Deuteronomy 32.1-4; Psalm 19; Jude 1-3,17-25; Luke 6.12-16
A Lively Tradition at St Jude’s
Introduction: [The role of an Acting Rector or locum tenes.]
Since taking up the role of locum here I have had a three-point mantra to guide my disposition: Continuity; Energy; Optimism, and I hope these make sense to you, and that I am in fact acting in such a way. However, your Churchwardens thought that by this stage I would have gained some idea of the kind of community you are, and might usefully make an observation or two, by way perhaps of digging around the roots of a healthy plant to promote further healthy growth, as one does in Springtime. But let me first attend to the day itself.
‘Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3)
We know so little about St Jude; there are several Judes referred to in the NT, and their identities not clear. It was, like James, a very common name. The author of today’s Epistle is very likely the Jude who was the (youngest?) brother of the Lord, rather than the Jude listed as a disciple in Luke 6. But this disciple is the Jude of our festival today, the one associated with Simon, and comparison of the lists of disciples would suggest this Jude was also known as Thaddeus (or Lebbaeus). These issues contributed to the long delay in the Epistle of Jude being accepted as belonging in the Canon of the NT. The criterion of being written by an Apostle was fundamental, though being consistent with the teaching of The Apostle, Paul, has kept Jude in our New Testament in the face of doubts. Though once thought to be a late letter, there is now seen no good reason to maintain this view. Nonetheless, we read the Letter of Jude today as Scripture, even if we are not confident it is the apostle of that name. However, this is not a commitment requiring hard thinking, as Jude is little more than an exhortation to keep faithful to what is taught elsewhere, in the Letters of Paul and in the Gospels: ‘Contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’.
The word ‘entrusted’, (or ‘delivered’), translates the Geek word paradosis, a key term linked to the concept of tradition, or ‘handing on’ a vital deposit of truth. As a traditional church we at St Jude’s are very committed to this, and I will turn to this in a moment. The tradition in this case is the Gospel of deliverance through the actions of Jesus our Lord, and the changed lives we live as a response to what God has done for us through Jesus. This gospel was experienced and in time understood by the Apostles, and they delivered it to the earliest believers, who were mostly Jews [see 1 Corinthians 15.1-11]. Paul refers to the first believers in Palestine as the saints, especially when collecting money to take to them in Jerusalem to relieve them during a famine (Romans 15.26; 1 Corinthians 16.1; 2 Corinthians 8.4; 9.11ff), as well as showing his respect for them as the foundation church.
This process of passing on the faith to the next generation, or to the next geographical region, is the essential movement of Christianity. However, the enduring use of the word ‘tradition’ has not always been beneficial. Properly understood, the tradition is our present enjoyment and living out of the treasures of Christ: our gratitude, our ethics, our servant-heartedness, our instruction of the young by word and deed. In doing this we pass it on as a living thing to those who will be the church when we have gone. To keep this clear in my mind I have relied on the aphorism of the Yale Theologian Jaroslav Pelikan, in his book The Vindication of Tradition, where he writes: ‘Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living’ [repeat]. We must be on guard against traditionalism, which is when we become attached to the outward things that have carried the tradition in the past, but have lost connection with the substance, with the real thing. To put it another way, we have mistaken the shell for the kernel. Attachment to Gothic buildings, traditional language, and rites of passage, in the absence of vital activity and confidence, is mere traditionalism. To call it Christianity, with a backwards look to an assumed golden age, is unbelief, dead faith, even if I am physically alive. We see a lot of this dead faith around churches like ours. The real thing, the tradition, is something we are able to communicate to the next generation of children or neighbours, so that they embrace it, live it, and pass it on as a living thing to others. For example, these buildings do not evangelise: we do (or don’t, as the case may be).
But the danger Jude was warning against was of those who undermined confidence in the Gospel, and the reality of the Christian hope, confidence in the resurrection and Christ’s return, and the believers’ commitment to a holy lifestyle. This was nothing new, as the catalogue of OT references to disobedience (see vv 4-16, not read today) is designed to illustrate. Verse 20ff has the action points, following up from our text in verse 3; and the beloved doxology leads us to place ourselves solely in the hands of God our Saviour.
Implications for St Jude’s
A liturgy that preserves the centrality of the Scriptures – all of them, Old and New Testament, with the Psalms – is a great treasure. It embodies the truth that Christ our Lord exercises his rule among us by his Word. The priority this church gives the Sunday Holy Communion (or Eucharist) is exemplary. To this is to be added openness to critical reflection and understanding, expressed through the preaching, your reading, and your study (alone or in discussion groups). This is stage 1 of ‘contending for the faith that was once for all committed to the saints’.
As a second point, may this remain as firm as your commitment has been to the preservation and maintenance of this church and its associated buildings, and the financial security which underpins this. We must allow the teaching of our Lord, especially in Luke, to guide us into converting worldly wealth into eternal relationships, showing such smarts, such pragmatic thinking, as even the Unjust Steward did in the parable (Luke 16.1-9).
