Today is Good Friday, the day our Lord was crucified for us.
Last night, my local church (Desert Mission Anglican Church in Phoenix, Arizona) had a Maundy Thursday service that included Holy Communion and Tenebrae. We gathered in a basement lit only by a few Christmas lights and candles. In the darkness, we read the Scriptural account of the events leading to the crucifixion. In traditional Tenebrae fashion, one of eight candles was extinguished after each reading, slowly engulfing us all in that deep kind of darkness only found in church basements.
Holy Communion was especially meaningful, of course, and the songs our worship leader chose could’t have fit the occasion better. What a privilege to be able to join in and play guitar for a service like this. The part that really got to me was the Stripping of the Altar.
After all the candles except for the center Christ-candle had been snuffed out, the worship team and clergy gathered around the altar (communion table, for you non-sacramental folks :), and stripped it of all decorative items. The candlesticks were taken away and the table cloth was pulled off in one motion by our pastor. The simple, plain wooden table stood completely bare, with only the single, small flame of the Christ-candle left. It alone kept the blackness from swallowing the room.
By the light of the Christ-candle, a deacon read Psalm 22.
…I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots….
We exited the building in silence, contemplating what we had just participated in, what we had just witnessed. In Holy Communion, we received the true body and blood of of our Savior and the forgiveness of sins, and immediately afterward, we were thrust into the narrative of what happened so that we could come to that table. The God of the Universe became a man, lived among us, healed us, loved us, cared for us. He fed us and gave us words of life. We turned on him, stripped him of his clothes, beat him while was naked, spit in his face, nailed him to a tree, and left him on splinters to die.
We punctured his side and ripped his skin; he now offers us his body and blood freely as a gift. All the world’s life was created through him; we repayed him with torture and a slow death. Yet, he ransoms us from the powers of darkness, forgives us, and injects us with new life.
I do not understand that kind of love.
Since we moved to Phoenix in August of 2010, more that a few people have asked me about our church situation–where are we going to church, how did we decide to visit, and perhaps most of all, what lead us to join an Anglican church?
In order to really understand how this decision made sense for me and my family, I am going to have to have to give you just a bit of background on how I got to be where I am theologically and how that has impacted where our family has chosen to worship. Lest this digress into a complete personal theological genealogy, I’m going to try really hard to keep it brief :)
I grew up overseas as the child of Southern Baptist missionaries. Although I was thoroughly acquainted with traditional Baptist theology and thought, the worship style I became accustomed to in West Africa was a bit more–for lack of a better term, enthusiastic–than what you might typically see in most traditional Baptist churches on the North American continent. I also went to a boarding school for missionary kids of all denominations, and there I found out that not only is Christianity much bigger than just my particular flavor, but that I have much to learn from every tradition. I was also highly influenced by my grandparents’ Charismatic views, and to a lesser extent their history as Methodists as well. In college I met some wonderful Roman Catholics that taught me a lot about what it means to be a Jesus follower, and they were perhaps my first real exposure to the ancient liturgy (order of worship) of Word and Sacrament. While I was finishing up my undergraduate and graduate degree, I also had the distinct privilege of serving as the minister of music at a wonderful, traditional Baptist Church in Abilene, TX.
So I am something of a melting pot for Christian traditions.
I was in the midst of serving as minister of music for that small Baptist church, and my wife had just completed her degree in Church Music. One of her required textbooks was Robert Webber’s Worship Old & New which I picked up for self-study. That book convinced me of the centrality of the Lord’s Supper for Christian worship, and caused me to seriously reevaluate the “evangelical liturgy,” and consequently its core values and some doctrines. The old adage “lex orandi, lex credenti” (the law of prayer is the law of belief) holds true, I think. How we worship has direct impact on what we believe. As I delved into the theology behind liturgy centered on the Lord’s Supper, I was exposed to the historic Christian traditions, the writings of the Fathers, and my own prejudices and cultural baggage.
When I accepted my current job in Phoenix, AZ, I knew it was time to do a bit of exploring into some other branches of Christianity. Although I absolutely loved the Baptist church where I served (they loved God, and loved people!) It did seem that I was pulling further and further away from the Baptist norm–both theologically and culturally. On the cultural level, I found that the issues that seemed to really concern national and regional leadership were not where my heart was. Examples include moderate alcohol consumption as a sin, legislation in lieu of spiritual formation, and evangelistic campaigns that seemed to be more about numbers than disciples. Theologically, I found myself, through careful Bible study and prayer, adopting a more sacramental1 position on the Lord’s Supper, and more covenant-focused interpretation of Baptism2.
I’d like to emphasize that I did not come to these conclusions lightly. It was with no small amount of heartache, soul-searching, and tears that I finally decided that God was leading me away from the Baptist tradition that had been my spiritual home for so long. I will forever treasure my brothers, sisters, pastors, friends and mentors in Baptist circles, as well as the Godly wisdom and Christian encouragement they have shared with me3.
I really love the Lutheran theology of grace and its staunch refusal to intellectualize the the doctrine of election, yet Amber and I did not feel called together to any of the local Lutheran churches we visited. This is partially because conservative Lutheran theology is very systematic and specific (much like Baptist theology in that way) and didn’t seem to provide a whole lot of wiggle-room on some issues where Amber and I–as a married couple with somewhat differing theological views–needed some flexibility.
Almost on a whim, we decided to visit a local Anglican Mission in America4 church–mainly because it was one of the only non-Lutheran liturgical churches in our area. Almost as soon as we stepped into the Sunny Slope High School Multipurpose room (where our church then met) we knew Desert Mission Anglican Church was something different. We experienced an expressive, charismatic worship, ordered by a theologically solid liturgy and supported with an evangelical focus on Scripture and missions. We even discovered that our church and denomination has a connection to Africa! What we found at Desert Mission was a church that shared our values as a family.
We officially joined with Desert Mission Anglican Church and AMiA on December 12, 2010 for mission and community, and continue to be blessed there each week through Word, Sacrament, and fellowship of the saints.
Edited February 14, 2012 to include the paragraph on the importance of Webber’s work, and footnote #3.