A Note from the Rector – 6/30/2019

The Scripture that is read at our services is part of a three-year cycle of readings called a Lectionary, a set cycle of Scripture readings that have been used by the Church since the beginning.  We got the practice from Judaism, in fact. Our lectionary is called the Revised Common Lectionary. Beginning in the late 1970s, a committee made of people of various Protestant denominations got together to adapt the Roman Catholic Lectionary for use in other churches.  As with the work of many (most?) committees, it took a long time. The Revised Common Lectionary was finally released for public use in 1992. It was adopted by the Episcopal Church as our official lectionary (replacing the lectionary that was originally published in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) in 2006.  The RCL Lectionary is a three-year cycle, and in addition for Ordinary Time, the RCL Lectionary provides two tracks (because a three-year cycle isn’t complicated enough!). Track 1 of the lectionary goes through a book of the Hebrew Scriptures (aka the Old Testament) in sequence, more or less. So, each Sunday in Track 1, the first lesson is a portion of Scripture that is more or less in sequence with the previous week’s portion.  Track 2 of the RCL Lectionary jumps around. This was the model of the older Book of Common Prayer Lectionary, as well as the model of the Roman Catholic Lectionary. The idea is that the First Lesson (taken from the Hebrew Bible) relates in some way to the Gospel reading appointed for the day. So for instance, this week’s Gospel reading is Luke 9:51-62. The circumstances of the Gospel story, and several of the things that Jesus says, echo a much older story found in 2 Kings chapter 2. Because of this connection, 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 were chosen to be the First Lesson in our Lectionary. For more details, come listen to my sermon (and/or read the two passages on your own)! There is a deep, but potentially dangerous, theological logic to this game of connecting older texts to texts from the Gospels. What makes the whole thing work is the fact that Christians believe that in Christ, God has fulfilled God’s plan to redeem and renew all of Creation. A big chunk of that plan is revealed in the Hebrew Bible. If Christ is the culmination, fulfillment, and final chapter of that plan, then He is the key to understanding the whole kit-and-kaboodle. So, we use Christ as a lens for reading and understanding all of Scripture.  There is a danger here, which I will discuss another time. But for now, pay attention to the way our lectionary and your preacher connect the Hebrew Bible with the Gospel readings.

In Christ,
James+

A Note from the Rector – 6/23/2019

Today, we return to Ordinary Time.  The Christian life, as represented in our Church’s calendar, is shaped by the rhythms of feasts and fasts.  This cycle is centered on the two great feasts of Christ’s Incarnation: Christmas and Easter. We celebrate Easter for 50 days ending with the Day of Pentecost (June 9 this year). That was followed by Trinity Sunday last week. The Feast of the Ascension (40 days after Easter) and Pentecost (50 days after Easter) both sort of naturally lead to reflection on the mystery of the Triune nature of God, which we always contemplate in our worship, but which we contemplated in a concentrated fashion last Sunday.  Now, we enter a long stretch of Ordinary Time. The liturgical color is green, which puts me in mind of plants and growth. Ordinary time makes up most of the Church calendar because growing in our faith is something that happens, for the most part, in quotidian, day-to-day life experiences. The way we strive to live the Christian life of worship of God & service toward others in the ordinary times of our lives shapes us into people who can rely on God during the not-so-ordinary times in our lives–times of great joy and also times of great hardship, fear, or distress.  God is with us in the feasts and the fasts of life. The task of Christian living is learning to recognize how that is true. That is where the Daily Office comes in.

The Daily Office is the collective name for four services that appear in the Book of Common Prayer: Morning Prayer, Noon Day Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. In his wonderful book, Inwardly Digest: The Prayer Book as Guide to a Spiritual Life, Derek Olsen devotes a chapter to the Daily Office.   Together, these prayers of the Church are meant to shape our days and hours, as Olsen writes, “the Daily Office helps us see the life of faith as a daily activity that must be consistently chosen from among a hundred other things all clamoring for our time and attention.”

The Daily Office forms the backbone of the prayer of the church.  Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are the “main” offices. Noon Day Prayer and Compline (meant to be prayed at night, or right before bed) are shorter offices, and take between 5 to 10 minutes to pray.  All four offices are primarily composed of Scripture, and particularly the poetry of Scripture. A life formed by these prayers is a life formed by the beautiful as well as the good and the true.

