Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Lord be with you

Got up my courage and hobbled my way to church Sunday.  The bad leg aches a bit now, but I am so glad I went.  Was reminded that we are still in Easter season (good to know I have not missed it entirely), as we had two children baptised, two others joining the rank of full chorister (presented with their cottas -like these), the Mathias Gloria at full tilt, the sweet ache of his Agnus Dei, and a Postlude with Timothy Davis performing Mozart on the Engstrom grand piano.  And thanks to Theresa, who kindly came to get me and give me a ride at the last minute, on a weekend her mom was visiting (whom I finally got to meet).

As usual, my mind and emotions were off in a million directions at once, but one thing I noticed throughout the liturgy was that the word "Lord" was everywhere.  Made me smile (felt like I was playing the old college game of watching reruns of the Bob Newhart show and counting each time someone said "Hi Bob!").  But I was stunned at how pervasive it is, or rather how it had not occurred to me before, even after reading several days of discussion on it on the HoB list serve.  I mean, really, what would Episcopal worship be without, "The Lord be with you" (and "also with you")? 

And here's the Rite II Gloria:
Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.
and the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son....
the Prayer of Absolution:
Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.
the Great Thanksgiving:
The Lord be with you.

*People*              And also with you.

*Celebrant*          Lift up your hearts.

*People*              We lift them to the Lord.

*Celebrant*          Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

*People*              It is right to give him thanks and praise.
the Sanctus:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
the Eucharistic Prayers:
[A & B]
On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, "Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.
Lord God of our Fathers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his great High Priest, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, your Church gives honor, glory, and worship, from generation to generation.
We acclaim you, holy Lord, glorious in power. Your mighty works reveal your wisdom and love. You formed us in your own image, giving the whole world into our care, so that, in obedience to you, our Creator, we might rule and serve all your creatures. When our disobedience took us far from you, you did not abandon us to the power of death. In your mercy you came to our help, so that in seeking you we might find you. Again and again you called us into covenant with you, and through the prophets you taught us to hope for salvation.
the Benediction:
Eternal God, heavenly Father,
you have graciously accepted us as living members
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,
and you have fed us with spiritual food
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord.
and the Dismissal:

*Deacon...*       Let us go forth in the name of Christ.
*People*           Thanks be to God.

*Deacon*          Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
*People*           Thanks be to God.

*Deacon*         Let us go forth into the world,
                         rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.
*People*          Thanks be to God.

*Deacon*         Let us bless the Lord.
*People*          Thanks be to God.

And of course, these do not include the Psalms or the Kyrie eleison, which is about "kyriocentric" as one can get:

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord have mercy upon us.

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.
[Text of Episcopal BCP (1979), Rite II from http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/bcp.htm].

There are, of course, many others titles or names given to Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit, in Rite II prayers and elsewhere. But it is hard to imagine spending any time in worship that follows the Book of Common Prayer without the word "Lord" evoking the sounds, memories, and even conceptions of prayer and worship. Even those from other traditions or no tradition at all may think of Christianity when they hear "Lord" because of having heard the word in the context of "The Lord's Prayer," "The Lord's Supper," or perhaps even the beginning of the Twenty-third Psalm ("The Lord is my shepherd...").

The word, "Lord," particularly in its Greek form, kyrios (Κύριος), is not something that suddenly appeared in the King James version of the Bible in the 17th century or the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  There is historical evidence that the term pre-dates the Gospels and was in use in the earliest Christian devotions and worship.  New Testament scholar, Larry W. Hurtado has spent his career focusing on this question, presenting his evidence and conclusions most fully in Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Christ in Earliest Christianity (2003).  See also, Davd B. Capes, April D. DeConick, Helen K. Bondis, eds., Israel's God and Rebecca's Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity, and Larry W. Hurtado, At the Origins of Christian Worship: The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion (1999). 

The word "kyrios" and its Semitic equivalents were already in use among first-century Greek-speaking Jews as the substitutes for the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh.  See Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ (2003 Pb. ed.), "Jesus as Lord," pp. 108 et seq.).  By then, "the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament had been translated into Greek, and that translation, called the Septuagint, became the near-universally used version across the Empire."  (Brad East, "Who is the Lord?")   Thus, Hurtado concludes that the use of "kyrios" in early Christian worship and texts, in connection with Jesus, indicates that he was seen as uniquely divine not long after his death, and within a particularly Jewish meaning and context rather than as a result of a later Hellenization of Christian beliefs and practices.  Hurtado stresses:
The point I want to emphasize is not only that the christological use of kyrios in early Pauline Christianity had translation equivalents in Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christian circles of earlier decades, but also that the religious meaning and functions of the application of kyrios to Jesus in Pauline circles were shaped by this earlier practice of appealing to the risen Jesus as "Lord" as a feature of the devotional life of Aramaic-speaking circles.  That is, there was a shared religiousness, and not merely an inherited vocabulary.
Lord Jesus Christ (2003 Pb. ed.) at p. 111.

