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Healing Vespers for June 18, 2020

Opening Verses

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seek him. Lam. 3:25

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. Ps. 139:1

 

Gathering Prayer

O God, be not far from us. Come quickly to help us, O Lord most high.

 

O Gracious Light  Phos hilaron            Hymnal 1982 #25

O gracious light, Lord Jesus Christ,

in you the Father’s glory shone.

Immortal, holy, blessed is he,

and blessed are you his holy Son.

 

Now sunset comes, but light shines forth,

the lamps are lit to pierce the night.

Praise Father, Son, and Spirit: God

who dwells in the eternal light.

 

Worthy are you of endless praise,

O Son of God, Life-giving Lord;

Wherefore you are through all the earth

and in the highest heaven adored.

 

Psalm 126        In convertendo

1  

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, *
then were we like those who dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.
3 Then they said among the nations, *
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
4 The LORD has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.
5 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, *
like the watercourses of the Negev.
6 Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.
7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves

 

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Amen

 

The Lessons

Proverbs 2:6-11

For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
guarding the paths of justice
and preserving the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11 prudence will watch over you;
and understanding will guard you.

 

A Song of Hosea     Hosea 6:1-3

Come, let us return to our God, * who has torn us and will heal us.

God has struck us and will bind our wounds, * and after two days revive us,

On the third he will restore us, * that in his presence we may live.

Let us humble ourselves, let us strive to know the Lord, * whose justice dawns like morning light,

its dawn as sure as the sunrise.

God’s justice will come to us like a rainstorm, * like spring rains that water the earth.

 

Hebrews 2:5-9

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels.

But someone has testified somewhere,“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?

You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,

    subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them,

but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 

 

Homily: A Little Lower than the Angels 

If nothing else, events of late have reminded all of us of our fragility, frangibility, and mortality, if perhaps also of other, happier features of our common humanity. Whether we see our possible futures reflected in the lonely, breathless deaths of those who die from Covid-19, or in the brutal but equally breathless deaths of a Rayshard Brooks or a George Floyd, we cannot but be mindful that we are not going to be here forever. Certain forces, whether by ill will or the mindless force of life, work against us to our harm. By the means or the will of a brainless virus or an equally brainless aneurysm or cancer, or a malevolent figure of self-aggrandized or state power and terror, we can be vanished in an instant, and the sea roll on just as it did six thousand, or six million, years ago.

Though even at the grave we make our song “Alleluia, alleluia,” and say out loud that in Christ we die “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection,” I find that it is the rare person indeed for whom death has lost all its sting. Though, as the poet writes, “wise men at the end know dark is right,” even they do not to gentle into that good night, or unto easeful death. They are just as likely as the rest of us, as another poet says, to cry “at the end, ‘I have not finished!’”

Of course, sometimes people do seem to choose that path, not only accepting that they must pay the debt we each owe to nature, but acting to pay it early, either by default or design. These dreadful, heart-splitting tragedies should never confuse us as to why that is, however. “‘Don’t nobody want to die, ever’” as one heroin-addicted character says in James Baldwin’s story, “Sonny’s Blues,” “‘They just want the pain to end.’” For them, of course – and there, but for the grace – one’s sympathies neither waver nor wane.

Yet, as today’s readings remind us, mortality is among God’s strange gifts to human beings – and to the world. He made the world subject not, says Hebrews, to the angels, those deathless emanations of the power and will of the divine. That would’ve been too easy. He made it, instead, subject to human beings, made a little lower than said angels – weaker, and born able to sicken, to err, and to die. One can only assume that God did this on purpose, making fallible but self-aware creatures separate from himself in order that they might do as they would – all while hoping that they, that we, would choose to do what is right, what is loving, what is good. We must’ve been able to choose to do those things. Otherwise, giving us the immense power of the human body and brain would’ve made as much sense as giving a violin to a gorilla, or porcelain figurine to a housecat.  The animals are unlikely to be able to do much with these things that is in keeping with their purpose or design, and will most likely break them, and, discerning not the extent of the damage, move on to their next task or nap or meal.

Quoting the psalmist, the writer of Hebrews asks us to ask God, “What are we that you care about us, want us to succeed, give us the tools and talents with which to do so, and yet lament our falls and failings? Why have you done these things? Why do you care?”

These sounds like rhetorical questions, but I do not think that they are. Why did God give us this big, beautiful world to boss around and mess around in? Does God care about us as we do so, or perhaps because we do so? If so, why? To change the questions a bit, and slightly alter the quote for Tolkien’s Gandalf: what are we to do with the time and the power that are given to us?