Today’s Liturgy Lab experiment involves using the office of Morning Prayer as the Liturgy of the Word in our 10AM Holy Eucharist.  If you were here for the first Liturgy Lab last week, you’ll remember me talking about the “logic of liturgy.” The basic logic or structure of our normal 10AM Eucharist is two-fold: Liturgy of the Word (readings, sermon, prayers, etc.) and Liturgy of the Altar (Holy Communion).  Today, the second part (starting with the Offering) will be the same as normal, the first part will be the office of Morning Prayer. Most of the same components will be present: the readings, the psalms, the prayers and the sermon, but the order in which we do these things will be significantly different.  Our Liturgy Lab discussion at 9:15AM Sunday morning will be devoted to further exploration of these changes and the history and meaning of our common worship. Come for the donuts, stay for the surprisingly interesting discussion.

In Christ,
James+

A Note from the Rector – 6/16/2019

Happy Father’s Day!  Today is our first Liturgy Lab of the summer.  As is true of all good experiments, one never knows for sure what the outcome will be, but with God’s grace we will hopefully avoid any explosions or poisonous gas clouds resulting from an experiment gone awry.  

One of the several components of our experiment will be our monthly practice of Healing Prayer.  Normally, we do this on the second Sunday of the month. For the past several months that practice has been interrupted by major feasts–last week, it was the Feast of Pentecost.  Rather than try to cram too much liturgical action into such important days, I think it is better to have healing prayer on a subsequent Sunday (like today). However, we are going to change (shudder!) how we do it for this Liturgy Lab Sunday.  It is our normal practice to have healing prayers AFTER everyone has received Communion. Those who wish, normally come back to the altar rail and receive the laying on of hands and/or annointing with oil. Today, Healing Prayer will be offered before the Peace and right after the Confession.  There is a method to the madness, but you’ll have to come to Liturgy Lab at 9:15 Sunday morning to find out what it is.

Healing prayer itself is a New Testament practice.  The Epistle of James, for instance, says this: “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” (James 5:14-15; for a hint about why we are moving it within the service order, look at verse 16).            

In medieval Europe, particularly during times when the bubonic plague was rampant, healing prayer with laying on of hands and anointing with oil (anointing with oil is also called “unction”) came to be associated with the end of one’s life–because, well, if you were sick with the plague, most likely you were not going to recover.   Over the years, anointing the sick morphed into (or conflated with) anointing the dying and dead, a practice known as extreme unction. In the 1540s, Thomas Cranmer took medieval liturgy, translated it into English and edited it into the first Book of Common Prayer. He tried to recover the New Testament sense of healing prayer: that is, you pray for healing, expecting healing–whether that be spiritual healing, physical healing, or both.  In other words, he wanted to differentiate between healing prayer and prayers for the dying. Thomas Cranmer’s Reformation buddies didn’t like that part of the original Book of Common Prayer and the service of healing with anointing of oil was removed from subsequent versions of the Prayer Book. That is how things remained for about 300 years in the Anglican world (Church of England, and it’s “children” including the Episcopal Church). In the earliest 20th century there was a revival of interest in healing prayer and anointing the sick with oil.  This revival coincided with the early Pentecostal movement that emphasized healing, and with Christian Science and similar movements, which rapidly gained popularity in both the US and the UK. The Church of England and the Episcopal Church took note of this renewed interest in healing, and the Episcopal Church included a service of “Ministration to the Sick,” which included anointing the sick with oil in the 1928 Prayer Book, and again, with minor changes in the 1979 Prayer Book. The prayers for anointing in this service are derived from Thomas Cranmer’s prayer that he composed in 1549 for the first Book of Common Prayer.    

In Christ,
James+

A Note from the Rector – 6/9/19

Happy Feast of Pentecost!  I love a good cookout. Thank you to Suzanne Lees for coordinating this event, to all those who brought side dishes, and to Meg and Todd Delevan for grilling!

