The Great Vigil of Easter, April 4, 2015

Tonight at the Great Vigil of Easter the baptismal themes that were explored during the season of Lent reach their logical conclusion in the words of this prayer, “Through the paschal mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by Baptism into His death, and raised with Him to newness of life.” (BCP, 292)

As Christians we participate in the dying and rising of Jesus. This we call the paschal mystery and it’s the heart and soul of the Christian faith and life. St. Paul writes of this participation as a “grace” in Romans 5:2, “Through [Jesus] we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

The paschal mystery is the heart of the liturgical year. The dying and rising of Christ and how to apply this mystery to our lives undergirds our weekly celebration of Sunday and explains why we so dutifully participate in Lent and Holy Week.

The opening prayer for the Great Vigil sets the tone.  “Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which , by hearing His Word and celebrating His Sacraments, we share in His victory over death.” (BCP, 285)

This is a power service, and there is a simplicity of interplay between darkness and light that is found through-out the evening. In the darkness of evening a  fire is blessed and the paschal candle is lit from it. This candle is then lifted high and processed down the center aisle with the priest chanting “the light of Christ.”  And the people respond, “Thanks be to God.”  The purpose is to show how the light of Christ dispels the darkness. Darkness has no power over Christ.  From this ‘paschal light’ other candles held by the faithful are lit so this New Light of Easter, reminiscent of “the true Light that enlightens every man” (John 1: 9) is seen as spreading over the whole body of the faithful. (BCP, 286)

The Liturgy of the Word

“Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout Salvation, for the victory of our mighty King!”  (BCP, 286)  “Darkness is vanquished!”  These and other paschal themes of Lent are joyfully sung in the ancient hymn “the Exsultet” and they prepare us to hear once again the story of salvation history.

These seven readings woven together provide “the record of God’s saving deeds in history.” This is our story!  This is the story that brought each one of us “… to the fullness of redemption” (BCP, 288).

  • The Creation Story.  Genesis :1-2:2.
  • The Story of the Flood.  Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18; 8: 6-18; 9: 8 -13.
  • Abrahams Sacrifice of Isaac.  Genesis 22:1-18.
  • Israel’s Deliverance at the Red Sea.  Exodus 14:10-15:1.
  • God’s Presence in a Renewed Israel.  Isaiah 4:2-6.
  • Salvation Offered Freely to All.  Isaiah 55:1-11.
  • A New Heart and a New Spirit.  Ezekiel 36:24-28.

This is the night when all of these plans and purposes of God come true.

This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.

This is the night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away.  The mystery couched in this night restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn.  It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord.

We say, “this is the night” because the activities of God are never constrained or bound by chronological time. God “moves and has His ways” present and efficacious for all in every age. The sacramental theology of the Church explains this so carefully.

God’s grace-filled Providence makes this night “the night” when earth and Heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.

The Renewal of Baptismal Vows

Our baptismal pledge is to keep the truth of this night continually shinning in order to drive away all darkness. When Christ returns in glory we pray that He will find this truth ever burning in our soul and influencing our life.

So tonight the liturgy gives us opportunity to recommit ourselves to living our life in Christ into which we entered at our baptism. We do this by renewing our baptismal vows. The Resurrection makes all things new. We are so blessed to have this opportunity to renew our participation in the paschal mystery. On the Cross our Lord triumphed over the forces of evil, trampling down death-by-death and winning salvation for us! Sin and death have no claim over us.  We are free!

The Easter Gospel

Tonight the Easter Vigil Gospel is Matthew 28: 1-10.  This is the Resurrection narrative. Matthew writes, “After the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week. . . .”  St. Matthew is speaking about the dawn of the New Day. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed everything.  All of Creation was affected by it and is now being healed as we worship tonight!  Things which were cast down are being raised up… and things which had grown old are being brought to their perfection by Jesus… through whom all things were made!  (BCP, 291)

We hear the words of the angel, “Do not be afraid!  I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said.  Now go, quickly, and tell…” Twice in this Gospel we hear the command “Go and tell. . . .”  Let the truth of this night burn in you deeply, then go, and do not be afraid. Jesus has gone ahead of you. Go and tell the world about Jesus.  This is the mission of the Church.  Amen

Good Friday, April 3, 2015

Tradition explains that Jesus hung dying between the hours of 12:00 noon and 3:00 pm.  For three hours He hung between “two robbers… one on the right and one on the left.” (Matt 27:38)

Tradition also explains that one is identified as a “good thief” and the other as a “bad thief.”  This seems appropriate as Jesus is always in-between what is good and what is bad.

