Well, who would have thought…..?
I, for one, certainly not. And I’m a little embarrassed by that. I certainly was aware of the beginnings. I just didn’t think that it would play out this way. And we are going to have to make a bit of a change because of it.
When we first began having services live-streamed from the church, without an open-to-the-public congregation, I had hoped that for 4, 5, or even – at most – 6, weeks, and we would be back in the church building. Not quite, fully back to “normal,” but pretty close. I checked with some of our members about what most folks were thinking we should do. Carry on, as close to normal as possible. And so we have. Each week, gathering for a small celebration of the Eucharist, with the members of St. Francis able to watch us on Facebook. Most of us taking Communion by intention, since we were physically separated from one another to keep the social distancing intact. To protect one another from further spread.
But it looks as if this is going to go on for a bit.
Therefore, after reading some theological reflections from our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and a prepared theological paper from our own Bishop, Andy Doyle, we are going to suspend celebrations of the Eucharist for the remainder of our time apart.
Oh, we will continue to meet each Sunday, and live stream the service, it’s just that it will be a service of Morning Prayer. Some of us may remember a time when the usual service in the Episcopal Church was Morning Prayer. And, since Morning Prayer is a service that does not require that a priest presides, many of us think of Morning Prayer as something we do when clergy are not available.
(Interesting historical note – since the founding of this country, all the way up until 1957, there were always more congregations than there were clergy. This meant that for many congregations, the service of a priest was only a sometimes thing. When the Episcopal church came to the western part of Texas, it was brought by laypersons, and only very occasionally were clergy available. Ranchers – who were often the 2nd sons of English gentry – led services for their own ranch, their own Cowboys.)
But that’s not what Morning Prayer truly is. My own seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary, is a seminary that kept the older tradition of Morning Prayer on Sundays alive and well. I learned that the time a congregation spent studying the Word of God, delving deeply into the rhythm of prayer, and confronting and living into the depths of honesty found in the Book of Psalms, this made the presence of Jesus all the more real, all the more palpable.
Now, Morning Prayer is just a tad different. For one thing, it’s a bit shorter. (keep the cheering down, please). For another, it is centered not on our presenting ourselves at the Altar, giving of our lives and oblations, and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ into our very selves. Rather, Morning Prayer is a service of Word – the living, breathing, Word of God. Experienced alone, in community, in story, song, poetry, history, and image.
Morning Prayer is a service where the readings come to life. Where the selections of scripture might be a tad bit longer, but the experience of letting the Word of God soak into your mind, your heart, your very soul, brings a new awareness of God in the everyday.
So, for this Easter season, for the coming Sundays when we are apart, we will be turning to something that unites us in ways that are not those of sharing the one bread and the one cup. We are turning to the Word of God.
What is Morning Prayer like? It is praying the scriptures. It is hearing the powerful stories of the work of God in the world. It is passionate and deeply pouring out our hearts and souls before the Lord. And, as I mentioned earlier, it is a bit shorter than the Eucharist.
So, imagine this. A shorter service that moves right along. We encounter the Bible in new and powerful ways. We pray our hearts out. And then, after it is all said and done, there is a bit of time for teaching. The sermon, at least as I was taught Morning Prayer, comes after the service proper. And it engages the scripture in a different way. How? Well, now you will have to tune in……