Today, we are celebrating our wonderful Sunday School.  I am so grateful to every one of our Sunday School teachers.  They are a dedicated and loving bunch of people, and the care and time they spend with our children is an incredible gift to the parish – one that will reap benefits in our children’s lives that we cannot even predict or fully understand.  In 1 Corinthians 3, St. Paul is talking about the role different teachers and preachers have in the spiritual growth of the church in Corinth. He uses the familiar agricultural metaphor of planting and watering to talk about the role he played in the growth of the church in Corinth in conjunction with the role that another person, Apollos, had played.  He writes: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”  None of us can predict the impact that our time and talent will have on future generations. All we can do is the work that God lays before us: to love and nurture those God has given into our care, and then trust that it is God who will bring about growth.

Thank you especially to Jamie Grant and Joe Zorc who have been co-coordinators of the Sunday School this year.  This year, long time Sunday School teacher Peter Patton was elected to the Vestry, and he has taken over the role of Vestry liaison for the Sunday School; a big thanks to him as well.

A Note from the Rector – 6/2/19

Today is the last Sunday in Easter, the 43rd day of the Great 50 days of Easter.  You will have noticed the large candle with the symbols and the date on it, which has been prominently burning on the steps the near the pulpit during our worship.  This the Paschal candle.  “Paschal” comes from the Greek word “Pascha,” the term for Easter used in much of non-English speaking Christianity, which literally means Passover.  The Paschal Candle is a lovely symbolic tradition.  In general, candles in church are symbolic of presence.  The candles on and behind the altar anticipate and honor Christ who is made present to us on that table in the Bread and the Wine. The candle that always burns before the Reserved Sacrament to the right of our altar again represents the belief that Christ is truly present in the Sacrament.  The small candles we light in prayer near the pulpit represent our own presence before God in prayer and supplication; they are a visual reminder that God sees us as we are, hears our prayers, and offers God’s presence in response. 

The Paschal candle represents Christ’s post-Resurrection presence with his disciples in the 40 days after Easter. The candle is blessed at the Easter vigil and lit in near darkness, representing the light of Christ’s life rekindled in the darkness of the grave.  The Paschal candle is then lit at every service from Easter until the Feast of the Ascension when Christ ascends to heaven (but we are extending its use until today: the Sunday after the Ascension).  The Paschal candle is lit again whenever there is a baptism or a funeral.  It is meant to remind us that in baptism we are joined with Christ in his death and resurrection, and that Christ is present with us always. At funerals the Paschal candle reminds us that Christ’s resurrection is a promise to us that our own death is not the end, and that we will always be in the loving care of the Resurrected Jesus. 

Our Paschal candle has been recycled for a few years now, and it is burning low.  Next Easter, it will be time to replace it.  If you would like to contribute something toward a new Paschal Candle please contact Patty Wertz, the Altar Guild president.  A Paschal candle is traditionally made out of beeswax (or least 51% beeswax), and they cost around $200-$400.  This request is not made in desperation, Altar Guild members have been excellent stewards of their funds over the years and there is money enough to buy what we need for the church’s worship.  However, contributing toward a new Paschal candle would be a meaningful and beautiful way to honor a person you love who has died in the hope of the Resurrection, and that is why I am offer the opportunity to contribute.  

A Note from the Rector – 5/26/19

A series of vestments: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

A blessed Sunday of Rogation to you.  Also, I wish everyone the best during tomorrow’s remembrance of those who have died in service to this country.   

We celebrate Rogation day the Sunday before the Feast of the Ascension, which is this Thursday, May 30th.  Rogation comes from Rogare which is the Latin verb “to ask.”  Rogation is a time to ask for God’s blessing on the agriculture and the resources of creation.  It recognizes these resources as gifts from God upon which all humans rely for life.  Our celebration of Rogation Sunday involves a procession to Wynnewood Valley Park next door, where we will read some scripture and pray a brief series of prayers and blessings.  It is also reflected in today’s Prayers of the People which are excerpted from the Great Litany.  The Litany is traditionally prayed on Rogation days because it represents the universal Church’s intercession and petition for itself and for the whole world. The prayer book version of the Litany that we pray in a much abbreviated form (we chanted the whole thing on the first Sunday of Lent, if you remember) was composed in 1547 by Thomas Cranmer as a pastoral response to ongoing wars between England, Spain and France.  It is truly one of the treasures of our Anglican heritage.  

