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A Christmas Eucharist

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Pardon my impertinence, O Lord, as I rewriteth the Christmas Eucharist I all but slept through… (See the afterword for details.)


HYMN

Silent night, holy night:

All is calm, all is bright

Round the virgin mother and child,

Holy infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Etc.

OPENING SENTENCE

Lay Minister: Today you may know that the Lord is born to bring new life and wonder.

Priest: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

All: Amen.

Priest: The Lord be with you.

All: And also with you.

Priest welcomes everyone.

LIGHTING OF THE ADVENT CANDLE

(The four Advent candles have been lit already from subsequent Eucharists.)

Priest: God our Mystery, today the Christ is born and from darkness comes a great light. We have lit the candles of the left and the right, the north and south, the east and the west and we now light the tiny flame of Christ, the centre. As the tiny spark of new life, he is born out of the abyss of chaos, the star shining in the night – he is unexpected but, once born, seems always to have been known, anticipated, here with us always; Jesus Christ, the light, the generative power of the Spirit.

(The white Christmas candle is lit.)

All: Lord Jesus Christ, Light of Light,

You have come within us.

Help us feel and remember your light

To shine as light in our own lives.

Wonder to God in the highest.

THE BLESSING OF THE CRIB

Priest: Let us pray:

God our Mystery, on this day your Son Jesus Christ is born of the Virgin Mary for our wonder and enlightenment.

See here this crib and around it the ass and the ox – those great enemy brothers of Egypt, Set and Osiris, and yet they are gathered here in peace with the Christ child. And see also the three wise men of the god Mithra, come with treasures for the Christ child; the old principle deferring to the New Principle of Christ, born mysteriously of the Virgin in the lowly and unlooked for place.

For the stable is also a cave, as Christ is the new light shining in darkness. It is a cave and it is a womb of new and glorious beginnings beyond all imagination. It is the womb and it is the universe, darkness, denseness, chaos and fire then light! And energy! And expanding growth! It is the universe and the dark chamber of the human heart where the light of the divine is first engendered, beyond hope and unlooked for.

Proceed now, those who are able, into the darkness of the sanctum of Christ and behold the promise of the Holy Spirit.

(Those who are able proceed to the altar and crawl beneath it, emerging into the light before the Cross on the far side.)

Lay Minister: Jesus, the light of the world has come to dispel the darkness of our hearts. In his light let us recall our human imperfections and avow them to God the Mystery of All.

Pause for reflection (for at least 1 minute).

Lay Minister: The Virgin Mary accepts the call of God and is the mother of Jesus.

All: Accept and touch us also.

Lay Minister: Your Son the Christ accepts the call of God and is God himself.

All: Accept and touch us also.

GLORIA IN EXCELSIS (Stand)

All: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to all people. Lord God, King of Ourselves, we remind ourselves of your presence in all. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lamb of God, you suffer from love: your magic is within us to call on the Father and the Holy Spirit of life. Amen.


OPENING PRAYER

Priest: Let us pray,

Eternal God, in the stillness of this night you sent your almighty Word to pierce the world’s darkness with the light of wonder: unlooked for he comes, a seed planted from the tree, hidden in leaf-litter unseen; the Christ child grows as but a green stem, then a shrub to grow upward to the Rood of the cross and, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, as one in God.

All: Amen.


LITURGY OF THE WORD

GOSPEL (Matthew 2: 1-16)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for it is so written by the prophet…” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

All: Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ

HOMILY (Sit)

Priest: Meister Eckhart said, “It is more worth to God his being brought forth ghostly in the individual virgin or good soul than that he was born of Mary bodily.” What did he mean? He is saying that the Virgin birth, I think, has nothing to do with biological wonders. We know from science that it is not possible to give birth as a virgin. Unless, that is, the message is not one of biological birth. “It is more worth to God his being brought forth ghostly in the individual virgin or good soul than that he was born of Mary bodily.” What can this mean? It is not a biological birth, it is a spiritual birth. Christ is born of the heart and if we ignore the call of Christ, then we become lost.

