Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Symbols, Colours and Objects - Visual Worship

It seems to me that one of the biggest areas where Church is found to be lacking lies in symbols.

When I first started training I found much of what we did in my training church (not to be confused with the church where I did my 'Title' post - AKA Curacy) had no meaning because of my Charismatic/Evangelical background. I was bemused by some of the stuff, confused by other bits and totally at a loss with anything that was left!

The thing is that following on from my Paschal candle piece I have been engaged in conversation regarding much of the stuff we do in our services and the reasons we do it and this has got me thinking. So whilst I am still reading atonement stuff in the background as part of my quest to understand PSA and all that sort of thing I think I'm going to try (and possibly magnificently fail) to explain the why, what and wherefore of the Anglican liturgy and the things we do in our services.

What better place to start can there be than the rite of initiation (and, as this has brought me a number of questions, others seem to think so too):

Baptism and the current Common Worship (CW) service  (which I think works if the clergy are engaged, willing and able to deliver it in a didactic/apologetic manner) is full of magnificent symbolism in the three main elements which we :

Chrism - Baptism - Light of Christ*

Chrism: For as long as we've been around ('we' being initially being Jews, for we surely were a sect of Judaism) people have been anointing, and anointed, with Olive Oil. The primary reason for this is that it represents the Holy Spirit and so the symbolism is that we are invoking the Holy Spirit to come and fill the person being baptised (oooh, does that make it an epiclesis?). Olive oil also have healing properties and so there are other historic positives to be considered here too.

When we anoint the candidate we make the sign of the cross. The reason for this is that this is our trade mark. Were we McDonald's we'd be making the sign of the Golden Arches instead! So, with the words, "Christ claims you for his own. Receive the sign of his cross," we chrismate the candidate and, with the words:

"May almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness, restore in you the image of his glory, and lead you in the light and obedience of Christ. Amen;" 

we enact the exorcism bit (with no need to do anything else or embellish the proceedings with our own particular foolishness) - Job's a Good'un and the Holy Spirit has been invoked and fills every nook and cranny of their innermost being - Hallelujah or what?

Baptism: We do this because this is what Jesus did! He was baptised and so, emulating Him, we too come to baptism - but it's much more than just the 'wet witness' that many (especially those who think they have the 'only' baptism) deliver under the label 'baptism'! It's a great place to continue the continuity with being Jewish and explain ritual washing (ever seen the bathhouses in the Amsterdam synagogue?) too.

I have to say that those who tell me the CW is out of touch and unwieldy are wrong because I find that it connects, and makes connections, between (and with) the Bible  and those who come to the service - the paucity lies perhaps with the person doing the service rather than the liturgy (but hey, I could be wrong, often am :-)  ). Let's take a moment to look at the 'prayer over the water' and the opportunities it gives us - remembering that as there's no sermon we need to work out what we are going to teach in other ways (my observations/comments are in italics here):

We thank you, almighty God, for the gift of water to sustain, refresh and cleanse all life.
Now what is there difficult here? It makes sense as a standalone comment ;-)

Over water the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.

Great place to mention the Holy Spirit 'brooding' and God speaking!

Through water you led the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.

Yeah - it's the Exodus and all that great stuff about setting God's people free from captivity - Egyptians, sin, the field is wide open!

In water your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us from the death of sin to newness of life.

Yeehah - doing what Jesus did - anointing - Holy Spirit - resurrection and new life (who wrote this stuff, it's full of opportunities for us?). 
We thank you, Father, for the water of baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death.
Get in there - where there's total immersion 'buried' is obvious and where not, we speak of this as symbolism and can again  bring in the 'Jewishness' of it all too.(added later: because the line from OT to NT and the connections we can make, inform and excite. = or they should)

By it we share in his resurrection.

Indeed, for if we have been buried with Him so too will we rise with Him! Hallelujah!!!

Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.

New birth through the waters of baptism, not even the naughty rebaptisers will be able to rail against the theology here!

Therefore, in joyful obedience to your Son, we baptise into his fellowship those who come to him in faith.

Cherry on the cake time - go into all the world and all that stuff (Matt 28) makes it complete and gets us ready to do the splashing.
Now sanctify this water that, by the power of your Holy Spirit, they may be cleansed from sin and born again. Get that water ready and find me a candidate.

Renewed in your image, may they walk by the light of faith and continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Lord;to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Got a candle ready, going to need one for the next bit!

If we take the time the symbolism and full meaning of what we are doing is there for all to see - all it takes is someone to do the explaining (and if we can't should we be doing the service?)

Light of Christ - This is where we light the candle (from our Paschal candle) and celebrate the candidate having passed from darkness into light. The symbolism is simple and extremely obvious and so completes the whole service nicely. I've done this in the Paschal candle piece and so won't repeat it again. 

The service is topped off by the wearing of a nice white stole (if you're unsure why, see here +) and Bob's your uncle and Jesus is means by which reconciliation come to us! Nothing too difficult here and the richness of the symbols is obvious and amazing!

