Work to Do While We Wait

Originally posted December 5, 2016.


One of the fastest ways to start a light-hearted argument in a Lutheran church is to bring up the blue/purple debate around Advent.

Disclaimer: Results may vary. Author is not responsible for any threats of excommunication which may be incurred. Warning: Do not attempt on ELCA Clergy Facebook page as the debate may escalate quickly. Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.

Knowing that I’m treading into unduly controversial waters, let me throw a couple of cards on the table:

  • My background is in the United Methodist tradition. Growing up in the 90s and 00s, purple was still the preferred color for Advent. Purple for Advent brings back a lot of nostalgia. (Also, good Lord, am I old enough to have nostalgia?)
  • I’m convinced that the term adiaphora was coined specifically to resolve debates about liturgical colors. I can think of few things that matter less. Yes, colors have meanings attached to them, but these attachments are incredibly diverse. We’ll come back to this, but suffice it to say that the liturgical colors aren’t on the back side of the Ten Commandments. This is not a hill I’m willing to die on. In the end, if you want to send your altar guild on a shopping spree to buy a full set of blue vestments and paraments, go right ahead.
  • It’s adiaphor, but I’m still passionate about it.
  • I favor simplicity when it comes to vestments and paraments. Which is to say, vestments and paraments should be free of large, elaborate illustrations and words. (Looking at you, Gaspard.) In the same line of thought, the fewer sets needed, the better. If you can get away with using one set for two seasons, do it.
  • I’m not even going near the use of a rose candle and vestments for Gaudete Sunday. I don’t know why some people detest the rose candle so much, but they do. They’re wrong, but they do.

So…what color should we use for Advent?

Continue reading “Work to Do While We Wait”

The Ascension of our Lord and the Tension of Mid-Week Liturgies

Ascension_from_Vasilyevskiy_chin_(15th_c.,_GTG).jpg

There are holy days in the Church that we always make sure to celebrate on the day itself. Who among us would go to an Ash Wednesday service on a Tuesday morning, or a Maundy Thursday service on Good Friday? There are other feasts that are easy enough to observe precisely because they always fall on a Sunday: Easter and Christ the King spring to mind. And there’s one feast that we mark the night before: in most Protestant congregations in the US, Christmas Eve has become the principle service of Christmas, and few parishes assemble on December 25th.

There exist, though, some feasts that are important to the life of the Church but which are rarely observed on their proper day. Epiphany (the Sixth of January) rarely falls on a Sunday;  Reformation Day (the Thirty-first of October) and All Saints’ (the First of November) face a similar problem.* When these feasts fall on a weekday, they are most often observed the following Sunday.

Then there’s the Ascension. Following Saint Luke’s dating in the Acts of the Apostles, it falls forty days after Easter Sunday. Like the observances in Holy Week, the Ascension is pegged to a specific day of the week: it always falls on a Thursday. As with Epiphany, the Reformation, and All Saints’, and unlike the observances of Holy Week, the Ascension is almost always celebrated the following Sunday. In his brief commentary on Acts 1:1-11, New Testament scholar Brian Peterson writes:

Continue reading “The Ascension of our Lord and the Tension of Mid-Week Liturgies”

Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

On December 6th, we marked the feast of Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of the Greek city Myra (in present-day Turkey).

Chiefly, he is remembered for his generosity and secret gift-giving. The son of a wealthy family, Nicholas gave away much of his inheritance to the poor. According to one tradition, the bishop heard a poor man praying; the man had no money to provide dowries for his three daughters and worried that, unmarried, the young women would be left impoverished. Over the next three nights, Bishop Nicholas is said to have thrown bags of money through the window to provide for the family. Continue reading “Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra”

Feast of the Ascension: The Tension of Mid-Week Liturgies

Ascension_from_Vasilyevskiy_chin_(15th_c.,_GTG).jpg

There are holy days in the Church that we always make sure to celebrate on the day itself. Who among us would go to an Ash Wednesday service on a Tuesday morning, or a Maundy Thursday service on Good Friday? There are other feasts that are easy enough to observe precisely because they always fall on a Sunday: Easter and Christ the King spring to mind. And there’s one feast that we mark the night before: in most American congregations, Christmas Eve has become the principle service of Christmas, and few parishes assemble on December 25th.

There exist, though, some feasts that are important to the life of the Church but which are rarely observed on their proper day. Epiphany (the Sixth of January) rarely falls on a Sunday;  Reformation Day (the Thirty-first of October) and All Saints’ (the First of November) face a similar problem.* When these feasts fall on a weekday, they are often observed the following Sunday.

Then there’s the Ascension. Continue reading “Feast of the Ascension: The Tension of Mid-Week Liturgies”

Paschal Triduum: The Great Three Days

Lent is nearly over; Holy Week, having just started, will soon be wrapping up. We are approaching the holiest days of the Christian year: the Paschal Triduum, the Great Three Days. After forty days wandering through the wilderness, and a week in Jerusalem, we have reached the most sacred time: the three-day long period leading up to the Great Vigil of Easter. During this time, we hit our spiritual low point followed almost immediately by our highest; we mark our most solemn fast followed by our most joyous feast.

Over these three days, we gather to worship through prayer, singing, the reading of Scripture, and the celebration of the Sacraments. We gather, depart, and gather again. The three primary services on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil just after sundown on Holy Saturday form one complete liturgy.  Continue reading “Paschal Triduum: The Great Three Days”

From the Mount of Olives to Golgotha:The Palm/Passion Sunday Paradox

palmsundayHoly Week takes us through a liturgical and emotional swing, from cries of “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!” to “Alleluia!” But that swing is sudden, making that first move over the course of the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday morning. We gather with palms, kids joining in excited because things are so very different this day. And then by the sermon, a pall has fallen over the assembly. Somehow, Christ has been crucified — and we haven’t even gotten to Maundy Thursday yet.

Palm Sunday presents a particularly vexing issue for those involved in planning Christian worship. We begin outside with a collect and Gospel reading, process inside and…have another collect and another Gospel reading. We somehow jump the gun straight from the palms to the Cross. Why? And which text should a preacher take into the pulpit? And what songs should we sing? Continue reading “From the Mount of Olives to Golgotha:The Palm/Passion Sunday Paradox”

Re-Arranging the Markan Narrative: A Modest Lectionary Proposal

DSC_2988There’s a saying among preachers: “Two cheers for the lectionary.”

The Revised Common Lectionary keeps us rooted in the ongoing and unfolding narrative of the liturgical year, provides a wide choice of texts from which to preach, and unites Protestants across denominational lines. In short, it moves us towards becoming a more fully catholic Church. Some proponents of sermon series or the “Narrative Lectionary” dismiss this achievement as yearning for a long-lost “Christendom,” but we should not be so quick to dismiss the lectionary’s major accomplishments. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and even a few Baptists reading and preaching on the same texts? Deo gratias! Continue reading “Re-Arranging the Markan Narrative: A Modest Lectionary Proposal”