Eucharist,The Eternal Celebration

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In the Golden Thread (Level 3) Atrium this week we are taking a closer look at the Eucharist through the memorial prayers, particularly the one found in Eucharistic Prayer D. (There are four Rite II Eucharistic Prayers used, and at St. Philip’s you will hear them change with the liturgical seasons.  Eucharistic prayers  A, B, C, and D  are found  on pp. 361-375 in the Book of Common Prayer. )

“Father, we now celebrate this memorial of our redemption. Recalling Christ’s death and his descent among the dead, proclaiming his resurrection and ascension to your right hand, awaiting his coming in glory; and offering to you, from the gifts you have given us, this bread and this cup,we praise you and we bless you.” 

Memorial here does not mean funeral, but remembering.  Remembering, or memory, is more than a cognitive act.  A strong memory seems to dissolve time constraints, taking us into the past even though we stand in the present.  It can also remind us of who we are.

Memorial helps us enter the mystery of God by participating in celebration.  We have many different kinds of celebrations: birthdays, anniversaries, secular holidays…. Celebration is key part of human existence bringing joy and nourishing relationships.  People gather to celebrate a person or event intensely in order to bring intentional awareness to part of our lives.  Even a simple weekly date night helps couples reconnect and nurture their marriages.

At the Last Supper, Jesus wanted to remain with us and chose simple signs for the memorial of our redemption:  bread and wine.   We hear and remember his words to us, and all of God’s people for all time, “Take eat, this is my body given for you.”  Memorial breaks the boundaries of time.  Our remembering draws us into the past to be witnesses at the Cross, the Empty Tomb, Ascension and Pentecost, with apostles, saints, and all of God’s creation, past, present, and future.  This awareness renews and strengthens us for regular daily life in Beloved Community. And as we are unified in “one body because we all share one bread, one cup” we experience a foretaste of God’s promise as it will be fulfilled.  This is parousia, where remembering is “Re-Membering.”  All members of the Body are accounted for.   The Eucharist stands outside of time and is eternal just as God’s covenant with us is eternal. 

The words of the Eucharist open our eyes to the divine activity that calls, heals, reconciles and redeems us.  The memorial prayer reminds us that the covenant is not complete until there is response. Our feeling of gratitude leads to a response of “offering,” a word which is used interchangeably with “sacrifice.” 

The memorial prayer guides us in the only sacrifice God requires, a humble heart:   “offering to you, from the gifts you have given us, this bread and this cup, we praise you and bless you.”  After the memorial prayer, watch for the priest lifting high the bread and wine.  This gesture signifies our offering of those gifts, our praise and thanksgivings, and our whole selves.   This how Eucharist visually expresses the dynamic of love in the covenant:  God reached out toward us and acted, and in response we reach back offering our whole lives.  

In the “blood of the new covenant” Jesus has offered his whole self to us, which sets us free from life without God and binds us to a new life of participation, life in the Body.    Our offering in response to God’s sacrifice and Re-Membering us… is to remember who we are and who God is, what God has done. Personally, my only possible response is “Amen, Amen, Amen” (“Yes, I agree, I believe it is so”.

 

The “I’ll Never Be a Catechist” Catechist

I never wanted to be a catechist, so how did I get here?  I saw hundreds of people:  a crowd diverse in every category (including someone with a developmental disability) except for religion… sort of.  They were all Christian, although they represented many different denominations.  Otherwise, there were no obvious unifying characteristics.  There were extroverts who drank wine and laughed with new friends.  There were introverts who snuck out to unpack or walk in the woods.

In all that diversity, I sensed a commonality in this strange community:  there was wisdom, love…and joy.  At the time they effortlessly virtuous:  patient, kind, humble, compassionate… you name it.   This was no vision or delusion.  It was 2006, and I had arrived at the biennial gathering of the National Association of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, hosted in Hartford, CT by the Center for Children and Theology.

As a rookie catechist I took my time and observed the other catechists.  Insecurities began to mount not only of my inadequacy, but the folly of believing that anything inside me would ever change. “I could never be like them.”

Introductions began, and doubt was quickly replaced with joy.  There was no arrogance, no “cool table,” or cliques of important catechists.   In fact, the more experienced or well-known the catechist (fame from being a guru, leader, or having written a book) the more lovely and down-to-earth they were.  I found my footing, and contributed as able using the gifts God gave me.

I felt God’s voice:  “You are adequate.  This is where you are supposed to be.  I will give you what you need to do this work.”

I took Level 1 training as a sort of retreat from being a stay-at-home mom of two pre-school boys.  When I see myself in 2003, it is hard to see any diamond in all that rough. Thank God for the patience of my trainers and mentors! With their guidance,  I finally let God do the molding, and my slow transformation began.  Catechesis of the Good Shepherd saved my life, not only with formation, but by letting the child be my teacher.

