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 Our version of the Easter Vigil is modeled after what we know the church did based on historical documents from the first several centuries after the resurrection.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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Weekly Worship Thought – Vigil Against Violence

vigil-against-violenceLast week we held the Vigil Against Violence on Thursday evening. This event was in response to the shooting in West University Place on Monday, September 26, 2016, which is only a few blocks away from the church. We felt that the best way to respond as a church was to offer a place of peace and reflection, as well as lift up the idea of non-violence. Our culture has turned increasingly more violent. As followers of Jesus, we walk in the path of a Savior who willingly allowed his own execution in order to tear down systems that violently oppressed the weak and vulnerable.

If you didn’t catch the news interview you can see it here:

You can also take a look at the readings and prayers from the vigil as well.

Vigil Against Violence

September 29, 2016 / 7:00 PM

Welcome

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Song – ELW 721 Goodness Is Stronger than Evil

Reading – Psalm 37:1-9

Do not fret because of the wicked;

do not be envious of wrongdoers,

for they will soon fade like the grass,

and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the LORD, and do good;

so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

Take delight in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;

trust in him, and he will act.

He will make your vindication shine like the light,

and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him;

do not fret over those who prosper in their way,

over those who carry out evil devices.

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.

Do not fret — it leads only to evil.

For the wicked shall be cut off,

but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.

Prayer

Let us pray: God of peace, we come to you on behalf of our community. We are in need of healing. We grieve for those are killed and those whose lives are forever changed by violence. We ask for comfort for those who have lost loved ones. We pray for a change of heart for those who resort to violence. You desire peace in our world. Let it begin with me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

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Song – God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us, stanza 1

God of mercy, you have shown us ways of living that are good:

Work for justice, treasure kindness, humbly journey with the Lord.

Yet your people here are grieving, hurt by weapons that destroy.

Help us turn to you, believing in your way that brings us joy.

Reading – Studs Turkel

“Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it is my responsibility to make it better.   Interweave all these communities and you really have an America that is back on its feet again. I really think we are going to have to reassess what constitutes a ‘hero.'”

Prayer

Let us pray: O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your church, peace among our neighbors, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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Song – God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us, stanza 2

On a street where neighbors gather, shots are heard; a young girl dies.
On a campus, students scatter as the violence claims more lives.
In a family filled with anger, tempers flare and shots resound.
God of love, we weep and wonder at the violence all around.

Reading – Kofi Annan

“It may seem sometimes as if a culture of peace does not stand a chance against the culture of war, the culture of violence and the cultures of impunity and intolerance. Peace may indeed be a complex challenge, dependent on action in many fields and even a bit of luck from time to time. It may be a painfully slow process, and fragile and imperfect when it is achieved. But peace is in our hands. We can do it.”

Prayer

Let us pray: Gracious and holy God, lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth. Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace. Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 

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Song – God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us, stanza 3

God, we pray for those who suffer when this world seems so unfair;
May your church be quick to offer loving comfort, gentle care.
And we pray: Amid the violence, may we speak your truth, O Lord!
Give us strength to break the silence, saying, “This can be no more!”

Reading – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral; begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” (1967, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?. p. 67.)

Prayer

Let us pray: Gracious God, bless our cities, Bellaire, West University, and all of Houston, and make them places of safety for all people, rich and poor. Give us grace to work for cities where neighborhoods remain vibrant and whole, where the lost and forgotten in society are supported, and where the arts flourish. Make the diverse fabric of the city a delight to all who live and visit there and a strong bond uniting people around common goals for the good of all; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 

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Song – God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us, stanza 4

God, renew our faith and vision; make us those who boldly lead!

May we work for just decisions that bring true security.

Help us change this violent culture based on idols, built on fear.

Help us build a peaceful future with your world of people here.

Reading – Matthew 5:1-16

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Prayer

Let us pray: God, our creator, by your holy prophet Jeremiah you taught your ancient people to seek the welfare of the cities in which they lived. We commend our neighborhood to your care, that it might be kept free from social strife and decay. We pray for our elected leaders and law enforcement, that they may be kept safe and allowed to serve and protect all people. Help us to be advocates for peace in our neighborhoods, working for that day when guns and weapons of destruction are transformed into instruments of healing. Give us strength of purpose and concern for others, that we may create here a community of justice and peace where your will may be done; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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Dismissal

(God of Mercy, You Have Shown Us, Tune: The Sacred Harp, 1844; attributed to Benjamin Franklin White (“God Whose Giving Knows No Ending”) Text: © 2009 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved. Prayers adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, © 2006 Augsburg Fortress.)

