Recovering Tradition

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 — Week of Proper 27, Year One

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 992)

Psalms 119:97-120 (morning) // 81, 82 (evening)

Nehemiah 7:73b – 8:3, 5-18

Revelation 18:21-24

Matthew 15:29-39

There is something moving about the account we read today from Nehemiah. The community has been on a journey of rebuilding — rebuilding the walls of the city as well as the corporate structures and the identity of their nation recovering from exile. The people gather together in an assembly to hear the reading of the ancient law. They hear sacred words from their tradition. It has been such a long time since these words have been pondered that the community has lost some of its corporate memory. The people weep, because they realize that they had lost so much of their identity.

In the reading they rediscover a holy festival and reinstate its observance. The people celebrate the Festival of Booths for the first time in living memory. They rejoice as they reclaim a part of themselves that they didn’t know they had.

Last night I taught an Inquirers Class. I spoke about the dynamic way time and space opens in the celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. I talked about how we experience the past becoming actively present in the Eucharist. “Anamnesis” is a way of remembering so that a past event becomes present to us now. Through active anamnesis we participate in the Last Supper today. I talked about our anticipation of the heavenly banquet where all things are to be gathered together into the eternal life of God. The future blessing becomes present now. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we enter a thin place where past and future merge into the present moment.

One of the participants in the class was deeply moved. He has been a Christian for a long time, though he is new to our church. “I’ve never heard of that before,” he said. Then he spoke about how meaningful that tradition seemed to him. It seemed so much more than merely thinking of communion as a memorial of something that had happened long ago and was now over. Last night he reclaimed something ancient, and his worship will be deeper.

I remember when I was taught the ancient tradition of Centering Prayer, based on the 14th century teaching from “The Cloud of Unknowing.” This practice of opening to the possibility of contemplation was unknown to me, though I was an adult who had been brought up in the church. When this tradition was “recovered” for me, it became a portal for my own life and renewal.

I grew up in the days of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. I can remember some of the process of liturgical renewal that accompanied the composition of the 1979 BCP. One of its treasures is the recovery of the Great Vigil of Easter. The church where I was raised had never celebrated that great liturgy. Thanks to our reclaiming something from our tradition, the Vigil has become my favorite worship service of the year. Our church has reclaimed a part of its lost tradition.

It can be a wonderful moment when we reclaim something from our ancient identity, like finding a valuable treasure that we didn’t know we already owned.

I wonder what other ancient things of our tradition remain for us to discover, to uncover or to reclaim.

For a while I’ve wondered what it might mean for us to reclaim the ancient tradition of the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25f). In the year of Jubilee all debts were canceled, all bondage released, and there was a redistribution of the land to its original equal endowments. In our nation, where one percent of our people owns over one-third of our wealth, where the top 20% claim 85%, and where the lower 40% only have 0.3% of our corporate wealth, what might some form of a Year of Jubilee mean for us?

What other treasures lie hidden below our corporate remembrance? What parts of our inheritance have we forgotten? What ancient wisdom waits for our rediscovery? What more is there for us to claim? …for us to learn?

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