Disneyland® on Mount Zion

Disneyland® on Mount Zion

Let’s look imaginatively and historically at the eastern shores of the Mediterranean in the middle of the fourth century.

  • Imagine yourself in an emerging ministry in the tourist destination of the middle fourth century.
  • Now imagine that all these tourists are overrunning all the sacred sites around your church, and are looting valuable artifacts to take home as souvenirs.
  • Now imagine that most of these tourists want not just a vacation, but the most profound religious experience.
  • Finally, think about having a bizillion professional religious types around, who, like most professional religious types, are not overly sensitive to the complex needs of people who aren’t going to be permanent parts of their communities.

You’ve just imagined yourself in the shoes of Maximus, the bishop of Jerusalem and his amazingly creative liturgical adjunct, Cyril, who pretty soon, will end up as bishop of Jerusalem at Maximus’s death. What would you do to make sense of a Disneyland® without lines in which to store people while they wait for their turn on Pirates of the Caribbean or the Matterhorn?

Pilgrimage and the ancient near east

Pilgrimage to sacred places has played an important role in the societies of Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. The best known—and still practiced—of these journeys in the Hajj, the Islamic journey to Mecca and Medina which re-enacts the jihad of the Prophet Mohamed, but by the middle of the fourth century, Christians were engaging in a similar travel to Jerusalem, and as it became relatively unsafe to travel across the Mediterranean, first Rome, then Santiago de Compostela and then Canterbury and other more local destinations emerged. Pilgrimages, then as now, were an amalgam of exploration, tourism and entertainment, and search for religious fulfillment, and for any pilgrim on any day the relationship of these components varied (along with the inevitable desire to rest one’s weary feet). The Jerusalem pilgrimage was also influenced by the Constantinian growth of the eastern empire. The emperor’s mother was involved in the “discovery” of many of the sites (such as the place of crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus), and to be baptized in Jerusalem was not just a sign of spiritual devotion, but (and maybe more importantly) a sign of imperial social status.

Let’s go to the theater

To make sense of the Jerusalem church’s brilliant move in creating a structure to focus tourism as a religious force, we also need to look at what seemed for most preachers to be the greatest competitor to involvement as an active church member: the theater. Theater in the late empire is not well documented; there are almost no extant plays, and if those that remain are any indication of the quality, we probably aren’t missing very much. Theater was not Antigone or Oedipus; it wasn’t Taming of the Shrew or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof either.

It was spectacle.

Think of a cross between “Ziegfield Follies meets Washington at Valley Forge” mixed with equal parts of Survivor, American Idol, and The Gong Show, and, if we are to believe most of the third- and fourth-century preachers and their contemporary pagan philosophers, a definite splash of a 1960’s Times Square peep show. Not a pretty sight, but it seems to have been a major part of the entertainment matrix. Re-enacting historical or mythic events seems to have formed the main plot line, so maybe we should think of the History Channel as well.

Make the circus a circuit

Given that cultural situation, what’s a bishop in Jerusalem to do? Spectacle, but put everyone “on stage.” Give the monks and nuns a ministry of education and hospitality (and stagehands for the Jesus show). And keep everybody busy. Idle hands will do the devil’s work—even in Jerusalem. Take the narratives of Jesus’ passion and on top of the normal preparation for baptism, schedule activities during the weeks before Easter to challenge the endurance of the most committed, and put them at places referenced in the scriptural narrative. Don’t make people stand in line; that will make them bored and restless (just ask any four-year-old waiting to get into the Toy Story Mania! ride). Instead make a procession with them. Start walking, then start singing, get some monks to swing fancy figure-eights with thuribles, add some banners, and you don’t have a queue, you have a parade! March people out to Bethany on Saturday (that will keep them occupied for about four hours, not including the church service), up to the summit of the Mount of Olives on Palm Sunday (and back down), while singing psalms and waving branches, and from Thursday in Holy Week, don’t let them stop until they fall asleep on their feet. It worked marvelously, and of course, the emotional intensity mixed with exhaustion probably made for more intense religious experiences for many.

But at the core of this activity was spectacle: the re-enactment of the historical events of Jesus’ life, particularly the “last week.” This was theater on such a grand scale that it could finally begin to supplant the local (and secular) spectacles. St. Cyril of Jerusalem was not just a great teacher and bishop; he was one of the great impresarios of all time.

