A revelation on the word ‘mass’ (whether you use it or not): we’re all to be missionaries

By Bill Gliddon, St. George’s Church organist and choirmaster

Do you know the origins of the word ‘mass’, as in the service celebrating the Eucharist, or Holy Communion?

The mass is the central worship service of mainline Christianity, and the word used in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions, and quite often in the Anglican and Lutheran churches.

It derives from the very early days of Christian worship, when the priest ended the service by declaring, in Latin, “Ite, missa, est”, which, when translated into English, basically means: “Go, you are sent out”. So in a real sense, ‘mass’ means ‘mission’.

At the conclusion of a worship service in which we pray, hear God’s word, sing praises and receive the ‘life-giving sacrament’ ordained by Jesus at the Last Supper, we are sent back out into the everyday world to be ‘missionaries’!

Jesus sings

By the Rev. Canon Anne Moore

Among the words:

“The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.  There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous: ‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly; the right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’ I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord.”

The words must have comforted Jesus as he knew the cross lay just ahead. The final Hallel Psalm (Ps. 118) contains these meaningful words:

“Open to me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”

Jesus was about to enter gates only the righteous could enter. We thank him that he has become our salvation—the chief cornerstone, the building block for all time and all people.

In the years following Jesus’ death, those words must have also been a comfort to the disciples when they sang the same songs, remembering singing them with Jesus but also now knowing what a comfort they must have been for Jesus that night. And how appropriate. Perhaps they sang them to themselves as they prepared for their own horrible martyrdoms.

Singing is now an essential part of Christian worship. James wrote: “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” Singing is spontaneous for those who are cheerful; and Christians, in spite of their circumstances, are to be cheerful people! Even John in his vision of heaven recorded in the Book of Revelation sees the saints, the martyrs, constantly singing praises to God before the throne.

Of course we don’t know what the tunes would have been for these songs. But it was important for early Christian writers to record the words. Scholars have listed various of these early Christian songs from scripture, although they would not really be recognizable to us as songs. One example given is from 2 Timothy 2:11-13:

 “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” That doesn’t sound like a song to me!

Or how about Philippians 2:5-11:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Or 1 Timothy 3:16: “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”

I see these as more like a creed, a statement of belief. If we compare these Scripture passages to the words of some of our songs, we come up short. Much as I detest the tunes of some of our old standard hymns and their old-fashioned language, they taught good, solid theology. I love modern Christian music. I listen to it a lot. I came to faith in Jesus because of the singing of what some people like to call ‘happy clappy’ music.

If our music is to proclaim God’s glory and be of benefit to unbelieving listeners, we must be careful what we choose to sing in our worship. We also need to make sure the music does not distract from the message conveyed. This isn’t the easiest thing to do. If you want to have a conflict in the church, just try changing the music!

The question needing to be asked regularly is: “Why are we singing?” Many times the answers may be: ‘because it is so pleasing to me’, ‘because I like the tune, it reminds me of…’, ‘the words are meaningful to me.’ Underlying those answers but difficult to articulate may be the idea that the music gives me a particular emotion. However, these are all wrong answers because each puts ourselves at the centre. In effect,  it’s all about me, my tastes, my life.

So let’s try again. Why are we singing? Why did Jesus sing? What did he sing? The Psalms are songs given to King David and others, had stood the test of time, recognized all the emotions humans have, but lifted up God in praise, proclaimed God’s laws, and always had God as the focus.

As Paul wrote to his friends in Colossae:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:16, 17)

We know what psalms are. While we can’t be certain what Paul meant by hymns, they may well be expressions of praise written by early Christians. Spiritual songs are probably more about testimony. They would have expressed in song what God has done for us.

An example may be in the Book of Revelation where the redeemed gather in heaven before the throne of God.

They sing a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood, you ransomed for God, saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.’ Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!’  Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!’” (Rev. 5: 9-14)

Spiritual songs bursting forth from Spirit-filled, joy-filled believers: what beautiful praise of God. Are we doing the same?

Jesus was a singer. Those who know him will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. As the psalmist wrote: “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day.” (Psalm 96:1,2)

The lambs of God: paschal and Paschal

Easter Sunday is, of course, the pivotal and most triumphant day in the calendar of the Christian Church. Interestingly however, no trace of an Easter celebration as we know it exists in the New Testament.

