 300+ years since its introduction. And yet, we have never lost sight of our roots, of being grounded in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, of our top priority of being a place where people come to know the Risen Christ through liturgy and worship.
Let me give you a quick history of how we have traveled the over 450 years since the first Anglican Prayer Bookin 1549. (And forgive me if I leave out your favorite detail or I miss a date along the way. My research time was drastically cut this week…)
The first Anglican Prayer Book, authorized by the still-forming Church of England, was in 1549. It was rather hastily put together, drawing on several other Reformation-era liturgies in Germany, Switzerland, and other parts of Europe that were breaking away from Rome.  There was an edict from the King, a guy you may have heard of named Henry VIII, called the Act of Uniformity, declaring that any and all clergy in the Realm of England must use the Book of Common Prayer no later than Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 1549. As this first prayer book was coming off the presses and being assembled, Thomas Cranmer was already working on the revisions. About three years later, another Act of Uniformity was issued, this time, calling on all clergy and parishes to be using the “new” Book of Common Prayer no later than All Saints’ Sunday of 1552. The changes were subtle yet distinct. There was clarity of teaching around Baptism and Confirmation as well as some distinctions around serving communion and who could and couldn’t receive it.  Marion Hatchett, former liturgy professor at Sewanee and the man who wrote the commentary on the current prayer book, said, “Generally, it made explicit what had been implicit in the 1549 version.”  I would venture to say that the revision from the 1549 to the 1552 Book of Common Prayer may be the only one that did not bring about panic or the wringing of hands in the ranks of the faithful.  Time moved on and people got used. England was still a bit of tumultuous place, but that’s another story for another time. There were some slight revisions in a 1604 Book of Common Prayer, mainly to appease the Puritans, whose numbers and influence were growing in England at the time.
The Book of Common Prayer took a little hiatus in 1645, which is really a nice way of saying that the political situation in England was such that the book was banned from use and replaced by something called the “Directory for the Publique Worship of God.”  As Shakespeare would say, though, “A rose by any other name…”
The English Monarchy was restored in 1660, and a new Book of Common Prayer was introduced two years later. It is still the official source of the liturgy in much of the Church of England and the commonwealth nations although many of them have published other Prayer Books.
We fast-forward to the European settlement in what is now the United States of America. One of the ways the English kept their colonies in check was by sending priests (usually ones who had misbehaved in some way, i.e. John and Charles Wesley) but never ever sending a bishop. See, a Bishop could ordain more priests and thereby promote the independence of the colonies. So when the American Revolution broke out in 1776, Anglican Churches, like Christ Church New Bern, were suddenly without support and often without clergy. In order to be ordained in the Church of England you had to sign an oath of allegiance to the Crown. (And you still do if you’re going to be ordained over there!) So most Anglican clergy in the US during that time either went back to England or went to Canada or went into hiding. But God was not still in all those years. Those that were left got together in Philadelphia in 1785 to work on the forming of a new church. The first order of business was to figure out how to get a bishop. They elected a priest named Samuel Seabury from Connecticut to be consecrated a Bishop. I think actually Sam Seabury drew the short end of the stick to have to travel back across the ocean to beg for someone to ordain him. Remember that part about signing an oath to the Crown? Any bishop in England would have been guilty of treason for ordaining someone who didn’t sign that oath. So, and here’s where it gets a little dicey, Seabury went to Scotland, where they had some bishops who were more than happy to make Bishop for America, especially if that meant sticking to the English! But before the Scots would make Seabury a bishop, he had to agree to something kind of radical: He had to include the Holy Spirit in the Prayer of Consecration at the Eucharist. Now, there are some mixed tales about how Seabury actually felt about this, but for the most part, he said, “Great. Let’s do this thing.” He didn’t have time (nor the inclination, I’m guessing!) to go back to the States and confer with the other clergy. So he’s made a bishop, he sets sail for Connecticut and proceeds to work with other clergy on writing a Book of Common Prayer for the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America. And in that Prayer Book, we call upon the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify