Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Feasting at His Heavenly Banquet

On Sunday, we were blessed to celebrate the Lord's Supper at JUMC. Following morning worship, I drove to our local hospital to share the sacrament with a patient and his wife who are part of our congregational family. It was a blessed time.

As I shared with these precious souls, I was reminded of the power of liturgy. Typically, I use a "Great Thanksgiving" from our Book of Worship, or one I've written or adapted, and the laity follow along with the printed liturgy found on pages 15-16 in our Hymnal. When sharing the sacrament in a hospital or nursing home, as an extension of our congregational celebration, I usually use the service found on pages 7-10 of the "pocket edition" of our Book of Worship.

As I led the man and his wife in the liturgy, the power of the ritual took on a significance far greater than my own eloquence (or lack thereof) could provide. Early in my ministry, I often simply uttered informal words of institution as I shared in "out of sanctuary" settings, but I've learned that disciples who are sick, suffering, or feeling isolated are reassured and comforted through the familiar words of a more formal liturgy. Liturgy, in great measure, forms our discipleship. In times of need, we will likely not remember what the pastor preached about six months earlier, but we may well remember such oft repeated phrases as...

"Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again" or
"Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen."
Certainly, the two souls I shared with in the hospital on Sunday could relate to and draw strength from these words, which, because of liturgical repetition, they know so well.

I sometimes fear that in our efforts to be "current" or "contemporary", we too quickly reject the important liturgical practices which have formed God's people for centuries. As Pope Paul VI wrote, "Liturgy is like a strong tree whose beauty is derived from the continuous renewal of its leaves, but whose strength comes from the old trunk, with solid roots in the ground." A balance is needed between the depth of traditional liturgy and 21st century notions of worship and practice.

At any rate, Sunday's excursion was a good reminder for me, for which I thank God.

What are your practices regarding Eucharistic celebration? When you celebrate the sacrament with dear folks in hospitals or personal care homes, how do you do it? How can I be more faithful in my own pastoral journey?

22 comments:

Eric Park said...

My personal view is that, no matter whether I am in a hospital room or a church sanctuary, the Lord's Supper revolves around these components:

-A Time of Confession
-A Thanksgiving
-A remembrance of the actual institution
-The Invocation of the Holy Spirit (traditionally called the epiclesis)
-And the sharing of the bread and cup.

At Central Highlands Church, sometimes we use the Service of Word and Table II, and the people follow the liturgy in the hymnals. At other times, we lay the hymnal aside and I lead a more conversational experience of these same components. ("Conversational" is an adjective that I much prefer over "informal.") Either way, I endeavor to make certain that the above-mentioned liturgical components are there, since our faith tradition has so faithfully bequeathed them to us.

In hospital rooms, I more frequently rely on the conversational mode for my priestly role. I absolutely see your point about the familiarity of certain words and phrases from the printed and oft-repeated liturgy (and I would never argue against that). For me personally, however, I seem to be much more comfortable with an unscripted movement through a specific but flexible liturgical framework. I think that this is because an unscripted approach makes me feel less "institutional" in what can often be a highly institutional environment.

Pastor Bill said...

I took an online class from Dan Benedict last year. We spent the whole 8 or 10 weeks focusing on the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It really opened my eyes to the congregational aspects of the liturgy - that it's about all of us responding to God - not just "the stuff the pastor does." So, now, I'm much more likely to use the liturgy in the hymnal - or at least that form (with responses) than to "lead it all." I used to lead communion extemporaneously - with good reviews, I might add - but I think that does a dis-service to the community of faith. It is too easy for communion to become "me and God with people watching." It ain't supposed to be so...

OF course, context is everything. Full liturgy with sung response is...silly...in the hospital room - might be silly in the context of a youth retreat, too...

You say, "...the power of the ritual took on a significance far greater than my own eloquence (or lack thereof) could provide. " That has been my experience, too. When people complain that the liturgy is "boring" because we do the "same thing all the time" I suggest that saying "I love you" to my wife and daughters the same words, the same way for almost 20, 7 and 4 years respectively has not diminished the power of those words one bit...

