I want you to imagine that it is a Sunday (because then, the day started the evening before from 5 p.m.), so to us, it’s our Saturday
So, Sunday the 1st day of the week, the Day of Resurrection begins on Saturday evening, and you are a Christian slave off to worship. Surprisingly it still does in our Church Calendar.
These meetings took place in the evening as Sunday was a working day and were usually held at one of the believers’ houses, for building Christian meeting places was illegal.
The worship started when everyone had gathered, but you are a slave and while others are awaiting your delayed arrival, they are tucking into wine and food.
You meet in secret, because you have enemies mainly among the Jewish leaders and their faithful. The persecution by the Roman invaders has not yet started, reaching its heights in the reign of Diocletion (303-311AD).
So, the meeting begins, with prayers, and singing, even members “speaking with tongues” as they are led by the Spirit Who is at the heart of all their spiritual lives.
Certainly God’s Law in the 10 Commandments would have been recited, or more probably, Jesus’ Summary of the Law, “To love God with all their minds, soul and strength and to love their neighbours as themselves”.
Something we still do today in our service.
As yet no set Prayers, no form of service, and Bible readings from the Old Testament, the only existing “scriptures”. Possibly, reading a letter (an “Epistle” from one of the Church leaders, such as St. Paul or St. James).
The earliest we have of these is either from St. James (Jesus’ brother) who took charge of the leadership of The Church or St. Paul. Scholars date these letters from 50 AD onwards. 20 years after the Resurrection.
Read St. James’ letter, obviously a plain speaker who might have been the first Christian Socialist leader in his concern for the underprivileged!
There was no “New” Testament as such, for the first Gospel (written (in Greek) was by St. Mark, circa. 65AD, and it’s worth settling down and reading at one sitting his account, for its racy style and brevity.
Until then, accounts of Jesus’ teaching and ministry were given by actual eye-witnesses (see Acts 1, vv15-end) and it was only when old age or execution ended these that it was felt essential (as the “End of all things” had not taken place as they expected) to pass on the Gospel, the word meaning “Good News”.
You will find how this Good News was spread by ordinary members. Read Acts, the earliest account of the life of the first Christians, and note too, how in their preaching they related Jesus to the prophecies of the Old Testament
It was considered that anyone who held any office in the Church needed to have been members of this early fellowship. (See Acts 1, vv15-end ).
It’s worth noting too how many lay women of The Church took an active share of this Ministry and significant that the first witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were women.(See Acts 1, v14)
Then, the Lord’s Supper began and from that time onwards, the Eucharist (Mass, Communion) fell into two sections.
The first being the Ministry of the Word, the “teaching and praying” part and the second the “doing” where the words and actions of Jesus were recited followed by the Communion of the faithful (including baptised children).
This division is clearly seen in the 1662 Communion Service, where the Confession comes immediately before the Offertory, intended only for those receiving the Sacrament.
What do you do, as an Anglican priest conducting a Communion service at the well-attended Methodist Church at Castle Cary? The distribution of the Sacrament was ended, but thoughtlessly I had consecrated a whole dish of “Mother’s Pride” sliced bread cut into numerous small cubes of which a good deal was left over.
The Prayer Book says that such is not to be carried out of the church, but reverently consumed by the priest, and any of the laity whom he asks to assist.
For Anglicans, after the Consecration, the bread and wine can only be disposed of reverently, by being consumed, but for Methodists it was still bread, not requiring any special reverence after the Service and so perhaps the birds were lucky!
It was the inability to reconcile these two different approaches that ended the proposals for uniting the Church of England and the Methodist churches in the 1950s.
Indeed, it was equally a bone of contention between the Roman Catholics and the new Church of England at the Reformation, for Archbishop Cranmer (with the Reformers) planned to eliminate the excesses of Rome, where the Bread and Wine became a subject for “Adoration”, the Host (the bread) being often carried in procession, or used as the focus of devotion.
The Anglican Reformers were trying to return the Mass (the Communion service) to one where the whole congregation, not just the priest would share in the bread and wine, with the intention of promoting it as a priority.
What then happens to the bread and wine when it is con-secrated by a priest?
The argument was bitter and indeed deadly, for many were executed or burnt to death between the opposing views.
The Roman Catholics maintained that the bread and wine became indeed to be the Body and Blood of Jesus and worshipped and adored and until recently, the only person who received the wine was the priest.
It was said that if a priest happened to spill a drop of wine from the chalice, he would be expected to lick it up! Such was the reverence offered to it.
When I was first ordained in 1952, the (CofE) congregation where I ministered were expected to come (fasting) to the 8 a.m. said Communion, and then to return at 11.00 for the Sung Mass at which only the priest and a few disabled or elderly folk could make their Communion.
In all this, it is interesting that the Methodists were so called for they, led by John and Charles Wesley came regularly (“methodically”) to the Lord’s Supper, whereas the average CofE member came as little as three times a year.
Until the Reformation, the laity came to be content, coming to worship at the Sung Mass, but not to receive the Sacrament!
Few know of its existence, but at the end of the Book of Common Prayer there is a whole series of definitions (the “39 Articles of religion”) as to what a priest or member of the CofE should believe and do.
Cranmer and Co. wanted to restore the Communion as a necessary service for ALL the people, (not just the priest) and this is re-affirmed by it being the only service at which a sermon is ordered. Mattins and Evensong were intended to be extra devotions for the more devout.
What happens to the bread and wine at Consecration? Frankly no one really knows despite all the arguments; it is a matter for faith and devotion.
When the first Queen Elizabeth was asked (as head of the CofE) for her opinion, she simply said: “His was the Word that spake it; He took the bread and brake it; what that Word doth make it, that I believe and take it” and so should we.