Well, we could do what Hebrews here says Jesus did: became obedient undo a death that was full of suffering, so that “he might taste death for everyone” and receive honor and glory in turn.

We could do as this passage from Proverbs says: seek wisdom, and with it prudence, sound judgment, justice, and faithfulness.

We could do as have done those who have protested the injustices, particularly the racial injustices, that continue to plague our nation. We could do as do those who work to overcome them, and as have done those who work to find treatments and cures for the diseases that plague our world. We could do as do those who seek to bring peace where there is none, grace where it has fallen, and love where it is needed. Many of us, many of you, do these things already; may God give us the strength to continue.

We could do what a young woman from Egypt did before losing her battle to depression and trauma this week in Canada. Her name was Sara Hegazy, and she was an LGBT activist in a place where being that, or what any of those letters represent, is not tolerated by the regime or by large segments of society or its dominant religious groups.  She was arrested in Egypt in 2017 after flying a rainbow gay pride flag at a concert. You can see her in the photo on this page. In it, she looks at she no doubt felt at the time: happy and free, displaying all the right forms of pride, with literally a banner held high and bearing the sign that God gave Noah. For this, and for her work on behalf of the rights of sexual minorities and others in her country, she was imprisoned, tortured, sexually assaulted, and traumatized. Released, she fled, finding asylum in Canada from the abuse she suffered in her homeland. Alas, she could not find asylum or release from the memory and impact of the traumas she had endured, and, it is told, chose to end her pain, and with it her sojourn here, a little lower than the angels. It was her third attempt to do so. An article in Al-Monitor, among many others, noted the following:  this weekend, the activist posted a photo on Instagram with the caption, “The sky is better than Earth. And I want the sky, not Earth.” She also left behind a letter to her family and friends asking for forgiveness, according to Al Jazeera.

“To my siblings: I tried to find redemption and failed, forgive me. To my friends: The journey was harsh and I am too weak to resist it, forgive me. To the world: You were cruel to a great extent, but I forgive,” she wrote.[1]

Don’t nobody want to die, ever. They just want the pain to end.

It is well to remember the public outrage in Egypt that followed the raising of the flag – outrage whipped to a frenzy, from what I can tell, by a homophobic, autocratic regime and like-minded TV personalities. To whom in this country they may comparable I leave to the hearer to judge. This led to the arrests and abuses that eventually led to this woman’s suicide. Standing up for the dignity of persons, of oneself, in the freedom of the open air, only to have a fair representation of the institutionalized worst of humanity crush your person and your dignity into the mire – it should not be this way. But, all too often, it is.

What are we, who are we, that you care about us, O God?

We are those who can choose: be one who seeks redemption and to forgive, or be one who does not. Be one who calls cruelty and injustice what they are, and calls them out – or be one who chooses to be cruel and to deny justice. Be one who chooses to discriminate and dehumanize, as too many who stand up for “religious freedom” in this country appear more than willing to do – or be one who respects, as our baptismal covenant has us confess we respect, the dignity of every human being. We have the choice; what will we do with it in the time that is given to us?

Sometimes there isn’t much time left to choose, or it might appear that way. The 20th century modernist poet David Jones, in his first and most famous work, In Parenthesis, wrote of such a moment. He was in the British Army during the Great War (WW1), serving in the infantry in the trenches in France and Belgium. In Parenthesis is an epic poem about his and his fellow soldiers’ experiences. He survived, but it was a close thing – and millions didn’t, including some who were standing right next to him when they were killed. As he was waiting to go “over the top” as part of an assault on the German trenches – an assault which he doubted he’d survive – Jones crouched down while the artillery shells whistled overhead. In the pauses between them, he could see what a beautiful morning it was, and hear the birds “chattering” above the trajectories of the shells, “counter the malice of the engines.” His recollection of that moment brought to mind this passage from Hebrews. Here is what he wrote:

But he made them a little lower than the angels and their inventions according to right reason even if you don’t approve the end to which they proceed; so there was rectitude even in this, which the mind perceived at this moment of weakest flesh and all the world shrunken to a point of fear that has affinity, I suppose, to that state of deprivation predicate of souls forfeit of their final end, who nevertheless know a good thing when they see it.[2]

With death all around him and most likely before him, and considering himself in rather the condition of the damned, Jones nonetheless turned his mind to the skill of the weapons-makers, even if he did not approve of the weapons, as well as to the beauty of the day and the power of life in the birds to thrive in it and survive all this. He knew a good thing when he saw it, and could not not-see it. Something about that choice, that decision to see the beauty flying over the horror, the irony outlasting the tragedy, I think is integral to the human condition when at its best, to our freedom, our grace, our fragility, our mortality, and our ability not to despair. For all of those, though some be strange gifts, we give thanks. Amen.

