There is an old tale (which also shows up in early maps) describing Jerusalem as the center of the world, a city visit by kings and prophets, pilgrims and mystics, rulers and conquerors. Today we know it as a city claimed by three faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Physically, it is a divided city into four quarters that somewhat blend into each other as you cross from one quarter to the next: the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter. All areas are a mix of secular and religious. More than 4,000 years old, its walls were rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah following the Babylonian captivity, the Romans (1st century), Diocletian and Aelia Eudocia (Byzantine 4th century), and Crusaders (11th century). The actual “cardo” from Roman times is actually about 15 feet below the cobblestones we walked on today.
On our various days visiting the Old City, we entered through a variety of gates. The current walls around the Old City (which have spread out since Jesus’ time) were built by Sulieman the Magnificent in 1542. Most of the gates we entered were built by Siran, an Ottoman-Turkish architect who lived in the 16th century.
Entering the Damascus Gate (Nablus Gate) is a different experience depending on the time of day. At 7:00 in the morning it is quiet with shops boarded up, trash being collected, and cats everywhere scurrying to find the last scrap to eat. By mid-morning and throughout the afternoon the gate (as well as the “main street”) is a bustling enterprise of merchants selling their wares from grape leaves, bread, spices, t-shirts, Disney knock-offs, and within the city we even came upon a shop for University of Alabama fans. We used this particular gate frequently, built upon an older gate built in Roman times. The gate’s name in Hebrew is “Sha’ar Shkem” since one travels away from this gate southwards; in Jesus’ time one would have passed through the city of Shkhem (North/Nablus) north to Damascus (Zion Gate). The street was designed by the Romans in the 2nd century CE after the city was established and rebuilt by Hadrian, which razed the city following the failed Bar-Kochva’s revolt in 136 CE. Another route split from the north gate from this main street to the Valley Cardo, which ended near the dung gate.
Today (Thursday, May 2), we celebrate the National Day of Prayer. Of course, every day should be a day of prayer, but how does this become a “national” day in a country that claims a separation of church and state?
The National Day of Prayer was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. In 1988, the law was unanimously amended by both the House and the Senate and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on Thursday, May 5, 1988, designating the first Thursday of May as a day of national prayer. Every president since 1952 has signed a National Day of Prayer proclamation.
There are a number of organizations and individuals who feel the day has been politicized by many to promote an agenda as well as a particular religious viewpoint. This is easy to see, with its founders having ties to Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Focus on the Family. One such organization, the Freedom from Religion Foundation offers their opinion and history of this day here. However, it would behoove all Christians (and perhaps all faith communities) to follow the Episcopal Peace Fellowship‘s call for Christians everywhere to be known by our love (the 2019 National Day of Prayer theme) and to be instruments of peace in a violent society. They write in their latest e-news:
Our Taizé services, held several times a year, have traditionally been attended by adults. For the service scheduled midway through Lent we wanted to make it more of an intergenerational event. How could we make Taizé more experiential while retaining its contemplative nature? How might we introduce Taizé to families with children? How could we tap into scripture with baptismal and Lenten themes paired with the music of Taizé? This and other questions led to our creation of a Taizé Intergenerational Liturgy held on the afternoon of the Third Sunday of Lent at my home parish, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilton, Connecticut.
Our team (Marissa Rohrbach, rector; Fiona Smith Sutherland, music director; Becky Hudspeth, children’s and youth minister; and myself) created two other events this program year (The Way of Love and Advent) and wanted to build upon those. Then two of us saw a post on Building Faith by Charlotte Preslar entitled “Creating Prayer Bottles” that had been developed as a sensory prayer experience before Lent began. We knew we had found our experiential, contemplative missing element for our Taizé service.
In advance, we ordered our supplies and sorted all the “pieces” in little containers for easy use with little hands and less mess. We set up a simple focal point of tables of various sizes and heights, with chairs surrounding them on all sides with ample room to move between them all. Around the perimeter of the chairs were six 6-foot tables, while near the entrance the piano and small adult choir and an instrumentalist sat. Battery-powered candles (the ones that looked like they had flickering flames) were scattered on the focal tables and piano. A variety of icons were placed on the tables as well as small terra-cotta pots filled with sand. A large clear glass bowl was filled with water and placed on the center of the largest altar table. Scattered on the floor were tall bottles filled with warm water and a basket of thin, long tapers (candles). Torches (from the sanctuary) stood on either side of the tables and our processional cross was placed in the center back of the room.
Liturgy is formation. We learn how to pray by praying. We learn Bible stories by hearing and reading them. We learn about community by worshiping together. We learn the traditions of the Church by being present as they are celebrated. We learn the rhythms of the Christian year by watching the “colors” change with the liturgical seasons and the prayers that set the tone of the season.
Soon we will begin a new (secular) year. We already began a new (sacred) year several weeks ago on the First Sunday of Advent. How do we help all ages live into sacred time instead of the secular patterns that we follow (and is forced upon us) in the culture in which we live?
We practice. We remember. We slow down. And perhaps we focus on what we do on Sundays when we are gathered for worship and education – forming ourselves into Christians who are of this world but strive for more.
Every week (toward the beginning) I look ahead to what the coming Sunday will bring. What lessons will I be hearing in church? What is the season and its themes? Are there ways to make them relevant to children, youth, and adults – each in an age appropriate way? Hopefully during preaching and the “education hour” there is time to put things in context. Hopefully there is a reason the lesson or story you are sharing in Church School is connected to the season or the Gospel. You don’t need to be using a lectionary-based curriculum (although that helps), but the biblical stories we share need to make a connection to where we are in God’s world (and “time”) today. And that takes planning. Continue reading A Christian Educator’s Guide to Liturgical Planning→
To be an Episcopalian is one way of being a Christian. And being an Episcopalian is rooted in an identity and heritage based in the Book of Common Prayer. It is a “manual” for Episcopal worship, and if one visits any Episcopal church for worship, one could expect to participate in a liturgy found in that red book in the pew –– whether it is a Eucharist, Morning Prayer, baptism, or funeral. Many still call this book the “new” prayer book, but it has been around since 1979 (and even earlier in a variety of trial texts).
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer is very clear with regards to the purpose of education and formation. In fact, it’s purpose is directly prayed for every Sunday during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is found in all of the post-communion prayers, as well as the catechism section on ministry. It is found in the promises we make every time our worship includes a baptism. We pray, as we believe, the each baptized member –– no matter what age or stage –– it called to engage in an active ministry and mission, to be “sent out to do the work God has given us to do.” That calling is the purpose of education and formation. Continue reading Liturgy as Formation→