In my next post, I’ll look in more detail at his “playbook” as well as notes of the entertainment and religion correspondent from the Times of Southern Spain, Egeria.

St. James of Jerusalem

Saint James the Just

One of my Facebook friends, James Knutsen, popped the question:

WHY on his feast day is there no reading appointed at either Office or Eucharist from the canonical NT text traditionally understood to be authored by him (which claim at least some modern critical scholars, e.g. Luke Timothy Johnson consider plausible)??? Seems rather unfair to me not to give the guy a hearing on his day.

And since I’m getting ready to celebrate and preach this evening at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Seattle, (you can check out the sermon on the main website after tonight), here are some thoughts in response.

James: the historical evidence

We don’t have any real physical evidence for James. In 2002, a report of an ossuary (bone box) with reference to “James, the brother of Jesus” was published, but it seems that the general consensus is that, while the box was first century, the inscription was a later forgery. This shouldn’t surprise us. I doubt I could find any credible physical evidence of my paternal grandfather who died in 1956.

What we do have is a fair amount of literary and cultural evidence. There are mentions of a James as the brother of Jesus in Matthew and Mark. He plays a prominent part in Acts, and Paul mentions him in in Galatians and I Corinthians. And then there is that epistle that Jamie mentions, and starts “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Josephus mentions James in the Jewish Antiquities (20.9) and suggests that his martyrdom is one of the causes of the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70. There’s a number of early pseudepigraphal references to James, but probably the most credible early biographical information is found in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, where Eusebius quotes at length from a no-longer-extant second century (ca. 160-170?) set of memoirs compiled by Hegesippus, “about whom very little is known.” (EH 2.23).

It’s worth noting, in response to Jamie’s question, that Eusibius doesn’t think that James of Jerusalem (who might well have referred to himself as “James, the brother of Jesus” in the salutation of the epistle) was the James of the New Testament book.

James: the liturgical celebration

The liturgical celebration James’s martyrdom seems to have gained early traction in the church around Jerusalem. Both Clement of Alexandria and Origin point to it in passing, and by the fourth century, one of the anaphora traditions is given his name (“The liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem” is the major Palestinian and Egyptian form of the Great Thanksgiving). October 23 is pretty much the standard date for the celebration of James’s feast. This continues to now, at least in churches in the Byzantine tradition.

However, the celebration of James of Jerusalem in the west is at best hopelessly muddled and at worst, simply ignored. You’ll find Philip and James (but it’s not really clear which James!) on May 1, but that’s only because it’s part of the consecration festival of the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome (and since James the Just wasn’t one of the apostles, we should probably make sure that he doesn’t get celebrated).

Why?

If you look at almost all of the episcopal succession lists in Eastern Christianity, you’ll find that they start with James of Jerusalem. Some guy by the name of Peter gets mentioned as someone James consecrates. If you look at the lists in Western Christianity, you find St. Peter, protepiskopos, at the top of the list (consecrated, of course, by some guy named Yeshua bar Yosef, but the consecrator isn’t usually named), and James isn’t even mentioned. If you happen to think that there’s politics at play, I couldn’t possibly comment.

James: playing with the Anglicans

According to Prayer Book Studies XVI, (in 1963)  the Anglican Church in India (probably due to Syriac connections) and South Africa (probably due to Indian connections) incorporated James of Jerusalem in their calendars prior to the US Episcopal proposal. They would have been the first Anglican calendars; James was not in the 1928 or any prior BCPs. In fact, he didn’t even make it into the first calendar proposals for what became the 1979 BCP, Prayer Book Studies IX (of 1957).

PBS XVI used Acts 15 (the same lesson as in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and continued in Holy Women, Holy Men) and Mark 3:31–35 (“who are my brothers”).

So why nothing from the Epistle of James? I’d guess that since we adopted the feast from the Eastern Church, we accepted the Eastern tradition (from at least St. Eusebius of Cesarea, the Historian) that James of Jerusalem didn’t write the epistle, so there’s no need to read from it.

Me? I’m preaching on Luther’s Epistle of Straw. But for only five minutes, so I can’t say much. Stay tuned!

Holy Week: Mac or Windows?

Holy Week: Mac or Windows? 

It’s now the end of the week after Easter Sunday, and the topic of discussion among clergy, musicians, and liturgy geeks has been “have you recovered from Holy Week?” This is followed quickly by “how was your Holy Week?” and “how can we do it better next year?”

