Curious, courteous and compassionate
Simon took these pictures in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul a few years ago
This coming Sunday is Lent 5 - sometimes called Passion Sunday, as opposed to the following Sunday which is the more familiar Palm Sunday when we recall Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey.
The history of Passion Sunday and the beginnings of what has been called Passiontide probably began around the 11C as a part of the Sarum rite (the Latin mass of the time). Passiontide is the two week period leading up and including the Easter triduum. So it includes what we normally refer to as Holy Week: including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday (and more!) and then at last Easter day. Very few, other than the most committed Anglo-Catholics, still use the term Passion Sunday and even the Catholics removed the term in 1959. But in some churches you will see vestiges of this tradition and, perhaps rather delightfully, if you worship in other churches around the world, you will witness and participate in many other rituals and styles of worship which we might find anything from somewhat beautiful to quite alien.
When my discernment team back in 2010 encouraged me to become a priest, I landed up going to a seminary called Nashotah House in WI. I was attracted by their hybrid distance programme and the way it operated a cohort system - so even if studying remotely you would mostly go through all your classes with a set group of people. I loved the idea of having friends and being rooted in a learning community even whilst mostly studying remotely. In addition, the course offerings they had were limited but comprehensive - if I just kept up I would cover all the classes I needed in good order from Biblical studies to liturgics to systematic theology etc. But when I went to visit the school my first viewing was a little unnerving. I arrived in the morning for morning chapel (a daily event) and all the students were wearing cassocks, most were men, many had beards and they smoked pipes between lectures…OK this is a bit of a caricature - but first impressions often are! What I eventually learned was that they were warm, smart, thoughtful, kind, funny and lovely people. I came to call many of them good friends - but my initial response that day was ‘oh my, this is different’. My interview went well - and so began a delightful journey.
But tbh, I went in with a huge chip on my shoulder - wanting to prove their way of worship ‘wrong’ - I found the rituals in Chapel rather alarming. I worried it was fake… but over the years and many, many conversations I eventually understood that many Anglo-Catholic worship traditions were based on a Theology of the Throne Room and tbh mine was more a theology of the kitchen… AND BOTH are valid. God is a mighty king to be treated with respect, but Jesus is also incarnate and knows all about sitting at the kitchen table wrestling with the normal aspects of daily life…. Jesus is both King and companion and I learned to love to worship with my methodist, presbyterian, episcopalian, anglican, lutheran colleagues in this strange (to me) high church way (for a season!).
And so the choices we make as we worship MATTER but they also are secondary… always ask yourself - how is this worship leading me and others to Jesus? And when we worship - or debate - with people whose understanding differs from ours, it’s good to remember to be curious, courteous and compassionate. We will each be judged on what WE know and understand…
Curious, compassionate and courteous
And now - we are now approaching the end of Lent: I wonder how you approached Lent this year. Did you take up a discipline or set down a habit? Did you pray more? Less? Did you eat more? Less? Differently? Drink more/less/differently? Did you spend more or less or the same amount of time with Jesus?
Traditionally, Lent is a time for fasting, and the tradition of taking a 40-day period and calling it Lent emerged shortly after the council of Nicea in 325AD. Of course, Jesus fasting in the desert for 40 days was a solid Biblical precedent to the habit - and tying it to the season before Easter also then gave a space for the catechism of new converts before Easter baptism. BUT like so many other things we do in the church it is not a season that was Biblically mandated - it comes out of evolving church tradition. [And, indeed, Anglicanism is often said to be founded on what Hooker described in the late 16thC as scripture, reason and tradition. We do love our many traditions :)] But, back to fasting... tomorrow (Wednesday March 30) our vestry are fasting for the day as they pray for our church - will you join them?
For our little church, we have gradually been evolving our own culture and traditions of worship. We meet in a school gym, with slides and a projector and with our kids at the back, and our altar facing the people. Amy and I stand behind the altar facing you. We don’t have a pulpit - but a music stand; we don’t have hymn books - but a screen and projector; we have a variety of musical styles and instruments; we love to sing in other languages to remind us we belong to a global community; we pray sitting or sometimes standing; we have small groups who normally study the Bible but sometimes study theology and culture. We have made so many choices about how we want to serve and love Jesus in 22204. And clearly as you all drive past many other churches on your way to Randolph every Sunday, these are choices which you are largely in agreement with: they coalesce with how you believe God is calling you into worship at this time.
Kyiv: St Vladimir's cathedral, Pechersk lavra and the famine memorial - pics by Simon
And what I find so delightful, is the opportunity we have to enjoy the traditions others find helpful - to be grateful that God has made us different and diverse. To enjoy music and art and sometimes, rituals, that we would more normally find in other cultures, countries or denominations. I believe it is vital that we always keep in mind what is of primary, and what is of secondary importance in the gospel. That we keep ourselves open to different expressions of worship, while retaining our orthodoxy in who we believe Jesus to be.
Curious, compassionate and courteous
As we head into Passiontide, I invite you to spend time being grateful - for a world which is so full of signs of God’s love and compassion; maybe make up a spotify songlist of Lent songs from varied traditions (send me what you find!); maybe visit or watch this from the National Gallery. Allow your imagination to be stretched as you take in new sounds and images… ask God to help you love Him with greater passion this year and to love your neighbors with greater curiosity, compassion and courtesy!
Wednesday March 30, perhaps you might fast during the day alongside our vestry - regardless, come and worship at the Vicarage @7.30pm - sing, pray, ask God to speak
Thursday, April 1 - the closing date for applications for our new Associate - take some time to pray for the right person to apply - someone who will stretch us and draw us deeper into God's heart.
Sunday April 3, bring a friend to church and linger for donuts and a brief parish meeting (aka family update)
Giving: and as part of your Lenten fast, consider giving generously to L'Arche Poland
And then join in our worship over Holy Week (more details here)
Maundy Thursday April 14 - come and have your feet washed (unless you don’t want to!) and watch the table stripped bare after the last supper (Greenbrier Baptist church @ 7pm)
Good Friday, April 15 - hear again the story of the passion as told by John, listen for the strepitus and watch the encroaching darkness (Greenbrier Baptist Church @6pm)
Holy Saturday, April 16 - be quiet. Fast perhaps. Pray. Wait with the disciples and Mary in the Upper room.
Easter Sunday, April 17 - rejoice and shout and delight in the good news of the resurrection (10am @Randolph)
So grateful to be your pastor and for all the ways we worship together,