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Devotional Article - Spirituality and Prayers

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Article Title : Spirituality through the Liturgical Seasons
Published : 28-NOV-2016
Author : The Steering Committee of the HKSKH Church Policy

(Remark: this page is source from “Spirituality through the Liturgical Seasons” of the Provincial Website.)



(59) Post Communion Prayer, Blessing and Dismissal

Before receiving Communion, we should prepare our hearts in receiving Christ’s real presence into our lives in the Holy Communion. And therefore, after we have received Communion, it is a good time and an appropriate moment to pray to the Lord: to praise Him and thank Him for his mercies and grace, love and forgiveness; respond to Christ’s self-sacrifice for our redemption by praying, commit and offer ourselves wholly to the serving Christ, to be witnesses to His great love.

Before the 4th century, there is no mention of the blessing/benediction in Eucharistic rites. The earliest records of it is found in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, in which the celebrant priest, in our-stretches arms, pray for and bless the faithfuls. In the liturgical tradition of the “Gregorian Sacramentary”, the Blessing is said only during Lent for those who have had their confessions. As concept and doctrine of sin grew and develop, medieval bishops have blessed faithfuls from the altar. By the 11th century, the Blessing has become part of the Liturgy in concluding the service.

The “Dismissal” has a longer history than the “Blessing”. This — the deacon is to say, Depart in peace; the congregation is to respond, in the name of Christ.”— is found in the Apostolic Constitution. Gallican Rites has the celebrant say, “Let us bless the Lord” and the people respond with “Thanks be to God.” Later developments added “Alleluia” to the dismissals from the Easter Vigil through the Day of Pentecost. Concluding the service with the “Dismissal” is very meaningful: worshippers throughout the ages are called to go into the world as the Lord’s disciples; to live is to worship and witness. In worshipping the Lord’s glory, we go forth in the name of a Christ, into the world to witness and spread the loving kindness of the Lord. In witnessing the Lord and facing the human weakness and trials, we are called to return to worship so to regain power to begin anew!

Meditation:

  1. How will you pray after receiving Communion? Please compose a post-Communion prayer.
  2. To worship and to be sent out are dual phrases of discipleship. Do you agree that a good life in worship can help us be better witnesses? Try to share a few personal experiences.

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(58) Receiving Holy Communion

After Celebrant ‘took bread’, ‘gave thanks’ and ‘broke it’, he ‘gave it’ to all disciples. This sharing of the real presence of Christ is the mark for all God's children. In the Early Church, congregation usually stand to receive Holy Communion to demonstrate that members of the Christian community are no longer kneeling slaves. They joyfully stand as God's children. ‘Standing’ also signifies that we belong to the community of resurrection. We are resurrected and risen up in the presence of Christ. There is also an association with the meaning of Passover: to get ready to set off and leave the place of enslavement. God's chosen people standing up ate, as they were in a hurry to depart. The faithful, the community of resurrection, too, is in a hurry to work for God: stand to witness life of the resurrected Christ.

However, from the 11th to 16th century, orientation of teaching and pastoral care of the Church inclined gradually towards awareness of sinfulness of human nature. So, more and more faithfuls kneel to receive Holy Communion to express their humbleness and repentance. Later, with a period of time, the faithful only receive bread, or even only have adoration of the bread. Nevertheless, these practices have been changed and emphasis was, again, placed on the joy of resurrection in receiving Holy Communion. Therefore the practices of kneeling or standing is no a matter in receiving Holy Communion.

No matter we stand or kneel before the alter to receive the Holy Communion, we shall come forward in faith every Sunday to receive the Holy Communion with humble heart and joy, as we share the real presence of Christ and be witnesses to the new life we have in Christ.

Meditation:

  1. Some parishioners prefer kneeling to receive Holy Communion while some prefer standing. After understanding their meanings behind, would we realize something more on receiving Holy Communion?
  2. Receiving Holy Communion not only make us recipients of grace but also real presence of Christ in our lives ─ this is about our mission as disciples of Christ. As we receive the Holy Communion, may the Lord guide us better understand His mission to us.

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(57) The Breaking of the Bread and Agnus Deī

In the last issue, we explored how faithfuls prepare to take part in the Holy Communion after the Eucharistic Prayer with The Lord's Prayer to receive the grace of His presence. The first two out of the four important liturgical actions during the Ministry of the Sacrament — ‘take’ and ‘give thanks’ — are done by the Celebrant during the Eucharistic Prayer. While preparing for the Holy Communion, the Celebrant ‘breaks’ the consecrated bread. And finally, the bread and wind are ‘given’ to us.

According to the version of Book of Common Prayer (1662), ‘the breaking of the bread’ is following Jesus' example at the Last Supper and represents our Saviour's body sacrificed on the cross for us, so that disciples since can share His sacred life. St Augustine is the first to use 1 Corinthians 10:17 to express ‘though we are many, we are only body, because we all share in one bread’, the spirit of communion during the Eucharist.

After the breaking of the bread, the choir would likely lead all in prayer with the Agnus Deī (Isaiah 53:7, John 1:29 and Revelations 5:6). It is a prayer that centres meditation on ‘Christ as the lamb of God’ as core of the prayer — connecting Christ who sacrificed His body and shed His precious blood for us with the breaking of the bread during the Eucharist. This anthem has been a part of Ministry of the Sacrament since the 5th century. Sung after the breaking of the bread, the Agnus Deī becomes an integral part of the spiritual experience of many faithfuls as they prepare to receive the Holy Communion.

Meditation:

  1. Prayers in the Eucharistic Prayer are ‘opened-eye’ prayers to concentrate on the Holy Table. Do mediate on the four-fold liturgical actions — take, give thanks, break and give — and consider what they are related to your spiritual life.
  2. When singing the Agnus Deī, do mediate on the peace and grace that the suffering Christ and the breaking of bread brought to us.

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(56) The Lord’s Prayer

After the Eucharistic Prayer, we all pray together, as the Lord has taught us to pray. The Lord's Prayer has always been the faithful's blueprint for our life of prayer, because we know, from what has been recorded in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4, that this is the standard content for prayer our Lord Jesus Christ has taught His disciples.

Actually, elements of the Prayer can be found in prayers of Jewish traditions ─ from praises to petition, beginning with recognition of the holiness of God's name, praying for the Lord's wills to be done on earth as in heaven; and then praying for human needs: daily food and drink, forgiveness of our sins and not to be tempted, etc.. The sequence of the entire prayer flows from our upward reverence of God down to our human needs. The most special of the Prayer is that Jesus addresses God, ‘Abba’, as target of the prayer. The Creator of the universe is no longer out of our reach; in Christ, He is our Father.

Therefore, the Lord's Prayer is not unique for private prayers, it has a deep meaningful for common prayers. Since the 4th century A.D., the Lord's Prayer has been an integral part of Holy Communion. Especially after the Eucharistic Prayer, because Christ has offered Himself as one and only one sacrifice, we have been made children of God in Christ, and given our seats at the table of the Heavenly feast, privileged to receive the bread and wine of the Holy Communion ─ the fulfilment of the promise of the forgiveness of our sins and the power of delivering us from evil. As the Pope Gregory the Great said, no prayers written by scholars can replace the prayer of the Lord Jesus' sacrifice of His body and precious blood, spread to us, and used after consecrating the bread and wine.

Meditation:

  1. The Lord's Prayer is also known as ‘The Family Prayer’. This ‘Family’ extends beyond our biological family. It is through Lord Jesus that we can become the children of God. Who are our family members accordingly to God’s family? Have we prayed for them?
  2. Study The Book of Common Prayer the different position of The Lord's Prayer in the Morning Prayer, the Holy Communion and Evening Prayer. What meaning can you derive from these different placements?

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(55) Eucharistic Prayer (VIII): Doxology

At the end of every Eucharistic Prayer, there is a doxology — a short hymn of praises for the Triune God. This is a version we are familiar with: ‘By [Christ], and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honour and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever.’

The Doxology places focus of the entire Eucharistic Prayer on God. God is above all and among all, just as Paul taught, ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). All works of human hands cannot and would not be separated from God who gives all beings the breath of life. As we gather and present before Him, it is only a reflection of His infinite glory for an ultimate goal of reconciling with Him. This reconciliation is accomplished neither because of the words spoken by the Celebrant nor the hymns we sing. It is accomplished only through the only mediator between God and humankind — our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, all the glory is given to God.

In addition, the Doxology allows us to keep hope in mind in waiting for the Lord’s return for renewing all things. Even if we see that the society nowadays is full of evil and quarrels, being falling short of the glory of God; even though the world remains a warring one with people are selfish, self-serving and self-glorifying and continue neglecting the God of life, we still proclaim, ‘Honour, glory and worship to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, forever more.’ After we declare that only God is worth our praises, we join the Celebrant in response, ‘Amen!’

Advent is upon us. Let us learn from the Doxology being humble and how to expectantly wait for the Lord's return.

Meditation:

  1. What does ‘the Lord wants to have first place in your life’ mean to you?
  2. Other than praising the Lord verbally, what other ways can you praise Him?

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(54) Eucharistic Prayer (VII): The Offering of Prayers

Following the proclamation of the Mystery of Faith is the ‘Offering of Prayers’. In the Offertory, we well understand that all things come from the Lord; what we human beings offer to Him with our hands, the bread and wine that are the work of our human hands, are our very limited offering. But, because of the grace of His presence, He turns the limited into the infinite abundance of gifts of our unity with Him. Therefore, the bread and wine are our offering to God as well as God's gifts to us. At the throne of grace, we not only proclaim the Mystery of Faith, but also offer our prayers for the entire Church, in heaven and on earth. May through Holy Communion, the inner grace can vitalize the Church to live out missions of the Kingdom of Heaven and the holiness from God’s grace.

In Eucharistic Prayer (D), through the adaptation of a number of Eucharistic Prayers of the Eastern Church tradition from Egypt, Syria and Jerusalem, we see a most comprehensive example of intercessions. The intercessions in the Eucharistic Prayer of Jerusalem in 348 A.D. included:

For God to preserve the Universal Church in peace;
for order of the world;
for kings, armies and allies;
for the sick;
for those who suffer;
and for all who in need.

Distinguished from the Prayers of the People, the offering of prayers emphasizes the ‘offering’ to God. Through and by the grace of Christ's presence, we pray for the Church's missions in completing His work in the world. We do not focus on specific issues but the illustration of principles and praying for God's grace to sanctify the Church for the fulfilment of God's kingdom on earth.

Meditation:

  1. Have you ever thought that the grace of having ‘God with us’ is not for our own sake, but for the Church to fulfill God's work on earth? What can you offer to or do for God for this purpose?
  2. Please write a prayer for the Church's completion of her missions.

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(53) Eucharistic Prayer (VI): Proclaiming the Mystery of Faith

The climax of worship liturgy occurs when we partake in the Holy Communion. In the Eucharistic Prayer, right after restating the Words of Institution, every words and movements, according to what the Gospels stated, the Celebrant leads the congregation proclaim the mystery of faith, ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.’ (Eucharistic Prayer (A)) Brothers and sisters, should we all understand that worship liturgy is not only a ceremonial performance, but also manifestation of faith that stems from the depths of our hearts. Then, the proclamation are the very words that energise our lives.

In the Eucharistic Prayer, the proclamation of the mystery of faith is a timely reminder to all followers of Christ that the Lord's death smashed the bondage of death to us from sins, the Lord's resurrection made us alive in the spirit; the Lord's return gave us assurance of hope to glory, one day. The proclamation allows us to imprint on our mind Christ's great sacrifice for us, to tell courageously the validity of His resurrection and to trust in His imminent return.

In proclaiming the mystery of faith, we are renewed strength and invigorated by the living Lord in our midst to continue our life journey and would dare to face the reality of life.

May whenever we proclaim the mystery of faith, we can well understand its true meaning and get the vitality from it.

Meditation:

  1. In each service, have you understood every liturgical order and got involved in them?
  2. When proclaiming the mystery of faith, can you truly believe in it and carry out what you believe in your daily living faithfully?

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(52) Eucharistic Prayer (V): Anamnésis, the Institution of the Holy Communion

This very familiar prayer — ‘... our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it,… and gave it to his disciples...’ (Eucharistic Prayer (A); Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20 and I Corinthians 11:23-25) — can be said to be the very core teaching of the Ministry of the Sacrament. The four-fold liturgical gestures of ‘The Great Thanksgiving’ spoken by the Celebrant — ‘take, give thanks, break and give’ — remind every one of us that the Lord has instituted the Holy Communion for us and be known to us in it.

