Below are a few pointers on some parts of the Christian practice that are commonly encountered
What does it mean to live the Christian Life?
What is the Christian Life?
Many people claim to be a Christian or to live according to Christian values, but only occasionally come to church. For such people, they are aspiring towards living the Christian-Life, but haven’t quite got there yet. That is because Christianity is about more than just being good, it is about wanting to live in proper connection with the source of all goodness – God. As we move through the journey of life, many things may draw us into greater awareness of God’s presence – a belief that death cannot be the end, the loss of a loved one, a sequence of events in our lives that have been challenging, the arrival of a new life in the family, an awareness of the immense magnitude of blessing one encounters in the natural world. But once we begin to become more aware of God, we cannot leave it there. If that awareness is to grow and transform us into a more rounded and peaceful person, we need to encounter God in our lives more fully; we need to begin living the Christian-Life.
There are traditionally four aspects to the Christian Life:
- Prayer, worship, devotion
- Study and thinking
- Work and serving the community
- Rest, relaxation and recreation
1. Prayer, worship and devotion
Engaging in the Church’s liturgy is one of the most important elements of the Christian life, because it is when individuals come together into community in order to encounter Jesus through the tradition and teachings of the Church; to think about Christ’s goodness and how it calls us to change so that we may live more in tune with that goodness. We come together to give thanks to God for his many blessings, even life itself, and we also come together to become more in tune with Christ’s presence. A person cannot encounter Jesus properly on their own. As we follow the cycles of the Church’s year together, so we experience the full repertoire of God’s engagement with the world through his son, Jesus Christ. That is why attending church regularly, ideally every week, is so important.
This is not always easy, especially in a society that encourages us to be so busy, to nurture other obsessions and distractions. But being a Christian calls us to place church high up our agenda. Of course there are many things we could be doing instead, but to truly live the Christian life means uniting with other Christians regularly in prayer and devotion in order to experience God and focus on him, especially in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, we encounter Christ most intimately as he gives himself to us in the gifts of bread and wine and we share in it as one community. This is central to our growth and self-understanding. Being a Christian is not always easy – it is a life-long journey. But it is in perseverance that we move closer to God and overtime become more open to allowing him to guide us, walk alongside us, and ultimately bring us into his eternal life.
2. Study and thinking
In order that we may begin to know God better and feel more comfortable in his presence, it is important that we engage in some kind of study and reflection. Our God is mysterious and compassionate. He offers us endless mercies in the struggles of life, but we have to learn to recognise them and see them as coming from his hands. God reveals himself through every avenue of experience. Reading the Bible and what other Church thinkers have to offer is important too. Study and reflection is central to the Christian life as we look to move closer to God by knowing him better.
3. Work and serving the community
Combining aspects of the Christian Life – serving and partying.
Living the Christian life also means putting into practice what we have learned about the way God, in Jesus Christ, wishes us to live. This calls us to make the world a better place, one little act at a time. Because it is the Church that draws more people into knowing God and living in his goodness, our first responsibility is to serve the church and help build it up. Then we have a duty to serve the wider community in ways that reveal God’s goodness. We can do this by supporting charities, engaging in church outreach or simply offering support to overcome need, wherever we find it. Money forms a part of this service, but as Christians we should not only share our wealth, but also our time and talents. Our work places should be included in this area of the Christian life. What we do for employment and the way that we do it are important for our own integrity and can transform the lives of others around us.
4. Rest, relaxation and recreation
God gave us a Sabbath so that we might rest. This is supposed to be a day of relaxation and prayer. Unfortunately, our ever busy world has stripped many of us of the ability to properly rest on a Sunday. Nonetheless, rest, relaxation and recreation remain central facets to the Christian life and we must work at making space to do the things we love. These must, of course, remain in balance with the other aspects of our Christian life, but we can do all things for the love of God and God gives us the ability to rest, relax and enjoy recreation in order that we might recharge our batteries and stimulate our bodies.
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday – The Sacred Triduum (Easter)
The Church and I invite you to join with us during the three holiest days in the year.
It is in these three days, called the Easter or Sacred Triduum, that Jesus’ complete self-giving is once again represented for us; His people chosen by Baptism. Three days of life-giving self-sacrifice which result in life-giving resurrection.
In a certain way it is a dress rehearsal for us, because as Jesus suffered and died before He returned to the Father, we may well be called upon to suffer in some way prior to our death. Jesus, of course, shows us how to do that well.