The Gospels record part of the conversation between the good thief and Jesus.  The thief confesses, “I am a sinful man. My fate is my own doing.  In Your charity… will You remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”  (Lk 23:42)

Those words were sweet music to the ears and heart of our Lord.  They were words coming from the thief of confession and contrition and seeking peace and a new way.  Just when it seemed like that the “Sanhedrin Plot” was going to work out and Jesus would finally be pushed into obscurity… “out of sight, out of mind”… the mystery of the Holy Spirit moves the heart of a dying man to confess his sinful ways and seek a life with Jesus.  The “hidden fruit” of the Cross is already blossoming.

Who knows how many people passed by the Cross screaming their insults and ridicule and taunting Jesus to show what power He had and “come down from the Cross.” (Matt 27:40)

Jesus was deeply moved by the petition of the thief. His heart was filled with joy. “I assure you, Jesus replies, that this day you will be with Me in Paradise.”  (Lk 23:43)

The fruit of the Cross is limitless because it is always at work. It’s power and authority has filled the world with God’s peace, and with His grace and loving forgiveness.  It has restored peace to the guilty, and given everlasting happiness to souls who seek God’s Kingdom. Today the Cross reminds billions that everlasting salvation is available today, any time, any place, anywhere.

The redemption which Christ carried out on “the hill of the skull” is now applied to those who open their heart and will to receive Jesus and His way. The Son of God loves, thats all He can do.  And He died for you in the hopes you would come to love His sacrifice.

A precious way we access the eternal Cross and its fruits are in the Mass Jesus established in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday night.  By receiving Holy Communion we are able to stay on the path He has made for us that moves us from death to life… from struggles and sins to new beginnings and healing.

Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015

Today is Holy Thursday or in our Anglican tradition we say “Maundy Thursday.” The word “Maundy” is from the Latin “mandatum,” or “mandate.”  “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.”  Translated this reads, “A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you.” (Jn 13:34)  On this holy night Jesus gave to His Church His “new commandment” and that is “to love.

On this night Jesus did so many things that were done to become the pattern for His Church to live and minister by.

  • Jesus washes the feet of His apostles as a sign of His love for them and their successors, and as marking “the way of the Church.” He commands, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”  (Jn 13:15)
  • Jesus celebrates the first Mass.  (Matt 26:20, 26-29; Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:14-20; Jn 13:1-38; and 1 Cor 11:17-34.
  • During the first Mass He institutes the ordained priesthood.  When Jesus spoke, “Do this for remembrance of Me” (Lk 22:19 and 1 Cor 11:24) these words after the consecration of the bread and wine, ordained the apostles priests for offering the sacrifice that is the Mass. This priesthood of Christ is still with the Anglican Church today as men are ordained to the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons.  Later on, after His resurrection, Jesus would expand the spiritual powers of the priesthood by bestowing on the apostles His authority to absolve sins.  This gift of authority came when Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sin you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”  (Jn 20:22-23)  Just as when God breathed over creation in the beginning to make life within man so the breath of Christ breathed upon the apostles created the sacrament of reconciliation which a priest uses to create and make a new heart within the person who is contrite and seeks God’s love and help.
  • Jesus calls His commandment to love a “new commandment.” St. John reminds us that this commandment is “new” and it is also “not new; [but an] old command, that we have had from the very beginning…. However the command is new because its truth is seen now fulfilled in Christ and also in you. For the darkness is passing away, and the real light is already shining.”  (1 Jn 2:7-8) This is the love that Jesus calls His Church to “abide in.” (Jn 15:9)
  • After this first Mass was completed Jesus prayed for the unity of His Church in the Garden of Gethsemane.

These events and many more mark the beginning of the “paschal triduum.” These next three days form the summit of our liturgical year. Though they are detailing the last three days in our Lord’s earthly life, liturgically they “unfold” as “one great day” showing us the unity of Christ’s paschal mystery.  This unfolding is seen through worship at the Mass of the Lord’s “Last Supper”, Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, and the Mass of the Resurrection of the Lord!

Love unites us to Christ and it is to unite us to those people around us where we spend the greater part of our lives.  How well do they see you as a disciple of Christ?  God’s love poured out through our life should not be reserved for important matters or persons, but it should be found even among the smallest of details of our daily life.

