Rector’s Messages

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“Can There Be Any Day But This . . .” Part 1

Dear Friends,

Holy Week and Easter are drawing nigh, the exact dates which are determined, as always, in relationship to the full moon date following March 21st. There are many ancient Christian customs connected with this Holy Week that help us understand and participate in it with deeper meaning and benefit.

For starters, most of the world uses a version of the Latin Word Pascha (Greek—Paskha, French—Pâques, German—Paisken, Russian—Paskha, Spanish—Pascua). All these are derived from the Hebrew word Pesach, the Passover, because the basic meaning of the feast is that the Day of Resurrection is the Christian Passover, and much of its tradition is meaningless, unless we keep this thought in mind. Passover is the anniversary of the great event when God delivered Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt. Easter is the anniversary of the day when God delivered all humanity from slavery and bondage to sin and death. God demanded that the Jews sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood on their door posts and the angel of death would passover those households delivering them from His judgment on the Egyptians. Likewise, Jesus Christ’s blood on the cross and in the sacrament delivers us from judgement for sin and eternal death, giving us hope in our resurrection with Christ to eternal life.

How did we get the word Easter? Easter was a pagan Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the sunrise and the spring. The word East also is named for her. In the northern hemisphere, the spring comes close to the time of Jewish Passover and all European Christians regarded the East — facing towards the Holy Land and Jerusalem — as a sacred direction since the sun arises and the Son (of God) arose there. The festival color for Easter is white, and the Latin word for white, alba, is also the word for sunrise. In the Frankish tongue, the word for sunrise is Ostern, so that is another way we inherited the Easter instead of Pascha for this greatest day of the year.

The purpose of our worship from Passion (Palm) Sunday through Easter Day is not just to learn about the events that have saved us from eternal damnation, but rather to reenact those events in symbolic ways so that they become present realities to us and in our lives. Religion is not a spectator sport, we are all players on the field. The old spiritual asks the question “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” and after a good liturgical Holy Week, we should be able to answer “Yes I was!”

That is why Palm Sunday is now known as Passion Sunday, because it is a kind of “preview” of the whole week ahead, with its main focus on all of us reading the Passion Gospel together (Matthew, Mark or Luke) taking the parts of Jesus, the Priests, Peter, Pilate and the crowd. We all are guilty of Jesus’ death as we cry out together “crucify him!” The rubrics request that we gather outside of the church and have a procession to the church door which represents the gate of Jerusalem reenacting Jesus entrance accompanied by children and others bearing palm branches.

On Maundy Thursday, in many churches, they hold a Passover dinner with all the traditional Jewish foods and ceremonies before (or after) the reenactment of the last supper, complete with Jesus’ washing of his disciples feet. This year, I will ask to wash the hands of volunteers, which in our culture has the same meaning as washing feet (think of the hotel restroom attendant offering you a towel.) We hear Jesus’ new Maundy (commandment) “Love one another as I have loved you!”

We share the offering of his life in the consecrated bread and wine and we go with him, symbolically, into the Garden of Gethsemane where his betrayal and arrest are reenacted by stripping the altar and sanctuary of all beautiful and dedicated things. In many churches, people volunteer an hour at a time to hold prayerful vigil before the remaining blessed sacrament reenacting the disciples who were asked by their God “could you not watch with me one brief hour?”

On Good Friday, we reenact the journey of Jesus from his scourging to the cross both at noon, in an Episcopal version of “the way (stations) of the cross”, and later at 7 PM as we read St. John’s Passion Gospel and then venerate a rough wooden cross, similar to that on which Jesus died. We feel loss and sadness; we do not know that there will be any resurrection. We leave in silence and sadness and fear, just as “all his disciples forsook him and fled!”

(Part 2 will appear in our Easter Messenger)

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

 

 

 

 

In Quires And Places Where They Sing . . .

