Thursday, March 15, 2012

Don't Get Comfy

One of the things I love most about the Episcopal Church is our liturgy.   I like how it flows from the reading of the Scriptures to a sermon to the restatement of our core beliefs in the creed and followed by prayers, petitions, confessions and peace.  All this leading and preparing us for the experience of receiving the sacrament of Christ's body and blood, the fuel for our engines as we head back out the doors of the church cocoon into the world which may or may not care about Christ.

It's the cocoon that I have found myself thinking about lately.  I actually have toyed with the idea for a couple of years now that I should give up going to church on Sundays for Lent.  Not so much for the experience of taking on a practice that would become a permanent part of who I am.  But I sometimes wonder if I get a little too comfy with the liturgy.  Do I still listen closely to things that are said?   Am I listening deeply to what is behind what we're doing? 

Lent can present moments that raise questions and make me think again about the words that we say.  During the weekday services at noon, St. John's has been using Rite I, and including the Prayer of Humble Access in our Eucharistic service.  The phrase, "We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under Thy table..."  are ones I am very familiar with from growing up Episcopalian.   But now, they make me wince.  And they don't serve to pull me into the moment of preparing to receiving the body and blood of Christ, but they make me want to yank the fine linen off the altar in protest.   Because I simply don't believe those words, and find them to be in opposition to Christ.   Think of the story of the Syrophoenician woman in the Gospel of Mark.   Did she not have that exchange with Jesus over this very idea of not being worthy enough so as to gather up the crumbs from under the table of Israel?  By Christ, and with Christ and in Christ, I believe that I have been made worthy not only to have the crumbs, but to be offered a seat at the banquet table. 

If I find this kind of language a stumbling block, I have to wonder what it would do to someone entering the church for the first time.   Might they not get an impression of us worshiping a punishing God who looms so large that we can't get near?   That's not the image of God I have in my head.  And it's certainly not the Jesus who got down in the messiness of our every day living to teach us a message of Love. 

I realize there are probably those who find those words important.  But if that's true, then perhaps they need to ask themselves why.   And what would happen if they didn't hear them.  What would worship be to them then.   Is there comfort in being told we aren't worthy?  Not for me.


Phoebe McFarlin said...

My son complains about the crumbs under the table... only attends the Episcopal Church when it seems to be a family necessity.

It's the words in the Rite I confession that I have chosen not to say for many years.... "provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us"...

SCG said...

I need to look at the Commentary on the American Prayer Book to see what the rationale was for all the "you are worthless and deserve punishment" language in Rite I.
Sadly, when I look at some of my writings when I was in my very troubled teen-aged years, it is laced with the language of Rite I. No wonder I thought I shouldn't live!!

Anonymous said...

The words are rather humbling, so that is why I am glad we use different words in our service at Christ Church.