A sermon preached at St. George’s Anglican Church Calgary, by the Rev. Clara King, September 23, 2018.
[At the beginning of the service, it was announced that there were two deaths in the parish family this week, and another family was sitting vigil with a parishioner close to death.]
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
As a church, we live together through times of joy, and we live together through times of heartbreak. Together this week, we are living through both. At the same time as these deaths, we are also celebrating Emily’s engagement and preparing for the baptism of at least 3 babies on October 7 - Thanksgiving. One of these babies is named Odelia, “praise the Lord”, because her parents tried for many years to have a child and thought perhaps they may not bring life into the world. Now, their joy overflows.
It is an emotional time in the life of St. George’s. There is deep loss and grief and well as deep gladness and joy filling this church today.
And here we are together in the midst of it, holding steady as a family. There is enough space here for grief as well as joy. One does not need to give way to the other. Those who are stricken with grief may weep. And those who are filled with joy may laugh. And for those who have both grief and joy, you can be yourself and not feel the need to be anything different.
The prayers we pray together every single Sunday create this space for us. We say them in good times and in bad, exactly the same - and new meanings, new phrases come out of the words. The Lord’s Prayer sounds subtly different in all kinds of different life circumstances. And so does Confession and Absolution.
God has given us these prayers as a gift - to help strengthen us through terrible times, and guide us in wonderful times; and help us hold steady when times are deeply complicated.
Perhaps the hardest times to pray are when we feel both joy and sorrow. We delight in the joy of a family who were able to have children; and yet our hearts break for who are still hoping, or who have given up hope of a child. We are weeping for the death of a loved one, and we’re reminded of all the deaths we’ve suffered before, and yet there is an end to pain, and the promise of eternal rest with their loved ones in Heaven.
And it can be hard to make space in our prayers for all the emotions we’re feeling. Hard even to feel them as they jostle around inside us, competing. Someone says, “how are you doing?” And the answer is, I’m sad, I’m happy, I’m distraught, I’m filled with gratitude. I can barely make it though today. I’m okay.
But we have space for all that here. No matter where you’re at this morning, we can gather together in Christ’s name. We can raise up all our thoughts and feelings to him. We can pray, “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts” and give us some calm and quiet in the midst of our chaos. We can pray, “your will be done”, and ask God for strength to bear whatever may come next. “Give us today our daily bread,” and help us be present, here and now, as we receive it.
And then we come forward for Communion, bringing with us all of who we are, and we kneel before the feet of Jesus, hands held out in offering, hands held out in asking - and Jesus welcomes us as his beloved children, knowing, better than we do ourselves, what alls going on in our hearts.
Today we gather here today with a whole lot of sorrow and joy on the table. But the fact is, perhaps it’s like this every Sunday. Every Sunday, in our midst, someone may be grieving. Every Sunday, someone may be overfilled with rejoicing. Every Sunday someone is coming to Church so full up with complex emotions, that they don’t know where they are in any given moment.
And every Sunday, we say these prayers, and lift up our hearts to God for him to receive them, and God meets us exactly where we are, and breathes a little more strength back into us. And then, God quietly directs our attention to the people sitting all around us, and says, “see, you’re not alone.”
And for that, friends, may our hearts indeed be filled with gratitude.