Time sometimes meets eternity. Or is it rather that eternity intersects time?
I have been working through the final edits of the late Archbishop Morse’s sermons, to be published soon by the American Church Union. Organized according to the Church Year, I am immersed in a conflation of time, all time, all seasons, as though standing outside of time and yet within its heart.
Indeed, time and eternity dance with one another in these words, phrases, and paragraphs. They mingle as in a sacrament, when the holy enters the ordinary, when God becomes bread and wine, and He enters our world, our bodies.
In this dance of time and eternity, I notice things differently. I watch white clouds scuttle across blue skies and see Heaven looking back. The natural world – trees, grass, the earth under my feet, hold eternity in its atoms. Where is the line between matter and spirit, between body and soul? Working on the archbishop’s sermons, I cross those boundaries, as though nonexistent. Yet I know they exist.
I have not breathed my last and I am still living in the material world. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lives within me, in my flesh, just as He promised. After receiving the Eucharist on this brilliant blue morning, I know I was strengthened immeasurably as the Host was placed on my tongue. Kneeling before the altar, I crossed the border between Heaven and Earth, offering myself once again to His glory. And as I offered, He offered back, giving Himself to me.
In the Eucharist, there is a unity, a sanity, a wholeness. We are meant to live, created to live, in this moment of love. We come home to God in every Eucharist.
Getting back to the sermons of our dear archbishop, I must confess that I am tempted to the sin of pride. It is easy to think yourself quite wonderful when you edit a book of such historic and inspiring words. It is easy to give yourself the credit. And yet I know that nothing can be done without grace, without God’s action upon me and through me. I know that I must be very very very small for God to use me, and for me to hear His voice. Like C.S. Lewis’s image in his novel about the division between Heaven and Hell, The Great Divorce, we must be tiny to fit through the door to Heaven, to be pulled through the eye of the needle, to keep to the narrow path. As I recall, the entrance to Heaven in Lewis’ wonderful story was up through the soil of the earth, through a blade of grass, into a more-real realm of mountains and rivers and valleys, Paradise. You had to be tiny to enter Heaven.
Sensing that celestial world so near as I edit these sermons has made my own world of the senses luminous, transfigured. I have been adding footnotes to Scripture references and Book of Common Prayer references, and the movement from sermon quote to King James Version chapter and verse, from liturgical actions and phrases to the Book of Common Prayer orders and offices, has woven threads of gold into my life and the work of my fingers as I tap the keys.
This morning, as I knelt at the altar rail, I looked about. The chancel appeared the same but different as though the air shimmered. The marble altar shone in shafts of sunlight, the tabernacle reigning in the center between candles and flowers, the large medieval crucifix high above. The clergy moved along the altar rail, pausing before each one of us, giving us the Host, saying, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.” Soon came the chalice holding the wine, and I heard the words, “The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.”
I gazed at the red carpet that led up the central aisle, from the entry to the steps to the chancel where the path widened to nearly fill the chancel. The carpet had been laid on dark gray tiles, stormy in color. This morning they appeared like a great void, a cosmic falling away on either side of the red carpet. The path was narrow from the entry doors to the altar. Stepping off the red carpet would mean flying into the abyss. But we, the faithful, rode the ark of the Church in these seas of eternity, safe and warm, welcomed home by God.
And all we need do is show up on Sundays, say our prayers, confess our faults – those falling-away moments – and offer ourselves to this God of immense love. Seems easy, to reap such glory. For if we do attend Mass faithfully, in all our humility and littleness, if we do offer ourselves to Christ to use according to His will, God will return the gift a thousand fold when we receive Him in the bread and wine. For if we are little, we can fit on the narrow path, enter through the low door (on our knees), and yet miraculously grow in grace to be all that we are meant to be. We run the race, as St. Paul said in today’s Epistle, to receive an incorruptible crown. We labor in the vineyard to receive our reward, the last first, the first last, as Christ said in St. Matthew’s gospel parable. For today is Septuagesima Sunday, the beginning of “Little Lent,” and we consider what fasts to observe in Lent, three weeks away, be they fasts of food or wasted time. We must tone our souls to prepare for the race to Easter’s Resurrection.
If we do these things, in remembrance of Him, we will know glory on earth as well as in Heaven. And nothing will ever be the same.