I pray that these three days, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday will open to us the Spirit’s action in our lives and also help us prepare for that most important day when we will stand before our heavenly Father too.
Following is a synopsis of what these three days are for us in our Anglican tradition and an overview of the ritual and the meaning of these life-giving days.
Holy Thursday is also known as “Maundy Thursday.” The word maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum (commandment) which is the first word of the Gospel acclamation: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
These are the words spoken by our Lord to His apostles at the Last Supper, after he completed the washing of the feet. That is why we imitate Christ’s humility in the washing of the feet.
By meditating on the Gospels (cf. Matt 26:1 ff.; Mark 14:1 ff.; Luke 22:1 ff.; John 13:1 ff.), we can recall to mind Jesus’ actions of that day.
The events of that first Maundy Thursday, when Jesus and his disciples were in the upper room, are summarized as follows:
They include: (1) the eating of the Easter lamb or the paschal meal; (2) the washing of the disciple’s feet; (3) the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist (the first of which Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest, is the celebrant; the first Communion of the apostles; the first conferring of Holy Orders); (4) the foretelling of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denials; (5) the farewell discourse and priestly prayer of Jesus; (6) the agony and capture of Jesus in the Garden of Olives
The Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper
In the evening of Maundy Thursday, the Eucharist of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. It is celebrated in the evening because the Passover began at sundown. There is only one Eucharist, at which the whole community and priests of the parish are asked to participate. This is very joyful, as we recall the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood. The priests wear white vestments, the altar is filled with flowers, the Gloria is sung and the bells are rung. After the Gloria, bells fall silent until the Easter Vigil. The Liturgy of the Eucharist recalls the Passover, the Last Supper, which includes the Washing of the Feet. The hymn Ubi Caritas or Where Charity and Love Prevail is usually sung at this time. After the Communion Prayer, there is no final blessing. The Holy Eucharist is carried in procession through Church and then transferred into a place of reposition, which for St. Mary Magdalene in Geddington is in the Lady Chapel.
After the Eucharist, we recall the Agony in the Garden, and the arrest and imprisonment of Jesus. The altar is stripped as is the entire church and crosses are removed or covered. This is called the Stripping of the Sanctuary. The Eucharist has been placed in an altar of repose, and our parish will be open for silent adoration in the Lady Chapel, to answer Christ’s invitation “Could you not, then, watch one hour with me?” (Matt 26:40)
The Altar of Repose
When the Eucharist is carried to the altar of repose in the Lady Chapel after the service of the Eucharist, we should remain in quiet prayer and adoration, worshipping Christ.
Anglican piety is particularly responsive to the adoration of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament after the service of the Eucharist.
What can we do during adoration? It is a reverent and austere solemn reservation of the Body of Christ for the community of the faithful which takes part in the liturgy of Good Friday and for the viaticum of the infirmed. It is also a welcome invitation to silent and prolonged adoration of the wondrous sacrament instituted by Jesus on this day.
By midnight on Maundy Thursday, the adoration should conclude. At midnight the day of the Lord’s Passion has already begun.
Washing of Feet
As a symbol of humility and, standing in persona Christi, the priest midway through the service of the Eucharist, will take off his chasuble (the outer garment) and wash the feet of 12 people in imitation of Jesus’ service to his apostles and the church. (John 13:1 – 17).
“It is accomplished; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.”
On Good Friday the whole Church mourns the death of our Saviour. This is traditionally a day of sadness, spent in fasting and prayer. In some traditions this is an obligatory day of fasting and abstinence.
According to the Church’s ancient tradition, the sacraments are not celebrated on Good Friday nor Holy Saturday. The “Celebration of the Lord’s Passion,” is celebrated. The Stations of the Cross will be celebrated in Geddington as we carry the cross through the streets. Each stop becomes a station when we reflect upon the journey to the cross.
The Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord
The altar is completely bare, with no cloths, candles or cross. The service is divided into three parts:
- Liturgy of the Word
- Veneration of the Cross
- Holy Communion. The priest and deacons minimal red vestments. The liturgy starts with the priests and deacons going to the altar in silence and prostrating themselves for a few moments in silent prayer (as an act of humility).