More than ten years later, I am happy and (I dare say) confident as the sole catechist in Level 3 (Golden Thread Atrium) with a really great assistant.  I realize that now I am the one responsible for welcoming and encouraging new catechists.  Perhaps one day one of them will become my partner  in Level 3.

Sometimes I look around the congregation and wonder, “Who is God calling now?” And the need for an answer has become urgent, and will probably be ongoing for the next several years.

The question has become urgent.  With the growing number of children in our parish, Level 2 (The True Vine Atrium) adults will be overwhelmed in fall 2014 and fall 2015, and then it will be my turn when the kids reach Level 3.  Level 1 has now split into a three year old atrium (Mustard Seed) and a four-five year old atrium (Good Shepherd) which demands more volunteers, more materials.  And even if Level 1 or the number of children levelled off, we would still have attrition when a catechist moved away or retired.  !  God forbid if I get sick or can’t return to the atrium for some reason!  Catechists and clergy have to become more active and aware of people who want to explore this ministry.

What do I say makes a good catechist?  It is too easy and too hard to say “Love” or “Faith”.  It certainly isn’t a question of knowledge, virtue, or natural ability.  In my book, I only have one pre-requisite:  a desire to listen to God’s voice with children. 

Many people choose to assist for a limited period of time, finding that level of ministry works well for them.  Others want to go deeper, and it is possible a formation course is right for them.  Could God be calling you to work in the atrium, either as an assistant or a catechist?  If you would like to work in an atrium in either capacity, I invite you to speak with any catechists or with the associate rector, The Rev. Rhonda Lee.

More About Baptism

After my last post about baptism (here on October 24th), I received some detailed questions about the liturgy. The baptism liturgy is full of meaning and tradition, and mystery. I hope to answer some of these questions, and hope that the discussion will deepen the experience for you.  The baptism rite in the Book of Common Prayer(pages 298-314) answers a lot of questions. It may also raise new questions, which I hope you will feel free to bring to me. Such conversations are some of my very favorites.

Consider, too, asking your child, another child in the atrium, or a catechist to present the baptism work to you. Every adult I know who has witnessed that work has come away with a deeper understanding of the sacrament, and of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Why is baptism reserved for certain days of the church year (BCP, p.312)?

Typically, baptism is celebrated at the Easter Vigil, the day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day (or the Sunday after All Saints’), on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (the Sunday after Epiphany), or when a bishop is present to preside over the rite.

Each of these feasts or occasions reminds us of the meaning of baptism, each from its own particular angle. The Vigil powerfully signifies baptism as death and rebirth; Pentecost emphasizes the reception of the Holy Spirit; the Baptism of Our Lord reminds us of our rebirth as sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ; All Saints’ Day, that all the baptized are one in Christ; and the bishop’s visitation, that we are baptized into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

Baptism can be done on other occasions if there is a vital reason for it, but that is not usual. Private baptisms are done only in an emergency.

Does the person being baptized have to wear a white robe or dress?

The tradition of wearing a white robe or dress at baptism dates from the earliest days of the church and is retained by many parishes for both child and adult baptisms. Wearing white is not required, however. The white robe of baptism is linked to another liturgical object: the white pall that is placed over a coffin (or urn) at a funeral. The pall refers back to the baptismal robe and brings to mind the hope of the resurrection. Covering the coffin with a pall, rather than any other object, signifies the primacy of that hope over all other hopes, and our allegiance to God through Jesus Christ over all other loyalties.

When can a baptized child take communion?

Any baptized person, regardless of age, can take communion. They can receive a crumb of the wafer if they can’t consume a whole one, or a drop of wine. This applies to gravely ill persons and to persons with dementia or various learning challenges, as well as to infants. A person doesn’t need to “understand” anything about communion in order to receive it. He or she simply needs to have been baptized into Christ’s body, having committed him- or herself to living as his disciple, or living under the care of parents and godparents who have made those promises on his or her behalf.

Parents may choose to wait until their child is old enough to show reverence for the sacrament before allowing him or her to be served communion. If you have questions about when your child might be ready to receive communion, please ask. Your clergy, and your child’s catechist, would be happy to do this discernment with you.

Let’s keep this conversation going!

The next opportunity for you or your child to be baptized is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, January 12th2014. Please talk to your child’s catechist, to Rhonda, or to our rector, Jonah, if you are considering baptism. 