the gifts of bread and wine. Up to this point in the Anglican tradition, they simply gave thanks for the bread and wine as a memorial to Christ. Now, we actually called up on the Holy Spirit to remind worshipers of Christ’s presence in Communion. See, God was moving then, changing us and changing how we worship. The first Prayer Book was launched in 1786 and was horribly received, so its more famous successor, the 1789 Prayer Book, is widely held as the first American Prayer Book. The have been three other revisions to the American Prayer Book since 1789. In each of those revisions was the recognition that our understanding of God and who God is and how God acts in the world was changing. That doesn’t mean that when the 1892 Prayer Book was published there weren’t people clamoring for the good old days of the 1789. And when the 1928 Prayer Book came out 26 years later, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. I mean, the 1928 Prayer Book calls for “expediency of worship.” I’m sure you can imagine the debate that raged around that statement! Many long-time Episcopalians remember, often with heartburn and angst, the issues surrounding the introduction of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (someone just this week told me it would always be “the new Prayer Book” to them). If any moment in our Episcopal history shows us how God is always moving, it is with the radical shift of theology that came from with the 1979 Prayer Book. Eucharist was to become the norm for weekly worship, not Morning Prayer. We’ve done pretty well with that one. Baptism of adults, not infants, became the norm, too, but we haven’t done so well on that front. Instead of just re-introducing a woman to the parish after childbirth, we actually had prayers for the child as well, and added some prayers for the adoption of a child, too. Eucharistic Prayer C is a personal favorite, but I will be the first to acknowledge that it is possibly the furthest branch from the root that is the 1662 Prayer Book.  
I could (and I might) do a whole teaching series on the changes in the Anglican/Episcopal Prayer Books over the past 450+ years. I think that we find a couple of common threads. The first is that for human beings, even though we are formed in the image of God, change can be hard. Change can mean that what we grew up with is no longer the same; what was dear to us may no longer be there or looks and feels and sounds very different. For some of us, that change can be more than hard; it can be downright painful. The second thread we’d find is that God has been at work in all of these changes. It may have been difficult to see, or we may have been blind to how God was at work, but God was and continues to be there.  Since the dawn of creation, God has never been still. God continues to be revealed to us in new and fresh ways. The church has not always been able to see that as quickly as we probably should in no small part because we become more concerned about preserving the institution than we do about seeing and proclaiming how God is at work in the world. The good news is that the Church has figured out that we should admit to the mistakes we have made. God allows us to grow from those mistakes, especially the ones for which are brave enough to publicly repent. There was no clearer sign of that blessing than yesterday in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is gathered. In the latter part of the 1700s and early part of the 1800s, The Episcopal Church at best was silent on the issue of slavery because it was a secular matter, and we didn’t need to be messing those issues. At worst, our bishops and priests endorsed slavery, telling slaves that through Baptism, they were given freedom through Christ, and so they need not worry about their freedom in this world. That’s not to discount the vast number of churches and clergy later in the 1800s who helped facilitate the Underground Railroad and who preached from pulpits just like this one that slavery was an institution that needed to be ridded from our shores. In 2008, The Episcopal Church held a very public repentance of our complacency and our contributions to slavery in this country. It was met with a wide array of responses, of course, from “why do we need to bother with this?” to “what took you so long?” But we admitted that we had not been  open to how God was moving in our hearts and in our lives.  Yesterday, the House of Bishops overwhelmingly elected on the first ballot the Rt. Rev.Michael Curry to be the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Curry’s ancestors worked in the fields of North Carolina as slaves.
If there is anything to be learned from our history, especially, in how we worship, it’s that God is always moving and never still. I hope and pray that we will never lose sight of that.

Commentary on the American Prayer Book by Marion J. Hatchett (HarperOne, ISBN-13: 978-0060635541)
The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Oxford University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0195297621)

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