Saturday, March 11, 2006

Just in time for Easter: sin-free liturgy

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Penitents receive a cross of ashes as a sign of their humility and sorrow for sin at St Patrick's Cathedral, NYC.

St John once noted, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" [1 John 1:8]. The themes of atonement for sin and the forgiveness of sin have always been central themes in the Eucharistic prayers used throughout the Church in various times and places. In the Anglican liturgy, we pray, "Thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption." Note the words of Jesus at the consecration: "This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins." We pray further, "We humbly beseech thee to grant that, by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins and all other benefits of his passion."

A few weeks ago, I came across an experimental liturgy in a program from another Episcopal parish. I’m not sure of the source of the text. It’s not from the Prayer Book or any other alternate text I’m aware of. I emailed the priest asking about it, but I haven’t heard back. What struck me about it was the amazing lack of reference to sin and atonement. Read carefully:
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God dwells in you.
And also with you.

Come to the table with thankful hearts.
We open our hearts to God and to one another.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Creative God, source of all life and ground of our being, you are the vibrant energy dancing at the center of the universe! Through us you move, and through us you are made known to the world. Co-creators with you, we are emboldened to move beyond ourselves, to find the courage to let go of old ways and welcome new life. And so, in concert with those of every generation who have been touched by your redeeming love, we lift our praise to you:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the one who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

From the beginning we did not trust you when you called us "good." In our arrogance, we placed ourselves outside your garden of love. Separate from you, vulnerable and unprotected, we feared one another and our diversity. Afraid of being ourselves, we distrusted your Word of love and forgiveness. But you did not abandon us to isolation and despair.

You sent your servant Jesus, baptized him with your Spirit, and infused him with your love and confidence. Healing, teaching, and sharing table with all manner of individuals, Jesus proclaimed your love for all humanity and called us forth to be ourselves.

On the night before his death, Jesus gathered his friends around him for a meal. After supper he took bread, gave thanks to you, and shared it with them, saying, "This is my body, the bread of new life. Eat it in remembrance of me." Taking the cup of wine, he blessed it and shared it with them, saying, "This is my blood, the cup of new life. Drink it in remembrance of me."

And so, remembering the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection, we acclaim you, O Christ: Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life. Christ Jesus, come in glory!

Fill us and these gifts of bread and wine with your Spirit, that we, receiving the body and blood of your Christ, may burn with the power of your Spirit to be a people of hope, justice, inclusion, and love. We ask this in the name of the risen Christ. Amen.

Why would a Christian church put together a service of worship that goes to such an extent to ignore the themes atonement and forgiveness of sins? Take a guess before you look at the source.

Update: Kendall Canon Harmon has now posted the prayer on his excellent Titusonenine bog. You can follow the thread discussing the theology of the prayer here.


Texanglican (R.W. Foster+) said...

Father, some years ago I was participating in the planning for an ecumenical Christian prayer service at the U of Chicago. I proposed including a cofession of sin similar to that found in the 1979 BCP. A female liberal Protestant ministry student immediately objected: "I have seen too many AIDS patients burdened with guilt by all this talk about sin. I cannot agree to a focus on our sinfulness in this service." Others at the table immediately capitulated to her demand. I was astonished and SHOULD have excused myself from table at that point. But I chose to stay a while longer in hopes of doing some good. A few minutes later I proposed another prayer the Prayer Book. Her objection this time? The prayer mentioned GOD's GRACE! You see, a need for God's grace IMPLIES our sinfulness, and therefore mention of God's grace--in fact any mention of our utter dependence upon God for our salvation itself--was therefore off limits. At that point I did excuse myself from the table and never participated in planning such an event at U of C again. Please note-this was supposed to be a Christian prayer service, yet belief in our sinfulness or even in God's grace could no longer pass muster with the theological feminist Leftist at the table. That is just one indication as to how far things have sunk.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

Very interesting story.

Texanglican (R.W. Foster+) said...

Lest readers think this woman was an oddball in the early 21st century American Christianity, after graduation she was ordained and served for several years as pastor of a Christian Church-Disciples of Christ congregation in Youngstown, OH. Today she is Assistant Dean of the Disciples Divinity House at the Univ of Chicago (probably the most influential ministry training program in their denomination). I believe this woman is pretty much definitive of the "mainstream" of liberal Protestant Christianity in the US today. It saddens the heart. I think that was the day I knew with certainty that there was nothing meaningful to be found in liberal Christianity (though I always had grave doubts about the liberal project).

Anonymous said...

That saddens me. What about the whole Christ crucified? How can they even have crosses? Why the crucifixion was a horrific act, the sacrifice was beautiful if that makes any sense. Beautiful that God would sacrifice so much to bring his creation back to him, and they seem to deny that at the same time.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

Compare this liturgy with part of the Roman Canon: "Wherefore, we beseech thee, O Lord, graciously to receive this oblation which we thy servants, and with us thy whole family, offer up to thee: dispose our days in thy peace and command that we may be saved from eternal damnation and numbered among the flock of thine elect; through Christ our Lord. Amen."