Over in San Francisco, there is an Episcopal Church – St Gregory of Nyssa – that grounds its worship in the liturgy and worship practices of 4th Century Christianity. That’s very specific, isn’t it? They began in the 1970s as an experimental congregation – still thriving today – with the thought of taking ancient Christian practices – practices from the Byzantine, Jewish, and African world of the Mediterranean – and reviving those practices to create a fresh Word for today.
Their worship endeavors to engage all the senses, in movements and patterns embraced by saints of the church down through the ages. And so, if you worship there, you’ll experience things in worship like incense – invoking the sense of smell. They also have stunning visual art. They use icons as a part of their prayer – images that can help focus and inspire prayer.
In one part of their worship space, in the rotunda above the communion table, they have a mural of icons of the saints – dancing saints. All around and above the communion table the saints of the church... dance – and these are saints, broadly understood – St Francis, St Teresa of Avila, but also Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the flow of worship at St Gregory of Nyssa, when they gather for communion – for the Eucharist – the congregation gets up from their seats – and they dance to and around the communion table. It’s like a holy and festive conga line. And there they are, all above and around, the saints who have gone before dancing around the communion table, and the living saints dancing below them. The saints above, the saints here and now, dancing into communion – into life with God and each other – communion and life that reaches back into the past, comes to life in the present, and overflows into a future yet to come.
The Scriptures this morning have that same sense of exuberance and hope, as the Writer greets the saints in the house-church in Ephesus. There’s a good bit we don’t know about this letter to the Ephesians. It’s written in the name of the Apostle Paul, probably not by Paul himself. It doesn’t go into the specifics of their life in community, so we don’t know much about the background of this letter to the Ephesians.
What we do have in Ephesians is the vitalty and vibrancy of its language and imagery. Ephesians overflows – it cascades with exuberant expression of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ – how that love comes to life in God’s New Creation – in the saints – in us – in all of us together, the Body of Christ – cascading imagery of thanksgiving and praise. It is by grace you have been saved, by faith. God has made us alive in Christ, raised us with Christ into the heavenly realms, created us as God’s workmanship to do good in the world, a new creation, the body of Christ. Ephesians overflows with the length and height and breadth and depth of God’s love for us, more than we could ever ask or imagine.
Standing in the flow of that praise, the Scriptures this morning begin with a word of thanks. The Writer writes to the saints in Ephesus, and says, “I give thanks to God every time I think of you.” The Writer remembers the saints, and how he has experienced the fullness of God in them – “the fullness of the One who fills everything in every way.”
Remembering and giving than