Rite of Burial: an Easter Liturgy

I had a powerful experience this past week.

You see, I am an Episcopal priest. It is no secret that the average age of the Episcopal Church is significantly older than the average age of the population in general.

And so it is that I do lots of funerals. “Lots,” here, means perhaps one every six weeks.

Last week I performed a burial service for a man who was baptized at my parish many years ago but was living in Dallas. He was in his early 60’s and died from a sudden heart attack while jogging.

At his funeral in Tyler not one family member was present; instead I was surrounded by about fifty friends who came to grieve and celebrate. Fifty friends together with his 9th grade Sunday School teacher from our parish.

Today I received a letter from his brother, his brother who has been incarcerated for years. He thanked me for performing the service, and went on to explain that, at the exact time of the service, he was reading the Order for Burial, worshipping with us, hundreds of miles away from his prison cell.

And here is how he closed his letter: “There is a little noticed page in our Book of Common Prayer that is really helping me get through this, page 507. Check it out. May the Lord be with you.”

Here is what appears on page 507 of the Book of Common Prayer:

The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.

The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from teh love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.

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Beer to the Glory of God

Of the many times I have been proud to be Episcopalian, a few truly special moments come to mind. My ordination to the priesthood at the hands of two dearly beloved bishops. The opening Sunday of the Epiphany Eucharist, when I got a vision for what is possible. My chance to meet with the Most Reverend Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi of Nigeria.

And then, there is this:

shota_house_beer

Way to go, Nashotah House!

For more on this vital means of grace, see here.

 

 

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A Word about our Worship (Epiphany Eucharist)

Most of my work as a priest for the last year and a half has been the establishment & development of a new worshiping community here in Tyler, Texas.

In the Epiphany Eucharist we strive to worship the Living God in ways that are thoughtful yet reverent. We are trying to give folks a taste of liturgy that is ancient and substantial, yet accessible. Just as we don’t worship in Latin(!), so also we look for ways to foster peoples’ ability to connect with what we are doing in the liturgy, and why.

Why do we make the sign the cross, for example, and how and when?

The music in this service is more contemporary than most traditional Episcopal Eucharists.

As for the Scripture lessons, our practice is to include two lessons (a “first lesson,” either from a New Testament letter or the Old Testament or the Apocrypha and a Gospel lesson) and a psalm (or canticle) in response to the first lesson. Of these three readings (including the Psalm) two of the them will match the lesson from the lectionary used by the other services of Christ Church on any given Sunday. In this way the entire Christ Church community is worshiping together to a large extent.

As for the liturgy, the Epiphany Eucharist is (what is colloquially known as) a “Rite III” Eucharist. (See page 400 of the Book of Common Prayer.) However, in an effort not to “reinvent the wheel,” what we are doing is borrowing liturgies from around the Anglican Communion. For example, in Lent we worship with a liturgy from the Church of Ireland. In the Sundays in Eastertide we use a liturgy from Australia. In ordinary time we use two liturgies: one from Kenya and one from New Zealand.

In this way we celebrate our worldwide, sacramental communion of believers!

 

 

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