 

A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:711)

Beloved, let us love one another, *

for love is of God.

Whoever does not love does not know God, *

for God is Love.

In this the love of God was revealed among us, *

that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us *

and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.

Beloved, since God loved us so much, *

we ought also to love one another.

For if we love one another, God abides in us, *

and God’s love will be perfected in us.

 

The Collects

A Collect for Healing

O God our healer, whose mercy is like a refining fire: by the lovingkindness of Jesus, heal us and those for whom we pray; that being renewed by you, we may witness your wholeness to our broken world; through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit. Amen.


A Collect for the Presence of Christ

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.

A Prayer for Mission

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

A Litany of Healing

Let us name before God those for whom we offer our prayers, either silently or aloud.

God the Father, you will that all people be healed and made whole;

     We praise you and thank you, O Lord.

God the Son, you came that we might have life, and have it to the full;

     We praise you and thank you, O Lord.

God the Holy Spirit, you make our bodies the temple of your presence;

     We praise you and thank you, O Lord.

Lord, grant your healing grace to all who are sick, injured, or disabled;

     Hear us, O Lord of life.

Grant to all who seek guidance, and to all who are lonely, anxious, broken, or despairing, a knowledge of your will and of your presence;

     Hear us, O Lord of life.

Mend our broken relations, and restore us to soundness of mind and serenity of spirit;

     Hear us, O Lord of life.

Bless physicians, nurses, and all who tend the suffering and seek to cure, granting them wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience;

     Hear us, O Lord of life.

Grant to the dying peace and a holy death, and uphold by the grace
and consolation of your Holy Spirit those who mourn them;

     Hear us, O Lord of life.

You are the Lord who does wonders:

     You declare your power among the peoples.

With you, O Lord, is the well of life,

     and in your light we see light.

Hear us, O Lord of life:

     Heal us and make us whole.

May the blessing of God: Creator, Healer, Redeemer, and Sanctifier,
be upon you and remain with you, always.

 

About Episcopal Worship and this Service

Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion, along with Holy Baptism, lies at the center of the church’s sacramental life, and has of late become our main form of worship as a community. In times of contagion and quarantine, however, the community may not gather together in person, as such liturgies require. What to do?

Fortunately, we have other worship resources suitable for online worship: the Daily Office. It consists of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline (an end-of-the-day prayer), as well as Daily Devotions, for use by individuals and families. Each office, as they’re called, offers worship of praise and thanksgiving by means of word and song.

In addition, Healing Prayer, like prayers of supplication and penitence, have for many years helped the church face difficult times. When we or those whom we love suffer or are in times of danger and uncertainty, we might feel alone and unsure. Particularly in times when our health requires us to keep at physical distance, gathering as best we can for prayers of healing can help sustain us and reduce our feelings of isolation and fear. The service often makes use of an ancient, but now somewhat uncommon, tradition of understanding Christ as mother.

Vespers (Evening Prayer) is particularly well-suited to Healing Prayer. Evening is a time of reflection, a time to take stock of the day that is ending, be thankful for its blessings, be mindful of the chances and changes of our lives, and remember that even when we are most alone, God is with us, and we with God.

Healing Vespers opens with a call to gather in prayer to recognize our needs and give thanks for those whose are called to be healers. We sing songs and hear readings that remind us of how God has saved people in the past, and that they (we) are always in further need of it. We offer a statement of faith and a song God’s love, the supplication (a plea for help), appropriate collects (prayers), a Litany of Healing, and a final blessing.

The readings for this service, and the prayers you see, come from The Book of Common Prayer and from Enriching Our Worship 1 and 2. You will find links to these free resources below.

Image credits: © 2017 Al Jazeera.

Thanks to: our reader, Hilary Laskey, and our video compiler and audio engineer, Gabriel Wilkins

 

Resources (available for free online)

Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org

Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf

Enriching Our Worship 2,

https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-2/enrichingourworship2.pdf

These three resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.

The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/

This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online Bibles.

The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org

St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org

 

A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

[1] Source: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/06/sarah-hegazy-egypt-lgbt-gay-concert-mashrou-leila-suicide.html#ixzz6Pet0fgyW. For more information, please see this article in The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/world/middleeast/egypt-gay-suicide-sarah-hegazi.html.

[2] David Jones, In Parenthesis (London: Faber and Faber, 1961 [1937]), 154.