Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why I Get Up Early on Fridays....

It's for "the peace that passes all understanding, guarding your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Sitting in the single-pewed chapel, surrounded by icons, lit candles, facing the altar covered in green to symbolize our growing faith, I felt peace settle around me like a warm woolen shawl. We open our prayer books and praise the Lord with words of awe and reverence in the "Gloria Patri": "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost," intones Father Acker. I join him as we praise: "As it was in the begining, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen." Father continues: "Praise ye the Lord," and I reply, "The Lord's Name be praised."

As we recite Scripture together in the "Venite" (selections from Psalms 95 and 96) and then read the Psalms for the twenty-eighth morning responsively (Psalms 132-135), I feel the usual sense of peace wash over me. We go on to read the Scriptures set aside in the Lectionary for the Friday Morning of the Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity; I read aloud the Old Testament selection, I Kings 9:1-9, and Father Acker reads the New Testament reading, I Thessalonians 4:13-end of chapter. After each reading, we recite a short canticle, usually straight Scripture; we usually pray the "Benedictus es, Domine" after the OT reading and after the NT reading we pray the "Benedictus" from St. Luke 1:68 (prayer of Zechariah). Together we continue in prayers for grace, peace, healing of the sick, as well as the Collect for this week:

O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without thy succour, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Morning Prayer ends there, and Father proceeds to "The Order for the Administration of the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion" by praying for our cleansing before we accept the gift of Communion:

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

After repeating the verses from Matthew which sum up "the Law and the Prophets," we take out the special page Father has printed for these Friday healing services, "The Litany for Healing." In this litany, we pray for doctors and nurses and other health care workers, for those who are "sick , injured, or disabled, that they may be made whole," for those who are ill in mind or depressed in spirit, for those who are on the point of death and for the comfort of their families, and for the forgiveness of "human sin in our lives, in our nation, and in the world," among other intercessions. We close with:

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

I then read aloud the Epistle for the week, Ephesians 3:13-21, and then Father reads the Gospel selection, which is from St. Luke 7:11-17. In a usual Sunday service, a sermon would naturally follow the readings, but in the weekday services, Father Acker sometimes has a short lesson for B and myself on something relating to the Gospel reading or to a certain saint's day; however, we usually proceed to the affirmation of our faith in the Nicene Creed after the Scripture readings.

After the Creed, we pray "for the whole state of Christ's Church," which includes prayers for the Church, "beseeching thee to inspire continually the Universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: And grant that all those who do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity and godly love." We also pray for "the hearts of all Christian Rulers," especially our president and governor, plus we pray for all pastors and church leaders, for the people present in the congregation, and for those who are ill. At this point, Father prays aloud for specific people from Blessed Trinity, and I pray aloud for the healing of specific people from Lake Murray and from my circle of friends.

Then Father continues in prayer for those who are departed. This is my only "sticking point" in the entire service where I still have questions and issues that haven't been answered to my satisfaction. Father is working on a leaflet of sorts to give to new attenders at Blessed Trinity, ans this point will be addressed there; I've told him that this portion is where most non-liturgical Christians would balk. Hap, the Beadle, tried to explain it to me, but I still didn't understand. I'm trusting that I'll get answers, and until then I simply don't join in this specific prayer.

After the prayers, we then pray a corporate prayer of Confession, one that I've printed in this blog before and won't type out in its entirety now. It's a gorgeous, awe-inspiring prayer that admits our sin and disobedience and asks God for his merciful forgiveness. After Father prays for us after the confession, he then recites some "comfortable [comforting] words" from the Scriptures: St. Matthew 11:28, St. John 3:16, I Timothy 1:15, and 1 John 2:1-2.

At this point the actual Communion Service begins: "Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name, evermore praising thee, and saying, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, Lord God of Hosts, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory; Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High. Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the Highest."

Then proceed the prayers and Scriptures for Communion, the praying of the Lord's Prayer, another prayer for Communion prayed aloud by both Father and myself, then the receiving of Communion. After we receive Communion, Father then brings the holy oil over to me, puts his hand on my head, and prays for my healing, then anoints me with the oil in the form of a cross on my forehead, "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen." It's this simple prayer of healing and anointing that empowers me through God's strength to keep on going despite the debilitating physical pain I experience on a daily basis:

Susanne, I lay my hands upon in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, beseeching our Lord Jesus Christ to sustain you with his presence, to drive away all sickness of body and spirit, and to give you that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve him both now and forevermore. Amen.

We pray aloud again a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving and of asking the Lord to "assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in." On special holy days we pray the "Gloria Exclesis," but on ordinary days, we are blessed to go on our way to serve and please God, as Father signs the cross over us and we cross ourselves as well.

Aaaaahhhh, the peace that comes from the reading and meditation of Scripture, from prayers that attend to global issues as well as issues close at hand, from the silent, grateful acceptance of the bread and the wine, from the quiet movement of hand touching forehead and heart, shoulder and shoulder that affirms within us our love for Jesus with all our mind, heart, and strength.

Yes, I attend these services for me, but in a way that I can't explain, because these services are so much about God and so little about me, they bring me to a less selfish and a more balanced perspective. Morning Prayer and Communion are all about God -- who He is, what He says, who we are in relation to Him, how we praise Him, how desperately we need Him. I thoroughly enjoy the God-focus rather than the me-focus in these services, although I admit I also go for selfish purposes of blessing and prayer and peace. It's less about me, though, than any services I've taken part in -- it's so much more about God.

So this is why I get up early on Friday mornings....

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