The past four weeks I have been writing about vestments.  I promised to come back to that fancy cape thing I wore at the Easter Vigil, and will do so by discussing choir dress a little more.  Choir dress refers to vestments worn when there is no celebration of the Eucharist, for instance at a service of Morning Prayer, or Evensong. Choir dress is cassock and surplice (I wrote about those in the second part of this series), followed by an academic hood if the person is so entitled.  Clergy can then wear a black scarf called a tippet.  A tippet is generally wider and longer than a stole and is always black. Military chaplains or clergy who served in the military may attach any metals and other honors to which they are entitled to the tippet, and it is customary to sew patches to the tippet representing dioceses or seminaries.  As you can see, there is more of a customary usage to choir dress that has to do with titles and ranks and styles.  This puts it at odds with some of the theology of vestments that I have been trying to convince you of in previous posts, but it also pertains to the fact that ours is a church with a long and varied history and embedded tradition.

 Choir dress was very common before the 1979 prayer book when Morning Prayer was the principal Sunday service in most Episcopal churches on most Sundays.  Pictures of the earliest services here at Holy Apostles show the clergy and choir so appareled.  Also part of choir dress are “preaching tabs” small white bands of cloth that hang from the neck, typically denoting who is going to preach; and several variations of black hats: one called the Canterbury cap that has three corners, and one called a biretta that has three corners, a “fin,” and large pom-pom on top.  Trust me, I know how ridiculous that sounds.  Google it sometime, and then you will know how ridiculous it looks!  Much of the garments in choir dress share a common origin with academic regalia (the mortar board is related to the biretta) and with the traditional attire of the legal profession (Supreme court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s white neck ruffles are related to preaching tabs).  The reason for this has to do with the fact that the earliest universities of the western world were institutions of the Church, and the first lawyers trained at such institutions were canon lawyers, that is, lawyers engaged in the interpretation and litigation of the Church’s laws and policies (yes, they’re that complicated!).  

The cope is also part of choir dress.  The cope is a semi-circular cape-like garment, open at the front, and held in place by a clasp of metal or cloth.  It probably shares its origin with the chasuble: garments worn by dignitaries of the Roman empire in the 4thcentury.  It came to be used as garment “in choir” and especially for processions.  Processions in the medieval church were often longer than just a leisurely jaunt down the center aisle of the church, and were often outdoors.  On Rogation days in medieval England (some places retain this tradition today), it was common for a procession to encircle the boundaries of the entire village, or parish, with stations along the way for prayers and scripture and blessings to be said.  This is called “beating the bounds.”  Our procession to the park this morning originates in this practice.  Aren’t you glad I don’t want us to process down Haverford road to City Avenue and then back up Earlington Road!  That’s not to say I didn’t entertain the thought…

Anyway, the cope is worn by the clergy and by cantors in these sorts of processions, and at other formal services that involve a lot of movement.  The cope is never worn during the Eucharistic prayer, so if a priest wears the cope for the first part of the service—as I did for the Easter Vigil—then it replaced by the chasuble before the Eucharistic prayer begins.      

The cope that belongs to us came from St. Faith’s.  It was made by J. Theodore Cutherbertson a  vestment maker based in Philadelphia in the early and mid-20thcentury.  It is a very fine piece of work, made of silk and velvet.  

A Note from the Rector – 5/19/19

Series of Vestments: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In this on-going (never-ending?) series on garments for worship (AKA vestments), we have in the fourth week come to the two items that are most properly called vestments in the first place: the stole and the chasuble.    

The stole is the long, scarf-like thing that is worn draped around the neck.  If the wearer is a deacon the stole is worn fastened to one side like a sash.  If s/he is a bishop they wear the stole draped down the front.  A priest wears the stole the same way, or sometimes they will cross the stole in front to differentiate themselves from the higher office of bishop.  Along with the chasuble, the stole usually matches the color of the liturgical season.  Right now, for the Easter season, it is white.

The stole’s exact origins are shrouded in the mists of time.  It may be related to pre-Christian religious garments in southern Europe.  It has often been compared to the priestly ephod in the worship of the ancient Israelites and the prayer shawls of modern-day Judaism.  It is likely related to garments given to magistrates and other public officials in the Roman Empire to denote their office.  This function seems to relate to the fact that the way a clergy person wears the stole tells you something about their office (a deacon, or a bishop or a priest). 