Of course, what precisely the term "kyrios" or "Lord" meant to the early Christians and what its meaning and use should be today, are topics that will continue to spark debate among historians, theologians, church officials, liturgical commissions, and anyone else who may want to kibitz on the subject.  Nevertheless, it seems clear that "Lord" is at the heart of nearly two thousand years of Christian devotions and worship, and with them, understanding of what it means to be a Christian. 

By invoking Jesus as "Lord," we do not pray to Jesus as a separate divinity.  Instead, we "worship God in Jesus' name and through Jesus."  Hurtado, At the Origins of Christian Worship, p. 107.   What is expressed is our desire for and understanding of our relationship with God, through Jesus, not the creation of some kind of patriarchal or kyriarchal structure through which males or masters or overlords dominate over females, slaves, and servants.  Use of the words "Lord" and "Father" simply speak to that relationship rather than our relations with others:
In this light, Christians do not properly approach God as an expression of some ill-founded sentimentality about God's 'daddy-hood.' Christians properly call God 'Father' neither to make God 'sire' of the world or of us, nor because we want to deify fatherhood and maleness, but instead precisely because we enter into Jesus' relationship to God as Father. We are to consider ourselves as enfranchised into Jesus' relationship with God.
Ibid., 109.

To read the traditional language of Christian worship otherwise is to distort and idolize it.  From this perspective, Hurtado finds the feminist critique helpful to the extent it points to this kind of misreading and the terrible social consequences that inevitably result:
Some modern feminist criticism is both unfounded and yet also instructive for Christian worship. It is unfounded to claim that to reverence and address God as 'Father' and to reverence and refer to Jesus as 'the Son' necessarily means to privilege maleness and to give it transcendent validation while denying this to femaleness and motherhood. This sort of feminist critique presumes that all worship is the straight projection and divinisation of creaturely attributes such as maleness, and that the object of the worship is some idealised version of the attributes of the worshipper. On this assumption, the demand is logically that both maleness and femaleness should be divinised. Otherwise, women have no such idealised object with which to identify themselves. Were these assumptions totally correct, the demand would appear to be compelling.

Properly informed, however, Christian worship of the Triune God is not (or at least is not supposed to involve) the deification of creaturely characteristics. Christian worship is not supposed to be the projection of our own attributes into ideal, divine status. This would be a deification of the creature, a self-worship, which is admittedly all too accurate as characterising human 'religiousness.' But from the standpoint of Biblical tradition, any such de facto divinisation of the creature manifests a distance from the effectual revelation of the true and living God. Worship that is offered in response to the revealed, true and living God should seek to avoid any deification of the creature.
Ibid., 111.  Thus, in Hurtado's view, the fault lies not with the language used in worship but rather our understanding of it and the way we manifest it in our lives:
Perhaps one important way for Christians and others to tell if particular Christian worship really is 'in Spirit and truth' in this sense is to discern whether reference to God as 'Father' is matched in our lives by a privileging of maleness, a feudal-like hierarchy of one creaturely characteristic over others. If our lives show a preferential treatment of maleness, for example, it may well be that Christian worship has been allowed to devolve into an idolatry that is no less damnable in spite of its use of Christian terminology (indeed, Christian distortion of the revelation of God should be seen by Christians as double reprehensible). Particularly, if reference to God as "Father" is seen as justifying the privileging of the male gender, then this certainly shows a serious failure to understand the Christian theological rationale and meaning of the term 'Father' as a form of address to God. In this situation, the feminist critique of 'Father' rings true and is a judgement to be received gratefully.