An introductory prayer is prayed. In part one, the Liturgy of the Word, we hear the most famous of the Suffering Servant passages from Isaiah (52:13-53:12), a prefigurement of Christ on Good Friday. Psalm 31 is the Responsorial Psalm “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The Second Reading, or Epistle, is from the letter to the Hebrews, 4:14-16; 5:7-9. The Gospel Reading is the Passion of St. John.
The General Intercessions conclude the Liturgy of the Word. The ten intercessions cover these areas:
For the Church
For bishops, priests and members of religious communities
For all holy orders and the faithful
For those preparing for baptism
For the unity of Christians
For the Jewish people
For those who do not believe in Christ
For those who do not believe in God
For all in public office
For those in tribulation
Veneration of the Cross
A cross is venerated by the congregation. We joyfully venerate and kiss or show some other sign of reverence to the wooden cross “on which hung the Saviour of the world.” During this time the “Reproaches” are usually sung or recited.
Holy Communion concludes the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. The altar is covered with a cloth and the ciboriums containing the Blessed Sacrament are brought to the altar from the place of reposition – the Lady Chapel. The Our Father and the Lamb of God are prayed. After the congregation receives Holy Communion, a Prayer after Communion, and a prayer over the people, is prayed and everyone departs in silence.
This is a day of mourning. We should try to take time off from work and activities such as T.V., computers, video games, music, sports, etc. to participate in the devotions and liturgy of the day as much as possible.
On Holy Saturday the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb, meditating on his suffering and death. The altar is left bare, and the sacrifice of the Eucharist is not celebrated. Only after the solemn vigil during the night, held in anticipation of the resurrection, does the Easter celebration begin, with a spirit of joy that overflows into the following period of fifty days.
Holy Saturday is sacred. The day is and should be calm and quiet, a day broken by no liturgical function. Christ lies in the grave, the Church sits near and mourns. Cleaning the church may be a practical thing to do, but this should only happen after Matins is said publicly so that the desolation of the day, a day when Christ is dead and descending to hell, is properly observed.
There are no other liturgies celebrated during the day.
The Easter Vigil will be celebrated at St Mary Magdalene beginning at 6.30 p.m.
The Easter Vigil begins with the blessing of the Easter fire (representing Jesus as the light of the world rising from the dead to dispel the powers of sin and darkness) and the preparation of the Easter candle (which represents Jesus).
The Church will be in darkness and every member the congregation will hold an individual candle. The Easter candle will be brought in procession and three times Fr Rob will chant “the light of Christ” and the congregation will respond “thanks be to God.”
There will be many readings outlining the story of God’s interaction with creation and the salvation of the world.
Candles in the church will be lit
Father Clark will sing the Easter proclamation (the Exsultet).
At the front the lights will be turned on
Following these readings will be the blessing of the Easter water and the renewal of baptismal vows or Rite of Reception for those joining the Church. The celebration of the Eucharist follows.
Easter Sunday is the most solemn day in the church’s liturgical year celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a time of joy and celebration for all of us. And so we celebrate the joyous Eucharist of the year. Jesus is risen from the dead – Alleluia! And we recognise him in the breaking of bread – Alleluia!
Mothering Sunday is always the fourth Sunday of Lent and is a Christian celebration. It is not a secular event, even though, as with so many Christian celebrations, our society tries to push it that way. Although it’s often referred to as Mothers’ Day, it has no connection with the American festival of that name. Traditionally, it was a day when children who had gone to work as domestic servants were given a day off to return to their mother and family and visit their nearest big church, the ‘Mother Church’. This was in order to give thanks to God for all the blessings they received, and all that was good about the maternal bond.
Mothering Sunday continues to be a religious celebration of mothers and the maternal bond, and children give flowers, presents and cards to their mothers, and other maternal figures such as grandmothers, stepmothers and mothers-in-law. The spiritual dimension is very important – as important today as ever (possibly even more so). As any mother will tell you, motherhood instils deep bonds that are impossible to interpret on anything other than a spiritual level. In fact, many would claim that becoming a parent was the moment that they became convinced of the wisdom of there being a loving creator God.
It is important that we do not take motherhood for granted, whether we be the child, the parent, the grandparent or the carer. As such it remains important that we return to God’s holy house to give thanks for the blessings he bestows in such relationships. This Mothering Sunday, return to mother church and give thanks for one of the strongest relationship bonds God imparts into our lives.
“Remember you are but dust and to dust you shall return!”
