Friday, April 22, 2011

Routine and Remembrance

One of the most obvious features of the early Quaker movement was its emphasis on the spiritual reality of the Holy Spirit, preferring it to outward forms and holidays that the Church had long observed to call attention to these spiritual realities. In seventeenth-century England, these forms were abused horrendously, with the state church demanding tithes at the point of the sword and insisting that anyone who did not perform their rituals was destined for eternal damnation. In that context, I understand why the early Great Plains Yearly Meeting 2008Friends rejected the official liturgical calendar. It had become a tool of oppression that, "[had] the form of godliness but denied the power."(1)

In the decades and centuries following the emergence of the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers have developed our own liturgical calendar based around a series of gatherings for worship, confession and business. Much of this traditional routine is still maintained in Ohio Yearly Meeting. We meet weekly (or more often) for worship, gathering at set times and places. Monthly, we gather with area Friends to conduct business and answer the Queries (confession). Every three months, we meet for Quarterly Meeting, which gathers Friends from the wider region to consider the Queries and any other relevant business. And, once each year, our liturgical calendar culminates in an annual gathering of the entire fellowship.

"Now, wait a minute," some might say, "that's not a liturgical calendar, that's just a pattern of church government!" Hard to argue with that. Clearly, our traditional system of Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings, answering the Queries and doing church business qualify as church government. And yet, it also functions as a calendar for remembrance, confession and prayer. When we gather together in our meetings for worship, we are practicing a pre-arranged remembrance of our Lord. We wait on himFriends at Rockingham Monthly Meeting in expectant silence, and we welcome him into our midst. We remember him, and he dwells among us, teaching us.

When we answer the Queries together, we remember the scriptural injunction to, "confess [our] sins to one another and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed."(2) When we conduct our business as a church, we take literally Christ's promise that, "wherever two or three gather together in my name, there I am in the midst of them."(3) Just as in our meetings for worship, we wait upon Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit, seeking to be taught and guided as a community. We remember the Lord, and he remembers us.

This routine of remembrance that we maintain as Friends has become deeply important to me over the years. Just as weekly meeting for worship is a spiritual landmark for my week, monthly, quarterly and yearly meeting also serve as spiritual markers for me. Icon of the CrucifixionIn many ways, Yearly Meeting is my "Holy Week." These days and seasons of formal remembrance are deeply helpful in my walk of repentance and new birth in the Lord.

Just as I find spiritual depth and meaning in the routine remembrance that we practice in Ohio Yearly Meeting, I also find nourishment in the liturgical calendar of the wider Church. Today is Good Friday, a day that the Christian Church has long set aside for remembering the brutal torture and execution of the Lord Jesus. This day follows a forty-day season of formal repentance, called Lent, during which we pay special attention to spiritually preparing ourselves to remember Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

Observing Lent this year has been a blessing for me, deepening my awareness of Jesus' sacrifice and ultimate victory over the powers of darkness and death. Just as participation in the liturgical calendar of Ohio Yearly Meeting has helped to knit me more deeply into that community, participation in the calendar of the wider Church has helped me to feel more connected to the universal Body of Christ. There is something powerful about joining with millions of other Ohio Yearly Meeting 2009Christians in thousands of other denominations and communions as we seek to be more aware of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This Sunday, Easter, will be the culmination of the yearly calendar for the worldwide Church, as we remember the culmination of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. I pray that this season of remembrance will be a meaningful one for you, and that your membership in the Body of Christ be enriched by shared remembrance of our dear Savior. Let us thank him for his self-sacrificial love and invite him into our midst. Come, Lord Jesus!

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1. 2 Timothy 3:5
2. James 5:16
3. Matthew 18:20

5 comments:

janegirlcqs said...

The reason that the original liturgical calendar is so powerful is that it's based in the rhythms of the life and death of Jesus. I worry about substituting human events for the Bible.

Bill Samuel said...

God made humans as creatures who seek orderly patterns. The liturgical calendar is a natural expression of who God made us to be.

These patterns are set up for reasons, often very good ones as in this case. But humans are prone to acting as if it is the particular patterns that have value, not the reason for which the patterns were set.

It was painfully obvious to the early Friends that the church was using the sacramental and liturgical patterns in ways that did not honor God, and in fact dishonored God. They reacted by claiming, in many cases (actually you can note some differences in early Friends' responses if you read the various early Friends), that the patterns themselves were the problem. So they wholesale rejected the church patterns, and even occasionally went to the extreme of saying that those who practiced the external patterns were thereby proving they did not have the internal experience.

Friends were right to reject abusive patterns with use of the sacraments and rituals. But they were wrong when they at least implied that the problem was with those practices themselves. Instead, it always comes down to the spirit in which they are practiced.

Fox felt led to establish certain patterns for Friends. Because they weren't set as sacraments or rituals, the early Friends did not seem to make the connection to the patterns the wider church had established. But they really do come from somewhat the same place.

As Micah has observed, patterns still observed by OYM, especially including the use of the queries, do serve as something of a liturgical calendar. Like the liturgical calendar, they can - rightly used - lead us to reflect on God's care for us and what it means to be faithful.

I unite with Micah's concern for unity with the wider church, and janegirlcqs' observation of the value of the calendar reflecting the rhythyms of the life and death of Jesus. I do find considerable value in right observance of the key events in the story of Jesus.

Shouldn't we make a distinction between the early Friends' rejection of church hypocrisy and the misuse of rituals, sacraments and the calendar; and a rejection of traditional Christian practices per se? Aren't we in a very different environment in the wider Christian community than the corrupt state church environment in which early Friends found themselves, and shouldn't we respond appropriately to our environment rather than that one?

Ganeida said...

The Spirit has been showing me that the church rituals are not the festivals established by God & we are being called back to the biblical festivals as oppossed to any church ordained ones. It is making Christmas & Easter interesting to say the least as we are out of step with both the world & the church!

Micah Bales said...

@janegirlcqs To be fair, a lot of the modern-day liturgical calendar has very little scriptural basis. Think about saints' days, for example. Or Lent. Christ's birth, death, and resurrection all took place and are documented in the Scriptures, but neither Jesus nor the authors of Scripture commanded us to celebrate Christmas or Easter. My friend Tyler is fond of pointing out that the only holiday that Christians celebrate today that is specifically mentioned in Scripture is Pentecost, which was a longstanding Jewish holiday.

I do agree with your basic point, though, that the calendar of the liturgical Church is powerful in that it draws us explicitly into the story of Jesus' birth, ministry, death and resurrection. I appreciate it for that.

@Bill I agree.

@Ganeida Do you mean that you're feeling called to celebrate the Sabbath, Passover, Yom Kippur, the Festival of Booths, etc.? That's interesting, and I'd love to hear how that is going for you.

I personally do not believe that God particularly cares one way or another what festivals we do or do not celebrate. I believe that holidays, rituals and religious customs exist to help us better relate to God - but I do believe that Sabbath was made for man (and woman) not we for the Sabbath!

Tom Smith said...

I think the last sentence says it all. "Come Lord Jesus!" It is this that Friends came to celebrate every First Day, and in remembrance every day. I think the issue is not a liturgical calendar or any particular sequence of days, but the recognition and realization that Christ has come to teach his people every day in all that we do. I believe the reason the early Friends were able to endure the persecution and to grow was the experience the reality that Christ is Present and that we do not need to look forward to a second coming. I believe that it was not so much that Friends felt that the second coming was going to be soon but that it had already happened and that we are living in the Kingdom, spiritual and not physical, and that a "new physical Kingdom had no meaning apart from the current kingdom that comes as God's will IS done.