A Note from the Rector – 3/29/20

12 days.  As of the day I am writing, that’s how many days since I last received the life-giving food of Christ’s body and blood.  It’s been a decade since I’ve gone that long without receiving the Eucharist.  I’ve seen and heard many people talk about how this is a time to realize what we have taken for granted in our lives.   For me, the Eucharist is on the top of the list.  I am sure I am not alone.  The Eucharist has come up a lot, as I’ve spoken to people from our parish in the past two of weeks.  More than one person has wondered if we could do a digital Eucharist, where each person gathers their own elements of bread and wine and I bless them remotely over the internet live-stream.  I have been moved by these conversations and the desire to participate in the great Sacrament of the Church that they express.  I love and admire you all for the strength of your faith and your hunger for the healing food of the Eucharist.  

The thing about the Eucharist is that it is inescapably physical.  The Eucharist embodies the incarnate, the en-fleshed, body of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is made present in the elements of wine and bread for the physically gathered community of the body of Jesus Christ, otherwise known as the Church…otherwise known as you.  This is a material, personal, face-to-face act of thanksgiving and sacrifice.  While the internet can do many things for us, especially in this time of crisis, it cannot simulate the immediacy and intimacy of the Eucharist.  The essential physical nature of the Eucharist is expressed in the Book of Common Prayer in the only instruction during the Eucharistic prayer for what the Celebrant (the priest) must do with their hands.  When saying the Words of Institution–“This is my body…” and “This is the blood…” the priest must touch the bread and touch the chalice.   It’s not that I have magic hands or that there’s anything special about me personally.  It is that the priest (who is standing in for the bishop, actually) represents the entire gathered assembly, offering up everything we have as a sacrifice of praise to God and receiving everything back, blessed, broken open, and dripping with God’s grace.  Good WiFi is no substitute for the real thing.  

As a priest I could celebrate the Eucharist with only another member of my family present.  But to do this for my consolation only, would be (to my conscience) a selfish act.  The intention of the heart is key here.  I do not question the motivation of priests who are celebrating the Eucharist in the absence of a congregation.  I am personally grateful that many of my colleagues have continued to pray the best prayer of the Church (the Eucharist) and to offer up the body and blood of Christ for the healing of our lost and broken world.  But for us, the vestry and I decided that we would livestream Morning Prayer instead of Eucharist as our main service for the time being.

So, we’re in a pickle.  In direct consultation with the Commonwealth’s health department, the bishop has suspended in-person worship services through the first Sunday of May.  I cannot even express how sad I am about the implications.   We cannot gather in person for Palm Sunday, or any of the services of Holy Week, or on the most important and glorious and meaningful day of the entire year—Easter Day.  Nevertheless, the bishop’s decision is the right one.  We need to stay home to save lives and to reduce the pressure on our healthcare system.  This is what loving our neighbor requires of us, and to violate that love—even for the sake of something so intrinsically good as gathering together to worship—is wrong.  

As unprecedented as all this sounds, we are not alone in this.  Our ancestors in faith dealt with similar and even more difficult circumstances.  As the fly said when he fell into the preserves…I’ve been in much worse jams than this.  The Church has lived and faithfully thrived through much worse jams than this.  It is also helpful to remember that not too long ago the norm in the Episcopal church was Morning Prayer three Sundays a month and Eucharist one Sunday a month.  In the Middle Ages, despite daily Eucharists celebrated in most churches, the average faithful Christian would only receive the Eucharist once or twice a year—perhaps only on Easter and Christmas.

The Book of Common Prayer also offers a way forward for us who so desperately want and need the Eucharist:

“If a person desires to receive the Sacrament, but, by reason of extreme sickness or physical disability, is unable to eat and drink the Bread and Wine, the Celebrant is to assure that person that all the benefits of Communion are received, even though the Sacrament is not received with the mouth.”

BCP, page 457

This concept is known as Spiritual Communion.  Even though we cannot receive with our mouths, God’s grace is imparted and made present to us through the holy desire and intentions of our hearts.   We are embodied people and Spiritual Communion is no permanent substitute for the material Eucharist, but in this time, it will carry us through.  So going forward into Holy Week we will create opportunities to make Spiritual Communion and to sharpen the desires and intentions of our hearts toward union with God and each other.  And when this thing is over, and we can gather again, we are going to have one heck of a party and one heavenly Eucharistic feast together.  

Right now, do not doubt that God’s loving presence is everywhere.  God is with you right now.  God hears our cries and sees our desperate moments.  Lord, hear our prayer and let our cry come to you.  Lord make speed to save us.  God make haste to help us.  Amen.   

Announcements – 2/2/2020

Worship

† We will bless candles for Candlemas immediately following Morning Prayer this morning, which begins at 8:30AM.  Blessed candles will be available at the 10AM service of Holy Eucharist (see today’s Note from the Rector for more information).

† Healing Prayer will be offered today, February 2, at the 10AM service.