Why we respond that the Lord be known to us in the breaking of the bread (Eucharistic Prayer (C), The Holy Eucharist: Rite Two, Page 17)? The fact is that under tide of thought of Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, some denominations rejected the view to reduce significance of the clergy. The defence, given at that time, was that since the Lord said He will come again to judge the living and the dead (Mark 13:26, Matthew 24:30 and Luke 21:27), He cannot, therefore, be present among the faithfuls whenever and wherever the Holy Communion is celebrated.

Yet, when we examine the Jewish tradition of Passover Seder together with the Words of Institution by Jesus Christ, it is not difficult to realize that we are, in remembrance of institution of the Holy Communion, indeed giving thanks to the Lord for His transcendence over time and space and His presence at the feast. Firstly, Jewish traditions understand the Passover Seder as sharing of the meal with their ancestors, liberated from Egypt, and thus, they, too, can experience God's redemption. Secondly, therefore, institution of the Holy Communion before Jesus’ passion gives the Passover Seder a new meaning: the Lord is present with us and actively participating in every Holy Communion. Jesus said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19, I Corinthians 11:24-25). ‘Remembrance’, in its original Greek is ἀνάμνησιν (anamnésis), is not merely understood to be ‘memorialising a person or an event’. It has connotations of ‘recalling’ — reminding — as the Passover recalls the Jewish people: Yaweh reminds them His perpetual and eternal salvation. Jesus, too, reminds his followers that His presence is in every celebration of the Holy Communion, which is not bounded by time and space.

Meditation:

  1. When listening the Words of the Anamnésis — Words of the Institution, how attitudes should we have as we experience the presence of the Lord?
  2. How does the Lord's presence support us in our busy lives?

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(51) Eucharistic Prayer (IV): Invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis)

Invocation of the Holy Spirit, ‘epiclesis’ in Greek, is an inevitable part of the Eucharistic Prayers in the Anglican prayer books. For example in Eucharistic Prayer (B), ‘We pray you to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts (bread and wine)...’ The invocation is originated from Eastern Church traditions, for which the Epiclesis marks the most sacred and most solemn moment, even more important than the Words of Institution (also called the Words of Consecration) by Jesus Christ. The solemnity is evident in the Ministry of the Sacrament of Orthodox Church. The Celebrant would lead the congregation to wait faithfully for the descent of the Holy Spirit through a period of complete silence after the Epiclesis. However, due to various doctrinal discussions over Holy Communion, it was not until the 20th century that the Western Church included the Epiclesis into her rite, into her Eucharistic Prayers.

We are familiar with the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic Prayers. Calling upon the Holy Spirit and remembering the salvation God brought through Jesus Christ are intertwined in our liturgy, allowing our prayer to transcend beyond time and space. In the beginning part of the Great Thanksgiving, we focus on the past: we remember God's greatness and His works throughout history, give thanks to God for sending His one and only son, the Word made flesh, to be the saviour and redeemer of the world; and for that praise God with singing of the Sanctus. We then, by the invocation of the Holy Spirit, focus on the present ─ call upon the Holy Spirit to descend on the bread and wine, and our midst here and now ─ so that we may, upon receiving the grace and strength from above through the Holy Communion, continue our way on earth for God. In remembering God's work and calling upon the Holy Spirit, we understand that the Eucharistic Prayer is a complete prayer. It brings us back to the past, concentrates on the present and moves us to the future, allowing us to encounter God through and across time and space.

Meditation:

  1. During the Epiclesis, what emotions do you feel as you wait for and receive the Holy Spirit?
  2. How does the Eucharistic Prayer lead us in gaining strength for our busy lives?

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(50) Eucharistic Prayer (III): Sanctus (and Benedictus)

"Sanctus" as in the name of the hymn Sanctus is the Latin word for "holy." The more accurate name is the Latin "Tersanctus", meaning "thrice holy" or "three holies". It is apparent because the liturgy has the celebrant, together with the people, sing "holy" three times at the end of the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer, as our expression of praise and reverence to the Holy Lord.

In response to the great things God has gifted us, we, as His creation, should join our voices with the heavenly chorus, with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, to sing this hymn with passages in both Isaiah (6:3) and the Book of Revelation (4:8) to proclaim the glory of our Lord; then, we join those who welcomed our Lord as he entered the city of Jerusalem by singing the Benedictus: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Knowing where the Sanctus (and Benedictus) came from within the Scriptures can help us develop a deeper and more detailed understanding of the hymn. Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8 relate to our worship of God our Heavenly Father. The quote taken from the Gospel (Mark 11:9-10) relates to our glorifying Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who entered Jerusalem, shared the Last Supper with His apostles, was crucified, died, and lastly rose from the dead.

For those of us on earth, whenever we sing or recite the Sanctus (and Benedictus), we are joining the worship of God in heaven to celebrate that Jesus Christ has chosen to become flesh to be in our midst. The Sanctus is a hymn of great praise to God both for all that He has done for us and for all He is about to do during the Eucharist.

Although a very large part of the Eucharistic Prayer is said by the celebrant, this solemn prayer that follows the Preface allows us who participate in the Eucharist to join all the angels and the company heaven in a choir to extol Almighty God with the entire creation. What a most beautiful event this is!

Meditation:

  1. As you sing or recite the Sanctus (and Benedictus) in this week's Eucharist, try to add a bit of imagination and visualize yourself among all the company of heaven and all of God's creation to bless God's Holy Name. See whether this will bring you different experience from what you had on the previous Sunday.

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(49) Eucharistic Prayer (II): Proper Prefaces

In the Eucharistic Prayers (A) and (B) of The Holy Eucharist: Rite Two, the Sursum Corda is followed by the ‘Proper Preface’. This preface ─ passages that are essence from the Creed ─ proclaims the manifested salvation from the Holy Communion. For example, the Proper Preface ‘Of God the Father’ used during Pentecostide with only 26 words, ─ ‘For you are the source of light and life, you made us in your image, and called us to new life in Jesus Christ our Lord.’─ succinctly expresses the two sacred creations: God's creation of humankind and the new lives made through Jesus. The second one can even be fully demonstrated through the Holy Communion.

When the Celebrant comes to the part of Preface and reads it from The Holy Eucharist: Rite Two, we may feel perplexed as to why the ‘Proper Prefaces’ are printed separately, in ‘Appendix 2’ of the book (For newcomers, they may feel confused about which part of the text the Celebrant is reading). About selection of Proper Preface, it is determined in accordance with the seasons and/or special occasions (like Baptism), corresponding to the message of salvation emphasized by the various seasons and occasions. So, the faithful can better relate the themes of salvation in these seasons and occasions to their lives.

Meditation:

  1. Turn to pp 40-44 of The Holy Eucharist: Rite Two, and pick one of the Proper Prefaces. What does this short passage speak to you about your life in relation to the institution of the Holy Communion?
  2. How will you respond to this connection as you take part in the Holy Communion/daily life?

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(48) Eucharistic Prayer (I): Lift up your Hearts (Sursum Corda)

In both The Book of Common Prayer (hereinafter ‘BCP’) and The Holy Eucharist: Rite Two, the same introductory response is used to mark the beginning of The Great Thanksgiving:

‘The Lord be with you.’
‘And also with you.’

‘Lift up your hearts.’
‘We lift them to the Lord.’

‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.’
‘It is right to give him thanks and praise.’

Although BCP places this three-fold response before the consecration of the bread and wine, liturgical scholars remind us that the response, together with the Preface and the Sanctus, are part of The Prayer of Consecration. This response is better known in the Latinate / English speaking world by its Latin name: Sursum Corda (in Latin: Sursum means upwards and Corda, hearts), meaning ‘Hearts lifted’, also found in the Celebrant's second exchange ─ ‘Lift up your hearts’ ─ in the response. This exchange may seem simple enough (that in certain cases, it is done mindlessly), but it encompasses three required states the congregation must have as they proceed to the Ministry of the Sacrament.

The first exchange of greetings between the Celebrant and the congregation ─ in which the Celebrant says, ‘The Lord be with you.’ and the people respond by saying, ‘And also with you.’ ─ is the collective explicit acknowledgement of the Lord being present in the ‘here and now’, in the amidst those who have gathered. What we are about to do is to face the Lord who is willing to come into our midst. Regardless of differences in theological views over the real or symbolic (‘in the remembrance’) presence of Christ in the Holy Communion, all who have gathered for the Holy Communion participate in the union with the Lord.

It is for the Lord's presence that we must prepare ourselves. Our hearts may be burdened by many concerns, like ‘where to lunch after the service’. Even so, let us, for these brief moments, cast these thoughts aside momentarily, and lift up ours hearts to the Lord. Only when we lift our hearts to the Lord, we understand what is most important for us, the created, is to praise the almighty God, our creator, and hence, ‘it is right to give him thanks and praise.’

The Holy Communion is not only a sacrament of sharing in the body and blood of Christ; but also our another experience of the Lord's salvation. Let us lift up our hearts to the Lord, and prepare ourselves to meet Him.

Meditation:

  1. How do you prepare your hearts to meet the Lord in the Holy Communion?
  2. During the Holy Communion, have you experienced the Lord's presence? How do you experience it?

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(47) Washing Hands / Purification

As the congregation focuses on the bread and wine on the Holy Table after the preparation of the Holy Table during the Ministry of the Sacrament, regardless of whether the Celebrant incenses, we see the liturgical act of washing (Lavabo in Latin) of the Celebrant, with a server's assistance, washes his/her hands.

It is easy for us to mistake the act of Lavabo as something that only pertains to the Celebrant, while the rest of us are merely spectators. However, liturgical development had turned this act that once served a practical purpose into one that, rich in symbolism, focuses on its spiritual meaning and reminder. While washing his/her hands, the Celebrant silently prays, ‘Lord, wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.’ (Psalm 51:2)(NRSV). The prayer is to remind the Celebrant and all present the need to be fully prepared for what is to immediately follow: The Great Thanksgiving / The Eucharistic Prayer. According to liturgy in Ethiopia, the Celebrant would even fling the water on the washed hands at the congregation ─ a gesture meant to warn all that they must first purify themselves before entering the great thanksgiving ─ evoking another Psalm: ‘I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord.’ (Psalm 26:6)(NRSV).

Therefore, all participating the Sacrament do not merely watch the liturgical act of Lavabo, we are a very part of it, not spectators. We too have to be cleansed and purified before we respond to the Celebrant, ‘We lift them to the Lord.’, ‘It is right to give him thanks and praise.’

Meditation:

  1. When the Celebrant washes his/her hands, what are you focusing on? Knowing that washing of the hands pertains to all of us, how will you prepare yourself from now on when you see the washing?
  2. ‘Cleansed hands and purified heart" is more than just our preparation for the Holy Communion; it is our response to the merciful God. How do you plan to put this into practice in your daily living?

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(46) Preparation of The Holy Table

Two misunderstandings often prevail: that the Offertory is mainly about offering of money, and that the offertory hymn is nothing more than an intercession towards the Ministry of the Sacrament. Actually, it is not the fact. As beginning of the Ministry of the Sacrament, preparation of the Holy Table──offering of bread and wine──conveys the most significant symbolic meaning in the Offertory.

In the past, the offering of bread and wine was often presented by Servers, while the ciborium, chalice and paten are placed on the Table with corporal, purificator and pall are prepared on the Table in advance. With development of liturgy in recent years, we now invite representatives of the congregation to present the bread and wine, so that they may participate in this mystery of union with Christ. It is hence an important rite.

Furthermore, liturgical developments in recent years have put more emphasis on expressing focus of different service parts. Thus, the practice that holy vessels be placed in advance becomes less and less in recent year. The Gospel Book is placed on the Table during the Liturgy of the Word (The Gospel Book is placed back to the lectern after the gospel reading). The Table is set when the Ministry of the Sacrament starts to highlight the meaning of various parts in the service.

Meditation:

  1. During the Offertory, we all sing the Offertory Hymn and be reminded we are represented to present the bread and wine. What is the meaning to you when you have participated in the offering before the Holy Communion?
  2. Do you prefer the vessels to be prepared in advance, or be offered during the Offertory? Why?

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(45) The Offertory

‘Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and make good your vows to the Most High.’ (Psalm 50:14)

The above verse reminds us that, as we enter into the Ministry of the Sacrament, we are to offer all we have with a heart of thanksgiving. It has been a common illusion to see the Offertory as an offering of money. In fact, before the Ministry starts, we need to prepare a heart of thanksgiving, so that the produce of the earth and brewery by human hands may be presented to the Holy Table and may host the Lord’s presence, and through which we may unite with the Lord.

