This morning I began my weekly routine of starting my work week with a reading of the Lectionary lessons for the coming Sunday. I was struck with this collect: O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Before I could even contemplate this collect, I realized that I brushed over the first few lines without really thinking about them.
The strength of all who put their trust in you.
Mercifully accept our prayers.
So much of God is shrink wrapped in just that invocation. A powerful and compassionate God. A merciful and accepting God who loves when I relay messages of petition and gratitude. I almost missed it! It makes me wonder how often I’ve let fastballs like these whizz by me, grazing me on the forehead without my noticing.
When I was in middle school, getting my first real taste of liturgy, I remember having to sit through the worship service. There were days where I wiggling impatiently, excitedly expectant for the last hymn so I could get to the parish hall before anyone else and snag a doughnut. That wiggling really represented some restlessness in my soul as I reflect now. I really wanted something more substantial than doughnuts and was missing the smorgasbord that was sitting right in front of me in the liturgy. I often would challenge myself to pay attention to every prayer and reading, even if I didn’t quite understand it all. Every so often I would pick up on a nugget, a phrase, or a word that would teach me something about who I was and who God was.
Often, when I’m celebrating the Eucharist, I’m wondering what the congregation hears. Do they understand that we’re speaking to the God of the Universe in thanksgiving for the mere fact that God is the least bit interested in us? Do they observe the long tapestry of faithful believers who prayed, struggled, and rejoiced before us, and that we are weaving the next row? Do they nibble just a crumb off of the divinity that is before them? Or are they sometimes like me, standing in one of those air-pumped prize booths with tickets or cash blowing around me in a maelstrom of fortune, yet I’m absent-mindedly wondering what’s for lunch in the midst of it?
Just like those prize booths, it is impossible to catch everything flying past even when you are paying attention. I don’t think God expects us to catch everything. But there may be the biggest prize of all floating around my noggin, I just have to be aware of it.
The wonderful thing about the Episcopal worship service is that it is an embarrassment of theological riches. God’s word is not contained in just the sermon, or a hymn, but from the moment we enter the nave and decide to set aside our paltry concerns for just a few moments to the moment we are sent out to carry whatever prize we won that day.
Every Sunday we enter into worship with this prayer: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I also begin my sermons often with something like: Open our hearts, our souls, our minds, our ears, that we may hear what you have to say to us and go forth from here proclaiming it. Amen.
These prayers are for me as much as it is for you. These prayers remind me to keep my antennae up, to notice even just a fragment of a word from God, because that fragment has the power to set the course of the next leg of my journey. That sliver has the power to change my relationships and affect my community. That grain has the power to topple kingdoms of fear, hatred, injustice, slavery, and war.
But only if I catch it.