Precious Gifts

Here we are on the eve of the eve!  Frantic last minute preparations – decorating, wrapping, shopping, baking…!  Many of us will go to church on the eve to celebrate a candlelight mass or to see the children’s Christmas pageant.  The anticipation just builds and builds towards a magical moment when we can let loose of all the preparation and move into celebration.  And all of us, children and grown-ups alike, become giddy at the prospect of seeing what is inside that package under the tree.  The one with the big bow, or the one in the shape of that certain thing we had been hoping for.  In my house, as in many of yours, it will be the children who pass out the gifts.  They may pile up on your lap or around your feet in surprising abundance.  And as you open the boxes, pulling on the ribbons or popping off the bows, we look with gratitude at what is revealed.  A book, a scarf, a deluxe grilling tool set, a video game, a doll?  Maybe there will even be a little disappointment at what you have received.  The wrong thing, the wrong size or color, or maybe it is something that is just not “you.”  Whether we respond with joy, gratitude, or disappointment at what sits in our lap, it doesn’t change that it was a gift, freely given, expressly to us.  Maybe even given by someone for whom we did not give a gift to.

And what gift does God bring us on this day? Inside the biggest, shiniest package under the tree, we will find the unconditional love that is God’s grace.  That grace may not always come in the shape or size or color we wanted, but somehow it always fits us anyway.  God’s example of grace helps us to extend that unconditional love to one another – to your children and your partner, to the family member with whom you are in conflict, to those who are around your tree for the first time in a while, to those who have gone ahead and are missed so deeply, to your neighbors and acquaintances, to those who will spend this Christmas alone, or hungry, or forgotten. God’s gift of grace is one-size-fits-all.

Dear Lord, Help us this Christmas to greet all gifts as if they were your gifts – the gift of grace, of unconditional love, and the gift of his son, Jesus, savior of us all, born this day. 

It is this we treasure.  This the real gift.

Purple is for preparation

Behold, you come.  And your coming is neither past nor future, but the present, which has only to reach its fulfillment.  Now it is still the one single hour of your Advent, at the end of which we too shall have found out that you have really come.*

This Advent, this season of preparation, I’m not in the Good Shepherd atrium.  Thanks to Elizabeth’s grace-filled offer, I’m taking a few Sundays off to prepare for a special celebration that has at the same time nothing to do with church seasons and everything to do with God’s love and its reflection in us: my wedding is December 14th.  Praise be to God!  But that’s not the subject of this post…

Instead, I’m thinking about the way time slows down when, in the atrium, we hold the attention of 4, 5 and 6-year olds for just a moment to listen to the words of an Advent prophecy and, catching our breath, think about what it really means to anticipate the arrival of something wonderful and unknown.  This past Sunday, Elizabeth introduced the following prophecy: “A star will rise out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.”  I wasn’t there, but I can picture our beautiful, silly, inquisitive children in front of the prayer table, watching as she lit the first candle on the Advent wreath.  Assuming that the match didn’t shoot sparks across the carpet (it happens!), I can imagine the semi-reverent silence that might follow the reading of words of the prophet, which we sometimes say, by way of explanation, are the words of one who listens really closely to the silence so that she might hear God.

Sometimes, reading breathtaking words of prophecy works as if in a dream.  Children will catch us off guard with their precise observations.  All it takes is asking a question, “What do you think that means, a star will rise?”  The star is Jesus, they’ll say.  We’re waiting for his light to come into the world.  At which point we all nod, taking that in.

IMG_2298Other times, it’s seemingly less than magical.  Immediately after or during the prophecy, someone elicits a funny noise from his shoes that makes everyone giggle, someone raises her hand to tell us excitedly about the birthday party she’s going to that afternoon, or someone just can’t stand sitting still any longer and splays himself across the floor.  Amidst such distractions, I admit, I am frustrated!  Why can’t they recognize the beauty, the mystery, the majesty?!  I crave that awe-inducing moment of connection and confirmation that things are right, that moment when the heavens open up and the light pours down and God says, “Yes!  This is my Son.”  And the trumpets play.

We don’t often hear trumpets in the atrium.  Instead, in a plain old ordinary week, someone will create a flower-adorned prayer card that says, “Thank you, God, for Nature.”  Or someone will bring his mother in to see the prayer table that is filled with beautiful objects he selected and arranged that represent the light of Christ.  Or someone will tell us about the birthday party she’s going to that afternoon and we will share, simply, in her anticipation, forgetting to wish for something more.

IMG_2325When Elizabeth reads a prophecy, she may not get an immediate, soul-shaking response, but she will have done so with our beautiful, silly, inquisitive children, together, in a space that they remember and that they understand is just for them.  For me, knowing this is happening, even though I’m not there, is comforting.  And next week, I suspect that the children may ask to sing one of their favorite songs, the words of another Advent prophecy, “The people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light…”

*These words are by Karl Rahner, in an excerpt from the collection Watch for the Light, Readings for Advent and Christmas published by Orbis Books.

