Fr. James Worth preaching on the 35th anniversary of his ordination
I just wanted to talk to you about a couple of points, a couple of simple points of Christian worship. We read the book of Acts we see that the earliest Christians gathered in community. They gathered to hear the apostles’ doctrine, for fellowship, for prayer, and for breaking of bread – the Eucharist. Those were the four essential elements of the earliest church. And I remember, in my young days in seminary when I would go to New York. We would travel from St. Vladimir’s seminary to NYU because Fr. ____ was lecturing there. Every week he would give lectures on the Orthodox church, and he always wished to emphasize to the people – basically not Orthodox people – the essential teaching, he usedd in Latin – unus Christianus, nullius Christianus – “One Christian is no Christian.” That to be a Christian means to be a member of a community, and we see that community manifested makes present the life of Christ, the teachings of Christ, and the presence of Christ both now and till the end of the ages. Remember, again in seminary, I had to do an oral exam before Fr. Alexander Schmemann on the meaning of the Eucharist. And that was probably one of the scariest times of my life, because this man wrote all of the books. He was the constant scholar of the liturgy. What he wanted me to talk about was the cosmical and eschatological content of the Eucharist. How, when we gather as the Church, when we assemble as the Church, remembering that the essential act of the people of God is to gather as the Church, that we gather for a specific purpose and ultimately we are recognizing that the Church is the new creation. That’s the cosmical dimension of the liturgy. Christ is the new Adam. He is the resurrected Lord who lives in the Church. He is the one who is nurturing us, who is offering and we are offering back to the Father. The second part of that is that the Eucharist is eschatological – it makes present the end even in the world. The Church, the Liturgy, manifest the kingdom of God. I always tell people, “Where do you find the kingdom of God these days? Do you find it in Hollywood? No… Do you find it on the 16th Street Mall? Probably not. It’s in the church.” That’s where the kingdom of God is manifest.
So, what I want to emphasize is that the work that we do – and Liturgy is work, it’s the proper work of the people gathering together and to offer a gift, to be present to remember the life, the death, the resurrection of Christ, and then to eat at His heavenly table. That’s what we do. In America, our Church makes a tremendous task because, first of all, there are a lot of different religions and a lot of different types and expressions of Christianity. In America there is always this tendency to want to create something better. You always want something better, so somebody will create a little better kind of Christianity, a little better kind, a little more simple. You know, let’s forget about all these icons, and chalices, and vestments, and let’s just sit down and read the Bible and we’ll talk. And in addition, there are people who probably criticize the Church as being irrelevant, full of hypocrisy, of being broken, full of sinners. I always remind myself that Fr. _____ used to always say, “Church is full of the saints, you see them all around us. But it’s full of us miserable sinners too.” The holiness and the righteousness of Christianity is through Christ and the Holy Spirit, so we need not fear about our own sinfulness because we have Christ who is sanctifying us, who is sealing us. That’s the mystery of the Church: people who are broken, who are flawed characteralogically, who have all kinds of diseases and sin, when we enter into the life of Christ, we are sanctified, we are purified by the Spirit of God.
So it’s important for us to remember just those fundamental underpinnings. When we gather, we gather in the name of Christ for a purpose. That purpose is to hear the apostolic teaching, hear the gospel, and then to offer up the liturgy and to make present the kingdom of God, to enter in procession to the holy table and there participate in the body and blood of Christ and be united one to another in the mystery of the Eucharist. So, as we think about the meaning of worship, I want you to remember is that we’re here for a very specific purpose, and that we’re called to be here in order to make that purpose manifest. So, God has said, Christ has told us, “You have not chosen me, I have chosen you.” So we come together, we offer, we celebrate, we break the bread in the name of Christ. And then we eat and taste of the kingdom, and the life eternal, the kingdom which is to come is made present here. Those are the essential dimensions of the Eucharist. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we believe that when we celebrate the Liturgy, we celebrate with God in Spirit and in Truth, as the Spirit is amongst us and Christ is amongst us, and all of our prayers are carried to the Father so that we ultimately are lifted up to the heavenly kingdom.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Christ is risen!
Indeed, He is risen!