“Dread the Passage of Jesus, For He Will Not Return” was a line repeated by Monks in the middle ages. The cost is great in our lives when we do not acknowledge the compassion, the love, the passion of Christ; when we do not heed the call of our life goals, what our bodies and souls require of us. We become mechanical monsters, we become like King Herod, seeking to hold on to the ego, to the apparent power of self-interest and greed. And we commit the massacre of the innocents in miniature every day when we ignore our destinies, our feelings, give the world the cold shoulder and hide in the cave, trying vainly to extinguish the light that can inspire us. The children needn’t die for the Christ child; the Christ child will prosper all the same. When we hide from our fears, our inspirations and make no time to heed and develop the balance of the heart we massacre the children of our own lands, in our hearts. We batter ourselves upon the rocks, we strangle our own souls and their promise. The Christ needs only be acknowledged, like the shepherds did. We need only direct ourselves to his crib and stand to. He is born here in our hearts if we would but look for him.

“It is more worth to God his being brought forth ghostly in the individual virgin or good soul than that he was born of Mary bodily.”

PROFESSION OF LIFE (Stand)

All: We see the Mystery that is God. We feel the Mystery that is God. We are the Mystery that is God. I am the Mystery that is God.

We see the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, of one being with the Father, through him all things are. In wonder he appears from within, is Incarnate of the Holy Spirit of God and the Virgin Mary, and becomes human in me. For all life he is crucified, suffers death, is buried and rises once more, at one with the Father. He it is who loves the living and the dead, his kingdom has no end.

We see the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and yet is the Father and the Son.

We see the holy Church of the soul. We acknowledge baptism for the inspiration of life. We carry the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world within.

Amen.


THE GREETING OF PEACE

Priest: We are the body of Christ.

All: His spirit is with us.

Priest: The peace of the Christ be always with you.

All: And also with you.

All may exchange the greet of peace, “Peace be with you,” among all of the people.


EUCHARISTIC PRAYER

Priest: The Lord be with you.

All: And also with you.

Priest: Life up your hearts.

All: We lift them up to the Lord.

Priest: Let us give thanks to God.

All: Thanks to the mystery of God.

(All kneel.)

Priest: Lord God, through Christ accept our sacrifice of praise; and, by the power of your Word and Holy Spirit, sanctify this bread and wine, that we who share in this holy sacrament may be partakers of Christ’s body and blood and become one as He.

Christ, when his hour comes, the night before he goes up to the cross to unite with the glorious imperfections of the world, offers for all his sacrifice of himself, takes bread and gives you thanks; he breaks it and gives it to his disciples, saying:

TAKE, EAT; THIS IS MY BODY

WHICH IS GIVEN FOR YOU;

DO THIS OF ME.

In the same way, after supper, he takes the cup and gives you thanks; he gives it to us, saying,

DRINK THIS;

THIS IS MY BLOOD

WHICH IS SHED FOR YOU

AND FOR MANY

FOR THE FLORISHING OF LIFE.

DO THIS OF ME.

Priest: Let us proclaim the mystery of life.

All: Christ is dead,

Christ is risen;

Christ comes again.

Priest: Through Christ grant that we who eat and drink these holy gifts may, by your Holy Spirit, be one body with Christ, to serve in unity and balance…

In your love and compassion, bring to us to realise eternal life. May we praise all in union, ourselves with ourselves through your Son Jesus Christ.

All: Blessing and honour and wonder be yours for all time. Amen.


COMMUNION RITE

The Priest introduces the Lord’s Prayer

All: Our Father in the heavens inside, hallowed be your name, your kingdom is here, your will is done, on earth as in heaven. Take we today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us to balance and deliver us from fear and desire.

Priest: We who are many are one body in Christ.

All: For all share in the one Bread.

The Priest then breaks the Bread during the Agnus Dei.

All: Lamb of God, you suffer from love: nourish all life.

