Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Preaching "Mystagogically" this Lent

Take a mystagogical approach to preaching throughout the season of Lent. Craig Satterlee, in his Ambrose of Milan’s Method of Mystagogical Preaching (Liturgical Press, 2002), defines mystagogical preaching as “sustained reflection on the Church’s rites of initiation” (2). Even if Lent is about more than the rites of initiation (and it is), nevertheless many approach Lent hoping for preaching and teaching that gets “back to the basics,” and mystagogical preaching accomplishes this. “It is mystagogia, preaching on the ‘mysteries’ of the Christian faith. It is preaching in that it is scripturally based, takes place within a liturgical setting, is addressed exclusively to the Christian community—the baptized and the newly baptized, called ‘neophytes,’ and has as its goal the formation of Christians rather than providing religious information to Christians.”

In our era, and in our North American pseudo-Christian culture, it is not easy to demark who is fully formed as a Christian, and who still needs basic formation—nor is it needful to make such a distinction. All of us, daily, need sustained reflection on initiation (remember your baptism daily), so all gathered for worship, whether they are newly baptized, baptized decades ago, or inquiring concerning baptism—can benefit from preaching that forms more than it informs. Even better, preach formatively in a way that also informs.

Lent offers a splendid set of texts for just such an approach to preaching. It begins at Ash Wednesday with a solemn call to fasting and repentance, setting the stage for conceptualizing and living Lent as a journey to Easter. Make use of the 2 Corinthians connection back to Transfiguration of Our Lord. If transfiguration is looking in a mirror and seeing ourselves (in Christ) differently, the Lenten journey is a turn away from the mirror and towards the neighbor and world as “ambassadors for Christ,” through whom God is making God’s appeal (2 Cor. 5:20). In other words, even when we are not looking at a mirror, we are still called to remember in whose image we are made, and with what image we are marked—the cross.

Created in the image of God, restored through the renewed image of God (Christ), ambassadors participating in that image—that is the beginning of sustained reflection on the church’s rites of initiation. Then the gospel lessons for the season offer sustenance for the remaining journey.

         Luke 4:1-13—Draw attention to the connection between this text and the threefold renunciation of the devil, the powers of this world, and the ways of sin, during the Profession of Faith in the liturgy for Holy Baptism. Texts for this Sunday are also very "Trinitarian" and easily tied to the baptismal "Apostles'" Creed.

         Luke 13:31-35—Here Jesus speaks of his own crucifixion and resurrection, the dying and rising we participate in through our baptism into Christ. Connect the text to the portion of the catechism devoted to baptism.

         Luke 13:1-9—Although a mystagogical sermon will distinguish between those who are baptized and those who are not yet baptized, it will also not turn the distinction into a hierarchy, the kind of practice warned against in this text. The focus is repentance, so consideration of confession and absolution is in order.

         Luke 15:1-3, 11b.-32—This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them (15:3). Yes indeed, which is likely one reason some of your adults are considering joining themselves to his life in baptism. Here simple ties can be made to the portion of the catechism devoted to the Lord's Supper.

         John 12:1-8—Love God, and love your neighbor. Here, although those around him try to make it more complicated, Jesus sees love of God in his anointing, and encourages everyone to love the poor around them continually. This is the Christian life. Such annointing and love looks quite a lot like prayer, so consider meditation on connections to the Lord's Prayer.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post!

    "Seeing ourselves (in Christ) differently..."

    This is what is needed in a world where so many words are after us.

    Thank you.

    - the Old Adam