Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To Stand or to Kneel: That is the Question

A few people have asked me about standing and kneeling during worship, so I thought I would write a little something about it. Truthfully, I’ve had to do some research since I don’t know much about the history of standing and kneeling in worship. This is what I learned.

Marion J. Hatchett in his Commentary on the American Prayer Book notes that it wasn’t until the 13th century that some people in Western churches began kneeling during worship. He goes on to say, “Although various editions of the Prayer Book have specified kneeling for very few prayers, it has been the standard posture for both ministers and people during prayers of confession from the time of the 1549 Book [the edition of the Book of Common Prayer that was issued in 1549].” So basically, from a historical standpoint, the only time in the service that the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) consistently directed the people to kneel was when they were confessing their sins.

Now, on to the most recent edition of the BCP that was issued in 1979. The following are the directions for standing and kneeling during Holy Eucharist II:
  • At the beginning of the service, “The people standing…” (p. 355)
  • At the Lessons, “The people sit.” (p. 357)
  • For the reading of the gospel, “Then, all standing,...” (p. 357)
  • At the Nicene Creed, “...all standing” (p. 358)
  • Notice that there is no direction for Prayers of the People or the Confession of Sin
  • At The Holy Communion, “The people stand while the offerings are presented…” (p. 361)
  • At The Great Thanksgiving, “The people remain standing.” (p. 361)
  • After the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy,) at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, “The people stand or kneel.” (p. 362)
As a general rule, the BCP 1979 indicates that standing is the posture for most activities, offering the option to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer.

What you might have observed by attending various Episcopal churches is that local practices around standing and kneeling vary widely. Almost always, congregations stand to sing, to hear the gospel read, and to say the creed. Many churches also stand for the Prayers of the People, the Confession of Sin, and for the Eucharistic Prayer, though some churches choose to kneel during some or all of these activities. It has been my experience that local custom tends to dictate when the congregation stands or kneels – what the congregation has done in the past is what they tend to continue to do.

You might notice that I rarely kneel. I have bad knees and discovered many years ago that kneeling was just too painful for me and often distracted me from actually participating in the prayer. While I have observed some people sit while the congregation kneels, I was never fond of that option. If a prayer is important enough to warrant kneeling, then I do not want to be in the passive posture of sitting while saying that prayer. As a result, I choose to stand, even when others kneel.

One of the great things about the Episcopal church and the Episcopal liturgy is that we have options. If you find yourself feeling the need to kneel during worship, it has probably been done by somebody somewhere at some time and it would not be inappropriate for you to do so. If you feel that standing is a more appropriate way for you to engage in prayer and worship, then the BCP indicates that you have the choice to do so.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reconciliation - Do We Really Mean It?

And can we really do it? We talk about it. We try to practice it in worship - that whole "Peace be with you" thing is about practicing reconciliation. It is about offering peace to the people who are near us, so that we can go out into the world and offer peace to others. Though, the trouble is that it is really easy to offer peace to people in church, especially to people we really like and admire or to strangers who we don't know at all. Offering peace to real people in the real world is lots harder, particularly when those people hurt you.

As I reflect on the readings for this week, especially the Gospel passage which is Matthew 18:21-35, I am thinking about reconciliation in my own life; especially about a friendship that is currently in disrepair. In a moment of confusion and misunderstanding, a friend hurt my feelings and in reaction I have sort of recoiled and kept my distance. And, in this place, I wonder what to do now.

Reconciliation. How do we do it? The culture, and some of my friends, have suggested that my friend's offense was unforgiveable. Their counsel has been that I shouldn't stand for this sort of behavior and that I should just move on. But somehow that seems wrong to me. It just seems like that isn't what God calls us to do.

Reconciliation is not just something we talk about and practice, but we think it is important enough to make it a sacrament. Reconciling is something that has had traditions and rituals around it for thousands of years - read the OT, there are specific rituals for repairing relationships between people, and it was an important part of living in community. Jesus talks about it all the time, as is evident in this week's reading: "How often should I forgive, seven times?" Jesus says, "Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times." And then there is that "turn the other cheek" business. Forgiveness and reconciliation was not something that Jesus was ambiguous about, Jesus was pretty clear that we do it - we reconcile, we forgive because God does it. God extends grace to us because otherwise we would be a wreck without it. And if God can extend grace to us, then we can extend grace to others.

But dang, can it be hard. And especially when the outside world doesn't understand why we are doing it. It seems weak. It looks to the world like we are willing to be abused. It looks like we don't have any self-esteem. But really, I think it is the opposite. I think the easy way out is to just walk away - I think the weak are those that "just move on." I think it takes an incredible amount of confidence and courage to stay in the dialogue and forgive. Well, at least that's what it feels like to me. It's hard to reconcile, but how can we call ourselves Christians and not be willing to at least give it a try?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mr. and Mrs. God?

So, who made God? I loved the response that it was Mr. and Mrs. God. Ah, if it was only that easy to find evidence that God was made by another being. But, then again, what kind of being would make God? And does God worship that being? Man, these are tough questions.

What I would probably say to one of my children, and most likely have, is that God did not have a beginning. God was not made, God has always been and always will be.

I have found that children are much more comfortable with mystery than we are and that this is a satisfactory answer, at least for a while.

As an adult answer, I suppose I would add a few things. God is beyond our comprehension. We cannot see God and generally we know God because we have experienced God at work in our hearts and our lives. Thus, we are left with many practical questions about God: What does God look like? How did God come into existence? Where does God live? And, of course, these are questions that theologians and philosophers have been trying to answer for generations.

Many have tried to make logical arguments for God's eternal existence (no beginning and no end). There are arguments about God not having a beginning, therefore not having a maker. There are arguments that God is outside of time, matter, and place, therefore God has always been. There are arguments that God brought everything else into existence, therefore God must have existed before that and without any evidence of another being to create God, God must have always been. And most arguments use scripture to support their conclusions. A quick Google search of "Who made God?" will link you to several interesting articles and blog posts about this topic.

Ultimately, I think as people of faith we recognize that sometimes we don't have a logical answer that comes with irrefutable proof. From what we know of God, from our own experience of God and from what other people have written about their experience of God (either in scripture or in other books), God seems to be more than we can understand. God is beyond our experience of a world that is bound by time, place, and matter. Our world suggests that everything must have a beginning (therefore a maker or a cause) and an end, but that does not mean that God is bound by those same principles.