Lamb of God, you suffer from love: nourish all life.

Lamb of God, you suffer from love: grant us peace.

The Priest then invites the people to Communion with the words:

Priest: This is the Lamb of God who suffers from love, who dies from love. Happy are those who are called to his supper.

All: We come to live on his life.

Those who are to receive Holy Communion or a blessing come forward.


CONCLUDING RITE (Stand)

Lay Minister: The Word of God becomes human; we see his glory.

Priest: Let us pray:

Father, the child born today is the Saviour of our world. He makes us your children. May he welcome us into your kingdom of eternal life.

All: Amen.

All: Father, we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, as the Christ our Lord. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work as Christs on earth. Amen.

Lay Minister: Go in the peace of Christ.

All: Thanks be to God.

AFTERWORD

So I returned to Christ Church Essendon for Christmas Eve’s carols and Eucharist. The ceremony was largely the same as last time (see earlier blog update under week 3) except this time it was dark outside (so the candles glowed all around), the weather was rather hot (so it got sticky and irksome), and I’d seen it all before. This time around the ritual was still correct but admittedly overlong and the concretized and backward historical nature of the text was really annoying me. It occurred to me that maybe the ideal transformation the Church requires is simply to fully adapt and explore the texts. As much as worship has changed in the schizophrenic splintering that has occurred since the Reformation, the essential words of the Bible itself have not changed. This is the biggest hurdle for the modern church. Modernising ye olde English is but a surface prettifier – the backward, extremism and historicizing is still radically out of step with our Western European sense of Self. I have attempted above to adapt the words of the Eucharist I attended on Christmas Eve into the sort of Eucharist I would love to hear and which means something to me. I have followed the order of proceedings all the way and there are in fact some sections where I was surprised to find very little change was necessary. The main points of change were the following:

1. Removal of sleep-inducing repetition. This nearly always occurred in passage of worship and adoration. “Holy and gracious God, all creation rightly gives you praise.” “It is indeed right… at all times and in all places to give you thanks and praise.” The mystery of God should definitely inspire submission and deference – the idea is of the conscious ego bowing down to the whole completeness of the Self – but to constantly carry on with worship for Jesus or the little boy laying down “his sweet head” in worship smacks of idolatry. Idolatry is getting caught on the material thing or personality; Jesus becomes a kind of supernatural superstar and the reference to ourselves, the mysterious light of inspiration, is lost. This occurs with any insistence upon history, personality cult or actual event. There is, in my opinion, too much of this in the Eucharist so I have trimmed some of this out (but suspect there might still be too much of it).

2. I attempted to selectively edit or reinterpret the Old Testament readings but I ended up with barely one line of them left. No point. The Old Testament, full of extremism and a vengeful God, does not belong in a modern Christian church – indeed the Christian God himself bears little resemblance to Yahweh or Elohim of the Old Testament. Read metaphorically, the images and stories may still have meaning, but the words in which they are described are so backward and the readings required are to be so stretched and contorted in order to avoid nonsense or worse that it is better and easier to have done with them altogether. (Inserting a reading from a Hindu or Zen Buddhist or American Indian text or indeed any other religion would be more enlightening and meaningful here.)

3. Finally, there are simple substitutions that can even be made ‘on the fly’ when reading texts in church. Convert any reference that refers to another time – that is, the past or the future – to now. For example, “For us he came down from heaven, was Incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human,” becomes, “For us he comes down from heaven, is Incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and becomes truly human.” Any references to “for ever” becomes “in eternity” (eternity being the opposite of time not actually a long period of time). Salvation and sin should be read as enlightenment and imbalance. References to another place, whether this is Israel, Nazareth or particularly heaven or hell, should refer to inside. (Generally the other world should be read as the inner world.) Heaven is not “up there” (space is up there) but is “within”.

Once again, my readings of Jung and Joseph Campbell have helped me in my thinking here.

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Written by tomtomrant

26 December 2010 at 12:13 pm