Well, we had plenty of warning . . . 2,300 years ago, both Plato and Aristotle wrote critically of the influence that music has on people’s (especially the young’s) behaviour. Plato, a Greek philosopher when writing a plan (“The Republic”) to create the ideal Society warned that the kind of music allowed should be strictly controlled for “men fancying that they knew what they did not know had no longer any fear and the absence of fear begets shamelessness”. Something apparent in modern Society.
He recommended that in his ideal Society, the type of music taught and practised should be carefully policed, other wise, trouble will ensue.
Similarly, Socrates wrote “Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul”.
Look back to the 1960s, when rock bands appeared for the first time, and melodies gave way to constant drum beating followed by acts of vandalism (even on their own musical instruments), we can see what changes appeared in our Society.
We now have a new outbreak of violence, including stabbing and random killings that is attributed to a more menacing type of music and words gaining ground, especially in the more deprived multi-racial areas of our big cities.
“Alright” you will say, “but I thought you were writing about our approach to worship, what relevance is all this to our Christian situation?”
Quite simply, if you look at the modern Church, the growth is among those evangelical congregations, where the music is noisy, repetitive, much attention being paid by the drummer! Of course, it is worship, but not necessarily helpful in creating a sense of the “otherness” of God.
Elijah, when seeking to find and meet God, found Him, not in the sound of the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the “still small voice”, and the psalmist writes “Be still, and know that I am God”.
This is why our choice of music for our worship must be directed to that which will inculcate a sense of stillness and the Presence of God, the great mystery.
Beginning with a bright, rousing hymn or 10 repetitions of a jolly (but sometimes banal) chorus may sound fine, but as a precursor to meeting “The All Holy” in our worship it can well have a negative effect.
Compare that with Wesley’s translation of a German hymn:
“Lo, God is here, let us adore and own how dreadful is this place. Let all within us feel its power, and silent, bow before His face. Who know His power, His grace who prove, Serve Him with all, His reverence love”” or
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand; ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessings in His hand, Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to command”.
Yes, "fear and trembling” and while some will think this is resurrecting “Nasty old God”, fear means “respect” to the Creator of all that is, while we rightly think of God as “Father”, He is mystery beyond human understanding and we can only know His true nature, through the life and teaching of Jesus.
Traditional Church music surprisingly, can be appreciated by the younger generation, and particularly if it leads them to contemplate the Holy, the “awesome” (to use a popular ‘teen-age word).
Were we to be visiting the Queen to have a cup of tea, imagine the feelings that would crowd in.
You are here this morning because God has invited you, not for a cup of tea, but to receive the sacramental life of His Son. “Lo, God is here, let us adore”.
"Sexy poetry in the Bible, read in church?" well, yes. Two Sundays ago, we heard a short passage that sounded a bit "racy" from "The Song of Solomon" which was read because The Church insists that it is an allegory, describing the relationship between God and His Church.
Dismissing that as "twaddle", our Old Testament lecturer wondered aloud how a collection of sexy love poems had got into the accredited Biblical books. Likewise, the book of Esther whilst describing how the Jews escaped mass-executions (don't get me wrong, as a "story" it's quite enthralling) but it never mentions God once!
Start dipping into the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, where God apparently encourages the brutal killing of multitudes of gentile people of all ages, you are bound to ask the question, "Where is this God of love" of which the New Testament speaks so eloquently?"
Some passages we hear in church are far from the Gospel, and when, after hearing, the reader declare that "This is the Word of the Lord" you might well ask "Is it really?"
A prominent last-century atheist declared that "The Bible is the most dangerous book in the world" and reading some of the Historical (?) books of the Old Testament, one can sympathise with her judgement.
Yes, the Bible is "Dangerous" if you read it without a great deal of guidance, or you take it literally without foreknowledge of the circumstances.
If we carried out some commands to the letter, for instance, some of this morning's congregation would be condemned for wearing trousers. Deuteronomy says it is wrong for women to wear "Men's garments" as it is equally improper for men to have skirts (unless they are "kilts"?).
When my wife was a 20 yr. old, her father remonstrated as she was wearing moygashel slacks! When his wife did likewise, it troubled him a great deal.
Some of the appointed readings at the Eucharist, without explanation are misleading unless you understand their context. That is why I welcome the inclusion of the readings in our weekly notices, which reading them at home, quietly, helped by the preceeding explanations can give us greater understanding and then they may indeed sound like "The Word of the Lord".
To suggest that "Every word in the Bible is true" is to make a mistake, but it tells of truths about God and ourselves..
For instance, If you study Genesis, Chapters 1 & 2, you find 2 entirely different accounts of Creation.
In Genesis 1, human beings are created last, and reading it you find an almost Darwinian sequence of events, but in chapter 2, Adam is created first.
The reason? Chapter 1 is a later revision, written by religious scholars, whilst Chapter 2 Including the picking of the forbidden fruit was probably an ancient explanation created in the days when knowledge was passed on by word of mouth and is of very primitive origin. Likewise the account of Cain murdering his brother Abel.
Similarly, the story of Jonah and the giant fish is an imaginative writing pointing to the need for the Jews to share with the Gentiles, their faith and relationship with God.
So, because some parts of the Bible are fabrications, does not affect the integrity of the whole, for underneath lies the essential story of God's unique relationship with the Jews, leading on to the New Testament where in Jesus there is a fulfilment of history and ancient prophecies.
The Bible presents us with truths; truth about God, His nature and His purpose for His Creation and that is why we need to listen carefully to the readings as part of our worship, and perhaps read our Bibles more at home.