2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 13
June 26, 2011
Gospel Text: Matthew 10: 40-42
The Dance of the Liturgy:
Gathering Rite – Greeting & Collect (Prayer of the Day)
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” When we gather to worship, we are already creating something counter-cultural, says Gail Ramshaw, who teaches liturgy.
In a world which thinks of spiritual life as something individual and solitary, coming together to sing and listen and share a sacramental meal is already hard to explain.
Ours is a culture in which self-sufficiency is highly prized and no one brags about following the rules, especially here. It is strictly a “make your own way” in the West. So having to put up with the forms of worship, the annoying habits of fellow worshippers and the ritual gymnastics of sitting and standing in a crowd seems really weird. But Jesus tells us that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is present. Paul tells us that when we are gathered we become something mystically awesome: Jesus the Christ’s very body which fills the space we inhabit.
The language we use is called the Apostolic Greeting, as we share our welcome from God’s own self, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” “And also with you.” We recognize our invitation, our mutual invitation, and we find our place together where God is the audience for our petitions and praise and thanksgiving. No wonder we stand when we share this greeting, as we are acknowledging that we are in the presence of God as we are in the presence of each other. What a moment.
After the greeting, we sing our prayer for mercy, and then offer our song of praise. The language is ancient, and I am sure that you have had the experience of being in a foreign land, hearing church in a language you don’t understand very well, and still knowing just what is being said and offered, because you have used the same forms in your own worship. In our time together we will encourage each other by our very presence. Our singing will tune our hearts as we raise our voices into one choir, sharing a message as we breathe together in the Spirit. We will hear God’s Word read and preached, we will face each other as we receive the bits of bread and wine that feed our souls and bodies and remind us that we are one family, even if we don’t always agree with each other or love each other very well.
And then we will hear the Prayer of the Day. “O God, you direct our lives by our grace, and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world. Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.” This prayer is what used to be called the Collect. The Prayer of the Day collects the themes of the readings to set the tone for our worship. But it also represents ourselves, collected around those themes, prepared to hear, prepared to participate, prepared to turn back out into the world when our worship is done to remain the Body of Christ at work in the world.
In Romans, Paul teaches that in Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. So, he urges, in view of God’s mercy, offer you bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
We are those people. This is possible because Jesus didn’t just die. He died to bring us into God’s kingdom, to make possible the forgiveness of the sin which alienates us from God. In his resurrection, he guarantees that we will always be with him. So here we are gathered, welcomed into Christ’s household in our baptism and through our trust in God’s promises. Here we become more than the sum of our individual parts, we become Christ’s own promised presence to each other. We greet each other in the name of God the Father, God, the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We raise our voices and collect our hearts and hopes and dreams under Gods mighty and tender hand as we prepare to hear God’s Word. Then we go forth from this gathering filled with the Spirit’s power, still connected even though we are apart, ready to return another day to do it again. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.