Why Pray?

From the Forward to Winfield Bevins’ Our Common Prayer (paper, Kindle), this is Ashley Null:

Constant prayer, then, is the key to the Christian life. Of course, that is the whole point of the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8). We do not pray to God day and night because he is an unjust judge that needs to be prompted. We pray to him day and night because we need to be prompted. We struggle so much with injustice – the wrongs that others do to us, and the wrongs that we do to others. We pray to God day and night so that his love might renew a right spirit in us. We pray to God day and night for him to work in us so that we can forgive others their wrongs and give ourselves away in godly service. In short, we pray day and night, not to move the heart of God to want to do our will, but for God to continually move our hearts to want to do his will (16).

That about sums it up.  

Eucharist and Presence: Embracing Mystery, Finding Joy

I used to spend time wrestling with the different formulations proposed through Church history for how we should understand the nature of Christ’s Presence in Holy Communion. There was a time when I found it helpful to compare and contrast the competing concepts of Thomistic Transubstantiation, Lutheran Consubstantiation, and Calvinism’s Spiritual Presence. To some extent, I still think those sorts of formulations have their place, though I put less stock in them now. Instead, I’ve come to embrace the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This attitude is captured well by Charles Wesley in his hymn, “O the Depth of Love Divine”. He writes:

O the depth of love divine,
Th’unfathomable grace!
Who shall say how bread and wine
God into man conveys!
How the bread his flesh imparts,
How the wine transmits his blood,
Fills his faithful people’s hearts
With all the life of God!

How is Christ present in bread and wine? I don’t know. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that Christ is present, really present. He said that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. That’s all. He didn’t explain it. He didn’t fill in the details. And now, finally, that’s enough for me. If we are going to say something about Christ’s Eucharistic Presence, we should learn from Wesley that sometimes it’s better to sing a hymn than write a treatise.
There has been one particularly pleasant surprise on this journey of embracing in faith the Real Presence of Christ. I have found that I am more free to simply worship and adore him, and to receive that which he offers, namely himself, his own physical presence. This freedom to worship has resulted in the discovery that Christ’s gift of himself at the Table is not a matter of magic, not about saying the right words as if we could manipulate Christ to manifest his Presence. To the contrary, the gift of himself is an expression of Christ’s sovereign pleasure to minister to us physical creatures in just the way we need, with his own tangible, touchable, taste-able presence. And it is his joy to offer himself in this way – O the depth of love divine! And because it is his joy to make me the object of his self-giving love by filling my belly and quenching my thirst with his very life, I have found increasing joy when I go to the Lord’s table. Indeed, in embracing the mystery I have found joy like never before. Thanks be to God.    

3 Ways Christ is Present in the Eucharist (@KreeftQuotes)

How is Christ present in the sacrament of Holy Communion? Here’s Peter Kreeft in his book Catholic Christianity (paper, Kindle), which is an exposition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the chapter on the Eucharist, he writes:

Here the three meanings of “present” come together: Christ in the Eucharist is (a) present, not absent, but really here; (b) present, not past, but happening now; and (c) presented as a gift (a “present”), really given, offered, not withheld (326).

I’m happy to affirm and deeply grateful for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, though I’m hesitant to attempt to parse that out too far (e.g. transubstantiation, consubstantiation). Somehow Christ mysteriously ministers his presence to his people in the bread and wine. This three-pronged comment from Kreeft is quite helpful, though, as we reflect on the character of Christ’s presence. In the consecrated elements, Christ is really present right now to give himself to his people in love and with joy. 

The Liturgy and the Gospel (@OfficialSeedbed)