The celebration of Easter actually began with the early Jewish Christians who continued to celebrate the Passover, regarding Christ as the true Paschal Lamb. The original and prophetic sacrificial lamb had been the one eaten by Hebrew families their last night in captivity in Egypt.

An examination of rabbinic evidence from those days suggests that the paschal lamb, which had to be a perfect specimen, was arranged in the form of a cross before roasting. One spit went through the lower parts up to the head, and another across the back, to which the legs were attached. Furthermore, none of the bones were to be broken.

Sound familiar? To see the remarkable resonance here, compare the reading in Exodus 12:46b (“Do not break any of the bones”) with that from John 19:31-33:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

For early Christians then, the Passover event naturally passed over into a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

You can read an excellent related story by Rabbi Evan Moffic here: How Lent started with Passover.

The enduring mystery, wonder and JOY of Christmas

by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

I came across this quotation recently. So many of my senses are involved in reading it that I found it quite delightful.

"Late on a sleepy, star-spangled night, those angels peeled back the sky just like you would tear open a sparkling Christmas present. Then, with light and joy pouring out of Heaven like water through a broken dam, they began to shout and sing the message that baby Jesus had been born. The world had a Saviour! The angels called it ‘Good News,’ and it was.”  (Larry Libby, "The Angels Called it Good News" in Christmas Stories for the Heart)

I think I like it because it reminds me of the King James Version of the Christmas story as Luke records it:

"And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:9-11)

Our little human brains can’t describe that night in the kind of precise adjectives that our computer-obsessed society is comfortable with. This is mysterious stuff! So we have to resort to pictures that aren’t as well defined. That shouldn’t be so surprising. After all we are dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime event—the birth of the Saviour of a world gone wrong. Those unschooled, illiterate shepherds did a fine job of getting their story across. I think it was more in the joy on their faces than in the communication through their words. Each time they told the story, to their families, to their friends, to anyone who would listen, that joy must have looked like a bonfire, rays of hope radiating from their whole beings. Good News! Sing it out!

The story hasn’t changed. When we tell it, do we express that same joy, wonder, certainty? Remember this joy doesn’t have to be limited to just Christmastime. The overflowing joy of knowing Christ’s presence in our lives was one of the themes of Jesus’ final teaching with his disciples the night before he died on the cross. He told them of his extravagant love for them—that he loved them as the Father loved Him (John 15:9). After sharing what this eternal relationship looks like, Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (v.11). What a promise! Through Jesus Christ our hearts can be filled with joy—real joy!

May you experience real joy this Christmas and always.
 

The people on the front lines of EVERY world tragedy before the media, according to renowned journalist

by Brian Stewart

I'M NO THEOLOGIAN, forgive any blunders on that ground; but what has truly surprised me over many years is not the triumph of trends, which flicker and fade like shadows at summer twilight, but rather the survival of spiritual hunger. This spiritual hunger, and a religious 'force-field' that springs from it, is the human drive to serve, and to help others. It's so very much greater than I had imagined, and I've seen it blaze forth in places far darker, more threatening, than I could have imagined.

The surprise, I suppose, was my surprise. For this 'force' has been there, after all, from the very beginning of Christianity ­ and mysteriously, seems never to weaken nor grow weary. But I do wish to tell you something of what I have observed as a reporter, and [have] finally come to believe very deeply.

For years I've been struck by the rather blithe notion ­spread in many circles, including the media and taken up by a rather large section of our younger population, that organized, mainstream Christianity has been reduced to a musty, dimly-lit backwater of contemporary life, a fading force. Well, I'm here to tell you, from what I've seen from my 'ring-side seat' at events over decades, that there is nothing further from the truth.

Christianity in action

I've found there is no movement, or force, closer to the raw truth of war, famines, crises and the vast human predicament, than organized Christianity in action. And there is no alliance more determined and dogged in action than church workers, ordained and lay members, when mobilized for a common good. It is these Christians who are right 'on the front lines' of committed humanity today ­ and when I want to find that front, I follow their trail.

It is a vast front, stretching from the most impoverished reaches of the developing world to the hectic struggle to preserve caring values in our own towns and cities. I have never been able to reach these front lines without finding Christian volunteers already in the thick of it, mobilizing congregations that care, and being a faithful witness to truth, ­ the primary light in the darkness, and so often the only light.