† Are you friendly?  We need you! Our greeter ministry is one of the key ministries of our church.  Greeters welcome visitors, make people comfortable, hand out service leaflets and take up offering.  They make sure the service runs smoothly. Starting in October, we will be organizing a monthly Greeters breakfast with the Rector, probably at a local restaurant.  If you’re interested in serving God in this way, talk to Jim Jervis or Fr. James.

† Morning Prayer is offered at 8:30AM on Sunday mornings and at 9:15AM Tuesdays through Fridays.  Anyone can pray the service privately using the Book of Common Prayer or one of a number of smartphone apps!  See the last section of the digital edition of the “Acts of the Apostles” for details.

Outreach

† Our annual Connect by Night shelter program concluded last month. We made over 1,500 lunches and provided many different gifts to our guests, who were very thankful for the support. Thanks to all the many people who took part this month, and particularly to our weekly supply captains: Peter Patton, Lyn DeSilets, Michelle Gallagher and family (thanks also for the socks), Judy and Jim Jervis and Beth Johnson. Thanks also to the Philadelphia Bible Reform Church, the Woestmanns (who organized a book distribution), and the Gentiles (who covered Christmas and New Year’s Eve).

† There are lots of opportunities to participate in Holy Apostles Outreach through our various programs:

      – Delivering items to a food pantry in Northeast Philadelphia

      – Meals at Darby Mission (3/17). Other ideas are welcome.

Children and Youth

† Nursery childcare is available during the 10:00AM Sunday service for children ages 3 and younger in the Godly Play Room.

† The Holy Apostles Choir School is off and running.  If you have a potential student, apply today.  More information is available at holyapostlespa.org/choir-school/. Please forward this information to friends and neighbors who may be interested. Contact Deb Stambaugh if you have any questions.

Parish Life

† Please don’t miss the Annual Parish Meeting and luncheon after our 10AM worship, Sunday, February 2.  We’ll review our budget for the year, elect new vestry members, and praise God for all the wonderful things happening in this place. In an effort to cut down on paper waste, print copies of reports will not be provided at the meeting. We will digitally project information during the meeting. Print copies of the 2020 Budget will be provided. You can also print your own: Visit the Annual Meeting page to access the budget and all reports in a printable format.

† If you have an announcement to be included in Acts of the Apostles, please send it to holyapostlescomm@gmail.com before Thursday at noon of each week.

† Don’t forget to enter the church through the Parish office door and grab a “Church Member” badge from the office during Daycare hours (7:00AM – 6:00PM Mon-Fri)!

† The Cash for Causes Program at Giant Supermarket:

· Purchase through JT Wertz

· 5% of card value is given to Holy Apostles operating fund.

· Can be used in store or when ordering Giant groceries through Peapod online delivery service.

Education

† Join us for BASICS class, every 3rd Sunday at 9AM.

· Third Sunday Basics Class will continue February 16 with a class called “What is liturgy?”

† Bible Study on Deuteronomy, Thursdays at 11AM.  All are welcome.

† FacePsalm online study of the Psalms: bit.ly/2ndKq9o

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.          

A Note from the Rector – 3/10/19

Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent.  This morning we join in the prayers of the Church using a very ancient form of prayer—the Great Litany.  The Great Litany is the real deal; the big time; the major leagues of prayer.  This prayer was first assembled in response to a 4th century volcanic eruption.  It was further shaped by political uncertainty, war, and medieval outbreaks of the Black Plague in Europe.  In 1544, the Great Litany was the first part of the Liturgy to be translated (and heavily edited) into vernacular English by Thomas Cranmer.  Five years later Cranmer finished the first Book of Common Prayer, which stands at the fountainhead of our own style of worship.  Cranmer’s version of the Litany melded medieval catholic spirituality with the theological concerns of the Reformation.  Martin Luther’s hand can still be detected on the version of the Litany that is in our prayer book.

At one time, the Great Litany was prayed by every Anglican parish every Sunday.  These days, even though it is included in our version of the prayer book, it has fallen into disuse.  This is a real shame. As one scholar writes, the Litany is “a most careful, luminous, and comprehensive collection of the scattered treasures of the Universal Church.”  It holds together the reformed and catholic strands of our tradition, and it articulates the needs, anxieties, and suffering of humanity with a power that is rare.  More than that, the Litany is a profound reminder that we need to rely on the grace and mercy of God.  This is equally true today as it was in the 4th century, or the 14th.  Our life depends on God, whether we recognize it or not.  And the fact is, we often don’t recognize it.  Lent is a good time to correct that, so let’s do it with style.

This morning’s service is going to feel different.  We will begin the service by chanting together this ancient, beautiful prayer. The choir is going to march around the church really slow, and any children present might feel like joining in the march, which would be ideal as far as I am concerned.  My experience is that children intuitively understand the grandest and most sublime parts of liturgy, even if their response to them don’t always strike us adults as appropriate.  It’s going to take some time to chant the Great Litany, which is okay.  Don’t be anxious.  This is an opportunity to lose yourself in the mystery and the majesty of something bigger than you, something more important (really, it is) than the busyness and anxieties and luxuries of everyday life.  I promise it will be worth it.  I also promise to keep my sermon short.  🙂

For more on the history and use of the Great Litany see this excellent article from the Living Church magazine.