Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My first Homily

Today was my first attempt at delivering a homily. The Tuesday Eucharist is usually low-key with just a handful of people attending, but my supervisor thought I was ready to start off with the larger crowd that comes for All Souls' Day.

I have to say that I think it went well. I didn't give a real sermon but instead encouraged the congregation present to really grieve and feel their pain; God was with them in it. I started off talking about the image from Isaiah about the banquet: it's such a fine scene and a great way to think about our life with God after the resurrection. We don't live at that time, though. We still experience pain and suffering. While our hope is in the resurrection and this divine banquet, we will grieve over our loved ones and know a lot of pain.

Our hope does not diminish our feelings or negate them but instead calls us to lift them up to the one who came to us, who lived and died with us and now sits at the right hand of the Father: Christ. We don't lose our pain but must instead live our pain. It doesn't make us un-Christian to mourn or to experience pain. We're human, after all. God, though, wants to be with us in our pain.

My parting sentence:

"And when the banquet is ready, we can appear with our tear-stained cheeks, knowing God will wipe them away. Then we can rejoice with God."

I'm still not sure whether it was good, bad or mediocre, but it was my first attempt at a homily. I can only hope that the right words landed in the ears which needed to hear them. In the words of a priest I know, "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Was it worth it?

Now that I'm an adult I'm starting to reflect on the experiences of our youth. I'm ready to admit I'm old now at my early twenties.

On Friday was a youth summit here in Omaha. It was oriented toward youth at-risk for gang involvement; we brought in local service agencies and speakers as well as a representative for an organization in LA which helps gang members leave gangs and build a bright future.

Leaving behind a moment all the struggles and petty squabbles that plagued the process, it was good to see a community come together for the youth. There is a growing gang problem here in Omaha, and it's becoming racially charged. Bringing together the middle schoolers, the social service agencies and the speakers I think was helpful.

But then there's the nagging feeling that the youth didn't take anything away from it. I know some kids were excited that it was a day away from schoolwork (Hey, I thought the same thing in school sometimes). Did we reach them? The saying I heard some of the planning committee members share was "If we reached one of them, it was worth it."

I wonder whether it would have been worth it. Would the local university have been so generous? Would we have worked so hard? Would the keynote speaker have flown in? Would the social agencies have been present?

At its best, humanity will do a lot for the individual. But just one person? If only one person took away from that meeting a feeling of hope for the future and a greater respect for him or herself, then some might not be so generous. Their resources could've been spent in a different way, given to someone more open to it. Given to someone it might have actually helped.

Can we think of God in the same way? I've often wondered whether the crucifixion was worth it. Think about it: God died on the cross that fateful day. God. The divine incarnation called Christ Jesus was nailed to a piece of wood and died. And it was all for us!

Now, I'm not arguing a specific theology of the cross or doctrine of salvation here (though a strict Calvinist notion is not what I have in mind). I'm not exactly sure how Christ's death on the cross brings us our salvation, but I know it does.

If only one person were saved by the blood shed on the cross, would it have been worth it? If only one person truly turned to God through the witness of God's love for humanity as made present on the cross, should God have died for that one person? Certainly the indignity of it, the pain and suffering of the cross, certainly it was too much for God to have to suffer for one person?

Yes. I can't imagine how any number of people could make up for the indignities cast upon God during his ministry, his trial, and his crucifixion. We're talking about God here!

What is telling, though, is that God suffered and died for less than one person. Christ died for the hope that someone would turn and be saved. God works through us and our free will. God does not seize slaves but calls us to be children and servants.

God's grace is so, well, gratuitous! God would give up so much to be with us, to suffer with us, to die for us. Christ's blood was shed freely on the cross for us to receive. We can't "make it up" to God by being good folk, by giving to the church or to a charity, by being upstanding moral people; we could never make it up to God for the indignities in the sense of satisfying an obligation, but we can live in that abundant and excessive grace by trying to live as a redeemed and redeeming people. God's love should animate us, should make us whole and should become known to all the world. May people all over the world give thanks to God for the love which comes from God and is known through us.

In this way the suffering of God on the cross is preserved and brings us to a greater appreciation of God's grace. It should not be used as a way to shame or guilt us into 'being better people.' Appreciation of grace isn't like feigning thanks for that sweater your nearly blind, arthritic aunt knit for you that's two sizes too big and in a style that was last seen when Airplane! was in theaters. No, appreciating God's grace is more like wearing that sweater. Taking God's grace into ourselves and realizing that we can't pay God back for it but we can live it.

It's in those moments in life when I'd like to think God smiles and says, "It was worth it."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Let me do it gallantly...

Today was my first day assisting at the altar at the 8:30 service. Fun!

But today was special- all the deacons were gone at 8:30. One's on vacation, and the other at a local parish that needs some lovin'.

The dean of the cathedral was going crazy, worried that everything was going to fall apart. Last year that is exactly what happened, to such an extent that the three priests present were compared to the Three Stooges. Some members of the congregation took cardboard cutouts of the stooges and dressed them up in chasuble, stole and other priestly garments.

It didn't help that one of the other LEMs was serving as acolyte for the first time. That meant she not only had to help the priest prepare the table but also do the washing of hands and other things.

My problem was that they normally only use two LEMs at the early service. I was the third LEM. No one was really all that sure what I was to be doing. They didn't even discuss where I'd be sitting (I sat on the chair that's technically reserved for the bishop's chaplain). When I got to the altar, part of a prayer that I pray most mornings came to mind:

"And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly."

I wasn't ringing the sanctus bells, I wasn't assisting the priest in setting the altar, I wasn't washing hands. I got to stand there and look fabulous and holy while doing so. Sometimes half the role of the cleric is to stand there like it's all intentional. And sometimes doing nothing is just as important as doing something. My standing there became part of the Mass just like the prayers and distribution of the elements.

I did bear the chalice (and using the correct side of the purificator this time) and took the Gospel book off the altar before the Eucharistic prayers, so I didn't end up doing nothing. But I didn't have a role for a good deal of the Mass. But by standing there as if standing there were intentional, I was able to serve God. And not look silly.

I really, really love bearing the chalice. That's a mighty powerful cup and mighty holy drink we give. And all of my standing there at the altar became consecrated when it was directed toward bearing that cup of salvation.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dancing the liturgy

Today was my first day serving at the altar. I had to get all dressed up in cassock and cotta, learn where to genuflect, bear the chalice. As my supervising cleric says, it's a dance. There are a lot of subtleties and rules that only make sense once you start dancing the liturgy.

As scary as it was to be in front of the congregation, I wasn't the focus. Most people were focused on the prayers; some might have been watching the priest very closely and watching all his little acts. And in that I could rest easy. My little errors, my hesitations, my imperfections were all brought into the dance. The other ministers, lay and clerical, all experts in the dance of liturgy, could lead me along.

I also learned today that it really is the blood of Christ. Giving the chalice to the people is a powerful, most holy experience. Watching people kneel at the altar and handing them this cup of wine showed me how real God is. In serving them, in holding the chalice to their lips or dipping the bread in the wine, it felt like, well, communion.