The team at Seedbed.com was kind enough to publish an essay in which I recount three key reasons I am increasingly drawn to liturgical worship. Here’s an excerpt:
I’ve often thought of my life as having been lived on the edge of the liturgy. I suspect that perspective will resonate with many in the Wesleyan and Methodist tradition. We observe Advent and Lent. The colors on the pulpit and the communion table change with the season. We usually celebrate All Saints Sunday, and sometimes our pastors even preach the lectionary. Elements of liturgical worship are sprinkled throughout our worship life. Many suspect there is more going on, that there is a deeper coherence to the liturgical form of worship, even if we are unsure of what holds it together. We stick close to the side, hesitant to jump out into the middle of the stream, cautious lest we are carried off by a current that we cannot control and do not fully understand. We are unsure of where it will take us. Nevertheless, and despite our caution, some are captured by the inescapable inclination that we stand on the edge of something great, simultaneously terrible and beautiful, and we begin to take small steps forward into deeper water in order that we might drink more fully of the riches of the mystery before us. I offer here a few reflections on the early stages of my own journey from the edge of the liturgical stream into deeper waters. Perhaps these reflections will encourage those who read to join this exploration of the beauty and mystery of the liturgy.
You can read the rest of the post at the Seedbed blog. Here I’d like to point to a couple of resources and add a comment or two as a follow-up to that piece.
The article mentions Bryan Chapell’s book, Christ-Centered Worship, and I want to emphasize how extremely influential this book has been in my understanding of the liturgy. Chapell sets side-by-side the liturgies of the Roman Catholic Church and several Protestant traditions and, without overlooking the differences, shows how the form and structure of the liturgy in these various traditions is shaped by the gospel. This was eye-opening for me. I’ve long understood that the gospel should fill the content of Christian worship; it never occurred to me that the very form and order of worship should be governed by the gospel also, though having now encountered this idea, I can’t imagine a better way. It seems so obvious, so clear, so excellent. How could anyone who loves the good news not desire that the gospel set the pattern and form of the Church’s worship?
Another key book that was recommended to me is Mark Galli’s Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. If you have little or no experience with liturgical worship, then this is the book to read first. Galli’s style is accessible and engaging. You don’t have to hold a theology degree to get what he has to say. He will not only introduce you to the most basic structure of the liturgy, he will also help you begin to appreciate its beauty, relevance, mystery, and majesty.
I’ll finish by saying that it is precisely that which I take to be central to my evangelical identity that drives me toward liturgical worship. The liturgy is all about Christ and him crucified. It goes to work in us by faith to draw us to Christ and to renew us in his image. It is saturated with scripture and, above all, aims ultimately to exalt the holiness, the majesty, and the glory of God. 
What is your experience with liturgical worship? Are there any books or other resources you’ve found particularly helpful? 

An Easter Hymn by N.T. Wright

Yesterday, I featured the opening chorus from N.T. Wright’s Easter Oratorio, a moving piece that is devotionally meaningful, biblically faithful, and theologically substantial. As I looked through the rest of the oratorio, I discovered the final verse is an appropriate reflection for the celebration of Easter morning that is likewise meaningful and substantial. So, I thought I’d share this Easter Hymn from N.T. Wright:

Ye choirs of new Jerusalem
Your sweetest notes employ
The Paschal victory to hymn
In strains of holy joy.
How Judah’s Lion burst his chains,
And crushed the serpent’s head;
And brought with him, from death’s domains,
The long-imprisoned dead.
From hell’s devouring jaws the prey
Alone our Leader bore;
His ransomed hosts pursue their way
Where he hath gone before.
Triumphant in his glory now
His sceptre ruleth all,
Earth, heaven, and hell before him bow,
And at his footstool fall.
While joyful thus his praise we sing,
His mercy we implore,
Into his palace bright to bring
And keep us evermore.
All glory to the Father be,
All glory to the Son,
All glory, Holy Ghost, to thee,
While endless ages run. Alleluia! Amen.

A Meditation for Holy Saturday by N.T. Wright

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that N.T. Wright is a prolific writer of books. It turns out that he is something of a poet as well. Working with composer Paul Spicer, Wright has written the text for an Easter Oratorio that tells the story of the resurrection from chapters 20 and 21 of John’s gospel. The opening chorus is a fitting meditation for this Holy Saturday:
On the seventh day God rested
in the darkness of the tomb;
Having finished on the sixth day
all his work of joy and doom.
Now the word had fallen silent,
and the water had run dry,
The bread had all been scattered,
and the light had left the sky.
The flock had lost its shepherd,
and the seed was sadly sown,
The courtiers had betrayed their king,
and nailed him to his throne.
O Sabbath rest by Calvary,
O calm of tomb below,
Where the grave-clothes and the spices
cradle him we did not know!
Rest you well, beloved Jesus,
Caesar’s Lord and Israel’s King,
In the brooding of the Spirit,
in the darkness of the spring.
Rest well, indeed. For tomorrow there is work to be done and a grave to be conquered.

The Folly of Feel-Good Worship

In light of the wave of seeker sensitive approaches to worship in recent years, this quote from Richard John Neuhaus seemed quite refreshing:
“The sign on the front of a Presbyterian church in Indianapolis reads: ‘Join Us For Worship. You Will Feel Better For It!’ It is far from obvious that worship will make one feel better. To be sure, in a very ultimate sense, surrendering oneself to God in thankful trust will make one be better.  But along the way to being better the Christian is sure to go through times of feeling worse. Repentance, after all, involves a painful loss of self, an abandonment of false securities, and the travail of new birth.  It is also true with respect to what happens on Sunday mornings: Woe to you when they say it feels so good” (Freedom for Ministry, 139).
Worship that caters to the selfish interest of avoiding discomfort is probably not worship of the God revealed in Christ crucified.  Christian worship should be an encounter with God wherein our unworthiness is laid bare.  Why would anyone expect to avoid discomfort in a religion the chief symbol of which is an instrument of ancient executions.  Inasmuch as true worship is part of following a crucified Lord, it will sometimes be deeply uncomfortable and perhaps even excruciating.  But, like the torturous death of our Lord, it will become our salvation and bring us ultimately to true comfort.