If there ever is a day of the year when you can spot Christians at a glance, Ash Wednesday is it. It is the one time when Anglicans, Catholics and other denominations literally wear their faith on their foreheads. In fact, Eucharists on Ash Wednesday are better attended than most other holy days, except Christmas.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. The ashes we receive on our forehead in the shape of a cross serve as an outward sign of our sinfulness and need for penance. The ashes also symbolize our mortality, a reminder that one day we will die and our bodies will return to dust. Hence the traditional words, “Remember you are but dust and to dust you shall return.”
The tradition of receiving ashes has its origins in the Old Testament, where sinners performed acts of public penance. It has been a required practice in the Church since before 10th Century and it is prescribed that the ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made by burning the previous year’s palm branches.
Ash Wednesday is also a day of fasting and abstinence. According to ancient practice, Christians older than the age of 14 are supposed to abstain from meat. In addition, those between the ages of 18 and 59, not including pregnant mothers or those who are sick, should eat only one full meal. It is suggested that smaller amounts of food may be eaten in the morning and either at lunchtime or dinner, depending on when you plan to eat your full meal.
Can I believe and not go to Church?
Can you believe and not go to church?
Yes. No question!
However, if you choose to be a Christian without sharing that experience with others, you choose to exclude yourself from many of the good things that an active relationship with God can bring. Service sits at the centre of the Gospel narrative, and service, by its very nature, requires us to be committed to others. Service starts with a simple ‘putting up with’ everyone else. And true service requires us to serve everyone, even those we don’t much like. Throughout the Bible, this begins with those who are walking the same journey and aspiring to the same joyful enlightenment. The small community we see Jesus walking with has its ups and downs, but in every example, the Bible shows us that the long journey is necessary if we are to be included in the richness of what follows. But that means bearing with and being generous to each other. It would be far easier to just walk away every time we feel aggrieved or less inspired, but it is in the commitment and faithfulness, over a long period of time, that our faith bears fruit. From this stable foundation, service then explodes out into the wider world helping to bring the same benefits to those outside, especially those in the most need. There is nothing more pleasing to God, nor beneficial to us personally, than being faithful to Christ’s church community for a lifetime, through all the ups and downs.
The Bible contains a description of what the followers of Jesus did in the days following his death and then the weeks following his resurrection. Following his death, they moped around, not knowing what to do. They weren’t very good company and they no doubt argued and bickered – allot. But they stuck together and continued trying to work out what it was that Jesus wanted them to do next. Of course, all he wanted them to do for that time, was to stay faithful, and they did.
Following the Resurrection things changed. Their life together is then described as being full of excitement and joy. This group of disciples were the first church and they had overcome the first difficulty with remarkable faithfulness. It is unquestionable that Christ designs the Church to become the home of the faithful and the guarder of faith, he even calls it a Church (Upon this rock, I will build my Church – Matthew 16:18). Ever since then, the witness of the Early Church has given Christians a model of how the experience of being a follower of Christ, part of the church, rather than just an individual, could and should be:
- It focusses on two tables
- The Altar – The Eucharist (Holy Communion – Sharing Bread and Wine)
- The Dining Table – Sharing of Meals
- Welcoming each other into their homes and offering hospitality
- Learning from their spiritual leaders (Bishops and Priests) what the way of Jesus should mean in practice, and supporting these leaders in their vision to grow God’s kingdom locally (through the Church)
- Praying for their shared concerns and the concerns of the world
- Praising and worshipping God with reverence and awe
- Rejoicing and celebrating – Jesus loved a party!
- Recognising God’s action in doing miraculous things in the everyday world
- sharing any excess personal possessions and money so that they could be used to grow God’s kingdom further.
- Trusting each other that when a need arose, help would be at hand.
- Being generous about each other’s faults, giving each other the benefit of the doubt and forgiving each other – constantly!
In the New Testament we see how this was so appealing that the group grew and grew, with people who had never met Jesus coming to faith, putting their trust in God and committing themselves to the Church and through it, Jesus’ way of life.
It is undeniably true that some people’s experience of church in the UK is not entirely positive. But Church should not be held up in comparison to entertainment, or sport, or shopping, or a caring profession, or a service industry. Church is all about something much less tangible and far deeper than any of these things and it has something to do with our personal commitment to God and each other. Christianity is a whole way of life, often quite at odds with the negative values of the world (such as personal success at others’ expense, personal wealth accumulation ect.). But those who open their hearts often find the church community entirely transformative.
Churches are places where people receive what they give, but often not in the way they expect.