Last week I posted a reflection James K.A. Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom. If you haven’t read link to blog it yet, I hope you will. On that post, my colleague Ana Hernandez posted a comment that I have spent a lot of time thinking on. Ana writes:
One thought: before we had liturgy, God loved the world into being. Love is what creates a lasting desire to come together and grow in the things that truly feed us. If we value liturgy and certainty outside the context of neighbor love, we risk building large, empty rooms. We’ve already done enough of that. My greatest desire is to make more love, so I work on spiritus orandi and spiritus vivendi (not big on the law/lex).
I was particularly struck by her reflection on the need for love. After reading and rereading Ana’s comment, and going back and rereading the blog post, I realized that I she and I – I think – are talking about very similar things. And I think I could have been a little more specific in describing the type of person we are formed to be through our corporate worship.
When I think about what lex orandi, lex credendi, I do not think of the literal transtion of the word “lex” as “law.” I have come to understand this phrase in the colloquial way that is has come to be translated, “What we pray, is what we believe.” So what is it that we are praying? What kind of person is our life of faith is shaping us to be? There are lots of answers to this questions, but in the past week two things have come to mind.
First, is a very familiar passage form Matthew’s Gospel. Like many parishes, my parish, Church of the Redeemer, has a Wednesday night Eucharist. This past Wednesday, we remembered the 17th century priest and poet, George Herbert. The Gospel reading appointed for this day, is Matthew 5:1-10 – the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are those who mourn . . . Blessed are the meek . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . Blessed are the merciful . . . Blessed are the pure in heart . . . Blessed are the peacemakers . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” As I stood there, listening to the proclamation of this Gospel, I could not help but wonder what this was calling me to do. What type of person this was shaping me to be. What this Gospel lesson causes me to desire. One thing is certain, there is nothing in this Gospel that is trying to form me in the same way that most of our secular liturgies are trying to.
The second thing that crossed my mind this week was the Baptismal Covenant. It’s Lent, I work for a local parish, that means that my brain is already into the Triduum. This week at St. Peter’s, we started drafting our bulletins. As I read through the Easter Vigil bulletin, I did a double take during the Baptism portion of the liturgy. I read through it all and said to myself, “Wait a second, there is a lot of love in these promises.” (Not a new revelation, but always something good to be reminded of.)
“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” By virtue of our Baptism, we are called to love and serve all people. There is no question what this incredibly important liturgy is calling us to desire. We are promising to live into the love of Christ in the world. There is only one way we can do that: with God’s help. Where is it that we receive the grace and blessing of God every week – in the Eucharist. (So I lied, I guess I’ve go three things.)
At St. Peter’s, like other Episcopal Churches, we are using Rite I for Lent. Every time I participate in a Rite I Eucharistic liturgy I am struck by the following words, “Whereby we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies. Grant, we beseech thee, that all who partake of this Holy Communion may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, and be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction.” We come to the altar, our selves, our souls and bodies, our entire selves and pray that God will fill us with His grace and heavenly blessing. It is that grace that calls us to something more than ourselves, and our buildings. If we believe what we pray, we cannot come to the altar week in and week out; we cannot partake in the Blessed Sacrament, and go about living the rest of our lives as business as usual. If we pray that “God so loved the world” then we too must love the world – we must love all of humanity.
In the words of the great Harvey Milk, “The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great.” We give them hope, by loving and serving them in the same way that God loves us.
As we prepare for worship this morning, I hope you will pay attention to the language of love that we use in our liturgy. How we are called to treat and respond to others; how we ask forgiveness when we fail to live into our call as disciples of Jesus; how we invite God to dwell in us and we in God.
May your prayer this morning shape and form you to love friend and stranger; and may the beauty of holiness found in our particular Anglican way of worship remind you of the beauty of the life that God calls us to live.