Whatever the historical development, I find the deepest significance of the stole in the story of Last Supper. As we celebrate on Maundy Thursday, this is the night that Jesus put an apron or towel around himself and stooped to wash his disciple’s feet.  The stole represents that towel.  So, even as the stole functions as a distinctive mark of the office of a clergy person, it is also always a symbol of servanthood.  As Jesus told his disciple at the table, if any one wants to be a leader, they must be a servant of all (Matthew 20:26).  I generally wear a stole anytime I am doing something sacramental like consecrating the Eucharist, anointing the sick with oil, baptizing someone, or blessing a marriage.

On top of the stole, a priest who is going to celebrate Eucharist may wear a chasuble.  The chasuble is sometimes called theEucharistic vestment, because it is only worn for the purpose of Eucharistic celebration.  Let’s face it, the chasuble is a fancy poncho.  It’s a direct descendent of the outer cloaks worn in the Roman Empire in the 4thcentury.  Back then, these cloaks were worn by everyone.  As fashions changed in the early middle ages, bishops and priests alone held onto the chasuble, and it became the main garment used for the liturgy.  

Like the rest, the chasuble has accrued a symbolic meaning.  This can be seen from the traditional prayer for putting on the chasuble, which in its original Latin dates to the middle ages: “O Lord who hast said, ‘my yoke is easy and my burden is light’: enable me so to bear that I may attain to thy favor and abide in thy love.”  This prayer quotes Matthew 11:29-30: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In placing the chasuble around my neck as a yoke around the neck of an oxen, it reminds me of this promise of Jesus, which finds its counterpart and fulfillment in a commandment: “take up your cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).  

To be clear, it is not just the priest who is meant to take up Jesus’ yoke, and carry his cross.  This is for all of us.  Remember, the chasuble is a Eucharistic vestment, and at the Eucharist the priest is a symbol and a stand-in for the whole gathered community.  It’s not me as an individual up there, but all of us offering our gifts of wine and bread, of thanksgiving and praise to God, and receiving those gifts back from God, broken open, transformed, overflowing with grace that is the balm of all who are weary and heavy-laden.  This whole operation only makes sense when we’ve all yoked ourselves to Jesus, when we’ve all gathered ourselves underneath the saving health of the cross.  All these vestments are meant to help us participate aesthetically and symbolically in these truths.  Next week I will finish this exploration of vestments by talking about a few odds and ends.

A Note from the Rector – 5/12/19

Series on Vestments: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Happy Mother’s Day!  This week I will continue a series describing the meaning and purpose of the vestments used in our worship.  Vestments are garments set aside for use in liturgical worship.  Last week I wrote about the white robe called an alb, and its sister garment, the surplice (riveting stuff, I hasten to add if you missed it).  By virtue of its connection to the meaning of baptism, albs and surplices can be worn by any Christian who is engaged in a liturgical function during the service.

Traditional style albs, like the one I wear, do not cover up the collar of the shirt underneath.  When a priest who is to celebrate Eucharist wears an alb, it is desirable to cover up all parts of the priest’s “street clothes.” This is because at the Eucharist, it is not about the individual who celebrates.  Rather, the individual priest is a symbol and a representation of the entire congregation.  In this sense, vestments are meant to cover up the individual beneath them.  So, to cover up that collar I wear what is called an amice.  An amice is rectangular piece of white cloth with two long strings attached.  It functions like a detachable hood for the alb. It looks pretty funny when I put on the amice because I put over my head as if I am wearing a hood.  I secure the amice to my chest with the strings and then I put the alb on and bring the amice down around my collar and neck.  It has ample material to cover what I am wearing beneath. When putting on the amice, this is the traditional prayer that I pray: “Lord, set the helmet of salvation on my head to fend off all the assaults of the devil.”  This prayer connects the amice to the “armor of God” that is spoken of in Ephesians 6:

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For ourstruggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.

It is a beneficial spiritual practice to remind ourselves daily of our salvation won for us by the cross and resurrection of Jesus and conferred to us at baptism.  That’s part of what the amice does for me.  This passage from Ephesians can be meaningful to us, especially when we are feeling overwhelmed or “attacked.”  How can we put on the armor of God in our own lives?  You probably don’t need a physical symbol like an amice (although you get them at St. Jude’s shop in Havertown if you want!).  Rather, putting on the figurative armor that is spoken of Ephesians has to do with verse 18: prayer.  Wrap yourselves in prayer like armor protecting you from the attacks of the enemy.  Pray for righteousness, faith, and the ability to proclaim the Gospel of peace. Stand firm in prayer knowing that you are God’s own child.    