Keith McIlwain said...

Bill - I like the "I love you" analogy a LOT. I agree that sung responses (etc.) in hospital rooms would not normally work, but the liturgical form and the familiar words DO carry great power, and also connect the patient with the congregation, which is part of the point. I'd love to hear more sometime about the online class; I saw your pic in the Interpreter.

Eric - I like the word "conversational". I also use that approach at times, but more and more I find myself relying on the traditional liturgy because of its power and the repeated elements which people can learn to really appreciate, esp. in times of difficulty. I share your desire to use those "components", which are historically and thjeologically important; my fear is that many pastors don't care about them. I served in a ministerium with a great guy years ago, who preferred the conversational approach every time...without the confession, invocation, etc. He pretty much just did whatever came to mind, not seeing the value in those "components". It drove me nuts!

Brett Probert said...

I don't think you really want to know.

Pastor Bill said...

Keith - I think we agree. I'd use the liturgical form in the hospital - maybe not with the responses...but maybe with them...

My first awareness of the power of the liturgy was when I taught at a Catholic high school and we celebrated mass every week. I was overwhelmed by the power of the connection of these words, these responses, through the generations - connecting the distant past to today...

Interperter - yeah, I forgot they called me about that...just got my issue...

Keith McIlwain said...

Brett - Yes, I do want to know. More than that, I'd like to know WHY...the theological reasons you do what you do the way you do it.

Jeff Kahl said...

Keith,

I so want to agree with you here, but my experience and reading of the Bible just can't allow me. I was raised Roman Catholic, attended Mass every week, and still have all four of their Eucharistic prayers memorized...even though I've been to Mass maybe twice a year for the past 12 years. When I do attend, the liturgy does inspire certain pious feelings in me. But I'll be real honest: those feelings are a lot closer to a nostalgic remembering of my childhood faith...and they have little to do with motivating me to engage in spiritual fellowship with others sitting in the pews now. Isn't that a part (and I would argue the main part) of communion?

I won't argue the importance of acknowledging our Christian heritage of the past, but not at the expense of creating Christian community TODAY and discerning where God is collectively leading us tomorrow. I see congregations participate in the "traditional liturgies" of communion, all the while sitting in their same pews, talking with the same people, failing to engage in anything more than surface-talk and often gossiping about others. Then I ask...Is this the same fellowship meal shared by Christ and His closest friends in the final hours of His earthly life? Or is it just a sanctimonious substitute?

I think of Jeremiah's critique of the people who kept repeating the traditional words, "This is the Temple of the Lord...the Temple of the Lord...the Temple of the Lord..." Very religious, and I'm sure those who heard them felt great. Meanwhile, Jeremiah was warning the people that these pious words meant nothing because they failed to produce genuine community and obedience to God's will.

I think Eric's list of general components of a communion service is helpful. And I certainly appreciate our historic faith and its traditions. But I think our we act to our peril when we cling to traditional liturgies rather than creatively updating the language and style in ways that can foster and encourage genuine community today.

Think of it this way: Until recently, the Catholics stubbornly held to the Latin language, partially because it was a tie to their history. Yet when Jerome originally translated the Vulgate, it was to speak the language that his contemporaries could understand.

Maybe the best way to connect with the spirit of our forebears is to do what they did (rather than say what they said) --- To speak in a way that creates authentic disciples of Christ now.

Roda Zone said...

Keith...As long as God is glorified and the sacrament is explained (Eric's elements above)I think that liturgy or a conversational approach both have merit. It depends on your gifts, your view of the church and the context which you are in. You do a great job of keeping us all honest when it comes to the Tradition as pect of our ministry.

Jeff Vanderhoff said...