Now this is something the media and government officials rarely acknowledge, for religion confuses many ­ and anyway, we all like to blow our own horns. So front line efforts of Christianity do not usually produce headlines, and unfortunately this feeds the myth that the church just follows along, to do its modest bit.

Let me repeat, I've never reached a war zone, or famine group or crisis anywhere where some church organization was not there long before me: ­ sturdy, remarkable souls, usually too kind to ask 'What took you so long?'

I don't slight any of the hard work done by other religions or those wonderful secular NGOs I've dealt with so much over the years. They work closely with church efforts, they are noble allies. But no, so often in desperate areas it is Christian groups there first, that labour heroically during the crisis and continue on long after all the media ­ and the visiting celebrities ­ have left.

Now I came to this admiring view slowly and reluctantly. At the start of my career, I'd largely abandoned religion ­ for I, too, regarded the church as a rather tiresome irrelevance. What ultimately persuaded me otherwise ­ and I took a lot of persuading ­ was the reality of Christianity's mission, physically and in spirit, before my very eyes. It wasn't the attraction of great moments of grandeur, ­ although I admit covering this pope [then Pope John Paul II] on six of his early trips abroad, including his first one to Mexico and then epic returns to Poland, certainly shook any assumptions I had of Christianity as a fading force.

No, the millions upon millions gathered was impressive; but I was more moved by quiet individual moments of character and courage that seem to be anchored to some deep core within Christianity.

Communism cracks

I remember a dim stairwell in Gdansk, Poland. As many of you remember, the first unbelievable crack in the mighty Communist empire, which had so often proclaimed triumph over religion, occurred in Poland in the early 1980s ­ when the Solidarity Movement, supported by the church, rose to challenge tyranny under the leadership of a most unlikely little shipyard electrician, Lech Walesa.

Later he'd win the Nobel Prize and become president of Poland; but when I met Walesa he was isolated, had been jailed, and his life was so often threatened I thought he was a dead man walking. We all assumed security forces were arranging one of those convenient 'accidents,' that really did happen in that frightening climate of oppression ­ just like the movies.

A few of us met him alone on this stairwell, as he slipped out to Mass. "Are you frightened?" one of us asked. He stopped, looked surprised at the thought, then answered in a voice of steel: "No, I am afraid of no one, and nothing ­ only God." And he walked out alone into the night.

It was a transcendent moment. Here in this dingy stairwell was the purest courage and conscience ­ backed by Christian faith that I suddenly realized no force of empire or terror could ever extinguish [full article here].

Former CBC TV journalist Brian Stewart covered many international crises as a foreign correspondent, reported from ten war zones, and has won countless awards. He is now a Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. He gave this as a convocation address at Knox College, University of Toronto, in 2004. 

Anne's Reflections on the Christmas Season

by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

What happened to autumn? It’s really beginning to look, and feel, a lot like Christmas. Snow, cold, blustery winds, early darkness, pretty-coloured lights—all together remind us of our need to prepare for Christmas

For some, this is a wonderful time of year. It brings a lot of happiness to decorate, bake, buy gifts, entertain family and friends, and continue the yearly rituals we have known for decades.

For many others, this Christmastime may not be so wonderful. It could be a painful reminder of a loss in our lives. The loss may be of a loved one, so that one wonders how joy could ever return; but the loss may be of something else: a job, a home, a marriage, one’s health, or independence. We discover that life can sometimes interfere with our traditions, and that discovery is not a pleasant one.

All of us need to be reminded of the Christmas angel’s message: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.” The angel goes on to tell of the Saviour who has been born. You might be tempted to ask, “So what? What does that have to do with my pain or happiness?

The answer requires knowing the whole story—not just the birth of a baby, but a life lived. This life had much pain that included: hurrying into exile in another country as a young child, settling in an area far from close relatives, living in obscurity for 30 years in spite of several prophecies seeming to indicate just the opposite would happen, and finally, being rejected for no reason by the authorities, abandoned by his closest friends, and then dying a cruel death on a cross without the benefit of a legal trial

Where is the “good news” in that life? Where is the hope? Christianity is the only religion that worships a God who knows, from human experience, the depths of the pain we suffer. Jesus chose to leave life with the Father in heaven to live a human life with all its physical, emotional, and social pain. And He did it because He is love, because He knows and loves each one of us

It never ceases to amaze me that God loves even me. Christmas reminds us that, regardless of our circumstances this year, our ‘sure and certain’ hope is in Jesus, and that is enough

May each one of you have a hopeful and blessed Christmas.

