Lost and Found in Liturgy

What might we learn about God by worshipping him in new ways?

With this in mind, a group of friends and I have decided to spend the next several Sundays joining churches that worship in ways different from those we are comfortable with.

If you want to read more about why, click here: From Scripture to Dancing.

Our first visit was to St. John Chrysostom Episcopal Church.

Going in, my friends and I had no idea how little we knew about the Episcopalian church; I thought my time on St. John Chrysostom’s website and visiting Anglican churches in England would prepare me. It did not.

Even though we had no idea when to sit or stand, where to find the hymns, how to read the liturgy book, or even when the service had ended, St. John Chrysostom welcomed us with open arms.

Christian tradition and community  were the two aspects of worship that stood out the most to me at St. John’s.

Near the beginning of the service, we recited the Nicene creed together. Proclaiming the traditional Nicene Creed with 50 fellow believers reminded me of the legacy of Christians who have clung to its words for millennia.

“We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all that is, seen and unseen.

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation,
he came down from heaven: 
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified
under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered died and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

“We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the
Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy
catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one
baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.”

– The First Council of Constantinople, 381 AD

After the liturgical recitations and hymns, the friar gave the sermon. He spoke on the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, but his humility and encouragement of communal participation were the things that struck me the most. He offered words of wisdom, but only as a fellow follower of Jesus walking the path of life with his parish.

During the greeting time after the sermon, (which, incidentally, is when we thought the service was over) every worshipper greeted their brothers and sisters, saying, “The peace of God be with you.” To which the customary reply is: “And also with you.” Such a practical manifestation of loving others with the Words of God filled me with joy.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7

The service continued with a portion of scripture reading, and then the friar offered the church communion as we knelt on the altar at the front of the sanctuary. This was my first time observing communion with real wine. When the wine touched my lips, it’s sharp taste reminded me of the bitterness of Christ’s sacrifice.

After we had received the eucharist, the service ended with a final prayer. Nearly every member of St. John’s greeted my friends and I on our way out and encouraged us to come back again.

St. John’s community made me feel valued, seen, and cared for. That kind of love is not something I have experienced in all of the familiar churches I have been too. In addition, I never felt that St. John’s traditions were performed in blind ritual. Instead, their traditions were grounded in the Word of God and honored the foundation and beliefs of Christians who have worshipped for centuries.

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Romans 12:4-5

The stained glass window below depicts the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD where the hypostatic union of Christ’s divinity and humanity were proclaimed over the Christian Church. Several church fathers are pictured at the bottom, and St. John Chrysostom, the saint for whom St. John’s is named, is shown in red, the third from the left.

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