Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Work of Goodness

I love the liturgy of the Episcopal Church because in it, I am reminded who I am and who God calls me to be.

I am reminded faith is not all about me or my preferences or opinions or thoughts or ideas, but a part, a God still counts the hairs on my head part, but indeed, still a part, of eons of humanity’s experiences with God and their response in those experiences.

I am reminded of humility, that the prayers of thousands of years invite me into a wisdom and insight I could never experience on my own.

I am reminded I love the liturgy of the Episcopal Church, and that love does not need to discount or disregard other expressions of worship in other denominations or even in other Episcopal churches. In fact, if I do that, I am missing the point of liturgy. 

Liturgy, which is often simply translated into "the work of the people," has a more profound aspect to it than that. Scott Gunn ad Melody Wilson Shobe in their excellent book Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs and Practices, reach into the soul of the word by reminding us liturgy is an offering for the good of all people. They say, “In this way, our liturgies are meant to be public works, that is, offerings for the good of the whole world.” 

The liturgies of the Episcopal Church are offerings for the good and ways to remind us of the goodness of God, the creation, and our place in it. When I officiate at a Baptism, I am part of the gathering of God’s people who witness the courage of the one being baptized (or their parents) to say to the world, “We believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and we will follow the way of love!” in a culture that too often demands we follow the way of fear and self-interest. 

When I celebrate the Holy Eucharist, I am present with Christ in a way that words simply cannot describe, even for a writer. Every part of the liturgy engages me. The Eucharistic prayers, those I adore and those I pray because I vow obedience to the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church, all narrate the great act of Christ’s love and ask us – yes us, we untidy, odd humans – to participate in that act with Jesus! The feelings of the items on the altar - the sharp, starched crease of the corporal, the weight of the chalice filled with wine to be consecrated, the hosts, even the two or three rogue ones that eternally escape the edge of the paten, and the voices of the people gathered proclaiming, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” all stop time and space as we pause at the moment between God’s inhaling before the great exhale of the Spirit that brings created and re-created life in a new way. Even when I've listened the the Eucharistic Prayers prayed in a language other than English, I know them and hear them with my self and soul. The words of the Eucharist, in their great mystery and truth, are bigger than one language or expression. We gather in that eternity in all the messiness of our diverse humanity to receive the Body and Blood of Christ and remind ourselves who and whose we are. And that is good.

Or when I officiate a burial. Grief, while painful, is a reminder we had the courage to love and we have faith that our love does not die at death, but is changed into eternity with God. And every prayer of that service embraces love and grief together in the great narrative of faith. I have yet to say the words “yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” of the prayer at the Commendation without feeling that physical presence of grief and love that surfaces with a catch in my words. Every time. Those words are the vocabulary of grief and hope bound together in the community of saints, and I love them for bearing that truth. 

And the Daily Office, that (as once described by a seminary professor) old warhorse of the Book of Common Prayer. I have prayed those words in fear and trepidation, in exhaustion and anger, in celebration, and in ennui. They find me wherever I am, and remind me of God, of the simplicity and the complexity of love. I have prayed the Office in Westminster Abbey and at my dining room table over coffee, in the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre and in the graveyard at Gethsemani Monastery, on my front porch after the devastation of Katrina when the humidity caused large drops of sweat to drop onto the page and on the beach with friends when the wind was icy and blustery, but we were determined to say the Magnificat together that evening. Those words have been my holy companion for decades.

Wherever I am, the liturgy of God finds me and brings me back to myself and to God. 

I love the liturgy of the Episcopal Church because I have surrendered to its words of love, its words of Good News. They find me scattered and smothered and meet me there in prayers I have prayed them for so long they seep forth from my heart. God in the liturgy lavishes me with the prayers of thousands of years of the people of God, reminding me of the great cloud of witnesses that prays with me, with us. 

In our liturgy, we pray with each other, for each other, in the company of all our thoughts and emotions. We pray with God, who has given us the work of goodness. 


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