Tuesday in Holy Week, March 31, 2015

Today is Tuesday in Holy Week.  Our Gospel lesson is drawn from Mark 11:15-19, the story of Jesus cleansing the Temple.

What is going on in this story must be carefully understood. So let’s read through it first, “And they came to Jerusalem. And Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and He would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple. And He taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a House of Prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the multitude was astonished at His teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.” (Mar 11:15-19)

There are two important hermeneutical keys that we need to use that will help us find a correct understanding of this passage.

The first “key” is the theological and political syncretism of the Temple leadership. Jesus was not denigrating the Temple nor is He chastising the people who come there to worship. In Matthew’s reading (Matt 21:12-16) we see how “the blind and the lame came to Him in the Temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant; and they said to Him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’?” (Mat 21:12-16)  God was in the Temple!

No, what Jesus was doing is attacking the political and religious syncretism that was the accepted “Temple philosophy” of the day.  He was speaking to the Temple leadership and to their syncretistic ways that sadly they were passing on to the faithful as “the faith.” Their syncretistic godless philosophy is the “den” that Jesus refers too.  The “robbers” are the leadership and teachers who know better but have chosen to steal the people’s hearts away from the faith.

A second “key” is the Temple itself.  That amazing wonder of the world was built to be a bridge between the temporal and eternal, earthly and heavenly realities. Walking into it one should feel like they are in Heaven on earth. The earthly Temple was always intended to point beyond itself to God who is always reaching out to man. What often prevents God from getting through is the sin of pride. Sin has soiled man’s soul with a stain that only Jesus can remove.  Jesus can restore our soul to a “glistening, intensely white, as no bleach on earth could do” (Mk 9:3 and Rev 7:14-14)  by His bloody sacrifice on the Cross. We who are baptized into His blood are delivered from “the gloom of sin, and restored to grace and holiness of life.”  (BCP 287)

In baptism the soul is made perfect by grace. Our life now is the story of God’s continual watchfulness over us. Each one of us is the object of the Lord’s special love. Jesus was ready to do everything for Jerusalem, but the city was not willing to open up her gates to His mercy. This is the deep mystery of human freedom which always retains that sad possibility of rejecting the grace of God.

The cleansing Jesus accomplished on the Cross continues in every age through the Church. We see its beginnings today in Jerusalem. It is God’s plan to use the Church to spread this cleansing influence and power (see Acts 19:20), and to become the imperishable seed by which every heart is born anew (see 1 Peter 1:23).

If you have been away from the Church for any amount of time, come home this Easter!  If you have not been baptized and want to learn more about the Christian faith give us a call at St. John’s.  We are here to help.

Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015

IMG_5064The service of Palm Sunday at St. John’s is March 29th at 8:00, 9:00 and 11:15 am.  This ancient liturgy is found in the Book of Common Prayer beginning on page 270.

It is called “The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.” This title explains well what the day is about. Using this liturgy we progress from joy and triumph of discovering Jesus as the Messiah to His suffering and death!  We begin with the “Liturgy of the Palms” and the service concludes with the “Liturgy of the Passion.”

The service opens with the “messianic entrance” of Jesus into Jerusalem. The Messiah has arrived!  People wave palm branches and run to meet Jesus, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10)  But this excitement and hope of the crowd moves us to a penitential Eucharist that is dominated by the solemn proclamation of the Passion Gospel of St. Mark 14:32-15:47.

In place of a spoken sermon, today we provide silence.  Silence to meditate on the details of Mark’s Passion narrative.  These details are divinely provided to explain that any and all sins are sins committed against God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Today by means of this sacred liturgy we begin our most solemn walk.  Today we stand in procession with our palms, and with the “fullness of faith” we proclaim Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords, praising from our heart the Son of David!  Today we walk in procession as one who has been given a special grace, that certain advantage the first crowd didn’t have. We know the “why” to Jesus’ passion; and we know the eternal significance His triumph stands for. We know and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord and the glory of the Father (Phil 2:11).  Jesus is the Son of David… He is the Son of God.

