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Meditative and Healing Vespers on “There is a Season”

 

 

 

I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.
Ecclesiastes 9:11

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you, says the Lord.
Isaiah 66:13a

Gathering Prayer

O God, in the course of this varied and transitory life, you give us times of labor and toil, and times of ease and refreshment; times of war, and times of peace; grant that we may so use our time that we redeem the times and give glory unto you, ever open to the goodness of creation and the need to grow in wisdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The First Lesson: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to sow, and a time to reap;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Here ends the lesson; thanks be to God.

Hymn: Not here for high and holy things       Studdert-Kennedy.      Hymnal 1982 #9

Not here for high and holy things
we render thanks to thee,
but for the common things of earth,
the purple pageantry
of dawning and of dying days,
the splendor of the sea,

the royal robes of autumn moors,
the golden gates of spring,
the velvet of soft summer nights,
the silver glistering
of all the million million stars,
the silent song they sing,

of faith and hope and love undimmed,
undying still through death,
the resurrection of the world,
what time there comes the breath
of dawn that rustles through the trees,
and that clear voice that saith:

Awake, awake to love and work!
The lark is in the sky,
the fields are wet with diamond dew,
the worlds awake to cry
their blessings on the Lord of life,
as he goes meekly by.

Come, let thy voice be one with theirs,
shout with their shout of praise;
see how the giant sun soars up,
great lord of years and days!
So let the love of Jesus come
and set thy soul ablaze,

to give and give, and give again,
what God hath given thee;
to spend thyself nor count the cost;
to serve right gloriously
the God who gave all worlds that are,
and all that are to be.

The Second Lesson: Ecclesiastes 3:9-15

What gain have the workers from their toil? 10 I have seen the labor that God has given to everyone at which to labor. 11 He has made everything suitable for its time; and he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. 14 I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.

Here ends the lesson; thanks be to God.

 

Hymn: O God, Creation’s Secret Force           Ambrose of Milan.     Hymnal 1982 #14[1]
 
1 O God, creation’s secret force, yourself unmoved, all motion’s source,
you, from the morn till evening’s ray, through all its changes guide the day.

2 Quench now on earth the flames of strife; from passion’s heat preserve our life;
and while you keep our body whole, pour healing peace upon our soul.

3 Let mouth and tongue, mind, sense, and strength God’s mighty actions tell at length;
let love in flames of living fire the hearts of all the world inspire.

4 Grant us, when this short life is past, the glorious evening that shall last;
that, by a holy death attained, eternal glory may be gained.

 

The Third Lesson: Ecclesiastes 3:16-22

16 Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. 19 For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21 Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that all should enjoy their work, for that is their lot; who can bring them to see what will be after them?

Here ends the lesson; thanks be to God.

 

Homily: What is it Time for Now?

One of the things I thought I’d do more of during this new season of the year – call it the new season of Corona, where spring merges into summer melds into every day is like the day before, Apruary lasts right up until Juntember, and don’t forget to put your mask on – as I said, one of the things I thought I’d do more of during this season is read. I have shelves full of books I’ve read, or at least partly read, and shelves more than I haven’t read yet but will get to someday, I promise. I promised myself that years ago, have moved many of them three, four, seven times – and some I’ve moved as many times as Jesus says to forgive somebody, seventy-times-seven, I swear – and I will get to them. Someday. I know I will. Someday I will, when I have time.

But now it’s Corona season. If I don’t have time now, when will I?

It reminds me of a saying on Broadway, and in the arts generally: the recipe for success is talent, a deadline, and not quite enough time.

See, when we have a deadline, even if it’s too soon we have to hit it, so we do what we have to, find time to make the time, get the thing as close to right as we can, then press “send,” upload the file, fire up the presses, run it up the flagpole and see who salutes, do the best we can, and hope for the best – which is all we can do. When we have all the time in the world, however, we have all the time in the world to get it right, make it perfect, and to do it time and again, or to wait for the opportune moment, make sure we don’t waste our shot, see that we don’t go off half-cocked, or throw it all away for a song. The perfect can be the enemy of the good, although we’re wise to say that “just good enough” really isn’t good enough. I used to say that if you gave me five minutes to prepare a sermon or a lecture I could get it right but if you gave me three days I’d get it wrong, go on too long, say the same thing two or three times just to hear myself say it, repeat the points until each sinks in like an arrowhead or an easy, cheesy simile, labor over each word and phrase simply because I could, I could do as I wished. I had the time, after all.

I used to think that land was the one thing God wasn’t making any more of, as real estate speculators like to say. Then I watched a volcano off Iceland make a new little island, and I realized I was wrong. The earth, God’s instrument in all this, makes and unmakes land all the time. The only thing that the earth and God aren’t making more of is time.

