Back in Lent we started a new worship/study experience on Wednesday nights at 6 p.m. which will called Vespers. “Vespers” is an ancient word which means “night” or “evening star,” and is the prayer service traditionally held in the evening at monasteries throughout the world. There is a long tradition of “evening prayer” in the life of the church, and our hope was to create an opportunity for worship that was simple, reflective, and involves a communal reflection on God’s Word and experiencing Christ through the sacraments each week.
We’ve had a faithful small contingent join us each week in the chapel, and I think all have found this time meaningful to their lives. We’d love to have many more join us, and I wanted to take a minute to describe what we are doing, and why we think this is important.
As is true of most all worship experiences, the Vespers service is rooted in prayer. That is, after all, the root identity of this type of service — the community gathering in praise to our God, and in prayer for the needs of the world, our church, our neighbors, and of course one another. The fact is that we can never be a congregation that prays too much, and that we need to gather in prayer as often as we can to better discern God’s will for our lives and our future. In the Vespers service we join with one another in praying a Psalm together as a part of our “liturgy,” and we share our joys and concerns with one another and prayer for each other’s needs and the needs of others. The Apostle Paul told the church at Galatia that they needed to “…bear one another’s burdens and in this way you shall fulfill the law of Christ.” We too are called to bear each other’s burdens, and the Vespers experience is an opportunity for us to do so in prayer.
The second important aspect of the Vespers service is our connection to the Holy Scriptures. Each week we share in a process of lectio divina (divine reading) in which we read through a biblical passage a couple of times, and then reflect with one another what we are hearing God’s saying in that passage. This is not a study or a lesson or especially a sermon, for we are working together to hear God’s voice and share what each of us is hearing so that we night gain a fuller picture of God’s purposes. The goal is to allow God to speak to our situations and our church directly through conversation and reflection on the holy scriptures. We are currently working our way through Mark’s gospel a passage at a time, and are being blessed by our experience of Christ anew.
A third part of the Vespers service is our sharing in the body and blood of Christ in Communion each week. John Wesley, the founder of our United Methodist tradition, believed that all should partake of communion as often as they can because the Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a way we don’t fully understand through the sacrament. We believe that Christ’s holy presence is infused into the consecrated bread and wine and that in sharing in the holy feast we gain something new, which leads to our transformation. Taking communion each week is a tangible reminder that Christ lives in all who would seek to be his disciples.
While the Vespers service draws on traditional forms, the Wednesday service is fairly casual in nature. Our music is a mixture of traditional and contemporary, more often than not guitar based. We understand that it is a holy moment, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t joy and laughter. It is very simply a time for disciples of Jesus to gather to pray, read scripture, and join in the holy feast.
I hope that you will consider trying out the Vespers service and see what it might mean for you.