Today we grow deeper in our understanding of why Simeon said of Jesus that He was born as “a sign of contradiction,” a “sign” that is understood by those who truly seek God, but He is a sign that will be despised by most. Today we kneel in silence and in communion with our God knowing that Jesus sweated blood through His prayers and His passion to break the bonds of death and hell. His resurrection is His “sign” of His victory over death and the grave. Divine Love redeemed us.  This love continues to redeem our every day assisting us to put to flight the wickedness of sin and cleave to a life controlled by the Spirit.  (Galatians 5:16ff)

Jesus has restored original innocence to the fallen (Matthew 9:16-17) and He gives interior joy to all who mourn. (Matthew 5:4)  He casts out pride and bitterness from us so we can have room to receive the peace and concord of Heaven upon earth!  (Matthew 9:1-8)

How blessed we are to be baptized into this holy mystery.  Today as we kneel at the Altar rail and receive Holy Communion the beloved Son of God has again joined our soul to Heaven and we receive redeeming love. (BCP 287)


Holy Week: The Most Solemn Week of the Year!

baptism of catechumenThis year, March 29, 2015 begins the most solemn week of the year. We walk liturgically the last week of our Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly life.  We call this journey “Holy Week.”  We walk “liturgically” meaning sacramentally we are actually present to the suffering, dying and rising of Jesus Christ.  We participate in His “Paschal mystery.”  This divine mystery is the theological core of the Christian faith and the soul of the Church’s liturgical life.

The word “paschal” comes from “pascha” which itself means “the passing over.”  The Pascha is an early description for the Easter celebration of baptism and the holy Eucharist.  Lent developed as a season of preparation for baptism and first communion on Easter. St. Paul spoke to the newly baptized on Pascha, “We were buried with Christ through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

The first service of Easter begins at 8:00 pm on Holy Saturday night (April 4, 2015) and is called “The Great Vigil of Easter.”  At this first Mass of Easter you will hear lots of scripture readings from the Old Testament and New Testaments. The great stories such as the Fall of man, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the prophecy of the Dry Bones, and God making in man a new heart, our baptism into the Christ’s dying and rising and the Empty Tomb. These readings are some of the most ancient Christian “paradigms” for sacramental baptism. The joy that illuminates this evening service is celebrated using the contrast of candlelight and darkness. The glorious announcement “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” originally was spoken by those who had just been baptized into Christ and become a new creation.

The early Christians understood how the act of baptizing was the very act of “passage” in which the Church fulfills herself as God’s new creation.  Using liturgy the Church transcends earthly dimensions of an institution and she becomes the living Body of Christ as she receives the Body and Blood of Christ.  At this moment in earthly time the Church is the manifestation and presence of the “new aeon” of the Kingdom of God.

The first known use of the term “Paschal mystery” as it applies to our Lord’s suffering, dying, and resurrection is found in a homily written by Melito, who was the bishop of Sardis near Smyrna.  The homily was written between 160 and 170 A.D.  A contemporary of Melito was Irenaeus, bishop of Antioch (130-202 A.D).  He was taught how the celebration of “Holy Week” (what he called “Great Week”) went back to the time of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. (d. 155 A.D)  

The origin of this solemn week lies buried in apostolic times. By the 4th century during the episcopate of the great bishop St. Cyril of Jerusalem it was an annual event.  Many of the earliest churches were being built on the sacred sites in the Holy Land by Constantine, and with the growing influx of pilgrims to Jerusalem for Easter Day the Church developed liturgies celebrated on the original sites and at the times indicated in the gospels.  The liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer for Holy Week are structured from these ancient services.

Holy Week brings to fruition the baptismal themes that has structured the season of Lent.  An example of this is how on the 5th Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2015) the Gospel addressed the role of baptism using the words of Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  (John 12:24)

Lent has prepared us to listen attentively to the Passion Gospels and Old and New Testament stories that narrate our salvation. We find on Maundy Thursday the origin and purpose of the Mass.  We discover on Good Friday how all graces flow from the sacrifice of Christ and how on this “Good and perfect day” our Lord’s suffering body made a new humanity that in baptism made us the Father’s “new creation.”  (Eph 2:14-22 and 2Cor 5:16-21)

At the Great Vigil of Easter the 40 days of Lent “fold into” the renewal of our baptismal vows where we once again renounce Satan and all his evil and we promise ourselves again to Christ and to the ministry of His Church. “Through the Paschal Mystery, dear friends, we are buried with Christ by Baptism into His death, and raised with Him to newness of life. I call upon you, therefore, now that our Lenten observance is ended, to renew the solemn promises and vows of Holy Baptism, by which we once renounced Satan and all his works, and promised to serve God faithfully in His holy Catholic Church.”  (BCP 292)

On Easter Day we pray, “Almighty God, who through Your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by Your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”  (BCP 222)

Join us for our services during Holy Week and complete your journey of Lent to Easter Morning.

