Saturday, January 9, 2010

Getting ready for worship: do you know what you're part of?

Psalm 88 voices unrelenting despair. God breathed these words into Holy Scripture to show that he knows our every thought, and also to give free voice to our questions so that the Holy Spirit can voice an answer through the whole of Scripture.

One of the cries of pain and doubt in Psalm 88 is verse 12,

Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? *
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?

Through the Prophet Ezekiel, God answers "YES,"

Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'" So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet — a vast army.

Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.'" (37:9-14)

This prophecy is a reading for the Church's Great Vigil of Easter. God's people gather to celebrate the fulfillment of the prophecy by the one who took up Ezekiel's title, "Son of Man,"

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31)

Every Sunday is a "mini-Easter," we say. It is our time to stand in awe and thanksgiving because God is bringing forth loving kindness and faithfulness from the "land of destruction" through Jesus Christ.

We are part of him. We are recipients of his new life, because

(Christ) is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him... (Colossians 1:18-22)

We have two challenges as we get ready for worship.

First, we not let our familiarity with "church" make us cold toward the gift of new life. We must stoke up our wonder at what has been done for us - God has answered the deep, lurking doubt and despair of dying hearts.

Second, we must find ways to position the church - ourselves - among those who are in "the land of destruction." We must become God's "YES" to their "Psalm 88" questions. We must be the Children of Man who carry out the reconciling work of The Son of Man, our Savior Jesus Christ. We must tell others that God can bring them out of their graves and fill them with the Holy Spirit.

By stoking the fire of our devotion, and bringing others with us into God's presence, we show what Ezekiel foretold, "a vast army on its feet," the church turned toward God in worship.

Splendor and honor and kingly power *
are yours by right, O Lord our God,

For you created everything that is, *
and by your will they were created and have their being;

And yours by right, O Lamb that was slain, *
for with your blood you have redeemed for God,

From every family, language, people, and nation, *
a kingdom of priests to serve our God.

And so, to him who sits upon the throne, *
and to Christ the Lamb,

Be worship and praise, dominion and splendor, *
for ever and for ever more.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Canticle 18 (selections from Revelation 4 & 5) Book of Common Prayer 1979


Christopher Johnson said...

During the darkest period of my life, I got to know Psalm 88 quite well. Thanks for this reflection.

TLF+ said...

Thanks, CJ. It never shows up in the Sunday lectionary. Sneaks in here and there for Friday Morning Prayer now and then and is assigned for Morning Prayer on Holy Saturday... 'sbout it.

But "all Scripture is God breathed." We shouldn't shy from Ps. 88, as God inspired its author, obviously by allowing great pain to issue out in these words to touch other wounded souls as long as time runs.

Thanks for testifying to that, and glad that you are speaking of that darkness in the past tense!