Words Incarnate

We woke to fog blanketing the house this morning, cocooning us in a cold, quiet, damp.  It was as though we were in the middle of a cloud, feeling it seep against the windows, obscuring the early light.  Where was the garden?  The olive tree in the front yard?  The drive was obscured, the foliage, the sky.  All was white nothingness.  But by the time we set out for church, the sun was trying to burn through, turning the white to colors and shapes, our familiar world.

Our processional hymn this morning was the lyrical and soaring #282:Praise my soul the King of heaven; to his feet thy tribute being; Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, Evermore his praises sing: Alleluia!  We sang with all our hearts as the clergy and crucifer and acolytes processed up the aisle to the altar.  The hammered bronze of the cross glimmered as it passed by.

Our parish is in a time of transition, and we have a new vicar.  He is a short man, dark, with a powerful presence.  He is Jewish, converted to Christ, and now Christ’s priest in his church.  Today he would celebrate the Holy Eucharist, and I felt more anticipation than usual, as though something was coming, a special gift from God.  I wondered what it would be, for God often surprises me and I didn’t want to miss it.  I watched and waited, on my knees, as our vicar moved about the altar, each motion intense with meaning.  He is not a man to do or say anything without fully understanding what he is doing and saying.  Every second counts in this great drama of redemption.

In the sacrifice of the Mass in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, the priest represents Christ and offers himself as Christ offered himself for us (hence we have male and not female priests).  Today, our vicar was even more like Christ, for he is Jewish.  As he intoned the anticipated phrases they sounded particularly Jewish, and I imagined Christ at that Last Supper saying those words, “Take, eat, this is my body given for you…”  He would have said those words just as our vicar did today.

It is human nature to allow ritual to become rote and meaningless.  We have been fortunate in our diocese to have dedicated priests who value what they are saying and doing at the altar, and rarely drone the words of the liturgy, unthinking.  But this vicar woke me up as though I had been sleeping.  Suddenly I was in Jerusalem at that Passover supper two thousand years ago.  I was in the upper room with the other women and the disciples and Christ.  I was watching the bread being broken, the cup being raised.  I was hearing the Mass for the first time.

It was stunning the power of those words, spoken over those ordinary creatures of bread and wine, and as I knelt at the altar rail, I raised my open palms in awe.  Our vicar approached, placed the host in my hands, placed Christ’s flesh on mine.  I consumed God.  He consumed me.  My creator and I were one.

I gave thanks for the man of God who had come into our midst to re-present Our Lord to us.  He carried within him the power and love of Christ, born through the priesthood these many centuries.  I knew he has suffered in his life, so he understands the miracle and sacrifice of the Mass.  He understands what it is to be a vessel for God, to be filled and to fill.  He understands words, their power and their glory.  He understands Christ as God’s Word Incarnate.

Our parish also has suffered and known sacrifice, and this vicar has begun the binding of our wounds.  He helped the healing.  Like the sun, he burned the fog away so that we can see again, can see the colors and shapes of our world.

The recessional was a quieter hymn, reminding me of a country church setting, full of sweet and certain joy, #489:  Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing; Fill our hearts with joy and peace, Let us each, thy love possessing, Triumph in redeeming grace: O refresh us, O refresh us, Traveling through this wilderness.

I left church this morning refreshed, having come out of the wilderness.  The fog had cleared and the sun burned warm upon my face.

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