Keith,
I typically follow the liturgy in the hymnal. I used to do a more conversational style, and a few times a year I would do the liturgical service in the hymnal. The few times a year I did it that way, I had a LOT of people approach me and say "this is what feels like communion to me." Like you said, they connected to the liturgy and that made the service more meaningful to them. I try to open every communion service with the words of Paul - everyone should examine themselves before taking the bread and drinking the cup. I think it is so important that we connect with God personally in that time of self-examination before we enter into the liturgy. Then I go with the liturgy. This past week, though, I broke from it at the end after realizing that I FORGOT TO TAKE COMMUNION MYSELF! Usually I take it after everyone else has, but this time I just went on with the rest of the service. Just before the benediction, I realized I hadn't taken communion, so I stopped the service and shared with everyone there that I need communion just as much as everyone else does, and I needed to pause and share in communion. It became a teaching moment. I really like Eric's framework, as well.

Pastor Bill said...

My biggest concern in communion liturgy has become the gutting of the congregational responses. Eric's list of components doesn't seem to have any in it. Jeff suggested that we shouldn't hold onto the past "at the expense of creating Christian coummunity TODAY" - but I ask where is the community if the pastor/leader is doing all the talking and the rest of the community is just eavesdropping on my prayer with God?

The specific words AREN'T that important - except... When I use the traditional liturgy it's a point of connection among the raised Catholic, the raised Lutheran, the raised Church of Christ and the raised UMs in my congregation.

But the point of contact for most people is not the stuff I say - but the stuff THEY say - the community part of Communion. It is supposed to be a time of US with God - not me with God while a bunch of people watch...

Keith McIlwain said...

I agree, Bill, and always use the responses in worship. That's a little more problematic in a hospital room or a nursing home, obviously, but it's a good thing. For me, it keeps it from feeling like someything I am doing, and more like an act of God through the congregation.

Pastor Bill said...

Yeah - that's the thing I think we need to avoid as much as possible in corporate worship - especially in communion - that sense that the leader is doing everything and everybody else is watching...

Jeff Kahl said...

I'd rather see people participate in communion services by sharing the elements with each other (rather than intinction), praying with each other, and giving benedictions to each other, rather than just repeating programmed phrases. Again, the point isn't just to have people talk at the right time...but to create genuine community as Jesus did with His disciples. That's what Jeremiah was complaining about...that people were saying all the right things at the right times, but they weren't actually living in holiness.

Pastor Bill said...

Jeff - I'm with you 100% on community building. But any "just the pastor talking" communion liturgy is anti-community, isn't it?

Jeff Kahl said...

Absolutely. I just don't get where you think I'm all about the pastor talking...I don't think I wrote that anywhere. I'd love to see a communion service where the pastor does as little as possible and the memebers of the congregation serve each other.

Some of the most meaningful communion experiences I've been to were in the Brethren Church where they did the "Threefold Communion" of a meal, the communion elements, and a footwashing service. The pastor hardly talked other than saying the "Words of Institution." The rest, we all did together.

So, my criticism isn't against the idea that communion should be participatory. I just think we need to be very careful about TRADITIONAL liturgies that become so ingrained in our minds that they lose their ability to challenge us and move us to action.

Eric Park said...

Hi friends.

Also, I think that "just the pastor talking" may be an insufficient way of describing a time of led meditation.

Silence does not necessarily indicate a lack of participation.

Pastor Bill said...

Sorry, Jeff, if I put words in your...um...intention?

Anyway - I was addressing what I see in the break from tradition in communion, sorry if it seemed I was accusing you of saying something you hadn't said.

For what it's worth, I would love to see any liturgy that is truly that "the work of the people." Contemporary, tradtional, whatever - that which is participatory and community building. If we could shed the whole audience/performer aspect of worship for good, that would be fine with me...

Eric - yes, and no. Silence is not necessarily particpatory - for some it is just an uncomfortable pause in what is going on. It CAN be. But that doesn't make it corporate or communal, either. That just invites us to our "own private worship time" with a bunch of people around, doesn't it? There's a place for that, of course. I remember reading a worship leader's complaint once that he was exhausted every Sunday having to provide "three hundred individual worship experiences." I guess one of my concerns is to hold on to that corporate aspect of worship - not just a bunch of people having their own private time with God who just gathered in the same place at the same time...