Be it bread, wine, money, talent, time, or any other gifts in life, all that we offer actually comes from God. The Offertory is a precious chance for us to reflect: how should we respond to the abundant grace that God has bestowed upon our lives?

As in the story of ‘feeding the Five thousand’ (Matthew 14:13-21), Jesus Christ feeds five thousand men by only five loaves and two fish with some left over. All that we have are limited, but as we offer them with a thankful heart, God will transform our finite offering into hosts of infinite grace of Christ and experience of infinite abundance. How, then, can we not offer our entire lives with a thankful heart?

Meditation:

  1. Are we offering with a thankful heart as we participate in the Offertory? In your experience, is there an episode where through giving, you received more than expected?
  2. Despite our limitations, what else can we give in addition to offering of money? Pray and try to devise a plan of commitment to the Lord.

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(44) The Peace

The Peace, marking beginning of the Ministry of the Sacrament (the Eucharist), is integral to our service. Liturgically, the sign of peace is our response to the teaching of Christ, a reminder for us to love our brothers and sisters (1 John 4:20), and be reconciled to them before offering our gift at the altar (Matthew 5:23-24). In addition, ‘Peace be with you’ is the mark of the presence of our risen Christ (John 20:19, 21, 26). As members of the Church, a community of the reconciled in Christ, our reconciliation with one another and our love for one another are testaments of our ‘In Christ’ status and state of being.

The Holy Communion is the moment of which the entire Eucharistic celebration leads to: the intimate union of the faithful with Christ. The Peace is the very symbol of the purposeful existence of the Church: to be testimonies of the grace of reconciliation, to be ‘in union’ in Christ through Holy Communion and be in communion with Him as one.

During the Peace, brothers and sisters greet one another in many different ways: by nodding, smiling, hand-shaking, hugging, eye-contact. How we greet one another is not important. What important is our being as ambassadors of Peace of Christ. This is not simply a casual greeting with one another. As followers of Christ, we are designated to bring the Peace of Christ into the world. The Peace leads us to receive Christ and become one in Him. It is also a reminder to everyone of us, faithfuls on earth, the responsibilities as ambassadors of Peace of the Lord.

Meditation:

  1. Have you ever let go of the hate and bitterness in heart and seek reconciliation before the Ministry of the Sacrament? Did you feel the Peace from Christ?
  2. The Peace reminds the Church and individual faithfuls the mission of reconciliation and being peacemakers on earth. How have you practiced the mission in your daily lives?

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(43) Intercession

Intercession plays a very special role in our Sunday services. On one hand, the faithful offer prayers to the Lord as response to the teachings received from the Holy Word; intercession ─ our collective focus and concentration on our concerns ─ concludes the part of Liturgy of the Word of the service. In addition, faithfuls offering prayers to the Lord serves as a prelude to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, begun with the offertory of bread and wine, celebrating the divine mystery of our Lord entering and transforming our lives. We offer ourselves to be transformed worshippers as our way of responding to our Lord.

In the early Church, intercession was part of The Eucharistic Prayer. In the Eucharistic Prayer D, an adaptation of the Anaphora of Father St Basil (the 4th Century), includes praying for the Church, the local community, the weather, the community of the faithful, saints who have departed, etc.. One of the roles a deacon plays in service is to represent all faithfuls present to offer prayers to the Lord. Today, we would also invite layman to lead intercession. Since it is not a personal prayer but collective intercession, its focus and content span should be broad to include response to the teachings of the day and response to the needs of the Church, the community and the world. As a community of the communion of saints, we pray for the faithful here and now as well as those who have departed.

The celebrant leads and concludes the congregation in our intercession ─ a display of our unity in our collective prayer. Most lay intercessor lead the congregation in prayers standing at the Lectern. Some liturgy scholars believe it is more appropriate for the intercessor stand in the midst of the congregation as s/he is representing those present. The intercessions of the congregation are responses upon receiving teachings of the Holy Word, offering of ourselves to the Lord as our collective response. Let us prepare ourselves to offer ourselves, respond to the Word and to commit ourselves to living with the Word.

Meditation:

  1. Intercessors do not need to follow the forms of intercession provided by the service orders. Try to choose from one of the Sunday readings and compose a prayer according to its messages as a devotional exercise.
  2. How do you feel about where (at the Lectern or in the midst of the congregation) the intercessor stand? Which one would you prefer and why?

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(42) Creeds

Since the Early Church, candidates for Holy Baptism have to profess, with the congregation as their witnesses, their faith to the Lord. When this was first practiced, the profession of faith was short and simple, like ‘Jesus is the Lord, the son of God...’ etc. These simple statements professing our faith eventually evolved and developed into what we are very familiar with today: the Apostles' Creed. The use of the Apostles' Creed for catechetical purposes expanded in its liturgical purposes, making public professions of faith an integral part of corporate worship. The purpose of composing the Creed stems from the need to fight heresies by providing a doctrinal statement of correct belief and orthodoxy of the Holy Catholic Church.

The profession of faith we use in corporate worship, the Nicene Creed (Nicaea-Constantinopolitan Creed), was originated from the First Council of Constantinople in 381, at which the Council revised and adopted what the First Council of Nicaea had composed in 325. The recitation of the Nicaea-Constantinopolitan Creed at the Eucharist, integrating the collective public confession of our faith into the liturgy, began at Antioch under Peter the Fuller in 471. Being widely popular and welcomed by the Church, it was quickly adopted. And today, we profess the same faith together by reciting the Creed together as well in the Liturgy of the Word.

Professing our faith together with other faithfuls in Sunday service is a most beautiful thing. On one hand, it is our collective genuine response to the Holy Word received ─ after the Lessons have been read and the truth made plain through the homily ─ and collective confession of our belief in Christ as The Truth. It is also a symbol testament to our fundamental faith: it is not an individual's preference. In the days of the test, we profess our faith together as other faithfuls did throughout the ages. Just as we unite ourselves in Christ through Holy Communion, we unite ourselves in Christ by professing our faith together.

Meditation:

  1. Reflect and meditate on the meaning of the Creed while we profess our faith and recite the Creed. Do we understand what we are professing?
  2. John Merbecke has composed score of the Creed for The Book of Common Prayer in black cover. Let us, in our singing, taste the richness in the Catholic faith that has spanned the ages.

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(41) Homily: Truth Made Plain

The gospel proclamation is central to the Liturgy of the Word, signifying that the Word became flesh, and that the Holy Word lives among and with us. What comes immediately after ─ the Homily ─ is also very important. It is what the Lord has entrusted the Church since her birth: Orthotomeó, ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV) throughout the ages, in different circumstances and in different cultures.

Orthotomeó (ὀρθοτομέω) is translated in Chinese Union Version of the Bible as 「分解」(meaning ‘dissect’), and the Lu Chen-Chung version uses「解析得得體」(meaning ‘disassemble’), as its Chinese translation. ὀρθοτομέω literally means to construct a straight path on treacherous terrain so as to let people directly pass through. Using this Biblical image to reflect on the meaning and purpose of the homily, I thought of Saint John the Baptist, who prepared the way of the Lord, making straight a highway for our God (Isaiah 40:3) and preparing humanity to receive Christ. It is true that those standing on the pulpit do not simply and freely proclaim their views or message according to their own understanding, at their whim; the central message is founded in the Sunday lessons ─ the Homily is the message that binds the scripture readings together and speaks to the faithful present, the community of faithfuls ‘in the here and now’. The pulpit is a mighty fortress centred on the Holy Word.

Both ‘dissect’ and ‘disassemble’ require the notion of breaking open. Contemporary Liturgical scholars attach importance to the consistency and coherency of the liturgy of the Word and that of the Holy Communion. In the Liturgy of the Sacrament, the celebrant breaks the consecrated bread ─ the bread of life in the ‘Breaking of the Bread’ ─ and shares the Body of Christ in ‘the Giving of Communion’. In the same way, the Homily is the ‘Breaking of the Word’, just as the hymn ‘Break Thou the Bread of Life’ (#251 in the Hymns of Universal Praise) puts it: ‘Break Thou the bread of life, Dear Lord, to me...Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord, To me, to me…’. May this hymn be a collective prayer for all who receive the truth revealed in the Living Word and the bread of life in Holy Communion.

Meditation:

  1. We have just read about what are required for those who deliver the Homily ─ what attitude they should have and areas they must pay attention to. What, then, are required for those listening to the Homily? How should we prepare ourselves to see the ‘truth made plain’?
  2. Have you considered the interconnected relationship of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament? And as you reflect on their interrelated elements, what do you see?

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(40) Proclamation of the Gospel

Proclamation of the Gospel is the high point in the Liturgy of the Word. As the procession walks into the congregation, we will sing the Gradual Hymn to receive the truth and grace of the Word of Jesus Christ into our midst.

The selected Gradual Hymn must not depart from the theme of the Gospel reading. The hymn should prepare the congregation to receive the message in the Gospel. The Gospeller in the procession would raise the Book of Gospels above his head to symbolize the presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Word. The proclamation of the Gospel reveals that the Lord is incarnated among the faithful through the Holy Word. If we listen and take to heart the Holy Word as well as put the Lord’s teachings into practice, the Lord shall be with us.

Before the Gospeller proclaims the Holy Word, he would go before the Presider. The Presider would sign him (instead of the Book of Gospels) with the sign of the Cross and bless him with the following litany:

‘May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips that you may proclaim his Gospel worthily and well, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ When the Gospel is proclaimed, the Gospeller would kiss the Book of Gospels and pray calmly ‘Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.’ The litany above is not only applicable for the Gospeller who proclaims the Gospel, but for all faithful who receives the Holy Word in their own prayers, so that they may all proclaim the Gospel.

If the Presider proclaims, the Gospel would also be proclaimed through Holy Father, Holy Son and Holy Spirit to let the congregation listen the Holy Word with the glory to the Lord and praise to the Christ.

Meditation:

  1. Have you been listening to the declaration of the Gospel with a pious heart, and allowed the Holy Word of Jesus Christ to influence your deeds? How should we receive the Holy Word so that it may help us put the teachings of the Lord into practice?
  2. Read the litany silently with the Gospeller as he prepares to proclaim the Gospel, allowing us to become the Lord’s proclaimer of the Gospel on Earth.

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(39) The Psalm and Silent Contemplation

The Scripture readings ─ from the Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels ─ designated in the Lectionary for Sundays are interconnected, from which we can find the message for any given Sunday service. Should faithfuls listen attentively to God's Holy Word, they would receive His message even before the Sermon. The selected Psalm and the silence kept between readings are designed to help us focus on listening to the Word of God.

The psalm is chosen to respond to the first reading (lesson). Some churches have the psalm sung by their choir. Some use Responsorial psalm requiring the congregation to sing the refrain after each stanza. And, some have the verses of psalm read by the reader and the people alternatively. St Augustine of Hippo have said, ‘He who sings prays twice.’ It is because singing the words transcends praying merely in our mind. It allows people to be fully immersed in the words and for the words to transcend the realm of human reason (the mind) by striking a chord with our whole being. When we can respond to the Word of the Lord with the psalm reverberated from every part of our being, this helps ourselves to be more open to receiving His Word.

In addition, there is silence kept between readings designed for quiet meditation and contemplation. We do not encourage reading Lessons without intermission. The brief silence provides room for faithfuls to think over and digest His Words, and so to bring our single focus on Him, to avail ourselves to be expectant on receiving His message on Sundays.

Meditation:

  1. The Psalms has been a spiritual treasure trove for faithfuls throughout the ages. Have you fully utilized the Psalms as an opportunity to advance your encounters with the Lord, and to develop a deeper spiritual relationship with Him?
  2. During the Liturgy of the Word, have you focused on listening, enjoying the silent moments of contemplation, and receiving the Lord's message from His Word?

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(38) Liturgy of the Word

We have spent the last few weeks exploring the meaning of the first part of our service order ─ ‘The Gathering’. We now begin our journey into the second part: ‘Liturgy of the Word’. When the faithfuls have fully prepared themselves to focus solely on worshipping the Lord together, the Lord's revelation will be revealed to them through His Word, enlightening their lives.

