The following is Rector Joe Hensley’s monthly opening message from our weekly e-newsletter the St. Georgian. If you’d like to receive our weekly e-newsletter, sign-up here.
Greetings beloved St. Georgians,
Continuing the “Way of Love” (https://episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love) with this month’s newsletter message, I invite us to reflect on our “worship.” According to the description in the Way of Love: “we gather in community weekly to thank, praise, and dwell with God” as followers of Jesus in the Episcopal Church.
Some Biblical terms for “worship” originally meant to physically fall down in a posture of submission such as kneeling or prostration. We stand more often these days (although kneeling is still a fine option), but worship is still about humbly submitting to God’s authority and love. Our gathering is not just for peace and comfort. We gather to collectively offer ourselves to God as a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,” that God might make us holy.
Ancient worship involved the literal sacrifice of animals. Today we make other sacrifices to be in church, and it is work. We may feel like falling down by the time we find a parking spot, walk across streets, up the church steps or elevator and get situated for an opening hymn which we may struggle to sing. We listen to sometimes difficult Bible readings. We offer the first fruits of our hard-earned money. Why go to all this trouble?
When we fall down before God in community, we stumble into grace. We accept that God is God and we are not. By listening to ancient stories that are not about us (but which connect with our stories) and singing songs that we would not have chosen, praying words that we did not write, gathering with strangers, we move from being self-centered to God-centered. That opens our hearts and possibilities for new life.
During Lent, you may notice that when I preside at the altar, I am not lifting up my hands as I usually do. Priests have many options for what to do with their hands at the altar. I encourage our clergy to do what feels meaningful to them. The different hand motions add to the celebration. During Lent, though, I am doing less with my hands (some actions are required in the Book of Common Prayer) as a sign that it is God grace and not my doing which makes the sacrament holy. Why? In a season when we simplify our worship in many ways, I felt an invitation to still my hands and open my heart.
How might God be inviting you to “fall down” in worship this Lent as a way to open your heart? As we stumble into grace together, may God make us holy in service to the larger story of God’s saving and redeeming love.
Your rector and brother in Christ,