The following is the text of Tim Yanni's homily from Tuesday, April 5th Solemn High Mass for the transferred feast of the Annunciation:
Today the worship committee is taking advantage of a liberty the Prayer Book lets us take. We changed the lectionary around and moved a couple of feasts. As the Prayer Book rubrics tell us, when the Annunciation falls during either Holy Week or Easter week, we move it to the second week of Easter. We wanted to make sure to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. yesterday, so we moved the major feast of the Annunciation to today. We decided this move made sense. As one piece of consideration, this is a major feast on the Church calendar and we generally have more people who are able to be present for Tuesday worship. Also, as it is a traditionally Marian feast day, it made for an appropriate occasion for the worship committee to schedule this high mass, which members of the CDSP worshipping community have been asking us to schedule.
I have to be honest and admit to you that I do not really consider myself a high churchman. Whatever that means. I do enjoy some traditionally “high church” expressions of worship, but I don’t identify that way myself. So as you can imagine, I was surprised when the worship committee asked me to spearhead putting this service together.
You see, this service is a piece of a larger project the worship committee is exploring. We believe it is important to explore the range of worship practices in the Episcopal Church and to make sure everyone here has the opportunity to worship in a way that they find to be meaningful. It is no secret that there is certainly a range of worship pieties within our small seminary, let alone within the wider Episcopal Church.
Services such as these give us the chance to do a little soul searching. In order for me to agree to assist with this service, I had to wrestle with some of my discomfort. For some reason, the term “Anglo-Catholic” made me cringe a little. Yes, it’s true that I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. But I was raised in the 80s and 90s. Post Vatican II. I have always been familiar with worship practices that pretty well mirror a middle-of-the-road service from the 1979 Prayer Book.
Yet I do bring some of my childhood pieties with me. I have a devotion to our Blessed Mother. The feast we celebrate today is meaningful to me. It’s from today’s gospel reading that we get the text for a prayer that is beloved in many Christian communities, including Anglicanism. It’s a prayer I say in my own prayer life. It’s of course The Hail Mary. “Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you!” the angel Gabriel tells Mary. How frightening that must have been! Yet how powerful.
Now we know from our study of Greek that αγγελος, the word for angel, means messenger. But our tradition tells us that Gabriel is more than just a messenger. Gabriel is one of the three archangels. High messengers, if we want to go back to our Greek. Nonetheless, our tradition paints images of what angels ought to look like. Take a look at the cover of your bulletin. That image is a famous rendition of the Annunciation, painted by Fra Angelico in around 1430. Wings and everything. Images like these shape much of what we think of when we think of the angels in scripture.
Whatever this angel looked like, and whoever it was, Gabriel probably caught Mary off guard.
Think for a moment about how it might feel to have an idea of what you want to do with your life, only to find out God has other plans for you?
How can this be? You might ask God. Certainly you do not want me!
It’s important to remember that in Luke’s gospel, Mary says yes to the call. “Be it done to me according to your will.” More words from Luke’s gospel that have been included in a Marian prayer, the Angelus. Wow. Isn’t it beautiful? Through those words, Mary acknowledges the will of God and she consents to her place in the story of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Now I realize not all of you have a Marian devotion and I recognize not all of you agree with me that these prayers to Mary have the level of beauty I observe in them. I mention them to give you an example of why we’re celebrating this liturgy that is outside the realm of our normal practice in this chapel.
It is important to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It is important to be adaptable to the unfamiliar. That’s why we move the furniture around in the chapel seasonally. That’s why we have alternate liturgies. As members of a seminary worshipping community, we have to be ready to roll with the punches and act on our toes! Changes can be jarring. Yet sometimes getting out of the rut of the day-to-day puts us in a place where we can open our eyes and truly encounter God. Sometimes these encounters can happen in places where we don’t even expect them.
I know you are all at some stage of saying yes to whatever it is God is calling you to do. I know you have strong worship practices and devout prayer lives. As your lame duck head sacristan, I want to ask you to put those worship practice and prayer lives to work and allow yourselves to challenge them. If you’re comfortable with low-church services, allow yourself to become fully immersed in today’s rituals. If these are rituals which bring you comfort and fulfillment, enjoy them today and at a later time, explore other rituals. In all you do, never stop looking for ways to experience Jesus Christ. Sing some hymns you are unfamiliar with. Experience the smell of burning incense. Light a candle and try contemplative prayer. Experience the Word of God in scripture study. Please never allow your worship life to become “just routine.”
Through the feast we celebrate today, Christ is incarnate. The Word was made flesh and pitched his tent among us. So during this glorious season of Easter, let us joyfully proclaim, Christ is risen! Alleluia!
~ Tim Yanni