January 11, 2011

a lot of assumptions

The Prayer for The Second Sunday after the Epiphany seems to make a lot of assumptions that raise the bar high for any worshiping community that dares lift these words up to the heavens:

"Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

How do we get from Jesus Christ being the light of the world to God's people being illumined by word and sacraments? It is that silly capitalization thing again. I swear, I'm going to write a book about these dang capital letters.

See the prayer doesn't actually say that we are illumined by word and sacrament, but instead by Word and Sacrament. And that, as you've come to know if you read this blog, makes a huge difference. It takes the onus off of you the worshiping member and me the preacher or worship leader and puts the challenge of illumination squarely on God's shoulders. Fortunately, I think he's big enough to carry the load, no matter how dull we might be in the beginning.

See the Word of God, co-eternal with the Father, is the one John talks about as "moving into the neighborhood." He's the one who lived, taught, died, and rose again that we might have a model for humanity and a savior through divinity. He is the light of life that shines in the darkness and, you'll recall, "the darkness does not overcome [this light]."

This Word is very much different than the word, be it printed in your Bible, a Prayer Book, or spoken by a preacher or a teacher. This Word is perfect, beyond the nitpick of historicity and without the threat of error or heresy. This Word is life abundant. This Word is promised, neh, assured. This Word is Jesus.

And the Sacraments, well, I'm less sure of the difference made by a capital "S", but it seems to me again that one is dependent upon me and subject to all sorts of errors in manual actions, pronunciation, and, perhaps most importantly, my own moral ambiguity. The sacraments are what most assume is happening on a Sunday morning, but in actuality (and thanks be to God) the Sacraments are the real star of the show. The inward and spiritual graces of the Sacrament have nothing to do with the apparent goodness of the outward and visible signs, nor the one pointing them out. Union with Christ, birth into God's family, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Spirit happen in baptism whether or not the water came from the Jordan River, the sign of the cross was made over it, or, for that matter whether the celebrant believes what (s)he is saying (which I do, if you were nervous). The bread and wine become body and blood no matter how flashy the manual actions, what the bread is made from, or whether the cup is filled with Tawny Port or, gasp, Welch's Grape Juice.

So then, maybe the bar isn't set that high for us, instead we are setting the bar high for God. Illumine us, we pray, because we are dull and faded. Illumine us when the sermon is crap. Illumine us when the sacrament is poorly administered. Illumine us even then so that we might join with you in shining the light of Christ's glory to the ends of the earth.

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