One of the great things about serving in a parish that has such a long and significant history is that, chances are, something that is a current offering—even if it seems new—most likely existed before. I am thinking specifically about the early Wednesday morning Lenten gathering of Morning Prayer as the liturgy of the word with Eucharist service. Whereas this type of service is not brand new to me (I had been involved with a similar offering in another parish many years ago), it is “new” in my more-recent priestly ministry as a parish rector.
Certainly Morning Prayer is not new to St. James’. But from all that I have inferred, it has been a long time since MP & HE has been offered at 409 East Lancaster Avenue. It has been, literally, generations ago. The main reason for gathering together for corporate Christian worship is to honor God and to offer prayers of thanksgiving and supplication to the Holy Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It seems however that more and more within our contemporary society, a by-product of organized religion is that, we are too readily inconvenienced by its very existence. Especially, “non-traditional” existence. Like…Wednesday mornings at 7:00 a.m.!
I was under no self-illusions. It did not seem that there would be a multitude coming together to participate in the Magnificat or the Venite, to enter into that rhythm of scripture lesson and canticle, or share in that dynamic of versicle/response petitions as the suffrages are prayed. There is a reason why, thus far every week in this Lenten season, we conclude with the Prayer of St. Chrysostom, “that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them.” Those who have been worshiping faithfully are, seemingly to me, just beginning to gel in a real and palpable way. I know that this is the case for myself.
When Christians gather to learn about and worship God, whether with contrite hearts and reverent intentions in penitential times like Lent, or at the boisterous and spirited celebrations of like Pentecost, the reunion of Jesus’ followers will witness an exponential growth of that spirit. Something happens when the Spirit affects those who are seeking it. A “thin place” is sensed, a time or event or place will exist in which the sacred is occurring, the blurry crossing of heavenly presence that is experienced here on earth. Something happens when a Christian sojourner—whether lay or ordained–lives into leading a service as foundational as the day’s first Daily Office, for the very first time…or for the first time in 5 or 10…or even 30 years.
Whether it be a service from the Daily Offices, a newly-created bible study, a youth group gathering, a celebratory event to kick-off an important initiative, or a pastoral service like a marriage or a burial, let us continue to remember throughout Lent, why we are called to be together: to place the emphasis on the Holy Trinity, and less so upon ourselves. Let us be beautifully and poignantly, be inconvenienced and challenged, as well as humbled and reaffirmed.
Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.
Fr. John Symonds