A divinely-orchestrated day for the Archbishop to visit

On a perfectly beautiful recent fall Sunday, St. George’s choir and congregation gathered at the Haliburton docks to greet Archbishop Colin Johnson. They sang out a special 150th anniversary song written by organist-extraordinaire, Bill Gliddon, as the bishop arrived by boat.

Accomplished actor and St. George’s member Curtis Eastmure—playing the role of Charles Stewart—spoke eloquently, welcoming the bishop. Stewart had been a manager for the Canadian Land Emigration Company who, after first spying the land from the lake, later oversaw the building of the small wooden 16-by-24-foot building which would become the first church.

After the speech, choir, clergy, parishioners and visitors filed across the street and up the scenic stairs to St. George's for the anniversary service. The choir sang out Te Deum Laudamus (We praise you O God)—an anthem also written by Bill Gliddon.

Colin Johnson’s sermon on ecumenism fit and sat well with the attendants and atmosphere. Members of the various Haliburton churches came forward as the service wrapped up, with greetings and congratulations from their congregations.

“What a marvellous time we had!” reported rector Anne Moore in her Thanksgiving letter. “The weather was perfect; the colours at their prime; the food tasty; the choir and Highland Brass in splendid form; and good friends gathered to celebrate our history and our future. Thanks to the anniversary committee for a well-planned and very enjoyable day. Thank You, Lord, for Your mercy is everlasting.

“Giving thanks is good for the soul. It gets our minds off ourselves and our personal worries and onto the One who created each one of us, on purpose, and Who loves us constantly and unconditionally. Praise You, Lord. May we all have thankful hearts.”

(Photos by Darren Lum)

The Sword of the Lord and the Rest of the Lord

Biblical accounts of the moment of Christ’s death on the cross tell of a tearing, from top to bottom, of the curtain in the temple isolating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the synagogue. None but the High Priest could enter that most sacred space, and only once a year on Yom Kippur (or the Day of Atonement, the holiest on the Jewish calendar) to make amends for the people’s sins. This tremendous curtain-cleaving event signalled an end to the separation of God from humanity. People now had and have access to God Himself.

So we can now, if we choose, freely access the Kingdom of heaven. The caveat of course is that entry is possible only through the door Christ has flung open, the door he himself is (John 4:16; 10:7). As we do, we can find the proverbial ‘rest for our souls’.

Yet even Christians have trouble with the concept, let alone reality, of rest. What, really, does rest mean? How can we rest when so much needs to be done? When the world around us seems to be falling apart?

A recent book and CD set by Kevin Basconi rends all of this wider open to understanding. In The Sword of the Lord and the Rest of the Lord, Kevin recounts what he calls a parabolic vision he had a few years ago. His dramatic encounter, on the Day of Atonement in 2011, resembles Paul’s being transported to the third heaven in its intensity and revelation.

Kevin describes precisely what he saw, felt, heard and sensed, and then proceeds to provide the interpretation the Lord gave him of the experience. He witnesses, with all his senses, encroaching and terrifying darkness beginning to engulf humanity.

He then sees the Lord flashing his sword, with the words “Rest of the Lord” ornately engraved on it. Kevin discovers the levels of meaning behind, within and beyond those words. He hears the Lord admonish: “Be diligent to enter in to my rest,” as he points the sword to the Heavenly Hosts behind him. “When you learn to enter into my rest, you can enter into the REST of the Lord.”

What he learns about ‘end times’ and ‘the rest of the Lord’ from this experience differ considerably from how the Church has traditionally boxed up those concepts. His matter-of-fact presentation, combined with scriptural support, makes what would otherwise seem a flakey outta-this-world incident completely solid and credible.

Kevin learns and shares with us how yes, ‘rest’ can imply just that: resting from works, as in a Sabbath rest. It can also mean the meditative resting prayer we enter into after praying all the necessary prayers. But he also discovers another interesting aspect: ‘the rest of the Lord’s Body’—those saints who have preceded us to heaven. And so much more!

Here is the acronym for REST the Lord gave Kevin after his experience:
R:   Return to me and cease from your works
E:  Expect me to move and work on your behalf
S:  Stop doing things I did not initiate
T:  Trust me to enable you and empower you to fulfill your destiny and your calling"