Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Keep It Simple Stupid

I don't know if it about getting older, but I am getting more and more fed up with some of the unnecessary complexities of church life and more and more concerned to simplify things.

That is something we are trying to do in our church of St. James in Swansea where I am currently Vicar. Okay, some of the things have just stopped of their own accord e.g. processions led by someone carrying the cross etc. While prayers for the dead (me), no longer passing round the collection plate (the PCC and me ) and lately the use of wardens wands or staves to help usher people towards the front for Holy Communion (the PCC and me) have also disappeared. But there is still too much complexity for me, especially surrounding the Lord's Supper - or is it Mass, Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion etc?

The following article excerpted from Christian Today takes aim at the main service of the Church and - at least for me - hits the mark on so many things. Take a look:

"Sometimes when as a church leader I contemplate everything connected with this thing we call 'church' I ask myself: 'Did Jesus ever really intend all this to be as complex as we often seem to make it?' I am 99.9 per cent sure the answer to that question is 'no'!

Communion is a case in point......Take the Lord's Supper...

...'While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.' (Mark 10v22-25).

Let's just pause for a moment and consider what Jesus did not say. He did not say, for example: 'And by the way, when you do this in remembrance of me, please ensure that you use the following items of linen and silverware: a burse, a chalice veil, a pall, a paten, a purificator, chalice and corporal – and let me just pause to sketch out a diagram here to make sure you get it right. Please also ensure you have at least two lighted candles nearby.'

Nor did he say: 'By the way, chaps, I am sure it goes without saying – you need a special table which should be called an altar on which to place all this stuff. And – nearly forgot this one – keep up with your note-taking Peter – make sure that as the months of the year go by, you change the colour of the vestments and also the hangings regularly: violet, white, green, red, gold, black, rose and so on. Got it?'

Jesus did not say: 'My friends, please be clear that when sharing bread and wine in the future, this ceremony should be presided over by someone who has received three years of theological training, ideally in a city far away from where they live. They should then have a kind of apprenticeship for a year before being licensed at a service in a cathedral to say something similar – albeit much, much longer – to the words I have just now shared with you.'

He did not then go on to say: 'Please notice what I am wearing as I share this meal with you – namely an alb, cincture, chasuble, dalmatic, cassock, surplice and stole, plus clerical collar of course! – and make sure you are dressed likewise.'

.............where do you find them in the teaching of Jesus? Where indeed do you see them in the rest of the New Testament?

I am not – let us be absolutely clear – seeking to make light in any way of Holy Communion itself. Indeed, one thing the New Testament makes clear is that anyone 'who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord' (1 Corinthians 11). We are to 'examine ourselves' before we eat, as that chapter goes on (11v28) 'for all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgement against themselves'. No, this is mighty serious stuff and we dare not take it lightly.

Moreover, we do not want to disregard 2,000 years of church history, and the wisdom of those who have gone before us..... But.....let us pause and ask: is it just possible that our Communion services.....
have become so cluttered – by rules and traditions Jesus never instituted, and by routines that have grown over-familiar and stale – that we have lost sight of the cross? "

A good question. Just as it is possible to put so many clothes on a man that you are no longer able to see who he really is, so it is possible - and we do it - to overlay something as simple as a communal meal where Jesus asks us to break bread and drink wine together in His name, with so many extraneous things that we forget it's simple message. Remember Jesus who died and rose again for you.

And so as much as it goes against the grain for some, or changes something we are familiar with BACK into something more simple and meaningful in and of itself, I think we should take another look at Holy Communion (or Mass, the Lord's Supper etc) and see if we can't get back to what it really is. Let's remove some of the layers and see what we can find?

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