Why do we have three extra services during Holy Week?

easter-10-0Every year during Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter (falling on March 24-31 this year), we hold three unique worship services. These services are known as the Three Days, or the Triduum. “The Three Days encompass the time from Maundy Thursday evening through the evening of Easter Day. In particular, the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter unfold in a single movement, as the church each year makes the passage with Christ through death into life.” (Excerpt from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Augsburg Fortress, 2006, p. 247)
“If we are to rethink what we do in the present and plan for the future, it is useful to begin by knowing the past. What were the liturgies of Lent and the Three Days like in the beginning, and how did they come to have the forms familiar to many of us today? 
Christian historians tell us that, in the decades after the life of Jesus, Christians met each week for a meal that celebrated the presence of the risen Christ. Then we hear the apostle Paul, writing in the 50s, scolding the Corinthians because their celebrative gatherings seem to have forgotten both the death of Christ and the situation of the poor. By the second century, in addition to this weekly celebration of Christ’s resurrection, many Christians had designed also an annual festival, at which they adapted the Jewish Passover to commemorate both the death and resurrection of Christ. At this event, the stories of creation and the exodus were read along with the New Testament accounts of Jesus as ways to proclaim new life in Christ. In the fourth century, it was agreed to keep this annual Christian Passover always on a Sunday. 
By the fifth and sixth centuries, a pattern had become common throughout the Christian communities: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ was observed over a three-day service. Part 1, Maundy Thursday, was kept to recall Christ’s meal with his disciples; part 2, Good Friday, was a simple day to pray 
and to honor the crucified Christ; and part 3, the Vigil of Easter, was the climax of the event, with springtime bonfire, many biblical readings, multiple baptisms, and the first eucharist, of Easter. The Vigil of Easter was the central liturgy of the year and the primary occasion for all baptisms, since being 
Christian was about embodying the death and resurrection of Christ.” (Excerpt from Worship Guidebook for Lent and Three Days, Augsburg Fortress, 2009, p. 11-12)
Let me encourage you to prioritize the Three Days this year. Make an effort to attend all of the services during Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. It may seem like more church than you can handle! I can certainly appreciate that feeling. The Three Days, however, are the principle celebration of the Christian church. These services are the best way to connect your personal spiritual journey to the corporate experience of passing with Christ through death into life.

Holy Week 2011 – Saturday/Easter Vigil

The texts assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary for Saturday of Holy Week are Job 14:1-14 (affliction, pain, and suffering), Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16 (in your unfailing love, rescue me), 1 Peter 4:1-8 (live not by desires, but by the will of God), and Matthew 27:57-66 (the burial of our Lord Jesus).

The Easter Vigil service is a separate service with a large number of readings. The readings rehearse the story of salvation through the Hebrew Bible as well as the first Easter story. The historical use of the Vigil was a baptismal service for converts that had been prepared over a period of several years for entrance into the church. Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (circa 225 AD) gives some details of the event:

They shall all keep vigil all night, reading and instructing them. Those who are to be baptized are not to bring any vessel, only that which each brings for the eucharist. It is indeed proper that each bring the oblation in the same hour. At the hour in which the cock crows, they shall first pray over the water. When they come to the water, the water shall be pure and flowing, that is, the water of a spring or a flowing body of water. Then they shall take off all their clothes. The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family. After this, the men will be baptized. Finally, the women, after they have unbound their hair, and removed their jewelry. No one shall take any foreign object with themselves down into the water.

Job 14:7-9:

Even a tree has more hope!
If it is cut down, it will sprout again
and grow new branches.
Though its roots have grown old in the earth
and its stump decays,
at the scent of water it will bud
and sprout again like a new seedling.

Low in the Grave He Lay, stanzas of the hymn text by Robert Lowry (1874):

Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior,
Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Vainly they watch His bed, Jesus my Savior;
Vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Death cannot keep its Prey, Jesus my Savior;
He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!