Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sharing in silence

Among all the range of worship that we offer at the Cathedral, "Later" on Sunday evenings is rather different.
It was established by the previous Dean as "Cathedral Praise" - a high energy classic praise service, with a substantial preach - designed to draw in enquirers and to nourish those who had spent Sunday mornings feeding others in their own parishes. Latterly, reduced budgets and assorted moves reduced the music team and one way and another it became something rather smaller and less vibrant - though retaining something very special as a gathering of people who are on the look-out for God to act, in a way which isn't always evident in traditional services.

However bearing in mind the fabulous space that we have available, and conscious of the fact that we hardly engage with it at all in the normal run of events, I was happy to be given the opportunity to take over the pastoral care and general oversight of this service, with its new name. It now has 2 incarnations, Later:Cathedral Praise and Later:Breathing Space and it gives me inordinate pleasure to have the opportunity to plan creative worship that makes use of the wonders of the Cathedral. 
So this year we have been on a Candlemass prayer journey, we have explored both the Stations of the Holocaust and the Stations of the Resurrection,we have delved into Scripture with Lectio Divina, we have held a Taize service - and last night, inspired by my wonderful colleague the Canon for Reconciliation (also known to estate agents as the Canon for Recreation), we held a silent Eucharist.

And it was totally, utterly wonderful!

To begin with, I had the pleasure of talking through exactly how the parts of the service fit together, what we are doing at the Gathering, the Confession & Absolution, when we receive the gift of God's word and respond to it, share the Peace and finally come to Communion.
I had a chance to explain what it means to make the sign of the cross - but also made it clear that, like all signs and symbols, it can carry multiple meanings.
I love teaching about the Eucharist  - well, let's face it - I love everything about the Eucharist...so this was all pure joy.

Then came the service.
A CD of plainsong played quietly.
On arrival each person had been given a tea light. After we made the sign of the cross together to mark the beginning of our Eucharist, they came one by one, lit their candles and placed them on the altar. I had talked about them coming together from the different situations of their busy lives, bringing all sorts of cares and concerns, needs and longings...all of which are received by God as he gathers us around him and forms a disparate group of people into a Eucharistic community, which, gathered, reflects God's light.
We paused to gaze at those candles on the altar, then, as we thought about our failures and brokenness, one by one the flames were extinguished.
It hurt.
It was horrible.
But so are the things that we do.
We paused and thought some more....but then I prayed in heart and head the words of absolution, marking forgiveness with the sign of the cross through which we know ourselves forgiven. A bowl of water was passed round and each person traced the cross on their forehead, recalling the new start of their baptism.

Next came the Word...
Being low-tech, I opted for giving them a printed text with a couple of thoughts to help them focus. We used the Gospel from that morning, Mark 4:26-34, which includes two of the Kingdom parables - the seed growing of its own accord, no matter what, and the mustard seed growing into a shrub so big that all the birds of the air can shelter...so I had drawn a "Kingdom tree" and we were invited to write or draw kingdom fruit, or those in need of shelter.

Next came the intercessions, in which we continued the prayer chain begun at last week's funeral conference...I'd explained about the way we can be joined with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world as we pray for the world's needs - and that felt very powerful, especially when followed immediately by joining in a circle to share the Peace.

Then, of course, it was time to break bread...to say the Eucharistic prayer in my head and heart, to hold up the elements and show his people that Jesus was there in bread and wine. And we came forward and met Him there and received His very life, to carry with us into whatever lies ahead this week.

Finally, after space to give thanks, I offered God's blessing which we took into ourselves - our heads, our hearts, our actions, - as we made the sign of the cross and the Mass was ended.