Pastor Bill said...

One more note for Jeff K - I agree that the danger in ANY liturgy is that it doesn't challenge us to move into action. I again come back to my telling my wife and daugthers "I love you" with the very same words for, in my wife's case, almost 20 years, and those simple repetitious words DO challenge me to act on them. It's what I bring to the words, traditions, actions that sets them apart, not how many times I say them, think about them, etc....

And, in the case of communion - what I bring as a leader AND what I bring as a participant...

Should we celebrate communion LESS often, to keep it special? (No, no one has suggested that, *I* am asking the question.) Thus it doesn't become "so ingraned in our minds" so as to lose it's power to challenge us to act... Maybe a straw man argument, if so I appologize, I don't mean it to be. Nor am I being sarcastic. I have actually been told by folk that they want to keep communion special, we shouldn't celebrate it every Sunday (like we do at our 8 AM service) or once a month (at our other services)...

Eric Park said...

I absolutely see your point, Bill.

I am simply hesitant to make this into an "either/or" scenario. (That's the postmodern in me, I suppose.)

As I see it, a congregation speaking a liturgy together is not a guarantee of authentic communal experience. For some, such corporate "participation" does not feel corporate at all. In fact, a few weeks ago, one of my most faithful parishioners put it this way: "During communion today, the words that we were speaking together felt empty to me. All of a sudden, I felt all alone with a bunch of people making noise around me. So...I just stopped talking and started listening...That's what it took for me to feel ready to commune with my brothers and sisters today."

But I am also in agreement with your point, Bill. There is a great danger in allowing people to come to worship, experience their own individualistic private time with God, and then leave without any corporate participation whatsoever.

As I see it, however, it is not so much a question of which liturgy we use or whether it is responsorial or pastor-led. Rather, it is a question of what is transpiring within whichever liturgical approach we employ. If it is responsorial, are people given sufficient opportunity to do something more than repeat words? And if it is pastorally led, are people given sufficient opportunity to engage both personally and corporately?

If liturgy really is "the work of the people," then it may be beneficial for people to experience variety in their work. I suppose that is why I am eager to approach this matter with an "either/or" mentality.

Also, in my initial response to Keith's post, I outlined several components that I consider to be essential in the eucharistic experience. These are my eucharistic pillars around which, I think, we have some freedom to move.

Pastor Bill said...

Eric - I see your point. And I don't want to make it either/or (you don't, in fact - your repsponse clearly indicates that you use both a traditional approach and a "conversational" approach).

I'm still struggling with my theology of sacrament (probably will be the rest of my life) so I'm not trying to speak in absolutes, just engage in conversation.

Sadly, your "eucharistic pillars" are not all in place even in very traditional worship services (I know of one very traditional service in which communion is celebrated regularly - with no time for confession...how do you do that?)

I think, Eric, you and I are not far apart in this at all - I simply want to keep raising questions, it's part of my nature.

Jeff Kahl said...

Okay, so let's just summarize where all these pensive points have gotten us:

- No style of liturgy (contemporary, traditional, etc...) is ANY guarantee that genuine communion will result, but it is the ideal for which we should strive.

- Communion ought to be a shared event with everyone participating, and not merely a one-man show by Reverend So-and-So (with back-up vocals by the worship band or choir).

- EVERYONE (pastor AND congregation) should come to the communion table with repentant, worshipful, and thankful hearts.

- Communion should not be just a nice ceremony with bread and cup, but an intentional remembrance of the death of Jesus and the forgiveness that it secured for us.

Do we all agree on these points? If so, I think we're at least in the right book, if not exactly all on the same page.

I appreciated the discussion, guys, and look forward to "communing" with you at some point!

Cheers.................

Eric Park said...

Thanks, Bill and Jeff...and others.

Great chattin' with ya.