Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Following a Star - Epiphany

We have seen his star in the East, and  have come to worship him. Mt. 2.2

Epiphany. One of my favourite feasts. Following stars. Bringing gifts - mainly ourselves. I'm not quite sure how to capture the joy of our service at St. CHL on Sunday. It was amazing - full of wonder - wonder-full.

Collects for Epiphany:
Jesus, light of the world, 
let your bright star stand over the place where the poor have to live; 
lead our sages to wisdom and our rulers to reverence. Amen.

God of light and hope; of stars and surprises: 
open our eyes to your glory 
and our hearts to your presence 
that we may respond with joy to the angel song; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Max, getting ready to process. Ridgy hidden with Martine, his Mum, carrying the St. Cuthbert's cross.

I'm an Anglican priest. Hmmm. How to be an Anglican priest today? Tradition is important, of course - but the Holy Spirit is alive and well. God doesn't fit into boxes or tiny prayer books several hundred years old - though prayer books can be helpful. And certainly are to some. But an Epiphany Service for children and the rest of us? I struggle. I wonder - am I a heretic? If I am, is that a bad thing? Sort of like Mia used to tell me, "If someone calls you a bitch, say 'Thank you.' " Who decides? Who defines us?

We all have our gifts.  Mine are with small groups like our little church. And they were with Mile End Mission. People on the margins. Although we're not homeless - or anything close, we are on the margins of church in some ways. We don't fit with large downtown churches. It's all ok. God works in different ways in different people and in different places. Why am I sounding apologetic? It was WONDER-FULL! I'm following a star God-wards, and ministry is a journey with others who long to follow stars. To find and know God. 

Barry, our diocesan bishop, joined us for this service and was involved in all sorts of ways - including dancing - and he said the blessing. See the end for the final prayers... and blessing...

This Epiphany was ecumenical - with special invitation out to members of Trinity United in Rosemont. We share geographical boundaries with Trinity, a sense of being smallish country churches, history that goes back to late 1800's and especially the early 1900's when masses of people emigrated from the UK in particular to work at CPR's Angus Shops. Canada was spreading west. The railroads were the main means of transport for people and goods. Our little church is built on railroad ties donated by Angus Shops. My great-grandfather and great-uncle and grandfather worked there. Just about anyone whose family has roots in Rosemont has someone who worked hard at Angus Shops, building our country.

OK - so Epiphany is also one of our St. CHL services geared to children and families and all ages. Our parish covers an area of Montreal almost unimaginable for one little congregation. Maybe I can find a map. Many people use public transportation of various sorts to join us. Those with children live farthest away - in Park Extension and Rivière-des-Prairies.

In addition to regulars who live in other areas
(red dots if you can see them! in St-Laurent, Ville Emard, & Cote-des-Neiges),
the red line approximates our parish

Chief Top Leaf had agreed (Yes!!!) to preach and teach at this service. We talk about broadening our understanding of God, of Jesus, of each other ... well - Jesus wasn't blonde and blue-eyed. Jesus was born a Jew, probably with brown skin and eyes, and dark hair. Jesus has been born anew for almost 2,000 years in the hearts of people from cultures around the world - and is today. Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit priest and missionary, wrote the Huron Carol in the 1600's for the First Nations people using images that would make cultural sense to Indigenous peoples in Quebec. What we created on Sunday wasn't new. Well, it was and it wasn't.

Huron Carol - Jean de Brébeuf  1643
Jesous Ahatonhia ("Jesus, he is born")  
1. 'Twas in the moon of winter-time
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wandering hunter heard the hymn:
"Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria."
Ie-sos wa-hatonni, Iesos waha-ton-ni wahaton-ni
2. Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapp'd His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high. Refrain

3. O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou,
The Holy Child of earth and heaven
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy. Refrain

As I said at the beginning of the service, we aren't being 'cute.' We're broadening our understanding of God and of each other. We're opening our hearts to those who were devastated by colonialism, and whose children were 'imprisoned' in residential schools... I could go on - but there's more on that in another blog entry. Chief Top Leaf brought US an unimaginable gift. 

The gifts the wise men in Matthew's Gospel bring Jesus - gold, frankincense, and myrrh - symbolize Jesus as King, God, and his death that will come. We had other gifts - well - a trip to Kahnawake led to our bringing rabbit skins, tiny moccasins, a dream-catcher, sweet grass, a drum...   Chief Top Leaf brought gifts of sage, sweet grass, cedar, and the Three Sisters - beans, corn and squash... He held the attention of all of us from 3 - 93 with his story-telling and explanations. The drumbeat for First Nations people represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Ohhh... I love it! He explained what would have been used for a diaper, since Pampers weren't available 2,000 years ago. (Moss soft and washed and dried). The baby (doll) was in a life-size papoose board. The rattle was made of a turtle shell on a stick. He brought real animals - a lynx, raccoon, snowshoe hare and rabbit, and a red fox. They sat/stood on a buffalo hide. The lynx looked ready to hop out at either us or the rabbit. 