Dear Friends,

We have been planning a wonderful Lenten Wednesday evening program beginning on Ash Wednesday, March 1st. (Yes, Easter will come early this year!) We hope all parish members and friends will make it part of their personal discipline for Lent to come to at least two of these programs which are being listed and discussed in detail elsewhere in this messenger. In my article, I want to stress one of the Wednesdays and explain the Anglican tradition behind it, so that we will have maximum attendance that Wednesday. I am talking about March 15th when we will present a service of Choral Evensong in the English Cathedral tradition.

As you will know, Manakin Church is blessed with ta wonderful choir and a fine organist, Rita Gulliksen. The music program she leads is quite extraordinary in its quality for a parish of the size (and I’ve been around to many churches during the last 60 years). We have dedicated, talented singers (and could always use more, if other wish to volunteer.) Our church building is acoustically splendid for music and the whole congregation seems enthusiastic in their offering of hymns and psalms to the Lord each Sunday.

So, let me talk about the beautiful and inspirational experience you will enjoy. First, let me remind you of a great theological principle behind all of our worship. We do not come to church services primarily to learn from the Bible or sermons; we do not come just to bewail our sins and pray for forgiveness or ask God to give us things we think we need. Jesus tests us, “God knows already what your true needs are!”

We do not even come to ensure that our children get a moral upbringing, and certainly not just to socialize and get the support of friends. The main purpose of worship is to offer praise and thanks to God for “All his goodness and loving kindness to us and to all mankind.” And each of us is expected to offer the best that she or he had in such praise and thanksgiving; “our time, talent and treasure.” We place beautiful silver and gold vessels on our altar! Many churches have magnificent art work, stained glass or intricate mosaics. We want to offer to God the best that we have. So likewise, the music we play and sing is not primarily for our enjoyment or entertainment, but is part of offering the highest quality of praise that we humans can offer. One famous physician/author said that what we should “beam out” into space in hopes of reaching other inhabited worlds, to let them know about us, should not be mathematical formulas or images of our great inventors, but rather “the music of J. S. Bach”, but then, he said, “We could be accused of boasting.” So, that is where the concepts of a worship service entirely sung by well prepared and dedicated musicians come from.

The early church sang psalms and new songs about Jesus. In the medieval church the music gradually developed from the great monastic tradition of sung praise seven times a day. As the church and the arts prospered together after the dark ages, the greatest composers and musicians of each generation offered their works to God through “antiphons” (anthems and settings of monastic praise at vespers, compline, etc. Song schools grew up in connection with major abbey and cathedral churches where the monastic voices were augmented by those of trained students, professional singers and skilled organists. Emperors and kings founded and funded choirs whose duty it was to offer the most beautiful music they could to God every day or the week, whether there was any congregation or not. Rulers took their choirs with them where they traveled through their realms. Some remnants of the medieval tradition remain in Europe in such organizations as the Sistine Chapel Choir and the Vienna Boys Choir (which provided the worship music of the Imperial Court of Holy Roman Empire.) The Royal Chapel Choir of Denmark is another survivor. In Germany, we still have the famous choir Cantata and Choral Tradition at Bach’s St. Thomas’ Church in Leipzip. In France at the time of the French Revolution, the religious choral foundations were virtually wiped out. In England, however, the medieval and renaissance tradition continued more than in any other nation. At the time of the Reformation Archbishop Cranmer consolidated the monastic ideal and custom of a daily round of praise into two “offices”, morning and evening prayer, in the English tongue not Latin. They were commonly called “Matins” and “Evensong,” as in the old English Christmas card, “Pray you dutifully prime your matin chivre ye singers; may you beautifully rhyme your eve-time song ye singers! Although Henry VIII abolished the monasteries and chantry chapels, the cathedral and college “foundations” and the endowments for this choir schools and singers were largely left intact, and some great monastic churches, like Peterborough, became cathedrals for their respective dioceses. The greatest composers of the Tudor and Stuart monarchies (Elizabeth I to James II) wrote for these choirs; Williams Bryd, Thomas Tallis, John Dowland, Thomas Tompkins, Orlando Gibbous, Thomas Weelkes, Henry Purcell, Williams Smith, John Merbeck, etc.