A Note from the Rector – 5/5/19

This is the second part of a series of “Notes” about the meaning and purpose of vestments.  Last week I gave an overview of the topic, and a general theological statement about vestments.  Next, I will explore specific garments, starting from the inside and working out.  One thing to note: this stuff has tradition behind it, but, while many people (God forbid I include myself here) can get sort of fussy about vestments, there are no official guidelines in the Episcopal church or instructions in the Book of Common Prayer about vestments.  

The first robe I normally wear on Sunday is not, properly speaking, a vestment.  It is a long black robe called a cassock, which used to be “street wear” for clerics rather than a garment set apart for worship.  The cassock was meant for everyday use.  This can be illustrated by the BBC series “Father Brown Mysteries” based on the mystery stories of G. K. Chesterton, featuring Mark Williams as the eponymous sleuthing priest.  Father Brown is almost never seen without his cassock on.  He even rides countryside on his bicycle wearing it. These days, the everyday wear of clergy people, known as “clericals,” is more commonly the black shirt with a white collar.  More often than not, I only wear my cassock on Sunday mornings.  For me, it serves the purpose of setting Sunday and Sunday worship apart as something out of the ordinary.  

What’s worn over the cassock is much more important.  The robe worn over the cassock is called an alb, which is short for the Latin word, albus, which means “white” (an etymology which might be significant for fans of the Harry Potterseries, written by an Anglican lay woman by the name of J.K. Rowling).  The alb derives from the everyday clothing of ancient Rome. Originally it was similar to the Greek toga.  It is a garment not limited only to priests, deacons, and bishops.  Anybody serving in the liturgy may wear an alb, or a similar garment (I’ll get to similar garments in a moment).  This is because, first and foremost, the alb signifies the ministry of all the baptized.  In the 4thcentury (here we go again), a pilgrim named Egeria travelled to Jerusalem and observed the Easter ceremonies of the Church in Jerusalem. During the Easter Vigil, Egeria observed a number of baptisms of adults (infant baptism was not very common in the early centuries of the church).  Those to be baptized were separated by gender, and they disrobed before they were baptized by full-immersion.  When they came out of the water they were given an alb to put on to signify that their sins had been washed away, and they were now forgiven participants in the risen life of Christ.  So, in one sense, the alb signifies the state and ministry of all the baptized. 

In Revelation 7:14, the author sees a vision of a great multitude of people from every people group and nation, standing before the throne of God in heaven holding palm branches.  They are all wearing albs, and the author is told their robes are white because they have washed them in the blood of the Lamb, who is Christ himself.  All these white-robed saints had experienced persecution and martyrdom.  On several occasions, our liturgy refers to the white-robed army of martyrs.  This is the origin of that reference.  So, the alb signifies the state and ministry of the baptized, and also the purity and faithfulness of those whose commitment to Christ extends even unto death and beyond. I am reminded of these symbolic meanings every time I put on my alb with this prayer: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, and cleanse from me all stains of sin; that, with those who have made their robes white in the blood of the Lamb, I may have grace to attain to everlasting happiness.”

A local, northern European variation of the alb, called the surplice is another white garment that I sometimes where.  The surplice is cut differently than the alb, with a wider neck, and reallybig sleeves.  It is not worn with a cincture (robe around the waist).  Over time, the usage of the alb versus the surplice was differentiated so that, a surplice is generally worn by those who are not actually celebrating the Eucharist (clergy or lay), and for services such as Morning Prayer where Eucharist is not to be celebrated at all.  It is part of what is known as “choir dress,” vestments for worship other than Eucharistic worship.  On Sundays when we have guest clergy who are not leading us in the Eucharistic prayer, you will notice they will wear either an alb and stole (I’ll talk about the stole next week), or a cassock, surplice, and stole.  The priest leading the Eucharistic prayer will wear a chasuble over his or her alb and stole.  This usage, of course, is not universal.  