Since Early Church, the proclamation of the Word ─ readings from the Old Testament and Epistles ─ has been part of the preparation of Holy Eucharist, and is a tradition that continues to this day. The two core rites of the Service ─ Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist ─ have been part of Church tradition. The rich symbolisms of the rites are reflected in the physical installation within church buildings: Lectern for the proclamation of the Word and the Holy Table for the Eucharist. The fact that these two integral elements of Holy Eucharist, developed before other liturgies, speaks to their importance in the liturgical life of faithfuls throughout the ages.

Crucial to the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ of course is the Lectionary ─ a table of psalms and readings from Holy Bible authorized for use in public worship. The Sunday readings are not chosen according to the Celebrant's personal preference. Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui has standardized to use Revised Common Lectionary since Advent 2013. It allows all faithfuls to hear same scriptures as many members of the Anglican Communion and other mainstream denominations, signifying the universality and catholicity of the Lord's True Word, and that Christ is the one and only one Son of God ─ the only incarnate Word.

Meditation:

  1. On Sundays, do you prefer listening to the Word or reading the scriptures? What are the differences in terms of taking in ─ absorbing ─ the Holy Word?
  2. The Sunday readings are not free to be chosen. The three scriptures are interrelated, sharing a central theme. Try to find the theme from the scriptures chosen for this Sunday.

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(37) The Collect

We have arrived at the end of the Gathering section of the Holy Communion: after the congregation has praised God by singing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”, we pray together with the “Collect” assigned for that Sunday. Collect is also known as “collecta” in the Roman (Catholic) Missal. I believe this is the most befitting translation as it comes from the Latin word—Collēcta—meaning the gathering of the people together (origin: colligō, meaning “to gather”); this reminds all who are gathered at the service that we have indeed gathered to pray together to God. In addition, the Collect of the day echoes the three scripture readings of the day, summarising the lessons and, hence, providing the guiding themes of the teaching (homily) of the day.

The Collects that are still widely used today have their origin in the Roman Church of the 5th century; they were translated by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, and most of them were incorporated into the Book of Common Prayer in the 16th century.

There are five parts to the very specific structure of each collect:

  1. Invocation or address: addressing God the Father in prayer, and on occasions that call for defending of the divinity of Jesus Christ, God the Son is addressed.
  2. Acknowledgement: description of a divine attribute that relates to the third part, the petition.
  3. Petition: petition made known to God in the name of the entire Church.
  4. Aspiration: description and indication of the purpose of the petition.
  5. Pleading: prayer concludes with the explicit indication of God the Son, Jesus Christ, as mediator, bringing our prayer to God the Father.

Each collect not only prepares our hearts and minds to pray together, the content of each collect also serves as ideal devotional material to help us know our Lord better, and learn to pray.

Meditation:

  1. Try to select your favourite collect and use it as a source for your spiritual reflection: reflect on how it inspires your spiritual life.
  2. Try identifying the five-part structure of the collect, and learn to incorporate that structure in your private prayer.

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(36) Gloria in Excelsis Deo

The Latin hymn, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, has been used in morning prayer since the 5th century, and sung only in the beginning of Holy Eucharist on solemnities and feasts (particularly during Christmastide). For a period of time, its use was treated with great importance for the Western Church: only when bishops were celebrating Holy Eucharist could it be used. For today's Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, we celebrate the Easter Vigil, in accordance with ancient tradition: accompanied by the ringing of the bells, and the clapping of our hands, we sing the praise of the risen Christ! Since the 11th century, Gloria has been sung at the beginning of Holy Eucharist, with the exception of Advent and Lent. In the 1662 edition of The Book of Common Prayer and The Book of Common Prayer used in Hong Kong with black cover, the hymn was moved to the end of the service, as praise to God in the highest from recipients of the Holy Communion. In step with modern liturgical development, Gloria has moved back to the beginning of Holy Eucharist, to allow those gathered to begin worship focused in praising God in their hearts and minds.

Gloria can be divided into three sections. The hymn begins with the words inspired by the angels' song of announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds in Luke 2:14. The second part of the hymn is our praise to God the Father ─ Lord God, Heavenly King, almighty Father. The third part of the hymn is focused on Christ, especially on our praise and thanks to Him for being our intercessor ─ removing of our sins ─ and for His eternal intercession for us in heaven. This echoes St John the Baptist's Lamb of God metaphor of John 1:29, connecting the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, connecting Jesus with the paschal lamb. This hymn is both praise and prayer ─ our plea with Christ to have mercy on us, hear our prayers ─ a declaration of our faith in our belief in Jesus Christ as Holy, our Lord and Highest with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father.

Hence, Gloria is like the prelude for every Sunday worship: it points out the focus of worship, reminds us of why we come together, and for whom we have become a community of worshippers. When we recognize who is Our Lord, we are empowered with living our life as living sacrifices, and offering our Lord our ‘highest’ praise.

Meditation:

  1. St Augustine of Hippo once said, ‘He who sings prays twice.’ because it is a prayer that transcends the mind; singing hymns requires our emotional involvement. When you sing Gloria, what emotions do you experience?
  2. Contemplate on the story of the angels announcing good news to the shepherds in the second chapter of the Gospel according to St Luke and St John the Baptist recounting the story of Jesus to disciples recorded in the first chapter of the Gospel according to St John and meditate on Gloria.

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(35) From Confession to Absolution ─ a Spiritual Journey

In preparing our hearts and minds for worship, and in preparing ourselves for entering into the communion with the Lord in Holy Communion, confession and absolution are crucial. At the beginning of the worship, the faithful plead for the Lord to cleanse our thoughts and hearts, we then, in a period of silent prayer, reflect inwardly and confess our sins. We then approach the Lord's throne of grace to confess and repent and to plead for forgiveness. And together, we participate joyfully in the absolution of sins, saved again by our resurrected Saviour ─ reinstated to enjoy the feast our Lord has prepared for us.

In Anglican tradition, corporate confession, instead of private or auricular confession, is part of our corporate worship. The focus of confession is not to list all of our sinful thoughts and desires or all the wrongs that we have committed, as we are incapable of knowing all our sins and hence, unable to confess all our sins. What is most important in our confession is our admitting to and acknowledging ourselves as sinners and our need for God's forgiveness. Our corporate confession is immediately followed by the declaration of absolution by the priest, signifying that God immediately forgives repentant sinners.

Confession and the Holy Eucharist are inseparable; St. Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 11:28: ‘Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.’ This is a reminder to all faithfuls of the need for self-examination, to come to the throne of grace with cleansed and repentant hearts before receiving Holy Communion. Confession is most suitable for self-examination and preparation. So that we, forgiven sinners, may have peace, in Christ, and receive the grace of being in communion with the Lord.

Meditation:

  1. Reflect on the content of ‘The Confession’. What do you see the difference between private or auricular confessions and corporate confession is?
  2. Before each confession, do cherish the quiet moment that is part of the liturgy by expressing to the Lord your sincere remorse, and strengthen your determination to repent, and ask the Lord for help. You will find that the liturgy of confession and absolution is a spiritual journey of passing from death to life.

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(34) Meditate on ‘The Collect for Purity’

After the Celebrant greets the congregation with the Peace, the priest leads all in prayer with ‘The Collect for Purity’, a prayer of preparation for right attitude, for the priest and the people before participating in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It has appeared as early as the 11th century in England in the Leofric Missal as part of the preparation prayers of priests before Mass. It was carried forward into the English Reformation with Thomas Cranmer's translation of this Latin prayer into English and adaptation of it in the Book of Common Prayer in the beginning of the Holy Communion, to allow all participants to pray for the cleansing of our thoughts and hearts as our preparation before embarking on our worshipful journey together.

This collect appears also as the introduction to the 14th century precious spiritual guide, The Cloud of Unknowing, on contemplative prayer. The collect obviously bears significance in spirituality -- whether it inaugurates our journeys of spiritual exploration or journeys of our life of worship. Let us now meditate and contemplate on this prayer:

‘ALMIGHTY God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid:’
When we go to church, enter His temple, every Sunday, we go with all our sinfulness and corruptions laid bare in front of our Almighty God who sees each one of us as we really are despite of our self-deceiving ways to see ourselves as good. Just as Adam and Eve, ever since humanity's fall from grace, we can only stand stark naked in front of God, unable to hide the humiliation and guilt of our sins.

‘cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,’
People cannot wipe away the humiliation brought on by sin. It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that we can face the Lord, asking for the Holy Spirit to reveal His greatness in our lives, and cleanse our hearts of all thoughts and desires that turn us away from God.

‘that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your Holy Name;’
This is truly the heart of the prayer: it is only through experiencing the cleansing of the Holy Spirit can faithfuls begin to understand what it means to be cleansed from sin, and comprehend the grace of being given a pure and clean heart that better completes us, so we may love, serve and worship God more perfectly and constantly.

Meditation:

  1. Today, The Collect for Purity’ is still the usual prayer of preparation in Book of Common Prayer in the world. Let's make it a point to savour the spiritual meanings of the prayer when we recite this prayer on Sunday.
  2. Read and study the following Scriptures this week and think deeply about how they relate to ‘The Collect for Purity’: Hebrews 4:1-13; Luke 10:26-28; John 4:19-24.

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(33) Greetings in the Name of the Lord

The liturgy of the Holy Eucharist begins with ‘The Gathering’, in which every faithful responds to the Lord's call to gather, pray and offer our praise, reflect silently on our wrong doings, prepare our hearts, listen to the expositions of the Word of God.

The Lord calls us to gather corporately ─ to worship Him. We are not only a community of the baptized ─ in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). We begin the service with the praises of the Triune God.

The celebrant greets the congregation in the name of the Lord first before reverting to more personal language of greetings. This suggested liturgy carries a deep meaning. As we prepare ourselves personally for the service, we acknowledge the reason we have gathered together. We are not here to meet with a friend, nor are we present to listen to a sermon to see how the preaching can be made references to or reminders for us.

We come together to worship because we are part of the community of disciples who have been baptized to belong to Christ. We come for obeying the Lord's command. Every thing else is secondary. As the service begins, have we realigned our focus, are we clear on why we have come, and do we understand for what we shall participate in the service? Let us recognize these clearly so we can properly prepare ourselves for a lifetime of our worshipful life.

Meditation:

  1. There are many greetings within the liturgy that comes from the Holy Scriptures. For this week, please study closely the following passages: 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Ruth 2:4; 2 Timothy 1:2; 2 John 3.
  2. What does this reminder, ‘to be equipped for life in the name of the Lord’, mean to you personally?

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(32) Why we do ‘gather’?

Worship services begin with ‘the gathering’. Why do we disciples come together on the day of the Lord?

We come together in the Lord’s house to accept God’s calling, celebrate and commemorate the Lord and His glorious works. The Lord created the world, and He loves us through and through, sent His only begotten Son Jesus to be in our midst, to live with us in the flesh. For our sins, He was crucified, He suffered and resurrected for our sake — so that our sins can be forgiven, and so that we can have eternal life.

We come to church also so that we can celebrate and commemorate our own stories — stories that are filled with our every hopes, fears, joys and sorrows. Every life is precious in the eyes of God, and He knows our story and allows the arc of the story of His glorious works to intertwine with ours so we can take part in His Story.

In the Eucharist, Jesus, by sharing His Body and Blood, invites us to share His life in ours, so that we may be born into new life with Him — to have life of purpose, glory and hope.

Meditation:

  1. Every Sunday we are called to gather together to worship the Lord. Which arc of God's great story means most to you?
  2. Which part of your life requires God’s participation most so that you can share Christ’s life, and allow God to rewrite your story?

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(31) Structure of our Holy Communion

At first glance, our Holy Communion seems very complicated. For newcomers joining us, they often complain about all the "books" our services require ─ in addition to the service book, there are also the Bible and the hymnal to flip through. Moreover, there are many options ─ different types of intercessions and the four Eucharistic prayers to choose from, for example ─ and on top of all of the above, there are the changes of that come with our liturgical seasons. Naturally, this makes newcomers feel at a loss. How, then, do we encourage them to feel at home and be active participants in all the fullness and richness of liturgical living which enhances their spiritual journey in praise and worship?

However many orders of service, or however much change is brought on by the change of liturgical seasons, our liturgy of the Holy Communion, amidst all the different formats, options and changes, does not depart from the simple and solid structure. Cultivating a better understanding of this structure allows us to benefit from a fuller spiritual experience in a more engaged liturgical life as it will help us help others in their journeys.

There are four parts to the Holy Communion: the Gathering, the Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Sacrament and the Dismissal. The order of service provides participants a structured programme, allowing worshippers to corporately come together, listen to the proclamation of the Holy Word and to share as communicants as one in communion with Christ, so that we can bring the light of the service into our daily lives as witnesses, sharing with others the life Christ has given us.

