Wednesday, October 31, 2007


At the end of every liturgy, the priest is required by rubric to stand before the congregation and pronounce a blessing over the people, then follows the dismissal. Back in Drama 101, we learn that play have beginnings, middles and ends. Aristotle, in his Poetics talks about that formula, and with liturgy it is the same. There is always a beginning, a middle and an end to any human activity, and corporate worship relies on that. Otherwise, when would we know it was time to go to the soccer game, catch the pregame show on television, get to brunch or embrace the close of our Sunday's Sabbath rest?

The names of the different parts of the liturgy vary from service to service, depending on what our stated goal in worship is for the occasion. On Sundays, it could be the "invitatory" (Morning Prayer) or the "benedicamus" (Eucharist). At funerals, it is the opening anthem. At weddings, the address. Still, they are those words words, notes and dialogue between officiant/celebrant and people that raise the curtain on our common prayer.

The blessing, the close, of the service has me in its grasp of late though. More than beginnings and middles, I am caught in the endings. Perhaps because we have had two deaths in quick and tough succession here in the past couple of weeks, I am mindful that as a service ends and the blessing is pronounced...there really is the sensation of a full stop taking root in the people around the casket, the cremains, the grieving that is about to begin a new chapter. We have celebrated a life and marked a passing...but we can't, as the Church "militant" expect to linger forever in the moment of conclusion. The next breath, the next chore, the next moment demands our attention.

That is a tough blessing to pronounce, because it doesn't really feel "good." It is the pastoral equivalent of flashing the lights to let people know it is time to "leave the building" and by experience and definition it doesn't, and can't feel "right." We don't want to go, because going means letting go.

How can that be a blessing? Well, like all seasons in life, there are-like I noted before-beginnings, middles and ends. Embracing our reality in all of those moments can truly be a sacramental grace. This Sunday, we celebrate beginnings with a brace of baptisms and the procession of Saints by our Church School. Fresh and wonderful breezes of new life create a scent on All Saints' Sunday, even as we remember those who have passed to glory. Middles are all those points in your life that are in process. They, like the poor whom Christ calls us to be mindful of, are always with us. Still, each step is a sacrament, each step in life from morning coffee to homework, to dinner, to getting the family into the car for Sunday worship can be a "liturgy" when we pause just enough to acknowledge that beginning, middle or end-we are held in that moment in Christ and we can claim it as worship. It doesn't take a priest intoning ancient words to make it fact, those intonations are just mere echoes of the true, the real work we do in Christ.

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