If you’re interested in bringing the prophecies into your home during Advent, here’s a great resource to consider: http://www.cctheo.org/prophecies.html

Simple Prayer

I enjoy simple prayer.  In this endeavor, I look to two important women as mentors.  Anne Lamott, who tells us that if you are not sure what or how to pray, a great place to start is with “help,” “thanks,” or “wow.”  And from a wee further back in history is St. Therese of Lisieux, who encourages us to see the simplicity of life, and thus the grace of God, in all people and all things at all times.

Children have such a straightforward view of life.  Because of their uncomplicated understanding of the world, I see the atrium as a place of great opportunity for the children to deepen their relationship with God.  It is a place that validates their need to be in relationship with God, and it gives them the space and the time to communicate with God.  In the atrium, the children remind us how simple it is to be in prayer.  We adults can take witness from their example.

At the end of our atrium time each week, we all gather around the altar.  In the True Vine atrium, the children plan the prayer service.  Their little minds, inspired by the Holy Spirit in the world around them, prepare the altar and choose the readings and songs.  As the children gather as a group around the prayer table, their responses to this time is as unique as they are themselves.  Some are restless, some are focused, some are verbal, some are silent.  But however they come to the altar, God is there to meet them.  Wherever they are.  Always.  Always.  Always.  It is so simple.

Below are pictures of the children’s prayer table from recent weeks.

atrium altar altar 1 image altar 2 image

“Full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit”

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“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church.

The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” (Book of Common Prayer, 298)

These two phrases express the mysterious reality at the heart of the sacrament of baptism: that all baptized persons, regardless how old or young, are members of Christ’s body and ministers of the gospel. All are called to eat and drink at his table, and then to go into the world in peace, to love and to serve the Lord.

I do mean all. If you’re preparing for your infant to be baptized, you may wonder: how can such a young child be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Can tiny babies, who can’t walk or talk, really serve the Lord?

They can, and they do. One ministered to me during a Christmas Day Eucharist a couple of years ago. I was at the altar, praying the eucharistic prayer thanking God “for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation…and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son,” when an infant cried aloud. She was an audible sign of the Incarnation, reminding us what Jesus would have sounded like at the beginning of his life: not yet able to speak recognizable words, but already skilled at communicating needs and connecting to her fellow creatures. That baby girl glorified God, and served as a minister of the gospel, simply by being who she is.

Of course, children need guidance as they grow, to understand more fully what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ within the household of the church. That’s why parents and godparents promise, at baptism, to “be responsible for seeing that the child [they] present is brought up in the Christian faith and life,” to pray for the child, and to be a witness for them to what Christian faith and life look like in practice. And that’s why the community doesn’t leave parents and godparents to do that work alone, but promises to “do all in [our] power to support [those being baptized] in their life in Christ.” All of us do that work of formation trusting that God will guide us, help us, and bless our efforts.

I see the fruit of those efforts when I hear young children, every Sunday, praying the Lord’s Prayer with enthusiasm. They’re proud to have learned the words, and I imagine Jesus smiling along with me at their joy and focus. I see it when children come forward for communion with their hands outstretched, and respond to my “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven” with “Amen.”

But what about when you’re sitting in church with a child who won’t say the prayers and can’t seem to keep still, or with a grouchy teen-ager who’s there under protest? Those moments, more challenging for parents, are another visible sign of God’s grace and a testament to who we are as Christians. We are all forgiven sinners, who come together weekly to celebrate the resurrection, and who support each other daily as we seek to hear Jesus Christ’s call and follow him. No fidgeting, no bad mood, not even a family argument can get in the way of that. Alleluia!

The next two opportunities for you or your child to be baptized are All Saints Sunday, November 3rd, or the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, January 12th 2014. Please talk to your child’s catechist, to Rhonda, or to our rector, Jonah, if you are considering baptism. 

We are thankful for…

Yesterday in the Good Shepherd atrium we sang one of our old favorites and delighted, as always, in our group’s contributions.  Which of God’s gifts are you thankful for?  How about rainbows, daddies, candy, dragons, dark, mommies, friends?

We also had a really productive work period.  Here’s a peek at the light that shines in our room:

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Catechesis is coming!

I must admit my mind is presently still more occupied by thoughts of sandcastles and surf, fireflies and barbecue, and wondering whether we can squeeze in one last summer adventure, but I can’t deny that Fall and school and the beginning of our new atrium year are inevitably just around the corner.

Please mark your calendars!  We will be holding an orientation on August 25th from 10:00 – 10:50 am for children and parents.  This is an opportunity for newcomers to the program and for children changing levels to come visit their new atriums, meet the catechists, and get oriented to their space for the upcoming year.  Parents who would like to learn more about the program are invited to join a catechist in the Gathering Room.  The first official day of Atrium is Sept 8th.

I look forward to seeing you on these dates and celebrating our return to the atriums, even if I may be still wearing my flip-flops.