Meditation:

  1. Study closely the service order. Do you understand what you have been doing during the service?
  2. How should we prepare for each of the four parts of the service? What attitudes should accompany our participation in them?

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(30) Why do you participate in Sunday worship?

In this season of Pentecost, let us examine how moments of our "worship" life impact our spiritual life. The first question to ask is: "Why do you participate in Sunday worship?" Whatever the reason is, remember this: Sunday service is a blessing for us, God's children!

The Lord's Day (Sunday) is a special day set aside for brothers and sisters sharing a common faith to gather together to encounter our Lord Jesus Christ. Christians, past and present, congregate on the Lord's Day because every "Sunday is a little Easter Day", commemorating and celebrating Christ's passion, death and resurrection, and to take part in the Holy Communion, sharing Christ's ultimate sacrifice for our redemption. With the exception of Seventh-day Adventists, Christians across denominations have given up the Jewish tradition practice of Sabbath observance and communal worship on the day God rested from His six days of creation; and in its place, Christians order their lives by the Lord’s Day, God's new creation ─ the "Eighth Day" ─ as the Holy day set aside for the worship of the resurrected Christ.

On the Lord's Day, we give our every thing in the past week ─ our experiences and encounters, our delights, anger, sorrow and joy ─ to the glorified and resurrected Christ.

On the Lord's Day, we learn to give thanks -- to give thanks in corporate worship, to our Lord for everything He has done for us.

On the Lord's Day, we learn to pray -- to pray for the Lord's mercies and peace to be given unto us in our daily lives.

On the Lord's Day, we, in His love, acknowledge our weaknesses and learn to repent; we acknowledge our mission, go from strength to strength in God's grace, be ready at the Lord's disposal, refresh ourselves, do what all faithfuls have been tasked to do, and to live out our faith in daily lives.

Therefore, the Lord's Day is a day Christians especially look forward to: participation in the service is our blessing and the way of life for God's people! Lord, we ask for Your guidance as we reflect on how we have spent our every Sunday.

Meditation:

  1. Do you attend Sunday service every Sunday? Why?
  2. Which part of the service do you find yourself most engaged? Why?

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(29) Trinity Sunday: Faithful Learning and Practice

Although Trinity Sunday, which immediately follows Pentecost/Whitsunday in our Liturgical calendar, the feast did not become customary until a much later time in Church history. We can, however, trace its roots back to the 4th century, to the Church's response to the Arian heresy. Setting aside and marking a Sunday honouring the Holy Trinity officially cements the Trinitarian doctrine as an integral part of our faith. The observance of the Feast eventually spread throughout the Western Christian Christendom, and the recitation of the Trinitarian doctrine-centric Athanasian Creed is included in Sunday worship. For the Anglican Church, Thomas Beckett was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on the Sunday after Pentecost in 1162 and his first act was to ordain that the day of his consecration be held as a new festival in honour of the Holy Trinity. We have since celebrated this as a Principal Feast.

For the first half of our Liturgical calendar, we celebrate God the Son is begotten of God the Father, Christ ─ word becoming flesh, who suffered for our salvation, died, resurrected and ascended into heaven, and the proceeding descending of the Holy Spirit ─ the Triune God revealed to us; that the latter half of the year is commenced by Trinity Sunday bears special meaning and thus serves as a good reminder for all faithful do to, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, grow strong and tall in our faith, and in our daily living, to be students of Logos (Word of God) ─ putting our faith into practice.

How do we become students of Logos and practitioners of our faith? How do we incorporate Christian doctrine in our daily living? Let us, in this season of Pentecost that spans to cover almost a period of six months, make it a part of our daily devotionals to reflect and meditate on how to put words into action, put one foot in front of the other as we live out our faith ─ just as young shoots grow sturdily and strong ─ and let our lives be the living testament of our Triune God.

Meditation:

  1. Read aloud the Athanasian Creed in the Book of Common Prayer and contemplate on the Eastern Orthodox Holy Trinity icon. Reflect on your relationship with the Holy Trinity.
  2. Make a plan for personal development in Biblical or Theological studies and in putting your faith in practice for this season of Pentecost.

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(28) The Day of Pentecost/Whitsunday: Let the Church be the first fruit to be presented as offering to the Lord

The feast of the Day of Pentecost has its roots in the Jewish day of Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), also called Pentecost, which occurs 50 days after Passover and celebrates the Lord's giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai after the Exodus. According to the Jewish calendar, the Passover is celebrated annually after dusk of the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan. And for the seven weeks after that, it is the festival of weeks (time for harvest and reaping), and on the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days, the offering of new harvest to the Lord. As it is the day marked toward the end of the harvest season, the Jews joyously celebrates their harvest, and the high priest will present an offering of new grain set aside as first fruits to the Lord. (Leviticus 23:16-21)

As described in Chapter 2 in the Book of Acts, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus occurred on Pentecost, also the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Christ. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they were given the ability to speak different languages, to spread the Gospel to people all over the world. Therefore, the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost officially marks the birth of the Church. The birthday of the Church signifies the beginning of a Christ-centred world into human history.

This day marks the conclusion of Eastertide. The usual practice is for the celebrant or an acolyte to extinguish the sacred fire of Paschal candle at the end of the last service of the day, symbolizing the Light of Christ, through the arrival of the Holy Spirit, has entered the lives of every faithful, and through us, the Light of Christ shines on.

Meditation:

  1. The Church is the first fruit in the world. How are we to present ourselves as an offering to the Lord?
  2. Reflect on your own spiritual journey: how has the Holy Spirit filled you? How have you responded in using the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you in serving the Lord's mission? If you have yet the answers to these questions, pray for the Lord to grant you listening and discerning ears, pray fervently as you wait for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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(27) Christ's Ascension: Our Waiting in Expectation

The earliest mention of the observance of the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ can be found in Church records dating in the 4th century. Ascension Day falls on Thursday, the fortieth day after Easter, and commemorates Jesus' parting with His disciples in His ascension ─return─ to God the Father in heaven. And it is on this day that the disciples are sent forth to witness Christ to the ends of the earth.

Ascensiontide, the period of ten days beginning with Ascension Day, is a time for us to focus on waiting on the descent and arrival of the Holy Spirit. The Sunday after Ascension Day is traditionally called Expectation Sunday, emphasizing the faithfuls' expectant waiting for both the arrival of our Advocate, the Holy Spirit and the return of Christ our Lord.

Ascension Day also marks a watershed in Christ's ministry. Before this date, Christ ─ the Word ─ incarnate on earth for His ministry. After this date, God sent the Holy Spirit to continue the work of Christ on earth. In the liturgical life of the Church, Eastertide is a time of great joy ─ a time for us to share that joy with others and a time for us to care for those in need. The Church calendar set aside for us forty days of Lent for introspection, the first forty days of Eastertide to know Christ our Lord, and as for the ten days of Ascensiontide, a period of preparation for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. We are to receive the Holy Spirit and His protection, so our lives can be lived in congruence with our Faith.

Let us celebrate Christ's glorious ascension to His heavenly throne at the Ascension Day service. And let us prepare also ourselves in receiving the Holy Spirit, that in His Power, we experience and radiate joy and in Him, we work tirelessly in spreading the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Meditation:

  1. As we wait for the Holy Spirit to arrive, let us prepare for letting our Faith be firmly settled in our hearts, and recall the image of Christ etched in our hearts, and reflect on ways we can serve Him in our lives.
  2. As a member of the Community of Resurrection, in what ways are we waiting expectantly, in what ways are we looking forward to living out our Faith in our daily lives?

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(26) The Church is the body of the Resurrected Christ on Earth

As the Christ-established Community of Resurrection, how are we to effectively witness the life of the resurrected Christ in the Church, so that people of the world may see Christ in us, and in turn, perpetuate the continuum of the Christological presence on earth? Just as Saint Teresa of Ávila had reminded us: the Church must be, in the here and now, the eyes with which Christ looks compassion on this world, the feet with which He walks to do good, the hands with which He blesses the world ─ the Church must be the living proof of a loving God, of the resurrected Christ on earth. If the Church want to renew itself ("begin again", as Saint Teresa would put it), we must constantly return to the head of the Church ─ Christ Jesus ─ and let Jesus lead us on the path of Light. Therefore, we must ask ourselves a very fundamental question: What would Jesus do?

In the Gospels, we see Jesus hard at work in spreading the Kingdom's good news. In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus prayed for God's kingdom to come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). The Kingdom of God in heaven can indeed coexist on earth. When love, righteousness, peace, joy, generosity, faithfulness and hope are manifested in human societies, the Church will attract people to return to God because they are mankind's lifelong pursuit. Jesus did not only use words to preach the Gospel. He devoted more time in being present with those in need, in healing and in exercising evil spirits, in being attentive to others' needs, and using His life to touch others' lives ─ it is through living that the Kingdom of God is revealed.

Saint Paul continued this very spirit, as we see from his Epistles and the Book of Acts. The early Church has lived up to the name of being a community of resurrection and thus can hold themselves to higher standards and models of life than mere those of everyday-man. At a time when women are relegated, they took on vital roles in the Church. When slavery had yet to be abolished, the relationship between serf and master had transcended to a level beyond this world: that of abiding in the Lord. It was a time of a thriving Church with the spread of the Gospel reached wide and far as the Kingdom of God had taken root in the hearts of the faithful.

Let the Church be made anew ─ to begin again, in Christ. Should the Church make witnessing the life of the resurrected Christ her core, the Church's impact will naturally radiate from within, gravitating people from without to return to Christ, and to advance the Kingdom of God here on earth, and be in communion with God.

Meditation:

  1. As the body of Christ, how can we live out and witness the life of Christ? How can we be His eyes? His hands and feet?
  2. How can we advance the Kingdom of God, from within to without?

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(25) Developing Six Habits for Eastertide (III)

The Daily Habit of Studying Scripture and Listening to the Holy Word

Let's begin with an exercise in flexing your imagination muscles: you are tasked to be in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a hectic airport arrival hall, to come face to face with the one person you've longed to meet. The challenge is to pick a face you're not confident you can recognize out the crowd. What will you do? I would search far and wide for photographs of his different public appearances. I would take in images of him in formal attire and casual wear, of him wearing a beard and of sporting short hair, and those capturing his expressions when he was packing a bit of extra weight or when he was hollow-cheeked. I would let all these images sink in, into the depths of my memory so that no matter how much appearances may change, I would recognize him.

Studying Scripture is exactly this type of exercise and discipline. The Bible is filled with the many different images God takes on in His encounters with people. But we, blind by our selfish desires and deaf by our unwillingness to listen to the Holy Word, often fail to recognize our Lord, who has always been by our side. It is through familiarizing ourselves with Scripture, nurturing the habit of listening to the Holy Word that we can, in the sea of changing and moving faces, we can still recognize our Lord and His will, and hence, respond to His calls.

The Habit of Reconciling Broken Relationships

We were called to repent and return (turn back) to God, to reconcile with the Lord. We can, when we are in Christ, be made new, because our Lord gives us constant and ready opportunities to mend broken relationships. As followers of Christ, are we willing to give ourselves and others a chance, are we willing to take the first step in reconciling with others?

We know that it takes two to break a relationship, but are we willing to take that first step forward: to step out of self-righteousness into self-examination, away from brewing hatred into extending goodwill, and to take this broken relationship into our private prayers? Let the seeds of reconciliation take root in our lives so that we may be instruments of God's peace in this conflict-ridden world full of hatred, injury, doubt, despair, darkness and sadness.

Meditation:

  1. The habit of daily Bible reading not simply builds our "knowledge", but more importantly, helps us see our resurrected Lord in our daily lives. Please share your encounters with God through your Bible reading and in your lives.
  2. Please remember someone whom you have not yet reconciled with in your private prayers by uttering his/her name and in asking Lord to guide you in taking the first step in reconciling with him/her.

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(24) Developing Six Habits for Eastertide (II)

The Daily Habit of Practicing Self-Control

Continue the Lenten discipline of self-restraint, of which the lessons of self-denial, restraint and control are ones that arm us with the powers to unshackle ourselves from being pitiful slaves of worldly desires. The discipline of fasting does not simply teaches us not to be driven by our desires or be reduced to be passive actors of sheer carnal instincts. Self-denial trains our willpower, and that training allows us to be strong for and anchored in the Truth -- no longer drifters because of the weakness of our minds and hearts.