The Joy of serving you here
I must make clear as I reflect in this way how much it has been a pleasure to be part of St Jude’s for these few months. I have found an open, warm community, bound together, as I have implied, by the Holy Communion; one blessed by the vision, generosity and devoted hard work of leaders among you, so that as a whole you are being good stewards of what you have received, which is half (at least) of the ‘traditioning’ task. You have been guided by 24 years of humble, hard-working ministry by Greg and Catherine, maintaining good practices in a lively way. I have found some interesting distinctives. For example, what I would describe as Greg’s ‘shared priesthood’, whereby he seemed not to distinguish his ministry from those of his fellow priests and the competent women he has involved in the liturgy. The liturgy Sunday by Sunday is as well prepared and well-conducted as I have experienced anywhere I have been (for more than one occasion), and the hand-outs are part of this, enabling the even flow of the service, with enough variety to prevent stagnation.
However, that you do not have the book in your hands may make you unaware of some things, the rubrics (or stage directions) in particular, and I am so bold as to suggest one or two ways the services might be fine-tuned (for that is all it would be):
- Let the Rector preside.
The rubrics in APBA, following AAPB and BCP, tend to indicate that the incumbent (the Rector in our situation) presides whenever present. He is ‘the priest’, and this is reflected in the rubrics directing that the priest says the greeting at the beginning of the service, the absolution after confession, the collect for the day, the greeting of peace, the thanksgiving, the prayer after communion, and the blessing. Everything else may be delegated to assistant priests or other authorized persons, and some sections to deacons or lay persons. If the Archbishop or Regional Bishop is present, the senior of them pronounces absolution, as directed in the rubric in BCP (still the standard of worship and doctrine in this church). With a new Rector coming, and someone younger than you have had of late, I think his role should be allowed to express itself in this standard and correct way. I will explore this over coming weeks.
- Distinguish APBA 1 from APBA 2.
When both AAPB HC2 and APBA HC 2 were introduced, some churches made choices to assist in their acceptance. The main ones were to allow kneeling for the second half of the Thanksgiving, for those who found the change to standing too radical, (but for which the rubrics do not cater), and the continuing use of the Prayer of Humble Access, which is a beloved part of the BCP HC, but really does not fit the movement of APBA 2, which has a celebratory character. Kneeling for the Thanksgiving makes no sense, and as evidence I observe that today (as usual) we will sing two of the acclamations while kneeling! I think you should dispense with the direction to kneel in APBA 2. If Kneeling is important to you, attend at 8.00am, where we follow APBA 1, based on the BCP HC, and where the Prayer of Humble Access belongs, or kneel anyway, but as your individual choice. I suggest also that the option of the Prayer of Humble Access in Order 2 be dispensed with. It does not affect the movement of the service, and will improve it. [If however, in the future, you combine the 8 and 9.30 services to make room for a new type of service for a new demographic, you may have to consider some of these compromises again.]
- Reflect on the Greeting of Peace.
It was very hard to introduce the Greeting of Peace when we started to use AAPB HC2, some 38 years ago. Now we seem addicted to it, but I am not sure this is a good thing. Now it seems like half-time in a football match. What am I saying? The Greeting occurs at a vital point in the service. We have heard Scripture, and have responded with the Creed, declaring faith in the Trinitarian Godhead; we have confessed and been absolved. In the Greeting we recognise that we are in Christ on the basis of these factors: our faith in God as Father, and Christ as Lord, neither of which are possible (sincerely) without the Holy Spirit working in us. This means that our fellowship is not based on anything else, like human friendship. I believe one should only greet those immediately adjacent to where one is standing, and not leave the pew one is in unless one needs to so as to greet one’s neighbour. I also observe how off-putting or excluding the greeting can be to visitors. The extensive greeting is, in my view in danger of reflecting small-church thinking, and of replacing Christian identity with closed group community mentality. This is a personal opinion, offered for your reflection. I would observe, however, that the second and third of my suggestions would shorten the service by some minutes, which may make some inclined to view them favourably.
I offer these to a church that takes such things seriously, and where they may fruitfully enhance your reflection upon your practice. Even if no changes are made, I think it appropriate to encourage reflection upon your practice. I will work with the other clergy to introduce the first (Let the Rector preside). The second (Humble Access and kneeling in HC2) I will leave for thinking through and for Andrew Schmidt to consider with you when you reprint the service orders to update the names of the clergy. The third (The Greeting of Peace) is, of course, up to you.
Formal Liturgy is a serious thing, and a great gift to the church, though misunderstood and rejected by many. It is not familiar. Even our public schools have given up on the rituals we remember from primary school . But Anglicans do their theology this way. Liturgy proclaims; liturgy teaches; liturgy preserves; liturgy protects. If we are to ‘contend for the faith that was once and for all entrusted to the saints’; and ‘build ourselves up in our most holy faith’; then we will have formal, but lively, intelligible services that embody these treasures that lead to eternal life, and encourage us in living out the faith we proclaim.