Time. We have what time we have, and we know not (as they say) the day nor the hour, and all we have to do – and what we have to do, as Tolkien’s Gandalf says – is to decide what to do with the time that is given to us.[2]

Time. Given to us. We may be born here and will die here, as Bob Dylan sings, against our will, but the time we have can only be understood as a gift, not a right or a burden or even something we deserve, but a gift – another way of properly identifying the gift of life itself, the gift that life is. We did not and could not ask for it, we cannot fully understand it, we cannot avoid it, we cannot without pain and anguish get away from it, and we cannot do it over or get it back once it’s done. We have what time and life we have, what have been given to us, and though even at the grave we make our song, “Alleluia,” we will miss it when it’s gone.

Time. Life. Given to us. Freely. But why?

Corona Season has a focusing effect on the mind regarding these points and this question. This is because the novel coronavirus and the increasingly scary disease it causes have taken, and will take, a great deal of time from a great many people, and in at least two ways. The virus and disease have shortened far too many lives and added far too much stress and worry to far too many others, including yours and mine. Doing either steals time.

The virus and disease have also taken something else, or occasioned its taking: our ability to trust the federal executive, and the decisions made or influenced by it. As far as I can tell, and as those free from its cult of deceit increasingly admit, the federal executive response to the virus and disease is becoming increasingly incompetent and increasingly malevolent. It is setting things up so that the virus and disease is likely to take an increasing toll on everything that matters, and on much that we hold to be good – not least of which is the common good, and the very notion that there is one.

“And worse…may be yet,” to change slightly what Edgar says in King Lear, coming across his cruelly blinded father wandering lost in the cold: “The worst is not / So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’”

I don’t know about you, but it often helps me to listen to voices that have looked into the abyss, often the abyss of their own lives, and who have neither shrunk back from it nor fallen in. It helps me when I listen carefully, imagine for a little while what it might be like to have walked a mile or even a few steps in their shoes, taken whatever road they took, or were taken on, until they reached the edge and had to look down. It helps me when I then meditate on what they learned, and what it has to teach us. As Corona season becomes a time of increasing doubt, division, risk-taking (at times mandated, as too many essential workers are finding out), and confusion, I find that I do this more and more.

Edgar, a character in Shakespeare’s King Lear, is one such voice. Without spoiling the plot for those who don’t know the story, suffice it to say that Edgar had everything taken away from him by people he trusted but who chose to do him harm when he had done them none, for no other reason than that they wanted what he, Edgar, had, or because he was a good man who stood in the way of the evil they wanted to do. They used his trust and his goodness as weapons against him, and when they were finished, forced him to re-examine life entirely find a way to survive, and then find a way to save his father’s life from those who wanted them both dead. He knows that, no matter how bad things get, while we can still say that things are as bad as they could get, they could get worse. This gave him the strength to do all he could to make sure that they didn’t. It was all he could do, and therefore all he had to do, as well as what he had to do – so he did it. It wasn’t enough to save everybody – indeed, it wasn’t enough really to save anybody but himself, but he tried. He did what he could, which is all any of us can do. He made the most of the time he had, without grieving overmuch for all he could not and for all he had lost, lest in grief he fall into despair, and in it throw away his shot, waste the time that he had been given and then took back.

For this reason, and with Edgar in mind, tonight’s readings are from one of the most powerful and poignant meditations on the meaning of time, and of the things that take time: Ecclesiastes 3. If ever there was a book written by someone who looked into the abyss and did not flinch, this is it.

Ecclesiastes 3 book has three major lessons: there is a time for everything, each thing is suited to its time, and all things go to one place when their time has ended. It does not say that this is good, and it does not say that this is bad. It says that this is.

The first lesson is relatively easy to accept, and is set in lovely poetry which makes the most of Hebrew’s knack for repeating a thought and alter it slightly for emphasis. A time to sow, and a time to reap; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time for war and a time for peace – all the different things we do have their own time and space. Try as we might, we cannot avoid the ones that are unpleasant, or worse. Try as we might, we cannot make the nice ones last forever. If no war lasts forever – even the US involvement in Afghanistan, for which I regret to admit that I used to remember to pray more often – then it is also true that no peace lasts forever. It would be odd not to weep at a funeral or a wedding, but also odd not to laugh, if through the tears, at the funny stories we often tell at the feasts that follow. There would be no reason to reap one’s crops had one not taken the time to sow them in due season. As any remodeler knows, one must take things apart before one can make them new. As any architect or developer knows, an old building often must be torn down before a new and (one hopes) better one be built in its place. As anyone cleaning out a house knows, there is certainly a time to throw away, even if perhaps it might’ve been better had people taken a little less time to keep quite so much for so long. The essence of our lives is that there is a time to be born, and a time when we have to say goodbye, lay our burdens down, pay the debt we owe to nature and to nature’s God. It is not necessarily good or bad. It just is.