If you cannot give up just one meal, how would you even come to understand "hunger" means or feels? And how would you sacrifice yourself for God? We must cultivate hearts that hunger and thirst for righteousness. We must be willing to hunger and thirst for justice, for peace and for the resurrection of Christ in our own lives.

Christ lived His life on Earth this way. Let us cultivate our God-craving heart through self-control and self-denial.

The Daily Habit of Living a Life Abundant in Offering and Sharing

"I don't have enough possessions to share with others." -- if this is what you think, then you lead a life that will never be "enough" and have not been a cheerful giver who shares with neighbours. Offering is a practice that prepares for us by allowing us to try to connect what we believe to be ours with our prayerful life, so that every part of "I" can be connected with God's desires and our neighbours' needs.

And therefore, we will, through of habit of making daily offerings, begin to comprehend that we are not our own masters, that we are stewards of the manifold grace of God, that what God supplies us with are God's entrusted gifts to us to care for others' needs and that we are to serve one another with and in sharing with one another what we have received.

Meditation:

  1. Eastertide is a season of abundant joy. Do you feel that practicing self-restraint conflicts with the joy of the season? How would the adage -- "Happiness lies in Contentment" -- help us find true happiness in self-restraint?
  2. Are you happy with your life of offering? Why?
  3. How does your life of offering reflect your spiritual condition?

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(23) Developing Six Habits for Eastertide (I)

Our lives are full of decision. It may seem like we enjoy the freedom to choose in these decisions. In reality, unbeknownst to us, we have developed and nurtured habits -- good or bad -- that directly affect our every decision. Eastertide is our season of hope, presenting us with opportunities of renewal, so we can recommit to responding to God's callings, nurturing us in developing habits that are good and virtuous.

Below are two out of the six habits the Church hopes all faithful to nurture during Eastertide:

The Daily Habit of Self-examination

Consider how we have fared from two perspectives :

  1. What do we find in our hearts that should not be there? Is it jealousy? Anger? Greed? Bitterness? Comparison and competition? We are deeply aware that we cannot overcome sin and evil on our own. We turn to our Lord to rid us of all that does not belong.
  2. What virtues have we long neglected? Through sustained long-term self-examination, we may gradually find a different "me", and realise that God has a different calling for us. Let us nurture the habit of daily self-examination.

The Daily Habit of Being Connected with God through Prayer

Without minding which method or form of praying -- whether it is through beautifully composed prayers, or unstructured utterances to God; whether they are spoken, or silent prayers from our hearts -- pray to God! This reminds us of the connection our lives have with the Lord, teaches us why and how we persist in life, and fixes our focus firmly in God's will.

Meditation:

  1. What is buried deeply inside your heart that does not belong there?
  2. What virtues have you long neglected?
  3. Say a prayer you deeply love with a prayerful heart. Allow the prayer to be YOUR personal prayer to God.

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(22) From Easter to Ascension

It would seem that with just a brink of an eye, Easter has come to pass, but the choruses of Alleluias and Glorias sang on Easter Sunday are still heralding in our minds. How much of the forty days of your Lenten spiritual journey can you recall? Those days have catapulted many a spurt in spiritual growth.

Other than the forty days of Lent, there is another "forty days": The Great Forty Days, spanning from Jesus' Resurrection to His Ascension.

During the Lenten forty, Christians follow Jesus, through prayer, meditation, fasting, self-denial, almsgiving and other practices, heading to the crucifix on Mount Calvary with Him, and culminating to its end in the glorious Resurrection; and during the forty days from Resurrection to Ascension, the lives the faithful lead certainly go beyond the Lenten fast characterised by assiduousness and simple-living. These forty days are spent living with and following the resurrected Christ. The Great Forty Days are monumental moments.

It is recorded, in the first chapter of Acts that Jesus “presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” The Great Forty Days is time Christians spend living with the resurrected Christ. These forty days are the precious time we get to spend walking the paths of God's Kingdom.

To walk daily with the Lord requires a preparedness of our body, heart and spirit -- a keen alertness to listen to the Lord's voice, a primed readiness to receive God's call and to live the life of the Resurrected Christ with the spiritual wisdom that comes from spiritual fitness.

Many faithful attach importance to The Great Fifty Days -- the period between Easter and Pentecost -- but let us not forget or neglect the Holy and fundamental festival of our Lord's Ascension. Without His Ascension, the salvation for human beings would not be complete, making the blessings of being atoned, redeemed and sanctified impossible.

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Meditation:

  1. Should you be given the chance to be 1st Century disciples, to be given the chance to live the days of the Resurrected Christ, with Christ, until His Ascension, what would you do with Him in those forty days?
  2. We spent Easter Sunday basked in supreme joy and enveloped in the jubilant laughter -- in this joyful, brightful day filled to the rim with grace. Can we carry this forward to all the days in the entire season of Eastertide (lasting until Pentecost, which falls on June 4 this year)? Why?
  3. It is Jesus' glorious Ascension that marks the culmination and completion of of God's plan of our redemption. As sinners, you and I alike, have we considered what our lives would become without the Ascension?

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(21) Reflecting on The Paschal Triduum

Since the beginning of the Church, congregations have gathered, as the sun sets on Holy Saturday, to celebrate the Mass of the Lord's Supper, initiating the celebration of the summit and the very heart of our liturgical year: The Paschal Triduum. Every generation of followers, have journeyed with the Lord Jesus on the most sacred three-day journey of death and resurrection.

On Holy Thursday, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and gave us a new commandment: to love one another as He had loved them; He then instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, giving us the meal of the Eucharist, commanding us to continue to share it, in remembrance of Him. The washing of each other's feet is putting His commandment into action. It requires sacrificing for one another, the total giving of ourselves to others, and the willingness to be servants for the cleansing of others -- all of which the Lord demonstrated in the Eucharist: His ultimate sacrifice and total giving of Himself in serving others -- He gives Himself to the world, offers Himself to God the Father, breaks Himself, to be our redemption; for the forgiveness of all our sins, He laid down His life so that we may be saved and live.

On Good Friday, we not only commemorate the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ -- the profound suffering of His way to the Cross on our behalf. As is written in the Gospel according to St John the Evangelist, when the Son of Man is lifted up, the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. The cross of sorrows is also a wondrous and glorious cross. In the Good Friday liturgical focus of the veneration of the crucifix, we lift up the crucifix, giving glory to our Lord who suffered; we move to touch the crucifix, to kiss it and to pray as our response of thankfulness.

As the sun rises on Holy Saturday, we are encouraged to take part in the Paschal Fast -- to meditate and pray -- in preparation for the Easter Vigil at dusk. The Easter Vigil, the summit of the entire liturgical year, is considered the "Mother of All Vigils" by Saint Augustine (Sermon 209). On the holy night when the Lord rose again, the Church keeps watch, awaits the Resurrection of Christ -- His passing from death to life -- and rises with Him to newness of life. Therefore, it is the festival of the Light, that in the midst of the darkness of death and hopelessness the light of hope and resurrection -- the Christ-candle -- is lit, to burn, to spread in overcoming all corners of darkness and to drive away, as its flames engulf our hearts, all the darkness from within us. Not only does the marvellous and holy flame take us into the great Light, it joins us as we share and bask in the glorious Light, ablaze in the profound mystery of God's love for us.

Meditation:

  1. During Eastertide, how will you put the mandatum -- Christ's new commandment for us to love one another -- into action, to demonstrate the foot-washing into Christian Life?
  2. With our gaze firmly placed on the cross, mediate on how Christ had carried our lives' burdens on His back, and reflect on we may share the burden and suffering of your family.
  3. Are we living in the midst of darkness still or are we winning to let the Light into our lives and to share with others the light of the Easter candle, the light of the resurrected Christ? Let us pray to our Lord, and invite His Light into our hearts, chasing away all our darkness.

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(20) The Lord's Passion and Our Compassionate Pursuits

Palm Sunday, the feast day the Church has also called ‘Passion Sunday’, commemorates not only our Lord Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem but also reminds us that the ultimate destination of Lord Jesus is the cross at Golgotha through the Gospel lesson (Matthew 27:11-54). Along the journey, Jesus faced questions of Pilate; shouting from the crowd in front of the governor's headquarters, ‘Let him be crucified!’; flogging and mocking of the soldiers, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’; heavy cross loaded on his shoulder; mocking of chief priests, scribes and elders, ‘He saved others, he cannot save himself’; and the charge against Him ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’. Facing all these, He gave no words but endured quietly.

We are naturally disposed to escape from suffering and pursue comfort. Canto-Alternative-Pop band "Tat Ming Pair" has these lyrics -- "sell your pain, buy good booze" -- written into one of their songs. Those words struck a chord, speaking to the easy choice we make in suffering. Human progress, development of civilizations, and innovation of inventions -- all are part of our pursuit of worldly comfort. But as disciples, we should set our sight firmly on Lord Jesus, follow His footsteps, and walk His paths. In suffering, Jesus did not escape. Instead, He left Himself in the midst and hold all our agony and sorrows.

Brothers and sisters, may we, as followers of Christ, refuse to pursue personal comfort but instead be compassionate: open our eyes to -- to seek, even -- the suffering of the world, be willing to walk with those who suffer, be willing to walk in their shoes, and be willing to open our arms to embrace them as what the Lord did: has come into the world to carry the heavy cross, bearing the burden and load of our pain and suffering.

Meditation:

  1. Closely read Matthew 27:11-54 and meditate on the Lord's agony as He made His way to the cross.
  2. In our daily lives, are we aware of the people around us in suffering? Have we, at the right time, opened our arms to them and took them into our embrace?

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(19) Obedience and saying "Yes" to God

The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary (March 25) commemorates the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, foretelling the Incarnation, the birth of Christ Jesus (Luke 1). According to Church tradition, the moment Mary responded to God's call, with, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38), was the moment she was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Christmas was set on the date Romans marked as the winter solstice, signifying the beginning of shortening nights and lengthening days. Hence, Mary's conception is set to nine months before, on the date of the vernal equinox (March 25), coinciding with the commencement of the sun's new journey: the beginning of Spring, when life springs back on earth. It symbolises the beginning of the Son of God's life on earth, the incarnation of Christ.

The observance of "The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary" on this date stems not from the purpose of encouraging the worship of the Virgin Mary, nor due to her extraordinary role and status. The day traditionally commemorates the obedience and humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is crucial to the arrival of the age of grace and salvation. As Pope Francis has said, "Mary’s 'yes' to God has opened the door to the 'yes' of Jesus." And therefore, after liturgical reforms of the Roman Catholic Church, the day refocuses on the divine mystery of Incarnation of Christ, involving Mary's obedience and submission to God's will and hence allowing human participation in God's salvation.

Brothers and sister, have we ever thought that we too, can participate in and fulfil God's works of salvation through our obedience and submission?

Meditation:

  1. Have we ever made a decision full of challenges?
  2. Mediate and feel how Mary have struggled and how dire the situations she had to face after responding to God's call, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word"?
  3. In our future decision, can we also focus as Mary, embracing the faith in magnifying the Lord and take our first step to obedience? Why?

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(18) Almsgiving

In Lenten traditions, we have three spiritual practices: fasting, praying, and almsgiving. In past two weeks, we have learnt fasting and prayer. Today, may we study how they are related to almsgiving.

In fact, fasting, prayer and almsgiving are not three separated and stand-alone spiritual practices. They are three-in-one, and one-in-three spiritual journey. Fasting releases us from our desires and emotions. Appetite desires is so true to us. Relying on the Lord to discipline ourselves is to resist from being controlled by desires. Prayer is the sweet moment that the faithful stay with the Lord. When we resist not to be dominated, we can be pure in heart to see the Lord. Our prayers will no longer focus on fulfilling our desires and expectations but allow us to understand God's will and plans for us. In this way, prayer brings us action, which is the practice of almsgiving. When we understand our missions and know the grace and gifts He gives, we would know that what He gives are not only for our sake, but also for us to share with others. Almsgiving is for us to drill the lesson of ‘sharing’.

Someone has said that God and Santa Claus are very alike, in terms of giving. But the difference is that the gifts given by Santa Claus make us keep for ourselves and for one’s enjoyment. God's gifts encourage us to share and intensify the blessings and happiness on the earth. May we learn together the lesson of more blessed to give than to receive from sharing.

Meditation:

  1. Have you ever tried to listen to the Lord, understood His will and missions for you; and turned into actions?
  2. What gifts granted from God do you think that can be shared with others? Please quote one or two.
  3. Recall the experience you share with others. What do you feel? What do/does make you continue to share with others?

