When we rise from our beds on Sunday morning and come to Church, we want to be a part of the Body of Christ – the very Church that Jesus generated. We do not want a Church fathered by a man or a group of men, a few hundred years ago, regardless of how good, intelligent or decent they may have been. We want the genuine article, the real thing itself. We want to be part of the Church that Jesus Christ said he would return for one day. Thus the Anglican way begins not with theological abstractions, individual conversion experiences, moralism, self-esteem, or subjectivity. Rather, it begins with our common life in the Church as the Body of Christ. The most basic fact of our existence is not that we are thrown into the world as isolated, individual human beings, but that we have been baptized into the Holy Catholic Church, which is an extension of the eternal life of God the Holy Trinity working in this world. The Church is given and we find ourselves (from our subjective side) wandering through her doors thankful for the meaning, purpose, and truth that God has graciously given us.
Again, let us say that we have come to church on the First Sunday of Advent. The processional hymn would be hymn # 1, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. It refers to Jesus as having “a people,” not merely being in a “relationship” with individual persons. This “people” gathers on Sunday mornings to worship him in a very specific way that they believe he has directed. We have a common life in Christ, a life that we share not only with those who are physically with us on Sunday morning, but also with those we refer to as the blessed departed: handmaidens and servants of God like Peter and Paul, John and Mary, Stephen, Ignatius, Felicitas, Perpetua, Lucia, Cecilia, the Ethiopian Eunuch pictured below, and all the saints of God who are presently in the company of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Wesley’s hymn we literally sing a prayer that Christ will soon come to set his “people” free. Freedom, according to the Book of Common Prayer, is perfected in the worship of God (BCP p.17). What that means is that human beings are made to worship and love God and when we discover that we may worship him in the liturgy we discover the freedom to be the people we are meant to be. A free man or a free woman is a beautiful and terrible thing to behold. An authentic fear of God sets us free from all the large as well as the pecuine fears that try to roost in our life. The celebrant says the Collect for Purity after the processional hymn:
“Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify they holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”