Experiential Worship

An Easter People

Easter, 2011 – “The Lord is Risen!”

 

Moravians in particular are known as the “Easter people.” We celebrate the Resurrection in our unique and meaningful gathering at dawn in the sacred silence of God’s Acre, the silence broken by the music of birds and gathering brass.  But if you are feeling more empty than full this year, if you are feeling used up and beaten down, perhaps that is because the resurrection needs to happen in you as well.  Christian Rossetti (1830-1894) writes in her profound poem “A Better Resurrection:”

 

I have no wit, no words, no tears;

My heart within me like a stone

Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;

Look right, look left, I dwell alone;

I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief

No everlasting hills I see;

My life is in the falling leaf:

O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,

My harvest dwindled to a husk:

Truly my life is void and brief

And tedious in the barren dusk;

My life is like a frozen thing,

No bud nor greenness can I see:

Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;

O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,

A broken bowl that cannot hold

One drop of water for my soul

Or cordial in the searching cold;

Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;

Melt and remould it, till it be

A royal cup for Him, my King:

O Jesus, drink of me.

 

The resurrection is not just something that happened to Jesus at a specific point in history, and that we now remember.  It is something that happens in us now, today, this moment.   How does this resurrected Jesus change your life today?

 

- Pastor John

Festival of August 13th

This month, we celebrate a uniquely Moravian event as we gather for Holy Communion in Celebration of August 13th, the time in 1727 when a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit swept through the congregation at Berthelsdorf, Germany.  The experience was so profound that it was likened to the experience of the disciples at Pentecost, and it marked a new era of God’s work among the Moravians.

A lesser-known part of this experience was the Children’s Revival that followed.  A few days after the experience of forgiveness and reconciliation among the adults, a number of children at the village school felt called to prayer, and began to organize their own prayer groups.  The adults were so inspired by the spirit of the children that it reinforced their own experience and helped to drive the famed Prayer Watch that went on continuously for the next hundred years; and there is no doubt that it was out of the prayer and study that followed that the seeds of the mission movement came.

This month, we have the remarkable opportunity to have the Rev. Dr. Riddick Weber visit to lead two Sunday School workshops about the Moravian movement.  Brother Weber is professor of Pastoral Ministry at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA, and is one of our leading experts on the revolutionary social systems that Moravian communities engineered.  He can speak with great authority about the intriguing ideas that they employed that made those communities work and witness!  I hope that you will take the time to come out for these Sunday School workshops this month.  Brother Weber will also officiate over Communion on August 11th while I am away directing the next segment of the movie “But Now I See,” and will bring a meditation about the August 13th experience and its meaning for us today that is well-informed and inspiring.

Easter is Coming!

Easter is coming!  Throughout the time of Lent, during the solemn days of Passion Week as we read the experiences of the disciples and the Savior, we know that Easter is coming.  We already know “the rest of the story.”  But the disciples did not.  Though Jesus seems to have known what was coming, the disciples were like us – they got up each day and lived the day with hopes and fears, but were never sure what would happen next.  Even though Jesus had tried to convey to them what was coming, they really weren’t able to comprehend the astounding story that they were a part of.  Surely it must have seemed to them that Palm Sunday was a day of great hopefulness and victory.  Even though Jesus had told them that he must suffer and die, surely for many of them there stirred hopes that day that everything was going to work out well.  People were cheering, people seemed to be recognizing him as the Messiah.  Things were looking up!  But as that week progressed, some of them must have been frightened and even appalled by Jesus’ actions in the marketplace, by his confrontational preaching that was sure to offend the leaders in power.  And after that Last Supper in the upper room, when everything seemed to fall to pieces and they scattered in fear, surely dark despair and fear took over.  Peter was so frightened that he even denied knowing Jesus.  Unlike us, they did not know “the rest of the story.”

The observance of Easter was the central celebration for the early Christians.  It was the center point for all worship, the fountain from which all of their faith sprang and bubbled and danced.  Preparing for Easter, particularly the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, was the most important time of the Christian year.  The Moravians began the practice of gathering each night of Holy Week to read together the events of that day, to sing, to meditate, and to pray.  This is still one of the unique parts of our worship that binds all Moravians together, from Labrador to Surinam, from Germany to South Africa.  This spiritual practice of prayer, of reading, of reflection, is a profound and moving way to prepare our hearts for the Resurrection.  Our worship is quite experiential, and for the participants both moving and profound.