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(17) Prayer

Continuing from last article about fasting, one of the three important elements of Jewish faith and societal life in Chapter 6 of Matthew, we would like to examine another element, prayer. We may usually practise it but yet still need to continuously reflect on and learn.

In Matthew 6:1-18, concerning almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, Jesus points out that when we do them truly we would not care how to let others know. That means, we do not practice these three for the sake of being seen but for our Father in Heaven.

How to do a prayer truly? Jesus tells us not to act like the hypocrites. They love to stand and pray at visible places so that they may be seen and praised by others. Jesus also tells us not to act like the Gentiles in praying, by heaping up empty phrases as they think that they will be heard because of their many words.

Today, we may find ourselves still pray as the hypocrites or the Gentiles. To win others’ praises or succeed our wishes, we may inadvertently act like the ‘God’, attempting to command the Lord through prayers. In Chapter 9 of Mark, Jesus casted out a spirit from a boy. His disciples have failed to do so (v 9:14-29). Jesus said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’ (v 29). The most important message is that the disciples rely on themselves and forgot to do so upon the Lord and walk with Him. Prayer is not spell but marks of walking with the Lord. Therefore, prayer is not for serving ourselves. It points to the Lord, allows us to share our weaknesses, listen to the Lord and accept His guidance.

Meditation:

  1. In the season of Lent, try to start our daily prayers by recognizing our weaknesses, worthless pursuits and ruin.
  2. In these prayers, be aware of how the Lord responds to you. His response may not be simply words but give you some touching. Be aware of what the touching means.
  3. In these touching, whom do you think of? Try to pray for them and the associations between you.

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(16) Fasting

‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.’ Hearing these words means that the faithful move towards Passover with Christ and the spiritual journey of Lent passing from death into life begins.

In Chapter 6 of Matthew, Jesus taught disciples how to practice giving, praying and fasting earnestly─the three important elements of Jewish faith and societal life. Jesus also told each follower that building up of discipleship should begin with little things. It is not about superiority or reaching a particular ‘state’ but understanding the abundance of grace from the Lord.

In Hong Kong, material is relatively rich though prices keep rising. Although it is challenging for people to sustain their living needs, it is still not common for most of the faithful to experience hunger. In Lent, practicing fasting, prudence and self-control; and abstaining from satisfying one’s desires can help us break the routine and be aware of things that are easily not noticed. Our lives are great actually! We have expected abundant supply as a matter of course. When we are in hunger and in need, we would begin learning to thank for everything given from above and, at the same time, being mindful of the needs of the poor and Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself for others.

As other teachings by Jesus, fasting ultimately is not pointing to us but to the Lord who gives life to dust.

Meditation:

  1. In the season of Lent, try practice fasting according to your physical conditions. Experience how you feel in hunger and in need.
  2. During the reflection, whom in need you have aware of? What would Jesus expect you to do?

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(15) Ashes and Temptations

In The Lord's Prayer, which we are familiar with, Jesus taught disciples about praying, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (or the evil one)." (Matthew 6:13a)

One of the reasons we often encounter temptations relates much to oneself: we are too focused on, even walled in ourselves. Have you noticed that our prayers are often self-centred? ‘We’ seems to be so important! The devil attacks us right at the point and tempts us to ignore others, the society, and even commands from the Lord and all responsibilities we should take to Him. The only way we can rescue from temptation of evil is to lay down ourselves.

In the service of Ash Wednesday, the priest applies the ashes as cross to one’s forehead and said, ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.’ The wearing of ashes on forehead reminds the faithful that we are dust and have to prepare ourselves humbly to be crucified Christ. If we understand we are dust from which God made us and shall return to dust, we would no longer be persistent in present desires and turn to feel the obedience of Christ to God Father; enslave ourselves and let the Lord lead us every day. So, we truly becomes followers of Christ.

In Lent, we are reminded to experience with Lord Christ temptations from evil. He triumphed over the evil one because of that He lay down Himself, His needs, His likes and dislikes. He also values Words of the Lord. Are we willing to fight against temptation of evil with God's love, or would we rather only concern oneself and continue to indulge ourselves and keep away from God Father, become companion of evil?

Meditation:

  1. When praying the Lord with The Lord's Prayer, did you pray with genuineness and understand contents of the prayer?
  2. In this season of Lent, what would you look light or even lay down for God?

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(14) Going up the Mountain is for Going Downhill

This Sunday, the last Sunday after Epiphany, the Gospel reading once again leads disciples up a mountain. For the past few weeks, Jesus has proclaimed the laws with fulfilment of love to His people. Having gone up the mountain, he led disciples to experience God's greatest revelation through Him. He was transfigured before them, revealing His inner true form of divinity.

The sweet spiritual experience not only make one dizzied, but also make one be reluctant to leave. Peter, the Disciple, wanted to stay at the mountain since then to stay in the experience forever. Mostly, the faithful long for the Lord is for their own needs, satisfaction or fulfilment of desires. They hope to stay in the dreaming sweet moments and forget purpose of the experience: prepare ourselves to face challenges in life and respond to call of the Lord.

Going up the mountain is for going downhill. Jesus revealed to the disciples to let them bear witness to God who abides in Christ. Through growth of spiritual life, the disciples were built up to be a group more loyal and brave for better witness of Christ. In the remaining Epiphanytide, may we remind ourselves to work hard for the Lord, be His glory and benefit people.

Meditation:

  1. Review if there are any significant spiritual moments you have experienced. Do they help you become a better witness of Christ, or hold you up and be reluctant to leave or to be addicted to the feeling?
  2. Epiphanytide reminds us be witness of the Lord. What will you do to become a better witness for Christ?

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(13) The Marks of Citizens of the Kingdom of God

If we look through the Gospel readings for these weeks of Epiphanytide, it is not difficult to realize that they are mostly in the Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel of Matthew. It includes the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16), and the reinterpretation of the Jewish law (Matthew 5:17-37).

Jesus came to reveal himself to all disciples, so that they can truly know the Lord, understand His will and be citizens of His Kingdom on earth. Through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus led them to understand that there is no contradiction between God in the Old Testament and God in the New Testament. Love can fulfils all laws. As long as we are in Christ and resemble the characters of the Christ described in the Beatitudes, we can display the characteristics of citizens in the Kingdom of God: being the salt of the earth and the light of the world. May people see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

The Sermon on the Mount is an essential part of the Gospel of Matthew and delivers very significant messages to the faithful. In the remaining days of Epiphanytide, may us meditate on the teachings of the Sermon, and be His citizens glorifying His name.

Meditation:

  1. St Gregory of Nyssa, Father of Early Church, called the ‘Beatitudes’ the progression of eight steps to Christian life. How do you interpret the relationship of the Beatitudes’ progression and enhance yourself to resemble the Christ?
  2. Jesus said, ‘You are the salt of the earth, the light of the world’, not to be ‘light’ and ‘salt’. What do you think that the difference between ‘be’ and ‘to be’ is? What do you think that Jesus wants to tell?
  3. Jesus did not come to abolish but to fulfil the Law. From the scripture readings, how does Jesus present that love can fulfil all laws?

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(12) Encounters at the Lord's Temple

According to the church calendar, February 2 is the Feast of Presentation of Christ, also known as Candlemas. It stems from Luke 2:22-40. When the time came for the purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary, brought firstborn Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord If we count the days since Christmas Day, February 2 will be the 40th day.

In Luke, there were four people encounter unexpectedly for the revelation manifested by the newborn baby. Joseph, Mary, Simeon and Anna came to the Temple for different reasons, just like we do. Due to different reasons, we came to God's Temple and became members of the Church. However, we share same focus as Joseph, Mary, Simeon and Anna: Let Jesus Christ be eternal focus of our life and His true light be source of our eternal hope.

Christ Jesus not only the hope for his family on earth, but also ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel’ stated in the famous ‘Nunc Dimittis’ written by Simeon; and the redemption of Jerusalem spoken by Anna. Whatever the reason we became children of the Lord, Epiphanytide reminds us that Christ is the hope to everyone. Let's seize the hope, keep on our witnesses to the Lord, find the right way and compose stories of our lives.

Meditation:

  1. Review your life. Where did you encounter the Lord and became a member of His family?
  2. Is Christ source of your hope? What do you hope for?
  3. Simeon and Anna had their hopes fulfilled and proclaimed people the source of hope. Can you bring others see it, the source of hope, too?

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(11) The Love of the Incarnation

It is only through our love for God that we can release the pleasing aroma of Christ in our lives, and truly bear witness to the life of Christ. God's greatest revelation and manifestation is incarnation of Holy Son, which is the most substantial and greatest manifestation of God's love to people. So we must learn from the love of Christ's incarnation. Through which, we must learn to love God and be witnesses of Christ’s love.

Love of incarnation is love of "all in"; this exceeds the love expressed by our tongues. The language of love, no matter how touching, can be deceit. True love is always beyond expressions, which is expressed by action. God's love is fully revealed in its incarnation. Our love for God cannot simply be limited to our praises but show in our daily lives.

In addition, the love of the incarnation was shown in full through Christ on the cross, sacrificed himself for people. ‘Love’ is great because it is giving more than receiving. The Bible reminds us to serve the Lord enthusiastically and be witness of Christ. However, do we enjoy receiving offer of God or are willing to offer ourselves to Him without asking for returns? The Epiphanytide reminds us to sacrifice ourselves in return.

Meditation:

  1. In Sunday services, we praise the Lord with our mouth, but do we worship Him in spirit and truth, love God through our deeds? How do we put into practice our love to God in our daily lives?
  2. In serving God, do we do so for returns? Or do we serve without asking for them? How should we correct the views in servicing?
  3. Meditate the Prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola as our prayer in spirit and truth. Make it be our own prayer. ‘Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve You as You deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for reward save that of knowing I am doing Your Will. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.’

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(10) True Light that Directs The Heart

As Prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse.” (Jer 17:9) If all hearts are revealed, we all would probably need to hide in shame. Indeed, our hearts are like online shops, you can find everything there - be they real or fake items, be they good or bad things, all are possible, except that not all of them can be made known to others, just as not all things on earth are worth pursuing and possessing.

Epiphanytide reminds us that we need to cleanse our hearts. As the Lord’s light shines upon us, all shall be revealed. Through only the truth of incarnation, we can find the way. Indeed, our desires, thoughts and hopes are not always good. Not all of them come from the Lord, nor lead us to Him. On the contrary, some desires and ideas may gradually lead us away from the Lord.

Therefore, our hearts should follow the true light of incarnation, the example of Jesus Christ. He revealed the lifestyle the Lord delights by his life. Following his example and the light of incarnation, we can choose the right way. In simple, the way of incarnation is willing to be humble, obedient and to live for others. Contrarily, pride and selfishness would never lead us to the way Christ walks. If our hearts shall turn to the Lord, we shall make a choice — that our lives should reveal the humility and obedience as exemplified by Christ.

Meditation:

  1. Ask yourself what thoughts, hopes and desires in you are from the Lord? What are not difficult to be shared? May light of the Lord shine upon us so that we follow His wills.
  2. What do you think that a life of humility is? Are humility and confidence contradictory?
  3. Does obedience mean submission to the authority, being a yes-man? If not, what does obedience mean?

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(9) Transcending Differences, the Light of the Gentiles

Epiphanytide is a season for us to celebrate the Word become Flesh ─ God revealing Himself to the Gentiles, and the True Light shining on the whole world. The world of Jesus' time had already been splintered by boundaries erected to mark regional, ethnic, linguistic, religious, ... divides -- splitting people into factions. Without mutual understanding, ignorance has been the culprit in authoring many tragedies in human history, breeding ethnic hatred, and creating a living hell on earth.

As time marches on, cultural development and technological advances have shortened, or it seems, the distance between people. The Internet has made communication and understanding among different cultures easier. Conflicts and misunderstanding caused by the differences should have been mitigated. However, compared with a closed world two millennia ago, inhabitants of today don't seem to have gotten better very far. Evidence from our daily news headlines, people have gone on tearing ourselves apart over our differences. This has not decreased over the passing of time or with greater civility...

The God-revealing Christ is the ultimate salvation ─ the Light of the Gentiles ─ for people of all races, cultures, and even creeds. Christ's salvation for all people challenges every generation of the faithful:not to be complacent, not to insulate ourselves in our own self-righteousness, and to do so on the expense of excluding others, and to always leave room for those who differ from us. The light that God has shone on us shines upon those who we differ from. In the mutual respect and prayers for one another, we shall meet and embrace when we encounter one another in our journey toward the Lord's true way.