A Note from the Rector – 4/28/19

Christ is risen!  The Great Fifty Days of Easter is underway. I am grateful for the beautiful Holy Week and Easter day that we celebrated together.  During that time, I had three separate conversations with folks about vestments, particularly, the fancy looking cape thing that I wore on Palm Sunday and for the Easter Vigil.  In church-nerd speak, that thing is called a “cope.”  It comes from the same family of Latin words from which we get the words cape, cloak, chapel, chaplain, and a Capella.  In response to these conversations and questions I am going to use a few of my “Notes” to explore the meaning and purpose of the vestments that we use in our worship.  I will get back to the cope, but for the sake of clarity I want to begin at the beginning: what are vestments, why do we bother with them, and from where did they come? 

Simply put, vestments are garments intended specifically for use in the Church’s liturgy.  Their use ultimately derives from the worship of ancient Israel (take a look at Exodus 28 for a fascinating description of Israel’s priestly garments).  Their almost universal use in churches, and in some cases the shape and form of the garments themselves, dates back to at least the 4thcentury (have you noticed that a lot of churchy things date back to the 4thcentury?), although they have undergone a lot of development over the years. Today, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and some Methodists and Baptists use some form of vestment.  The question is, why?  

I’ll discuss two interlocking reasons for the use of vestments in worship.  The first is beauty.  Our neighbor, Beth El/Beth Hillel on Remington Road has a beautiful rendering of Psalm 96:9 on their wall.  It is a verse that has guided the imagination of many Christian traditions as well, it says, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”  Holiness, which means the condition of being set apart for use by God, is beautiful in all its forms.  God has set apart each and every Christian to be God’s agents of reconciliation, to be witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, and to worship and honor the glory of God. Just as holiness is beautiful, so should beauty point us toward holiness, and toward our Creator.  This orientation toward God is also the purpose of worship.  Worship, then, should also be beautiful.  A lot of what we do in our worship is done with the intention of being beautiful.  I believe that God loves and revels in beauty. Just take a look at the natural world. Also (duh), beauty is attractive to our fellow humans, and thus beauty has a role in evangelism.  So, beautiful worship is discipleship (orienting us toward God), evangelism (attracting others to the faith), and most importantly, pleasing to God.  Beauty is why we have stained glass windows, it’s why we have a good organ instead of collection of kazoos.  It’s also a big part of why we have vestments.  

The other main reason we have vestments is more important, though.  This reason is also present in that verse from the Psalms: holiness.  Try not to think about this in terms of morality, i.e. whether someone who is holy is “better” than anyone else in a moral sense. That isn’t what holiness is about. Holiness simply means set apart. In the case of humans, it is something done to us, not something we do.  Therefore, holiness does not signify worth or goodness, and is certainly not something to brag about.  We do use this word a little differently in reference to God, but that’s a topic for another day.  

As I said, all Christians are set apart; made holy by virtue of our baptism into the life and body of Christ.  Scripture puts it this way: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  All Christians are priests.  Vocational priests and other ministers are called and ordained (set apart) merely as symbols and tokens of that fact.  

Priests, deacons, and bishops wear vestments in that capacity, as symbols and signs of the priesthood of all Christians.  Vestments are not about setting the minister apart from the congregation in some qualitative sense.  They’re not just meant to be fancy clothes in order to make me feel fancy.  Rather, vestments are symbolic of the fact that liturgy itself is a time, place, and activity which are set apart, demarcated from other time and other activities.  Liturgy, the worship of the church, is special.  It is holy.  The priest is a symbol for the whole people of God, and vestments are symbols of the set apart-ness of the activity that we come together to complete on Sunday mornings (and other times!).  

For me personally, vestments are practical.   There is a ritual to putting on vestments.  There are particular prayers prayed as the different garments are put on (the prayers are posted on the wall of the vesting sacristy).  Putting on the vestments is how I “put my game face on.”  It is how I prepare for worship; how I remove myself from my other roles and identities and forget my own cares and worries.  They are a tangible way of assuming my liturgical role as a symbol of God’s people, and—only by the working of the Holy Spirit—a conduit of God’s grace.  Vestments, then, are an important part of my spirituality and help me to do things that I have been called here to do.  

So, that’s why we have vestments in the first place.  In future weeks, I will discuss a little bit about the symbolism and history of particular vestments—including that fancy cape thing I was wearing the other day.