The time is fulfilled,” Jesus says, “the Kingdom of God has come near… repent,” which means, turn your lives completely around—re-orient your lives from the kingdoms and Empires of this world, and toward the Kingdom of God. Then, as he passes by the Sea of Galilee, he says to the fishermen he sees there, while they’re fishing, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
And, though they don’t know exactly what it will mean, or exactly where he will lead them, immediately (as if they had heard Saint Paul’s words before he wrote them to the Corinthians: the appointed time has grown short, so act as if you are not captured by the world as it is, because the present form of the world is passing away) they let go of their nets, let go of their livelihood, let go of their old lives, and they follow him, beginning new lives oriented toward the Kingdom of God.
Where Mother Sara, Father Jay, and I went to seminary, the community gathered at least three times a day to worship: Morning Prayer, Eucharist, and Evening Prayer every day (plus Compline on some days). We gathered something like 22 times a week!
I loved it!
And when I left and went to serve as a curate (I was the third priest on staff) at a young suburban parish with a good number of young families and a LOT going on, but not nearly so much worship during the week, I remember experiencing a deep loss.
I spent a lot of time then (and over the years since) thinking about this, about what it meant, and why I experienced it as such a loss. And what’s become clear to me is that in seminary, I didn’t experience worship as the interruption of the rest of my life. There, for the first time, I experienced my life—my whole life—as Church—as an integrated whole with the worship of God three times a day (at least) as the armature, the structure, on which the rest of my life as part of the Body of Christ was built and found its true nature.
A few days ago on the Center for Action and Contemplation blog, Richard Rohr wrote:
“Most Christians glibly recite ‘Thy kingdom come,’ but this means almost nothing until and unless they also say ‘My kingdom go.’”1
Getting at that reality is what the Catechumenal Process of the early Church (what we’re reviving at St. Paul’s on Wednesday nights!) was designed to teach those about to be baptized.
One of the oldest Church Orders (sort of like Prayer Books, instruction manuals, and mini volumes of canon law rolled into one) is the Apostolic Tradition (early third century). And in the Apostolic Tradition is the description of the catechumenal process from that period. The Apostolic Tradition includes instruction on
who could be admitted as catechumens,
- their need to be sponsored,
- their need to be examined about their reasons for embracing the faith, and
- their spiritual and moral readiness to be admitted, including what they did for a living.
Some jobs precluded them from being admitted as catechumens. Many were obvious: enchanters, astrologers, soothsayers, pagan priests who offered sacrifice to pagan gods, and so on.
But some, many even, are less obvious.
Artists who make idols must stop or be rejected. Actors (because they were usually in plays about pagan gods, or that had pornographic material) must stop or be rejected. Charioteers and gladiators or their trainers, or anyone who participated in any way in those violent games had to stop or be rejected. Soldiers had to be taught not to kill and to refuse to do so, and to refuse to take an oath, or be rejected. And if someone actually decided to become a soldier after being admitted as a catechumen, he must be rejected because (the Apostolic Tradition says), he has despised God. A military commander or a magistrate must resign or be rejected.
There are more, but you get the idea.
And if you were admitted, the Apostolic Tradition says that you had to spend three years in preparation for baptism. Three years! That’s how long seminary is for most priests in this Church!
The point is that the Church of the first few centuries expected a REAL, serious change in every aspect life for the baptized. It was a big deal—a life changing event with a long preparation. No part of the life of the Baptized remained unchanged.
And this wasn’t just about the personal holiness of each of the Baptized, but about the transformation of their lives and so the life of the whole community. And to what end?
The Church didn’t grow because it advertised or had good programs or anything like that. It grew because Christians had a reputation for being radically different from the people around them—a reputation for
- acting like a great big family,
- holding all things in common (the wealthy selling what they owned and caring for the poor of the Church),
- worshiping together all the time.
The Church was a new kind of family not based on birth, but on baptism. That’s why they called each other brother and sister.
They were a new people, a different people, not without complication or conflict, but still a new people, a community. And their life together as the baptized, as the Church, defined who they were. It was their whole life. And, as the Church, they walked together in newness of life, and, as the collect for today says, they, and the whole world, were able to perceive the glory of God’s marvelous works, because of their readiness to answer the call to follow Jesus Christ and to proclaim to all people the Good News (in words, but also in their lives and their life together).
THIS is what we’re up to as Church. This is still the game we’re playing. So maybe we need always to ask:
- Are there ways in which we experience worship or other parts of our life in Christ as interruptions into the rest of our lives?
- If so, is there something—some part of the world that is passing away—that we can let go of (or should let go of) to experience our lives, our whole lives, as Church—as the Body of Christ—an integrated whole?
Because Jesus is always saying to us, to each of us, and to us as a body: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near. Repent. Turn around.”
And in the midst of our busy lives Jesus is always, always saying to each of us and to us as a body, right in the midst of our busy lives, “Follow me.”