Hope this helps those who have asked me regarding the service - next time we'll look at the colours and seasons (again) because I've had almost eighteen requests to do so (and I'm happy to revisit it for me because I'm a bit dim at time) - and that concludes my 20 minute moment of mayhem :-)


* Some talk (extensively) of the exorcism as part of the baptism and whilst this is something that is present the way they refer to it and the associations they make are usually more bounded by ignorance than theological or practical theological that anything efficacious.

+Colours - the official line is this:
"White is the colour for the festal periods from Christmas Day to the Presentation and from Easter Day to the Eve of Pentecost, for Trinity Sunday, for Festivals of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary, for All Saints' Day, and for the Festivals of those saints not venerated as martyrs, for the Feast of Dedication of a church, at Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday and in thanksgiving for Holy Communion and Holy Baptism. It is used for Marriages, and is suitable for Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination. It may be used in preference to purple or black for Funerals, and should be used at the Funeral of a child. Where a church has two sets of white, one may be kept for great Festivals indicated as 'gold or white'. "

The Preface
"Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God which continues for the rest of our lives, the first step in response to God’s love. For all involved, particularly the candidates but also parents, godparents and sponsors, it is a joyful moment when we rejoice in what God has done for us in Christ, making serious promises and declaring the faith. The wider community of the local church and friends welcome the new Christian, promising support and prayer for the future. Hearing and doing these things provides an opportunity to remember our own baptism and reflect on the progress made on that journey, which is now to be shared with this new member of the Church. The service paints many vivid pictures of what happens on the Christian way. There is the sign of the cross, the badge of faith in the Christian journey, which reminds us of Christ’s death for us. Our ‘drowning’ in the water of baptism, where we believe we die to sin and are raised to new life, unites us to Christ’s dying and rising, a picture that can be brought home vividly by the way the baptism is administered.Water is also a sign of new life, as we are born again by water and the Spirit. This reminds us of Jesus’ baptism. And as a sign of that new life, there may be a lighted candle, a picture of the light of Christ conquering the darkness of evil. Everyone who is baptised walks in that light for the rest of their lives. As you pray for the candidates, picture them with yourself and the whole Church throughout the ages, journeying into the fullness of God’s love."


Anonymous said...

Excellent perspective on the common worship baptism service and the connections you have made are a real challenge and a joy.


Anonymous said...

You are not a Jew because you believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

Anonymous said...

I am not a Jew, Jesus is a Christian as so re those who follow him. You are wrong about everything you have said in your blog.

Anonymous said...

How Vic the Vicar, do you reconcile you, being born a Gentile, are now a Jew? (if you believe in Jesus as the Messiah). Jesus, nor Paul, nor any epistle never said or wrote anything of the kind.

You have gone so off the rails with this and your understanding of Israel that I am very saddened. Do you think that Romans 11 is about the calling of the gentiles in the church, or as you say you are, gentiles who have now become Jews?

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: 36"If this fixed order departs From before Me," declares the LORD, "Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever." 37Thus says the LORD, "If the heavens above can be measured And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done," declares the LORD.…

Israel has NOT, and will NEVER be cast off.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Hmmm, some great comments here - some have, to be quite honest taken my breath away (but not in a Top Gun sort of way).

As I understand it Jesus was, is and always will be a Jew - don't think He ever became a Christian.

I also happen to think that Jesus was regarded as a teacher and that what He taught, keeping both the law and the prophets, happened to be very much in keeping with Judaism.

John was baptising Jews because that's what they did (as did other in the ANE if we want to start getting picky) but I'm dealing with the fact that Jesus was a Jew and we, as a group that emerged as a Jewish sect drew upon the Jewishness of Jesus and the faith that finds its roots in YHWH and its extension into reconciliation with Him through the one atoning act of Jesus, the Christ.

I do not claim to be a Jew - think there's perhaps a lot of literalism and a possible lack of wit on display here - but believing in Jesus doesn't not deny that one could be (as I say, I'm not) as there are many messianic Jews but there (but that's another story too).

The connection from our OT origins and the addition of the Gentile (grafted on) all add to the amazing story of Grace that is on display and being offered to all through the rite of baptism.

Not looking at legalism and nitpicking but do feel that we miss the connection and render what should be immense as one-dimensional and rather outmoded and irrelevant if we fail to engage fully.

Thanks for the comments - might need to lie down in a dark room for a bit now.


Anonymous said...

I have found what you have written challenging and informative. Thank you

GLD said...

Sitting on a train reading this and thinking what I could do with our baptism services and the connexions open to us. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Vic, you have written:

"I also happen to think that Jesus was regarded as a teacher and that what He taught, keeping both the law and the prophets, happened to be very much in keeping with Judaism."

Jesus was speaking to Jews, not the church. And a read of Hebrews and Galatians shows where he is on keeping the law. The point being, he was the only one who did and could keep it perfectly.

You say you are not a Jew now, which is a good thing to read. Perhaps it would be an idea to correct your article, because following Jesus or aiming to, really does not change a Gentile into a Jew. Love ya bro!

Anonymous said...

Following my earlier comment above, I do not wish to be rude or aggressive in my approach to you. It would have probably been more polite to have written thus:

"Perhaps you may consider updating your article to clarify your position about your not claiming to be a Jew."

I realize that this is not the central theme of the post (Visual Worship), but wanted to get back to you anyway.