Weekly Worship Thought – Easter Vigil Recap

Faith Lutheran Church began to hold the Easter Vigil in 2012. Some of our long-term members can recall gathering for worship on the Saturday before Easter decades ago, so technically 2012 was not the first time the Vigil was held at Faith. However, Faith began to celebrate the Vigil anew in 2012. That means that this was our fifth year to gather on the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday.

I’m not going to sugar coat it: this service is not easy. It is not the most “user friendly” worship we offer. It starts late (8:00 PM). It runs long (nearly two hours). There is a procession from outside the building to inside the gym. There are SIX scripture readings (but I want you to know that there are 12 readings assigned for the service, so it could be worse). The air conditioning turned off half way through the service. I could go on, but you get my drift.

Why is it so challenging? Our version of the Easter Vigil is modeled after what we know the church did based on historical documents from the first several centuries after the resurrection. In the first centuries of Christianity, believers would gather together and hold vigil, all night long from sunset on Saturday till sunrise on Sunday. The church would be gathered in prayer in one part of the building, while in another part of the building, final preparation was being made for candidates for baptism. These candidates had in some cases been preparing for three years. Three years of gathering with the believers on Sunday, hearing the word read and the gospel proclaimed, and then being ushered out of worship into a separate space for further explanation and instruction. There time of preparation was intense and included fasting and exorcisms.

Why did it take so long? Mainly because the church didn’t assume that their candidates understood the doctrinal basics of the faith. But also because these candidates weren’t simply transferring their name to a new church directory or joining a country club. They were undergoing the radical transformation that we call conversion. Their thinking, their livelihood, their origins, their idolatry, and everything else about them were called into question. It was a slow, measured, weighty process. These churches weren’t interested in the assembly line production of Christians. This was slow-growth, organic, artisanal discipleship.

Now you see some of the rationale behind the First Steps @ Faith catechumenate. Our motivating factor is slightly different though. We think that it is relational connectedness that is most needed for a newcomer in this day and age. More than fully grasping what it means that Jesus is both human and divine, more than renouncing our idolatrous ways of being, we think that candidates need to know that they are loved and cared for by a group of people called into community by God’s Spirit. That is the bed of soil that the seed of faith is planted in.

I have many favorite parts of the Easter Vigil, and one of them is how we gather together for this service. We start outside around a fire. If you’re a fan of camping you will get this. There is something magical about being outdoors around burning wood. If we try to explain the magic we can trace it all the way back to the origins of what it means to be human. What set us apart from the other animals is that we learned how to use tools and start fires. So gathering around a fire outdoors is perhaps one of the earliest, oldest cognitive memories of humanity. Fire is also a central symbol in our faith. God led Israel by fire through the desert. God spoke to Moses in a flame. All the way down to the narrative of Easter, where around the fire Peter denies even knowing the Lord. We start the service around a fire. But not any fire, a new fire, signaling a new way of being that is burning into our world.

If you’ve never been, make plans to attend the Easter Vigil next year.

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Worship @ Synod Assembly 2012

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This year I had the honor and privilege of being part of the team that designed and led worship for Synod Assembly. Every year the Gulf Coast Synod of the ELCA (gulfcoastsynod.org) gathers for business, worship, andfellowship. The Assembly was May 11-12, 2012 and it was hosted at Lakewood United Methodist Church in northwest Houston. The team that planned worship met for several months working on all the details that go into planning an event for the whole synod. We had to design the services (including selecting the Bible readings, songs, prayers, and other elements), create and edit the worship folders (which we can proudly say were all printed onsite in the Faith office), and recruit and instruct all the worship leaders and assistants for the services.

The Synod Assembly this year was a huge success! The worship services were joyful celebrations of who God is and what God has done. It can be a challenge and stretch to create worship services for people coming from such a broad geographic context. How do you create a worship service for rural farmers in Brenham, suburban Houstonians, and urban folks from New Orleans, all assembled together at the same time? As the team discussed designing worship for such a diverse crowd, we found the Assembly to be the perfect place to celebrate what makes us each unique. As we sang each other’s songs, we realized we have much more in common than different.

One of the highlights was the Holy Communion service on Friday evening. All of the worship services were designed in a convergent style: many diverse languages, music, and ritual actions converging together in a prayerful way. Friday’s service used the service music from Setting 7 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, all sung in Spanish and led by a Mariachi Band! After the Hymn of the Day (using the organ), we participated in a Thomas Mass, which is a form of Lutheran worship originating from Helsinki, Finland. During the Thomas Mass, the people assembled were invited to move freely around the room and interact with several stations. They could serve and be served using a basin and towel for foot and hand washing, write intercessions for the world on a banner, create mosaic artwork for a communion paten, offer prayers of confession and receive forgiveness, receive anointing for healing, and leave an offering for the ELCA Malaria Campaign. We then celebrated the holy meal together around God’s table. This service was a beautiful picture of diversity and unity and I’m sure it will have a profound impact on me for years to come.

Pictures from the Holy Communion service taken by Larry Bose. A complete sketch of the order of worship is below.

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Order of Service

GATHERING

Prelude from Mariachis

Recognition of First Call Theological Education Pastors

Kyrie & Gloria – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Prayer of the Day

WORD

First Reading – 1 Kings 19:4-8

Psalm 34:1-8 (chanted with shruti box)

Second Reading – Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Gospel Acclamation – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Gospel Reading – John 6:35, 41-51

Sermon

Hymn of the Day 480 O Bread of Life from Heaven (Organ)

St. Thomas Mass Stations

Sharing Christ’s Peace

MEAL

Dialogue/Preface

Santo, santo, santo – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Thanksgiving at the Table

Lord’s Prayer

Invitation to the Table

Cordero de Dios – Setting 7 (Mariachis)

Communion Song 485 I Am the Bread of Life (Piano/guitars)

Communion Song 472 Eat This Bread (Guitar/Taize)

Prayer after Communion

SENDING

Blessing

Sending Song 618 Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer (Organ)

Dismissal

Postlude (Mariachis)