Many of the choirs they wrote for have lasted through the centuries such as the monarch’s choirs of St. George’s, Windsor and The Chapel Royal (St. James and Hampton Court), the singing boys at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, those at Winchester, Your, Canterbury, etc. and of course the collegiate foundations at Kings College and St. Johns College, Cambridge and Christ Church, Magdalen College and new college Oxford. After the 18th century, Latitudinarian period, the Romantic/Victorian era saw another great blessing of great composers of service music for Matins and Evensong, including Samuel Wesley, Edward Elgar, Charles Stanford, John Staimer, Felix Mendelssohn and Charles Wood. This heritage has contained into our own tme with Benjamin Britton, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Bairsow, Hubert Parry and William Lloyd Webber, father of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Joanna Trollope’s popular book and TV movie (1995) “The Choir” depicts the present day trials, tribulations and glories of keeping this choral traditions alive and well.

The prayer book of 1662 (still the official English book) uses the rubric “In quires and place where they sing . . .” (and similar rubrics) giving service instructions pertaining to this ongoing choral tradition.

Essentially, Evensong is our 1928 service of evening Prayer completely set to music an chant, with the congregation participating verbally in the creed, intoning the Lord’s prayer and joining the choir in a hymn. Our choir and organist are putting much work into preparing this service for March 15th, and we hope it will inspire your hearts and minds to thank God for all of his wonderful gifts to you and yours, even in the midst of our penitential season of Lent. We know that some of you have been to England and heard Evensong there, and hope many more of you will have that rewarding religious opportunity in the future.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

 

E Pluribus Unum

Dear Parish Family,

There are many religious light bulb jokes: How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? None. Lutherans don’t believe in changes! How many Mormons does it take? Five. One man to change the bulb, and four wives to tell him how to do it. There are also many religious food jokes. The Romans Catholic hierarchy is like Irish stew. The savory chunks of meat sink to the bottom while the fat rises to the top. (That was told to me by a Catholic priest). And what about us? The Episcopal Church is like a fruit cake, a variety of fruits and nuts all held together by the dough! Some say “if you don’t laugh, you will have to cry!” Now is a time in our national life when we must ask the question, “What keeps America together?” Are we one nation just because of the dough—because of economic interdependence, or do we share some basic values and beliefs that are essential to our national well-being? Our national motto on the Great Seal of the United States, E Pluribus Unum, is Latin for “out of many, one.” The traditional meaning and origin of the expression was that out of many colonies, which became states, emerged a unified nation. In recent years, it has acquired the additional meaning that out of many peoples, races, religions and languages a single nation has been created. A London-based Huguenot, Peter Motteau, originally coined the phrase for his eclectic magazine “The Gentleman’s Journal”, (1692-1694).

Following the cataclysmic recent election, however, it has been revealed how deeply divided the country actually is. We are not living up to our motto: we are not one! This is more than slightly the result of two decades of emphasis on political correctness and diversity as cardinal civic virtues. Too many Americans have begun to trumpet the agendas and uniqueness of their own subgroup and what differentiates them, rather than trying to articulate and emphasize what unites us. Thus we have Tea Party Americans, NRA Militias, Black Lives Matter Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender Americans, Women’s Liberation Americans, Americans with Disabilities, Evangelical Americans, and many more special interest groups. Will we ever be able to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again? America’s founders, largely basing their thought on essential religious and ethical principles, strove to create a new nation where privileged birth and uniform religious affiliation were no longer the underpinning of the social order, but where individuals had equal rights balanced by equal social obligations, where (as in Anglicanism itself), the rule of tradition and scripture was balanced by recourse to reason, debate and peaceful democratic transition and where executive, legislative and judicial authorities were balanced and separate. A just balance of power and initiative was the goal. Some have blamed the elevation of the virtue of toleration to be the highest modern civic virtue as a main reason for our present divided state. And it is true, if we examine the origins and purpose of toleration, that we find it has become a seriously distorted version of what our forefathers intended.