Almost everything in that previous paragraph is a symptom of a problem. Catholic liturgical theology and heortology (theology of time) insists that Easter is the beginning of a time of life in heaven on earth. But if that is the case, why is it that the only thing I want after the Easter morning Eucharist is a long nap?

There seems to be a constant desire to fiddle with Holy Week. From seders and agape meals, to funerals for Jesus on Good Friday (and that’s not just an American protestant phenomenon; Greek Orthodox innovators in the middle 19th century created the kouvouklion procession and the burial of the corpus), to Tre Ore preaching, to moving Maundy Thursday to Tuesday—or even out of Holy Week—there seems to be no end to the possible improvements.

In a previous life, I managed software quality process. One common slogan was “you can’t repair quality into a product. You can only build it in.” Another principle is that a program can tolerate only a limited number of “improvements” before it needed to be re-engineered from the ground up.

I think that is where we find ourselves with Holy Week and Easter. To continue with our engineering analogy, two (or more) products have been munged together without paying attention to user-centered design (Holy Week as Windows Vista?) And as a result, you have a bloated product that sometimes works incredibly well, but most of the time is cumbersome and comes with more features than you can use.

We can crack this kind of engineering problem by going back to the original design documents. Unfortunately, in liturgy, we don’t have those docs, so we’ll have to look at what we do have: performance reports about earlier vesions of the liturgy. And what do we see with this sort of comparative historical study?

There are two different streams in the celebration of Easter. And they don’t match up.

One of these is about drama and re-enacting the past, and the other is about present appropriation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because commerce always wins out over truth (whether in engineering or church), and there’s money in tourism, re-enacting won out. Fortunately, enough of the power of hope remained to make it all worthwhile (sometimes). Unfortunately, it often is way more work and much less real than we hoped for.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to tease out two of the earliest versions of Holy Week and Easter—the one in fourth-century Jerusalem, and its contemporary in North Africa. Then I’ll look at how they got combined, and why, when we had a chance to fix Holy Week in the last century, we didn’t. And then—I hope before Pentecost—we should get into a discussion about what to do about Holy Week.

Michelin Guide for Wooden Wheels

Michelin Guide for Wooden Wheels

Tourism, and its antecedent, pilgrimage, is a privilege of both wealth and peace. Without both of these, it is at best known as “exile.” Constantine I provided a measure of both with the beginning of the end of persecution in the Edict of Milan in 313. Not long after, the sound of footsteps and horse hooves wending their way to Jerusalem could be heard plodding through Asia Minor.And what’s a trip without a diary with which to remember it? The earliest of these diaries comes quite soon after St. Helena’s discovery of the relics of the cross and the inception of Constantine’s great building projects, an anonymous pilgrim narrated his journey from Bordeaux to Palestine. The trip can be dated to 333; the Contantinian complex that would become the Martyrium and Anastasis (the basilicas on the sites of Jesus’ death and resurrection, respectively) was partially completed, as was the church on the Mount of Olives, but few buildings in the rest of Jerusalem were under construction. The Basilica in Bethlehem appears to be done. Our friend from Bordeaux wrote a typical itenerarium (a list of places visited and a log-book of where he stayed) with a bit more detail around Jerusalem. He (or she, for that matter, we don’t know) was interested in places, but the only indication that people are part of religious observance in Jerusalem is a mention of the wailing wall.

"Sapsaphas Madaba". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sapsaphas_Madaba.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sapsaphas_Madaba.jpg

“Sapsaphas Madaba”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sapsaphas_Madaba.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sapsaphas_Madaba.jpg

The most famous of our pilgrims, Egeria, made it to Jerusalem fifty years after the Bordeaux Pilgrim—sometime in the early 380’s. Compared to almost any other pilgrim in the first millennium, Egeria was a “sacristy rat;” she could smell a procession at 1000 yards, and happily wrote about many of the liturgies in which she participated. It seems, from reading her diary, that all that happened in fourth century Palestine was a continuous worship service—particularly during Lent. When we combine her diary with another (fairly unique) writing, Cyril of Jerusalem’s catechetical and mystagogical lectures, given about 350 (halfway in between the Bordeaux Pilgrim’s and Egeria’s visits), we have a very rich picture of the time around Easter in the second half of the fourth century. And it’s a picture that leaves us exhausted. The weeks before Easter are a time of almost non-stop formational activity—almost as if this were “spring training” for the author of Hebrews’ “race that is set before us.” There is a “once in a lifetime” character, not just to the baptism of the catechumens, but to the whole experience of Jerusalem and the passion of Jesus.

