“…The sure and general rule for all who groan for the salvation of God is this, — whenever opportunity serves, use all the means which God has ordained; for who knows in which God will meet thee with the grace that bringeth salvation?” (John Wesley, Sermon 16)
I just finished a Holy Week full of singing the Anglican music that makes me wonder sometimes if it’s just a cruel joke that I wasn’t born a couple of centuries ago in England. The Great Vigil of Easter is full of holy joy–it makes the salvific history of Christianity vivid to me in ways that no Mormon liturgy does (yet…). I thought, last night, as we rang bells and sang and shouted “He is risen–alleluia, alleluia” over and over again, that Easter had come, that my cup was full, that I could not dare ask for more sweetness. But God promises not just a full measure of grace and joy, but “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.”
And today, in our decidedly low church Sacrament Meeting, there was more–joy and holiness in outrageous abundance. It came, unexpectedly, from an overflow crowd and a slight scarcity of sacrament bread. The deacons looked nervous as, one by one, they came forward with empty trays while there were still too many pews the emblems hadn’t reached. A little boy was dispatched to hand some bread, brought by his mother as a visual aid for a Primary lesson about the Last Supper, to one of the confused priests. I wondered, idly, if there would be a little miracle of loaves, if perhaps the bread on the trays would somehow multiply itself to suffice for the whole crowd.
But of course it didn’t. There was only the ordinary miracle of the bishop’s counselor asking for people to raise their hands if they hadn’t received bread–reminding us that not only all of us, but each of us needs the bread of life. Only the low rumble and squeak of toddlers being shushed, babies squirming, and parents’ urgent whisperings about reverence to older children. Only all of us together, with our variously broken, scarred, bleeding, mended hearts. Only good boys looking to the bishopric for help, watching carefully to learn how to become men of God. Only the prayer, repeated so that we could hear it especially today, with the words of the Easter story freshly alive in our hearts: “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
And then the rest of our clumsy worship–so different from the careful, staid beauty of the ancient rituals that teach the lessons of Easter in the Episcopal tradition I also love. Primary children rousing themselves from their sugar comas to tromp up to the stand and sing (and, well, kind of yell) about Jesus, the tiny but valiant ward choir doing its part, young women singing in clear, strong voices, sermons whose power derived not from the beauty of carefully chosen and practiced words, but from their earnest accounts of lives lived in Christian community, in this community, yearning together for Christ’s promised grace and peace. Only ordinary miracles.
It’s likely that I’ll complain again sometime that Mormons don’t do Easter right. I expect I’ll continue to need to feed my soul with glimpses of “the fair beauty of holiness” in the forms of worship revealed to other Christians through the ages. But, for today, thank God for all of it–for grace and goodness poured out more abundantly than we dare hope for, for His incessant calling in so many places and in so many lovely ways for His children to draw near, “not only with our lips, but in our lives…”, for the ordinary miracles that bind us to each other in love and draw us toward Him in holy longing.
Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
(The Book of Common Prayer)