Friday, August 14, 2009

Compare and contrast: understanding who you worship and why

The Collect (gathering prayer) for this Sunday in The Episcopal Church:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Archbishop Cranmer included this Collect in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), and it's been in use in the Anglican tradition of Christianity ever since.

The prayer simply and brilliantly praises God for a) sending Jesus to be the unique sacrifice for human sin and b) giving us Jesus' human life as our example to follow. One of the greatest "both/ands" ever, I think. The prayer has us call on God for grace to receive both - the sacrifice for us and the example to us.

It is not being argumentative to point out that The Episcopal Church is very, very uncomfortable with the idea of Christ as sacrifice for our sins. The cross has become a "stumbling block" for Episcopalians, especially clergy and lay leaders. They seem to be "cruciphobic" in their teaching.

The denomination's online "Visitor Center" at best downplays and at worst denies God's gift on the cross. Here is the site explanation of why Jesus was crucified:

Jesus became so popular, in fact, and the leaders were so upset by his activities, that finally, he was betrayed by one of his own disciples to the authorities, and the Roman government put him to death by nailing him to a wooden cross outside of Jerusalem. (Part of this article.)

In fairness, the page has this affirmation, off to the side and below the main explanation:

Q: What is the great importance of Jesus' suffering and death?
A: By his obedience, even to suffering and death, Jesus made the offering which we could not make; in him we are freed from the power of sin and reconciled to God.
from "An Outline of the Faith," Book of Common Prayer, 1979.

Then there is the explanation of the Trinity, Christianity's unique revelation of God. There are some good points made, but look at the terrible gap in explaining Jesus as God the Son:

What this means to Christians is that while we embrace the teachings of Jesus the man, while we strive to emulate his life and works, we also pray to Jesus as God to intervene in the world and our lives and give us the strength and forgiveness to live our lives according to those teachings. Jesus also acts to speak on our behalf with God the Father, asking for His intervention in the affairs of the world and forgiveness for the failings and 'sins' of humans. (From here.)

It is commendable that the site affirms the Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God. But his "sacrifice for sin" is ignored.

When you go to worship this weekend (and I pray that you do), get there on time and say a hearty "Amen!" to that Collect. Hear the Gospel of the day, and understand that this message of the life-giving body and blood loses all meaning without the cross. Holy Communion loses all meaning without the cross, as the New Testament teaches:

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. I Corinthians 11:26

With Archbishop Cranmer and centuries of other Anglicans, pray that Episcopal Church leaders will receive the "grace to receive thankfully the fruits of Christ's redeeming work" (that is, his crucifixion as sacrifice for sin). And pray that the denomination find more leaders who are able to receive and respond to this grace.

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