This ascesis—training for a race—is clearly part of what happened in Jerusalem, at least until it came under Muslim control. There is a lectionary from the middle of the fifth century that has readings for most of Egeria’s services, for example. However, this isn’t the whole story.

Within ten years, we have another tour guide: Paula, a patroness of Jerome, the irascible translator of the Vulgate, followed him to Bethlehem and wrote about her trip. It’s interesting that we pay so little attention to her diary as compared to Egeria’s. While Egeria’s travels languished, seldom copied, and as far as can be told, otherwise ignored, until their rediscovery in the nineteenth century, Paula, and her diary, entered into continuous popular culture. That the Chaucer has the Wife of Bath visit—in order—the same sites as Paula in the prologue to her tale is just the easiest example to find among many. Her diary comes down in two forms: a letter to a friend back in Rome, and Jerome’s editing of her itenerarium. There are few references to structured liturgies, except for the daily prayer of the monastics who lived near or in the holy places. What is overwhelming is the impression of the ministry of hospitality of these religious. There is a constant refrain of “We came to …, We were told of the importance of the place …, We joined in meals …, We prayed with …”

Hospitality. Daily prayer in holy places. And the veneration of holy places in the context of their place in the cycle of the year. These three principles tie together these early narratives of Jerusalem and its environs. What we see in Egeria, Cyril, and the Armenian lectionary of Jerusalem is not the ritualization of a lex orandi—an eternal liturgical gravitational law—but rather an improvisation in a very specific place of Jesus’ new law of love, of service to neighbor and alien so that they can be be part of the community of his transforming grace. Even with Egeria’s compulsive religiosity, the purpose of these dwellers in the land of Jesus shines through: to help pilgrims come so close to Christ through the sacrament of place that they might remain his forever.

Jacques Derrida gave an intriguing lecture, “Hospitality,” (in Acts of Religion) in which he explores hospitality and hostility. Following his thought, we could think of the fourth-century Palestinian Christians as “deconstructing home” so that it opens, as gift, as incorporation, to the pilgrims. I wonder if some of those pilgrims held that home hostage as they took these rites, out of place, (to pinch a phrase from ritual scholar Ron Grimes) and emplanted them elsewhere. Maybe the Bordeaux Pilgrim and Paula (and Jerome, for that matter) understood something Egeria didn’t: Is the Holy Week experience something that one can only receive as a gift? Does “doing it for ourselves” turn it into an act of hostile possession, making us hostages to a ritual? A Michelin three-star meal on the west bank of the Saone in Lyons won’t keep until I get home to Seattle. Imitating Cyril in San Francisco just might be as misguided.

Next post: The menu in Jerusalem.

work FOR?

work FOR?

It is likely that one of the first “facts” you learned about “liturgy” was the meaning of the Greek word leitourgia:

The work of the people

Like many popular derivations of words, someone disassembled a word into its root forms: laos, the people and ergas, a work. Thus, liturgy must be “a work of the people.” Unfortunately, that’s not how the word was actually used. Leitourgia actually describes acts of public service, performed by private citizens at their own expense, such as building a bridge for the community, fixing a road, or building a civic structure. The meaning transfers to the work done by anyone in offering public service to the gods.

It’s not about us

One of the worst things that happened to Christian worship in the last century is the reversal of subject and object represented by this mistranslation: “work OF the people.” Liturgy is not about us; it is about God, and is an action we undertake for the transformation of the universe. As Paul put it in Romans, “Creation anxiously awaits the revealing of God’s children.” This work, accomplished by God’s work in us for God’s world is why we engage in liturgy. Worship is joining in God’s work for God’s people, recreating God’s universe.

Theology

Here’s another of those words that has somehow lost its way. We think of it as “words about God,” and that certainly is how it gets used—in the same root-word paradigm of theos: God and logos: word as happens with “liturgy.” But that’s not how the early church and their late-antique religious compatriots used the word. For them, theology is the active searching for words with which to hymn God. This blog, as an experiment in constructive liturgical theology, is “a work undertaken for the people of God so that the church may more adequately find its words and music to hymn God.”

Welcome—and come join the conversation.

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