The heavenly 'Father' should be worshipped, not as an extension of ourselves, as justifying patriarchy, but worshipped truly as the one God who is categorically transcendent over the creature. That is, as 'Father' only through Jesus Christ. This God transcends creation and thereby reveals and judges its inadequacy in representing God, as well as our abuse of our creaturely features such as gender. But at the same time this transcendent God, precisely by being transcendent beyond creaturely attributes, is able to affirm, validate and redeem the whole of the creation (Rom. 8:18-23), including our maleness and femaleness (Gal. 2:28-290). Given the gender-inclusive shape of God's redemption, it is important as Christians to ask ourselves whether this equal validation of male and female is evident in our lives, our families, and our wider relationships, whether the inherent value of the creation (inherent to creation as God's beloved creature) and the equal importance and worth of male and female are demonstrated in our church life? Theology can play a role in helping us to guide us to right living (though, to be sure, the right living to which Christians are summoned requires a real transformation and not merely instruction). But it is also true that the character of our particular Christian living is in turn a good indication of how we really understand and mean what we profess to be our theological beliefs. That is, our living is a very good reflection of how 'good' our theology really is!

Ibid., 111-112.

Of course this kind of analysis begs the question of whether such language is or has become easily misunderstood because of the long history of its use and abuse in support of privilege and domination.  If so, there certainly are good arguments for expanding the use of words and titles for God and the persons of the Trinity -- not to eliminate or substitute one set for another but to help teach and inform people what the words are intended to mean "in Spirit and in truth."   I also am not convinced that the Father-Son language is the only way to articulate the nature of our relationship to God through Jesus or to represent those two elements of the Trinity.  Nevertheless, there is something to be said for correcting misinterpretations of traditional language rather than simply abandoning it.

Whatever arguments can be made for substituting gender-neutral terms in some instances and adding words referring to females in others,  they do not apply very well to the use of "Lord."  First, the word "Lord" is not gender-specific as is "Father," "Son," and pronouns that are exclusively male.  "Lord" is  more like "Senator," "Governor," or "Mayor" -- titles and positions that once were held only by men but now can be claimed by women, as well.

Second, "Lord" has a special significance when used in conjunction with Jesus and Christ.  "Lord Jesus Christ" and "Jesus Christ our Lord" are different ways of translating the Greek phrase first used as a confession in Christian devotions and worship.  In other words, from the very beginning of Christianity, it has meant confessing that "Jesus Christ is Lord."  Therefore, it makes little sense to suddenly decide in the 21st century that "lord" is an obsolete feudal term that should be eliminated from Christian worship because it can invoke images of oppressive power and authority.   While that may be one particular, limited meaning of the word, the longstanding and continued use of kyrios and "Lord" in reference to Jesus has a particular meaning of its own, which predates feudalism and is clearly distinguishable from any kind of reference to earthly princes and powers.

The difficulty some may have with the word is that it can be viewed as supporting the ideology of one side in the current conflict within and about the Episcopal Church.  For those who brandish passages like John 14:6 ("I am the way and the truth and the life. None comes to the Father except through me"), as weapons in their self-styled holy wars, the word "Lord" is a torch raised triumphantly on behalf of a Christianity that proclaims it is the exclusive path to salvation (and the hell with everyone else).  While so-called High Christology is shared by others, as well, the provocateurs seem to want to claim it as their own, and use it against those who might have different views, especially if they can be baited into into invoking radical feminist theology and demands for social justice.

Personally, I find nothing edifying about discussing this issue for the sake of yet another skirmish with the defenders of the Faith Once Delivered.  I do not view the new Holy Men and Holy Women as some kind of "Trojan Horse" (a charge apparently renewed in the recent call for "Openness in the Process of Liturgical Change").  I see nothing wrong with using a variety of language, especially in incidental prayers such as the collects for lesser feast days and holy days.  Nevertheless, I sense that there may be some cause for concern, some danger that the significance of "Lord" may get lost in any dust up that might occur along the usual fault lines.

What is at stake is not simply Tradition or what might be lost were we to relegate the Kyrie to the rubbish bin, along with all the music that so hauntingly voices its lament.  It is the ritual acknowledgement of all that is most high -- whether conceived as the Lord God or Lord Jesus Christ, the Ground of All Being, or a Power Greater than Ourselves that Can Restore Us to Sanity.  It involves submission to that higher authority, a recognition of our shortcomings, an offering of our best selves, and a commitment to placing God's goals and purposes above our own. 

Instead of binding and oppressing, naming Jesus as "Lord" liberates all those who might be bound by the claims of those with earthly power, status, and wealth. Following Jesus is to choose one's own lord and master in the service of all of humanity. And while some may question the significance and efficacy of physically bowing, kneeling, or lying prostate, the reverence, devotion, and humility embodied by these acts remain essential in our approach to God and understanding ourselves in relation to God. In today's world, especially here in the U.S., where so many are suspicious of and resistant to all authority but their own, it is difficult to imagine how any word other than "Lord" can better convey a power higher than ourselves, to whom we can freely submit and strive to serve with gladness and singleness of heart.