Children processing with the Gifts
See below for new version I wrote of "We Three Kings"   :-) that we sang as the gifts were brought forward and placed before the altar.

Chief Top Leaf explained that in our land, we wouldn't have had camels and other mid-Eastern fauna. And he figured God would, no doubt, have tamed down the wild animals of our forests if they had approached Jesus' birth place.

Mohawk Chiefs and hunters afar           Tune: We three Kings

Matriarchs and children we are
Travelling rivers, fields and forests
Following yonder star. 

      Chorus:  O star of wonder, star of night, 
                Star with royal beauty bright, 
                Sign of glory, Guiding onwards
                Ever to your perfect Light. 

Born a babe in each loving heart, 
Here we gather - gifts to impart
Mother, infant, poor and lonely
We come with you apart.      Chorus

Rabbit skins to offer have I
Wrap the babe as we wonder why
Born an infant here to save us
Under our winter’s sky.

Sweet grass bring we, scenting the air 
kneeling, offering homage in prayer
praising ever, ceasing never
wrapped in his mother’s care.    Chorus

Moccasins for his tiny feet
Deerskin warm, as we come to greet
Infant holy, God incarnate,
Alive in all we meet.     Chorus

Dream-catcher we hang by his head
Sifting evils , sadness, and dread.
Our Creator holds him forever.
He will become our Bread.    Chorus

Martine, Pierre, and Ridgy had made exquisite stars of paper. Two of the stars were placed back-to-back and attached to a long, flexible pole that Pierre carried. An advantage to being a combined parish is: we have three processional crosses. Good thing! Such a tiny church. The littlest members love to be crucifers - sooo... Ridgy and Max are the usual bearers - but Sarah was visiting from Trinity United - and she looked longingly at the two boys preparing to process. Add one! Two are large and heavy and require adult help. The third, St. Hilda's little wooden cross, is the one we usually use. Max, being the smallest, carried that. Ridgy was upset because he wanted that one. I carefully explained that as he is bigger (a bit) :-) he gets to carry a bigger cross. Doubtful look, but it worked. 

I could go on and on - describing the service. It takes quite a while before I can go beyond the overall sense of the service being wonderful, to letting go the sense of anxiety when things seem on the edge of out-of-control - to go back to accepting that it was creative chaos.

What touches me most - the young children were so attentive to Chief Top Leaf as they sat on the floor in front of him. They LOVE participating - so we involve them in absolutely everything they can manage. Bells to ring during some of the carols when a bit of energy needs using. Collection. And then a last minute brainwave - I thought - and it was as it turns out - I asked them to sit in front of the altar with their bells and to ring when I asked them to (explanation given) and to stop when I nodded. Holy, holy, holy. Then when I held the bread up and wine after consecration. They were so intent and involved - I almost cry. It was beautiful. I have quite a time getting adults to participate in the eucharistic prayer by looking up rather than down in to their prayer books. No such challenge with the children. They were in awe - God was at work.

Then, everyone was welcomed to join in sharing God's meal around the altar, including the children. Max was missing in action. The service was long - though mostly didn't seem so. I asked Barbara if she would go and find him. She left the altar rail, found him, and he ran into the church, up the aisle arms out, stood at the rail, put his hands in place to receive the bread, and glowed. His dark eyes sparkled, his little face shone! Oh my - such a gift. Tears again. What a privilege is mine - and ours.

the Gifts: Ridgy (drum) Max (rabbit skins), Abigail, Hannah, Sarah and Tristan
with sage, sweet grass, tobacco, and cedar, and a basket with the Three Sisters: beans, squash & corn
Chief Top Leaf

BTW - Jesus also received two Canadiens bibs - as I'm sure if he'd been born at Kahnawake, he'd be a Habs fan - and maybe he is anyhow :-) No, Karen - he's not Bruins' fan - nor a Maple Leafs' fan, Eileen.  ;-)

Go tell it on the mountain. Bells. Dancing. Pure joy! A circle at the back of the church with a few of the children and a  Mom and me - and then the other children caught on and hands were opened to welcome them. It was like flowing joy. Tom, our organist, is a marvel - a jazz musician who turns our little organ into a heavenly instrument. Friend Kurt joined us with his guitar. After Go tell it on the mountain - jazzed and then some - after the dismissal, he played the A-A-A-Men - jazz form - and so, we danced again and some more. 

Closing prayers:
Doxology:  Glory to God, whose power working in us,

can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Glory to God from generation to generation,
in the Church and in Christ Jesus, for ever and ever.

When the song of the angels is stilled
When the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and the wise ones are home
When the shepherds are back with their flocks
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, to heal the broken
To feed the hungry, to release the prisoner
To rebuild the nations, 
to bring peace among the people,
To make music in the heart.

Christmas Blessing:  So may the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the magi, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ child be yours this Christmas. And the blessing of God the one who created us, God the one who was born to redeem us, God the Holy Spirit who comforts and challenges us, be upon us and remain with us always.                        Amen.  

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