  • March 29th – Palm Sunday, Sunday 8:00, 9:00 and 11:15 am.
  • April 1st – Wednesday in Holy Week, Mass at 7:00 am and 11:00 am in the Lady Chapel.
  • April 2nd – Maundy Thursday, Mass with choir, Foot Washing, Stripping of the Altar, and beginning of the Great Watch.  The Church remains open from the end of Mass around 8:00 pm until 12 midnight for prayer.
  • April 3rd – Good Friday Liturgy at 12:00 pm noon and with the choir at 7:00 pm.
  • April 4th – The Great Vigil of Easter with choir at 8:00 pm.  Includes the Service of Lights, the Blessing of the Easter Fire, procession with the Paschal Candle and chanting of the Exulted, and the service of Lessons recounting the history of salvation.
  • April 5th – Easter Day, 8:00, 9:00 and 11:15 am.  9:00 am is the Flowering of the Cross and Children’s sermon; 10:30 am Easter Egg Hunt with children.

Gabriel Fauré Requiem in D minor

St. John’s Choir offers Gabriel Fauré Requiem in D minor

Sunday afternoon, April 6th at 5:00 pm.

Gabriel Fauré composed his Requiem in D minor, Op. 48, between 1887 and 1890. IT is a choral-orchestral setting of the Mass for the Dead.  This is a short requiem lasting 35 minutes.  It is written for orchestra, organ, mixed chorus and two soloists, soprano and baritone, and performed in Latin. It consists of seven movements; most famous is the central soprano aria Pie Jesu.  The performance at St. John’s will be to the accompaniment of organ and harp.

Soloists include Hillary Millican, soprano, and David Robinson, baritone.

Harpist is Cynthia Shockley.

Guest Organist is Glenda Robinson, St. Andrew’s Church.

Conductor: Alan Potts, St. John’s Church.

The Season of Lent and Easter Day at St. John’s

Ash WednesdayThe season of Lent

  • The Holy Eucharist is celebrated each Wednesday at 7:00 am and 11:00 am.
  • Stations of the Cross is offered on Wednesdays at 6:00 pm.
  • Lenten Soup Dinner at 6:30 pm and a study of C.S. Lewis’ book “Screwtape Letters” follows.
  • Guest Preacher on Sunday, March 30 at the 9:00 and 11:15 am services.  Sharon Steinmiller, Director of the New Wineskins Missionary Network.
  • The Gabriel Fauré “Requiem in D Minor” will be performed by St. John’s Choir, to the accompaniment of organ and harp on Sunday, April 6 at 5:00 pm.  Reception following.  All are invited!
  • Lent Outreach: South Central Alliance Food Drive:  The Outreach Committee are collecting the following items, Canned fruit and vegetables, juice, tea, Crystal Light, soups or Ramen noodles, canned meats of any kind, pudding, jello, custard, peanut butter, jelly, macaroni and cheese, canned ravioli, Hamburger or Tuna Helper, boxed mixes (pancake, biscuit, cake, etc), snacks and crackers, cereal, oatmeal, grits, and any other nonperishable food item.  Donations can be brought to the Parish Office or left at the Outreach Table.

Holy Week and Easter Day

  • Easter 2006 (5)Maundy Thursday, April 17 at 7:00 pm.  The Holy Eucharist with Choir, Footwashing, the Stripping of the Altar, the Altar of Repose and the All Night Watch.
  • Good Friday Liturgy, April 18 at 12 Noon and at 7:00 pm with the Choir.
  • Great Vigil of Easter, April 19, 8:00 pm.  The First Eucharist of Easter.
  • Easter Day, April 20, the Holy Eucharist celebrated at 8:00 (1928 BCP), 9:00 and 11:15 am.  Flowering the Cross and Children’s sermon at 9:00 am and Easter Egg Hunt at 10:30 am.

Holy Week And Easter Services

Holy Week And Easter ServicesPalm Sunday, March 24, 2013 
6:00 pm Saturday, Sunday 8:00, 9:00, 11:15 am
(the 9:00 and 11:15 services will begin at the front door of the church with the Liturgy of the Palms)

[Read more…]