After centuries of decimating religious and territorial warfare, the 18th century “Age of Reason,” led by such thinkers as John Locke, ascribed to a doctrine of peace through toleration of differences UNTIL the divine gift of human reason could provide answers which all disputing parties could accept. Differing religious parties and different political parties would learn to reason together, come to compromise solutions, and avoid the disastrous bloodshed that had engulfed the previous centuries.

The point is that toleration was regarded as a virtue of temporary truce between adversaries, not as the ultimate ethical attitude and solution to all conflict. Therefore, today, the false concept of relativism — that truth is unknowable, therefore that all values and lifestyles are equal and acceptable—is a key factor eroding our objective of unity. Likewise many conservatives believe that toleration means others can have their own “media,” but that one has the right to ignore them and listen only to commentary and news they agree with. We Christians have the additional values of forgiveness, love of neighbor and love of enemies to guide us in reformulating a sense and purpose of national unity. Such virtues are not merely sloppy sentimental attitudes, but the determination to value every person as a child of God and to treat others not just as they demand to be treated, but in light of God’s will as to what is in their best interest and the interest of the whole society. That is the way we must love our own dear children, not merely indulge their individual immediate wants, but to consider the needs of the whole family and its future. This is not easy to do! I suggest that we all begin by focusing our minds on what unites and should unite us, rather than on what divides us. That way—to use an old advertising slogan— “we keep our eye on the doughnut and not on the hole!” That is the beginning of our way back to making E Pluribus Unum a proud affirmation, not a forlorn hope.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

Advent

Dear Parishioners,

On November 27th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we begin our Advent preparations. Advent is a season observed as a time of expectant waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning “coming,” commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah and to be alert for his Second Coming.

Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day (30 November), in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and in the Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars. Practices associated with Advent include keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, praying an Advent daily devotional, as well as other ways of preparing for Christmas, such as setting up Christmas decorations.

It is unknown when the period of preparation for Christmas that is now called Advent first began – it was certainly in existence from about 480 A.D., and some have even said it goes back to the time of the Twelve Apostles. This has led to the conclusion that it is “impossible to claim with confidence a credible explanation of the origin of Advent.” Associated with Advent was a period of fasting, known also as the Nativity Fast. The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is the preparation for the Second Coming, while also commemorating the First Coming of Christ at Christmas. Traditions vary in the relative importance of penitence and expectation during the weeks in Advent.

The usual liturgical color in Western Christianity for Advent is either violet (or purple) or blue. In some Christian denominations, blue, a color representing hope, is an alternative liturgical color for Advent, a custom traced to the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the medieval Sarum Rite in England. This color is often referred to as “Sarum blue.” On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, rose may be used instead, referencing the rose used on Laetare Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent.

Many churches also hold special musical events, such as Nine Lessons and Carols and singing of Handel’s Messiah oratorio. The antiphons for the Magnificat at Evensong in Anglican churches each day mark the forthcoming birth of the Messiah. They form the basis for each verse of the popular Advent hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” During Advent, the Gloria of the Eucharist is omitted, so that the return of the angels’ song at Christmas has an effect of novelty.

In recent times, the most common observance of Advent outside church circles has been the keeping of an Advent calendar, with one door being opened in the calendar on each day in December leading up to Christmas Eve. The keeping of an Advent wreath or crown is also a common practice in homes and churches. The readings for the first Sunday in Advent relate to the old testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors, so some call the first Advent candle that of hope. The readings for the second Sunday concern Christ’s birth in a manger and other prophecies, so the candle may be called of Bethlehem. The third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday after the first word of the introit (Philippians 4:4), is celebrated with rose-colored vestments. The readings relate to St. John the Baptist, and the rose candle may be called of joy or of the shepherds. The readings for the fourth Sunday relate to the annunciation of Christ’s birth, so the candle may be known as the Angel’s candle, recalling their proclamation of peace on Earth. Where an Advent wreath includes a fifth candle, it is known as the Christ candle and His lit during the Christmas Eve service. The concept of the Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century. However, it was not until three centuries later that the modern Advent wreath took shape. Research points to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–1881), a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor, as the inventor of the modern Advent wreath in the 19th century. During Advent, children at his mission school in Hamburg, would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, he built a large wooden ring (made out of an old cartwheel) with 20 small red and 4 large white candles. A small candle was lit successively every weekday and Saturday during Advent. On Sundays, a large white candle was lit. The custom gained ground among Protestant churches in Germany and evolved into the smaller wreath with four or five candles known today. Roman Catholics in Germany began to adopt the custom in the 1920s, and in the 1930s it spread to North America, and has become an established tradition in our Episcopal Church.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer

 

 

 

 

Saints And Angels: No, Not The Sport Teams!

Dear Parishioners,

As a boy, I sang in the men and boys’ choir at the Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Baltimore, Maryland.  Since he was our patron, his festival day, September 29th (or the following Sunday) was always a big occasion with special music and a big luncheon after the main service.  Naturally his stained glass representation in full armor, backed by a legion of angel warriors, and with a shield bearing the motto “Who is like the Lord?”, made a big impression on me.

When I taught the Confirmation class as chaplain of the Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg, I asked the 9th and 10th grade students to think of a modern Christian “Saint”, and describe that person.  I had hoped for a description of Martin Luther King or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but instead, the students described a little old lady sitting on her porch rocking chair reading her bible.

Many people today, especially our children and youth, think of angels and saints as a bunch of wimps.  Angels are fluffy feminine things with white wings and long golden hair or children’s cherubic faces with wings instead of ears. Saints are folks from past generations quaintly depicted in stained glass or stylized stone figurines.  What a shame! Forget Batman and Superman!  Forget Wonder Woman and Spiderman!  Saints and angels are the true super heroes of the galaxy!

Angels are the personification of the most powerful forces that exist and impinge upon our lives.  In Psalm 104, storm winds and flames of fire are described as angels of God, his messengers and servants.  Michael is the general of God’s Army who defeats Satan and his angels in battle and expels them from heaven down to earth. Gabriel sounds the trumpet signaling judgment day when destruction will come to the whole earth and all human works.  Raphael embodies God’s healing power and so forth. In the New Testament, it is angels who break off the chains of St. Peter in prison, who roll the great stone from Christ’s tomb and proclaim his resurrection, who startle poor shepherds in the fields and send them off to search for a newborn child who will change history.

As for Saints, have you seen the Episcopal publication “Holy Women, Holy Men”, our church’s “canonized” list of saints and their special deeds and days?  Or have you ever looked at the calendar in the front of the new prayer book?  The 2007 edition lists such people as Polycarp, the courageous Bishop of Smyrna, martyred in 156, Thomas Becket, martyred in 1170, Latimer and Ridley, martyred in 1559 and Jonathan Daniels, Civil Rights martyr in 1965.  Brave and brilliant women are not forgotten such as St. Agnes, Roman martyr in 304, Monica, mother of St. Augustine, 387, Hildegard of Bingen, 1179, Dame Julian of Norwich, 1417, Queen Emma of Hawaii, 1885, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Liberators of Slaves. Mother Teresa, recently canonized by Rome, will, I am sure, soon be added to our Anglican list.  Some “saints” we remember are famous, like John Donne, John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Patrick and Francis.  Others are obscure like Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, Bishop of Shanghai.  All were imperfect humans, who by God’s grace let their lives and deeds count for something good and strong, something that we and our children should be taught to emulate.  “All of them Saints of God and I mean, God helping, to be one too!”, in the words of Hymn 293.  So when your kids or grandchildren talk of the latest “superhero” film, ask them if they know anything about an Archangel or tell them about a real person who we remember for being one of God’s heroes, a Saint.  And remember all of the above on September 29th, St. Michael and All Angels day and November 1st, All Saints’ Day!

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dr. Tom Bauer