I encourage you to set aside the time this year to attend our Reading Services, to experience with other Moravians the moments of the week, the supper in the upper room, the solemn experience of carrying the cross, the darkness of the Tenebrae service, the profound music of Great Sabbath, and finally the great triumph of Easter morning, as in the predawn moments we will proclaim together, “The Lord is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!”

- Pastor John

World Communion Sunday

This month, as we celebrate Worldwide Communion here in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Winston-Salem, we gather symbolically with Christians around the world at one great Table of the Lord. It’s interesting to reflect that this worldwide testimony or our shared faith started as the idea of one man in one church – ironically, in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr became pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in 1913. He served there for thirty-two years, until 1945. Nationally recognized as a gifted preacher and pastor, he was the first to broadcast Sunday morning sermons over the world’s first commercial radio station, KDKA Pittsburgh. They broadcast the first radio message broadcast to the Arctic (on Christmas Sunday evening, 1922) and the first worship service broadcast to the Antarctic, reaching Admiral Byrd at Little America on Easter Sunday morning, 1929. Dr. Kerr was also the author of the hymn “God of Our Life, Through All the Circling Years.”

In 1930, he had an idea – to invite all Christians around the world to celebrate Holy Communion together on the same day. The first “Worldwide Communion” was held at Shadyside Presbyterian in 1933 – all by themselves. But Dr. Kerr began a campaign to spread the idea, and soon it was adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and then in 1940 by the Department of Evangelism of the Federal Council of Churches (the predecessor of the National Council of Churches). The department’s executive secretary, Jesse Bader, led in its extension to a number of churches throughout the world.

In a lot of ways, there couldn’t be churches more different than Shadyside Presbyterian and Trinity Moravian in the Sunnyside neighborhood.  Shadyside is a very upscale, formal church where the ushers still wear formal cutaway morning coats, and Trinity is a fairly informal congregation with many working-class members.  But such differences are swept aside as we gather around the table of the Lord!  There, we gather as equals, sinners who have been redeemed by grace.  There we gather, bank president next to janitor, Harvard professor next to a mother from a tiny village in Tanzania.

I love this story of the first “Worldwide Communion being celebrated at just one church!  It pays to think big, to lift up our common hope in faith in a big way. Dr. Kerr did, and soon many others joined in. And this month we join the millions around the world in our common celebration!

- Pastor John

For those that are interested, you can read more in the article Worldwide Communion by John Dalles.

Ash Wednesday

February marks many things – Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, and since this year is a Leap Year, February has 29 days. But it is also this year the beginning of Lent; Ash Wednesday is February 22. So, February also marks the traditional parties before the beginning of Lent – Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnivale in Brazil, Pancake day in many places, Fastnacht Day in Pennsylvania.

The day of Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter (not including Sundays, if you’re counting the day!), is meant to remind us of Noah’s forty days in the Flood, the Hebrews’ forty years in the desert, and especially Jesus forty days in the desert at the beginning of his ministry. Lent is intended to be a special time of prayer, mediation, and spiritual preparation for Easter.

But our busy, smart-phone buzzing world filled with sound and interruption has little space for the kind of meditation that allows Lent to unfold with spiritual benefit. In 1943 during the height of World War II, poet T. S. Eliot caught this dilemma in his poem Ash Wednesday:

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny
the voice.

We need to carve out some Sabbath-time in our noisy lives to truly experience Lent in a real way; and a gift we can give others is the reminder that they, too, need that quiet Sabbath-time to hear “the voice.”
Though our world seems disruptive and intrusive, most of the noise that blocks out our spiritual time is voluntary. But Eliot wrote this poem during wartime, a time when he served as an air-raid warden. So it is in the midst of rationing, blackouts, and bombs that he wrote:

Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks

I pray that this Lent, you will be able to set aside a space of quiet time for mediation, but also for service to others.
- Pastor John

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