Meditation:

  1. Ask God to open our eyes and our hearts, so that we can see clearly what and who we hold prejudices against and how those prejudices limits our understanding of His salvation.
  2. Open ourselves to engage with those who are different with us ─ in their way of thinking, in their politics, or in the opinions they hold. Try to, through listening, find lessons for us to learn.
  3. Pray for those whose opinions differ from ours; even pray for people we dislike. Have faith that the Lord's light shines, too, upon their lives.
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(8) Epiphanytide: Life Mission of Bearing Witness

Advent is the season when the faithful are reminded to prepare for the coming of Christ with hope. Christmastide is the season when we are invited to receive Christ with joy. In Epiphanytide, we are reminded to bear witness with a renewed sense of mission -- to live out, to reveal the true and vibrant lives in Christ!

The Gospel readings for Epiphanytide introduce us about Christ's identity, His words and works, and His ministry. They give us a deeper understanding towards the incarnated Jesus who appeared two millennia ago and that how He worked out His mission. As Jesus' followers, we should familiarize and digest His deeds. So, we not only proclaim to people His teachings and works, but also live out Jesus’ life.

Jesus Christ incarnated. He revealed God and leads people to the road of salvation through His togetherness with words and deeds. Christians of all generations should also be ‘little Christ’ to reveal such grace of God and help people walk towards the road of salvation through our lives. In Epiphanytide, let’s bear the witness of the grace of the Lord.

Meditation:

  1. Review the Gospel Mark of Jesus' life. List the characters of Jesus which touch you most. Commit to follow Him.
  2. Review the Gospel Matthew about the Beatitudes. List the teachings of Jesus to benefit you most. Commit yourself in working them out.
  3. Review the Gospel Luke of parables of Jesus. List one parable that touches you most. Why?
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(7) The Mark of Baptism

The Church celebrates the baptism of Christ on the First Sunday after Epiphany. It is to remind us that Christ was once baptized at River Jordan as the Son of God. The Orthodox Church names the day ‘Feast of Theophany’ (manifestation of God), because at the baptism of Christ the Holy Trinity appeared to mankind at the same time.

Many believers query the message of this Feast, ‘Why was sinless Jesus baptized?" We know that baptism of John the Baptist is for repentance, and the sinless Jesus is perfect man and perfect God. However, he was baptized as a man to be the role model for mankind: to enter into the sacred relationship with God through baptism. Christ's baptism sanctified water we use in baptism, symbolizing the washing away of sins. When Jesus was baptized and just came up from the water, the heavens were opened to him and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and alighted on Him. And, God the Father affirmed Jesus' identity as His Son, the Beloved. Likewise, when we are baptized, the heavens are opened to us and the Spirit of God entered into us, so we became children of God the Father.

Therefore, the baptismal font located at the entrance of the church has an essential symbolic meaning. When we enter into the church, we make sign of the cross. This reminds us of our promises to God during baptism, as we are marked by the sign of the cross to show our rejection against the devil and all rebellion against God and submit to Christ as Lord; live out the life of being disciples.

Meditation:

  1. Upon entering the church for worship, if there is a baptismal font, mark sign of the cross with the Holy Water and pray. If a Baptismal font is not available, pray silently at the entrance and remind yourself the promises you made during baptism.
  2. Baptism also reminds us that we are children of God. Meditate on how you get on with the Heavenly Father, and write down how you want to be with Him in the future.
  3. The baptism of Christ revealed the awesome power of the Holy Trinity and the road of salvation to man. How can we imitate Christ and let the baptized life reveal to man God's love and renewals and changes of man’s life in Christ?
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(6) Invocation of Christ's Holy Name

January 1st is the eighth day after Christmas Day. According to Luke 2:21, ‘After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.’ Therefore, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Name and the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ on January 1st. For Jews, a baby's circumcision and naming symbolizes being accepted as a descendant of Abraham, a member of God's chosen people. Thus, God the Son amazingly became one of them and a family member of the people He was sent to save.

Jesus and Abraham, tied by blood, have reminded us that Jesus did not come to replace or refute the Israelites' hope upon the coming of Messiah. Christ's Holy Name ‘Jesus’ means ‘God Saves’ in Hebrew. It expresses His identity and His mission that He was sent by God the Father to become flesh and He is whom has been waiting for by generations of Israelites. The prophet Isaiah had foretold that a child has been born for us and a son given to us. He is named 'Wonderful Counsellor', 'Mighty God', 'Everlasting Father' and 'Prince of Peace'. (Isaiah 9:6)

Jesus has even more names. Have we thought deeply on meanings of these names on how they help us get closer to the Lord and know Him better? We invoke His name, neither because of His miracle power nor His teaching in praying. We do so because at the name of Jesus every knee should bow to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11). We learn to be humble, be grateful and are reminded to live with Christ be our centre.

Let us begin the New Year with praising Jesus Christ by upholding His Holy Name towards the spiritual journey centered at the Lord!

Meditation:

  1. In invoking Jesus' names, may you write down His different names you know. How do these names help you know more about Jesus ?
  2. Write down one of the names attributed to Jesus. Remove the familiar meaning that it comes to you. Mediate on it, re-feel and concentrate on writing any meanings and reminders of the name comes to you.
  3. The Orthodox Church has a tradition to use 'The Jesus Prayer' in praying. Through repeatedly reciting it, we learn to be humble and to invite the Lord Jesus live in us and help us live in Him. Do to start your spiritual journey with the Prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner'.
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(5) Christmas Despoiled

While Christmas may be the Christian festival that most people in the world celebrate, it is also the most thoroughly despoiled one. The glitzy and dazzling lighting and holiday consumption atmosphere has blurred the protagonist of this festival. If the Holy Infant is our Heavenly Father's gift to the world, the wrapping is indeed too fancy and distracts people from the true meaning of Christmas.

The incarnation of Christ is the reason for this festival. God's greatest gift to mankind is the incarnated Holy Infant Christ. God not only created the world, but also present in the world and be with us, bringing love and salvation to us. His love, understanding, tolerance, forgiveness and mercies to us are more substantial. 

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, ‘God became man so that man might become a god.’ This statement is not phoney. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, affirms goodness of humanity and invites us to resurrect the hidden image of God inside the human nature. As we celebrate in the twelve days of Christmastide, may we focus on the protagonist, pray for light of the Holy Infant Jesus shine on us to expel our inner darkness and guide us find back the road to holiness.

Meditation:

  1. Review lyrics of familiarized Christmas carols for new discoveries.
  2. During the twelve days of Christmastide, let Jesus Christ be center of our life.
  3. God presents Himself as gift and lets the world share love and peace. How shall we present ourselves in our situations and share goodness of the Lord with others?
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(4) The third kind of coming

Advent, the Church reminds us of two meanings of the season. One is the commemoration of the birth of Jesus, the son of God, and His entry into history. The second is awaiting for the coming again of Christ in the last days, marking the end of history. In addition, the medieval spiritual master St Bernard of Clairvaux offers us a third perspective: the daily coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Not only our Lord Jesus entered the world, completing His mission in history, He visits the Church in person every day for you and me. Are we ready to respond to Him like the Blessed Virgin Mary, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:38)?

When we are willingly to let the Lord’s will fulfilled in us, we are ready to receive His coming. This is a lesson for every believer. We are not passively waiting for miracles from above to come but be always aware and ready to be suitable vessel for the Lord to use.

Meditation:

  1. In this season of Advent, have you made room for the Lord, allowing Him to come to you every day? How does His coming influence you? How do you identify His coming?
  2. Are you willingly to let the Lord’s will fulfilled in you? What does this mean?
  3. The Lord visits His Church every day. How should the Church prepare herself to be His lively vessel to help people greet Him in their lives?
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(3) Joy: Accepting the Lord’s invitation for his coming

It is hard for us to imagine a Church without joy! The Church exists to proclaim good news of the coming of the Christ into our midst. Jesus Christ longs the Church, His bride, to be filled with joy. Without the joy, experienced through Him and so radiates from within, Christians would lose the vitality that drives them onward and could not witness joy in the Lord.

The third Sunday of Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday (the day takes its name from the Latin word "Gaudete", meaning “rejoice”), a time of the season to remind believers that, in preparing ourselves to meet the coming of the Christ and the moment we meet, we should not follow Martha to be distracted by all the preparations and miss the better part. Indeed, one of the bad witnesses of Christians is to keep busy with church ministries and even to grumble and to lose the joy of being in close relationship with Christ. The joy of Christian witness is far more appealing than many ministries.

Jesus said, ‘ To what then will I compare the people of this generation,? …… We played the flute for you and you did not dance......’ (Luke 7:31-32) Jesus is inviting his believers to take the joyful days of the Kingdom of Heaven and rejoicing with Him in life.

Meditation:

  1. To recall your course of faith and review the experience of rejoicing in the Lord.
  2. Why do Church ministries bring negative feelings to some believers? Are their focus misplaced as Martha? Or, are there other reasons?
  3. Pray for yourself. May the Lord keep our hearts that we may hold /regain joy in Him, and serve gladly.
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(2) Discipleship begins at home

On November 30, 2016, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Andrew the Apostle. We know, from John 1:40-42, that not only did Andrew, having heard what John the Baptist had said, follow Jesus; the first thing Andrew did was finding his brother Simon and bringing him to Jesus. It is because of Andrew's invitation that Simon became Cephas (Peter) -- the Rock, the first leader of the early Christian Church.

Every believer is a disciple of Christ, endowed with the life-calling to bear witness to Christ. Being disciples demands our absolute devotion to follow our Lord, that no matter the circumstances or the times, we respond to the call of our Lord with our lives. Andrew the Apostle, an exemplar for us all, began his discipleship at home, by bringing his elder brother Peter to Jesus.

Many believers find "home" to be the toughest place to witness Christ. Home is where we grew up. Home is where time -- the years of living together -- had cemented views family members hold on one another. Home is where family members are subjected to harsher treatment than they would receive when they are outside of it. Family members are familiar with our failures and have seen us at our worst -- this makes our attempts at persuasion unpersuasive. However, the home provides the best place for us to live out our faith in the most authentic way. Witnessing Christ in the home is the touchstone of our ability to live out our faith. It presents us with challenges as it serves to be a mirror that reflects the true and full spectrum of our spirituality.

Meditation:

  1. Include every family member, their bodily needs and their souls in your prayer. What do you hope that the Lord bless your family?
  2. Reflect on your influence in the home: are you naturally emitting the pleasing aroma of Christ or are you the source of friction and tension? Why? If there are fractures in familial relations, are you willing to take a step forward in making amends and sow the seeds of reconciliation during the season of Advent? What will you do?
  3. The Church is also the home for all believers. How can we make this ‘home’ bear stronger the beams of God's love, and in doing so growing our capacity in welcoming and celebrating the homecoming of lost brothers and sisters?

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(1) Start a new spiritual journey in the season of Advent

Advent marks beginning of the liturgical calendar. This is a season for reflection and anticipation. Unlike the secular calendar, Advent isn't a time for celebration in itself but there is a real sense of hope and expectation. As disciples of the Lord, we wait with expectancy, and prepare our hearts with joy, so that, as we look forward to the coming celebration of Christ's incarnation, we also think about his second glorious coming. We embrace the call that the Lord is bestowing upon us.

We do not wait without hope, because the Lord has already promised us the final victory, and, through the incarnated Lord, let us enjoy the fruit of salvation. Therefore, we do not wait in vain, but with the knowledge that by his victory over death, we await the fulfillment of the Lord’s will every day, and live our lives with hope.

Hence, our life is like that of a woman who is expecting a child, indeed like the Virgin Mary who waited with joy as she was expecting the birth of Jesus. We too should equip ourselves, bear Christ joyfully in our hearts, closely connect our faith with our daily lives, and let our inner Christ grow day by day!

Meditation: How do we spend Advent meaningfully?

  1. Advent lets you review the life that you have gone through. What have you been waiting for? What expectations do you have for your life?
  2. What expectations does the Lord have for you? How do you wait with hope in your heart, allowing the Lord to lead you and discover your calling day by day?
  3. How do you equip yourself, so that the empowerment by Jesus in you may grow day by day?
  4. In Advent, what activities will the Church be held to help the entire community of disciples, so that they may equip themselves and be strengthened in endurance? How will you respond to them ?

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