The second lesson is a little harder. We each have our work to do and our one life to live. We know neither the day of its end nor the hour, but we are always aware as we live of time past and time future. We know that there once was we were not, and will be again. Yet each day we wake and sense, “This is a new day. I can tell what yesterday was, and a week ago last Thursday. They are then; this is now. Tomorrow this will be ‘then’, and that day will be my new ‘now’.” Without that sense, we’d go mad, and we name it a sadness and a loss when memory fails and our sense of time shrinks to where there is only ‘now’. We hope that with each new day we rise attuned to its many possibilities, all the choices we can make, to flourish, be happy, enjoy what is and what we have to do, even when it is not easy. We cannot – and we have to accept this – know the mind of God or what it means to live outside of time and in eternity, where all that is has already been, and that which will be also already is. Nothing we do lasts forever; nothing God does does not – except for us and all we see and do, unless somehow it lasts forever, or outside time, in the mind of God. We are happiest when we live fully, do our work, and enjoy what is, this lesson says, mindful that it will not last but yet that somehow, in God’s mysterious providence, it sort-of will.

The third lesson is easier to accept conceptually but harder to accept morally: the wicked often prosper and wield the power of justice unjustly, and besmirch the place of the righteous with their evil, and often suffer no consequences of note in this life. Surely they will in the next, right? “One day your head be bowed down, too,” said one of his slaves to Andrew Jackson as he stood upright and stone-faced at his wife’s burial. “One day your head be bowed down, too.” But is all this to remind us not so much that we are made a little lower than the angels, but that we are made as animals are, and that God tests us through the iniquities and inequities of the world to remind us that we are dust, and to dust we shall return? So says the lesson, and so reads the scroll, the Hebrew name for which is the word Qohelet, “one who convenes or addresses an assembly.” Those who wrote and preserved it meant us to hear it, to think about it and reflect upon it, to question we have been taught, but not, as Walt Whitman advised, to dismiss what insults our soul, but to accept what we cannot deny or doubt for long, even if it does. We do not know and cannot know what comes after our life ends, any more than can a sparrow or a hound. What is, is all that is the case. What we cannot know, we must pass over in silence.

Time and life were given to us freely, as was our labor and our ability to perform it, so that we might enjoy them all and be happy in them. We are most satisfied when we are doing what we were born to do, what we were created to do. If it hath pleased Almighty God to make it part of our present toil to deal with the fact that in the place of justice, wickedness now so often is, then so be it. It may be that it is time – it may be that it is long past time – to make correcting it our labor, while there is still time; the worst is not while yet we can say, ‘This is the worst.’ There is, more broadly, always one more good we can do, one more righteous act we may embody, always one more positive difference we can and should make.

Corona season is easier to bear – easier, not easy – when I let these lessons take their time with my mind. May they do likewise for all of us, and may God’s will in these, as in all things, be done. 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.

 

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 temples of your presence;
     We praise you and thank you, O Lord.

Lord, grant your healing grace to all who are sick, injured, or wounded;
     Hear us, O Lord of life.

Grant to all who seek guidance, and to all who are lonely, anxious, or despairing a knowledge of your will and your presence;
     Hear us, O Lord of life.

Mend our broken relations, and restore our soundness of mind and serenity of spirit;
     Hear us, O Lord of life.

Bless all who tend the suffering and seek to cure, granting them wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience;
     Hear us, O Lord of life.

Bless all who struggle for justice, granting them insight, courage, and compassion;
     Hear us, O Lord of life.

You are the Lord who does wonders:
     Show forth 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.

 

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.

 

 

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 safely gather together in person, as such liturgies require. What are we 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 but the lingering injustices of our time require our presence in solidarity and protest, we gather as best we can for prayers of healing can help sustain us and meet as we might to bear witness in faith and by grace.

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, a Litany of Healing, and a final blessing.

Tonight’s Healing Vespers is blended with a Meditation on the 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes, or Qohelet, ”the one who convenes or addresses an assembly.” It is one of the Bible’s most profound and challenging books of wisdom.

The readings for this service, and the prayers you see, come from The Holy Bible, The Book of Common Prayer and from Enriching Our Worship 1, 2, and 5. You will find links to these free resources below. As of the date released, any website links given above were accurate.

 

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

Enriching Our Worship 5,

https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/liturgies-and-prayers-related-to-childbearing/enrichingourworship5.pdf

These 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] Also included are the second verses, by the same author, from Hymn #20, “Now Holy Spirit, ever One” and #21, “O God of truth, O Lord of might.”

[2] My favorite quote, or one of them. It’s from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.