If there was a word to describe the last twelve months, it would have to be unprecedented. That’s not my choice. It’s a simple observation. The word has been used so many times in emails, commercials, and news stories that I am literally beginning to question whether it has any meaning. In the past twelve months, we have experienced a global pandemic, widespread lockdowns, the storming of the United States Capitol - and those are just some of the major headlines. For many, it has been a year that has been, well, unprecedented.
Shortly after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, many people began to search for fixes, for answers, for words, turning to where we go when searching for answers, Google. According to one article, in March of 2020, Google searches for prayer increased drastically - by roughly 50%.
Of course, this pandemic is likely not the first life-changing event many have faced, and it certainly won’t be the last. In times of unknown, I am grateful for the gift of the liturgy. Specifically, I am grateful for the invocation, for confession and absolution, and for the Lord’s Prayer. While we may quickly turn to prayer when we are uncertain, we may not always have the words to say.
So, what do we pray? What do we say? In times of fear, in times of chaos, in unprecedented times, we pray and say the words that have been written on our hearts.
The church has used liturgy for hundreds of years to equip people with such words. Maybe you’ve spoken the words of the liturgy every week and thought nothing more about it, simple rote memorization of time spent growing up in the church. Maybe you say the liturgy every Sunday with tears in your eyes as the words come alive with the repeated assurance of Christ’s love for you. Either way, the grooves are being carved into your heart and stored there for when you need them most.
When I studied the liturgy in university, the invocation seemed like such a simple thing. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” - do we really need to say this every Sunday? I mean, we’re saying God’s name. We all know that’s why we’ve gathered, right? But when the world seems as though it is going to hell, knowing that God is there and knowing that when we call on his name, he promises to be present is no simple thing. It is an assurance that our words are heard, that though we might be in isolation, we are not alone. We don’t need to conjure God. We don’t need to wake him from his slumber. He is here. That’s the first bit of good news.
The second is perhaps the biggest. God not only hears; he forgives. I have a friend who once told me the only reason he goes to church is to hear the absolution. To hear, on account of Christ, you are forgiven. I resonate with that. During the last year, I’m willing to bet there’s been at least one time where you’ve caught yourself (or maybe you’ve just been told later) that you were not the best version of yourself. Increased stress has a way of emphasizing the sinner part of our sinner-saint reality as Christians.
We don’t need to conjure God. We don’t need to wake him from his slumber. He is here. That’s the first bit of good news.
This past year I have been particularly thankful for the confession and absolution within my tradition’s Sunday morning liturgy. Through confession, we are not only taught how to apologize, something our culture seems to have a hard time with, but we are also taught how to forgive. This brings great comfort. We know we will miss the mark at being the perfect parent, child, roommate, etc. Some days, we may even forget to try, but God comes after us, pursuing us to the point of death on a cross that we might die to sin and be raised to life with him. That is a message I cannot hear enough, and I will gladly be reminded of it often in those words of absolution.
Finally, when we cannot find the words to pray, Jesus literally gives us words in Matthew 6. You may know this passage as the Lord’s Prayer. In it, we are reminded that God is holy and that God is in control, both here on earth and in heaven. We are reminded that God is our provider and the author of forgiveness. He is our deliverer. The temptation will always be to think and act as though none of those things are true. We want to take credit. We want to be in control, be the provider, be the hero. But, when life is spinning out of control, and we face the unknown, it sure is comforting to know we can stop lying to ourselves.
So whether you find yourself recalling the words of the liturgy that you have said for years, or you have simply come across this post as the result of a google search, may you be reminded that God is with you. May you know that he will listen to your every confession, take your sin from you and bury it deep, showering you with grace and new life, and when you struggle to find the words, he gives them to you, even interceding on your behalf.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.
The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. Amen.