Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Vigil at Lititz Moravian



Some years ago I researched and wrote this history of the Christmas Eve service at Lititz Moravian Church and have updated it as needed.  In recent weeks I've had occasion to share it with several folks and have decided that the easiest way to make it available is to post it here on my blog.

The History of the Lititz Moravian Congregation records that, just a few months after the village was named in 1756, the small group of Lititz brothers and sisters living in the Pilgerhaus celebrated Christmas Eve by holding a Lovefeast.  From that humble beginning has evolved an elaborate worship service beloved by all who participate and attend.  The congregation presents the service six times each year during the weeks before Christmas as a gift to the community.
Research into the history of the service, popularly termed the Christmas Vigil, yields fascinating results.  More than thirty odes (the order of service with hymns, anthems, and scripture readings) designated for Christmas Eve can be found in the church archives.  The earliest, dated 1765, is an eight-page printed folder detailing portions to be sung by two different choirs, soloists, children, and congregation.  The congregation’s sections are quite short, with most of the music provided by choirs and soloists.
This pattern continues through the remainder of the eighteenth century, with the children given an increasing role as the years go on.  And it is the children who, in 1792, sing for the first time in English.  One of the verses they sang, “Hail Infant new-born, whom the angels adore,” is familiar to our present choir in an anthem setting by Moravian composer David Moritz Michael.  This anthem is not, however, part of our current Vigil ode.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What's in a Name?



Last year I authored a Letter to the Editor of LNP (the Lancaster, PA, daily paper) in which I stated that Allah is simply the Arabic word for god and is used as such by Arabic-speaking members of all three Abrahamic faiths.  Some months later I was challenged on this by an acquaintance who insisted that Allah refers only to the god of Islam, who is not the same as the god of Christians and Jews.  Despite my best efforts in a rather lengthy conversation, I was unable to explain adequately the difference between a word for something and the name of something.  My letter made a statement about language usage; my interlocutor was making a statement about faith.
This exchange has set me to reflecting on how people of faith use language in reference to their deity or deities.  The subject has proven to be much more complicated than one might first imagine.  To begin, in English the word “god” functions as both a common and a proper noun, that is, as a general reference to any deity and as the name of a particular deity.  We recognize the difference depending on context and usage, and in print on whether or not the word is capitalized.  Determining what god is referenced when God is used as a form of address requires knowing the faith of the speaker or writer.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Resisting Hate




The recent invasion of Charlottesville, Virginia, by Neo-Nazis, KKK members, and other white supremacists, and the various response tactics by counter-protesters, have been the subject of intense examination in the days following.  This conversation is difficult and necessary.  Especially for those who espouse non-violence as the only moral response to hatred and injustice, serious questions have been raised and must at least be examined, if not answered.
My first thought was of the similarities between the current debate over tactics and the tensions of the Civil Rights era, exemplified by the competing views of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X.  Both were sons of Baptist ministers, but their life paths took very different directions.  King was relatively sheltered from the worst abuses of racial segregation.  He had opportunity for education and became a minister himself.  Malcolm’s father moved the family from Nebraska to Michigan because of threats from the KKK, but their new home was burned and his father brutally murdered by whites.  During a stint in jail Malcolm was converted to Islam and became a leader in the Black Muslim faith, then later turned to traditional Sunni Islam.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Is Truth?



Each year as we gather for the Readings for Holy Week services, I find that one or two verses stay with me for days and weeks after Easter.  This year it has been Pilate’s probing question during his interrogation of Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38a)
Indeed, what is truth?  It is a question which is as relevant and urgent today as it was two thousand years ago.  When called to testify at a trial, one is required to swear or affirm to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  Is truth limited, then, to statements that are admissible in a court of law?  Hardly.  There are many things we know in our lives which cannot be proven true or false by the standards of our justice system.
Neither is truth simply the recitation of facts.  To be truthful facts must be accurate; but without context, plain facts can be deeply misleading.  As an example, consider the old Cold-War-era joke regarding a foot race between the top U.S. runner and his counterpart from the U.S.S.R.  The American won the race.  The next day the Soviet newspapers reported that their runner had come in second, and the U.S. runner had finished next to last.  The facts are accurate.  The manner of stating them is contrived to convey a false understanding of the results of the contest.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Beatitudes



The Gospel reading for the last Sunday in January was Matthew 5:1-12, the passage which is generally referred to as The Beatitudes.  The title comes from the Latin word “beatus/-a” which means “blessed” and reflects the first word of nine of the twelve verses, sayings of Jesus which begin “Blessed are …”  It’s a beautiful and familiar section of scripture, and our worship leaders built the whole service on it.  The minister preached on it.  The choir sang a setting of it from the Russian Orthodox tradition.  The hymns echoed the thought.  It was a good reminder that in the midst of the chaos of the present time, we are all blessed children of God.
In the days following the service, I continued to ponder the Gospel lesson, and in doing so, recalled that there is another version of The Beatitudes recorded in the Gospel of Luke.  Unlike the very familiar reading from Matthew, we rarely, if ever, encounter the Lukan version in worship.  Comparing the two is an interesting exercise.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Shouting Defiance and Hope



The seed of the idea was planted in a Facebook conversation.  In response to the link to my latest letter to the editor of the Lancaster newspaper, a friend commented “shouting defiance and hope.”  I recognized the phrase immediately as coming from the song “Compassion Piece” by Carolyn McDade and replied that, in the coming months, that would be my theme song.
A few days later, as I drove into Lancaster to meet another friend for lunch, the final page of the song was humming in my mind.  “I ask you, will compassion walk past shadows deep and many miles long, shouting defiance and hope?”  That evoked anticipation of the thousands of women planning to march in Washington and other cities on the coming Saturday, shouting defiance of the bigotry, hatred, and abuse that marked the actions of the incoming administration, and hope that women and men, children and elders, would rally to build a nation grounded in justice, equality, and embrace of diversity.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

What God Showed Up?



On Christmas Day our congregation worshiped by praying the Christmas liturgy followed by a service of Lessons and Carols adapted from the historic Service of Nine Lessons and Carols presented each Christmas Eve by the choir of Kings College, Cambridge, England.  In our slightly shortened version, seven scripture lessons tell of the Incarnation in the birth of Jesus.  A familiar Advent or Christmas carol is sung in response to each lesson.  The entire service is a moving declaration of the foundation of the Christian faith – Jesus, the Christ, was born among us and recognized by those who heard the good news as Immanuel, God with us.
A few days after Christmas I saw a post on Facebook quoting the Rev. Franklin Graham as saying that Donald Trump’s win was the answer to the prayers of many: “Trump won because ‘God showed up.’”  I found this troubling because what I have learned of Trump’s words and actions so far seems to be at odds with the God who is described in the liturgy and scripture lessons we had read in church just two days before.  Thus I undertook a comparison.