The Ordinary Means of Grace

“…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)

Comments

  1. That was a pleasure to read. When I have wished for a more polished presentation I’ve tried to remember that Jesus’ methods and perhaps his life would probably be considered pedestrian by those who have created skilled and ornamented expression of their love for him. Ironic. Good to remember, as you describe, that there is room for both. Grace hidden in unlikely places. Thanks for this.

  2. MikeInWeHo says:

    Thanks for this today. Happy Easter, Kristine!

  3. A post by quoting John Wesley that reminds me the little things that make me love Mormonism? What a perfect conclusion to my Easter Sunday. Thanks, Kristine.

  4. Gorgeous.

  5. Mark B. says:

    This was wonderful, Kristine. Thank you.

  6. Kristine says:

    Christopher–I really love Wesley’s sermons–all that thorough pedantry leavened by gorgeous turns of phrase. “Groan for salvation” is especially wonderful.

  7. Two posts from Kristine in one day. Must be a holy day.

  8. KerbearRN says:

    Thank you thank you thank you for this. This year I bought myself a copy of a Catholic missal, with Latin in one column and English in another, with the offices of the Holy Week, including the Tenebrae and the Washing of Feet. I didn’t manage to get through much of it, but the poetry of the Easter Week thrilled the strings of my heart. Truth and beauty, wherever it may be found. Bless you Kristine, and bless you all, my friends!

  9. woodboy says:

    Thanks for joining us this year for the vigil, it’s always great to have you.

  10. I just finished reading Eugene England’s “Easter Weekend” for the first time, and then found this waiting for me at BCC. That’s pretty much the perfect conclusion to Easter Sunday.

  11. Nate S. says:

    This was the perfect ending to my Easter. Thanks for uplifting and inspiring us.

  12. A wonderful post for Easter. Thanks, Kristine.

  13. Happy easter everyone. I hope you had a great Sunday.

  14. Rechabite says:

    Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.

  15. Ordinary miracles, indeed! Thank you, Kristine!

  16. BHodges says:

    Great juxtaposition. The ideas are as wonderful as the poetic language you couched them in.

  17. Absolutely lovely. And Mormon to the core, imo. Thank you Kristine.

  18. Thanks, Kristine. Surely there is beauty in ordinary lives full of ordinary miracles expressing ordinary garce.

  19. I will go anywhere to read what you write.

  20. I’m a week late, but thank you still.

  21. Charles Randall Paul says:

    Well, we we experience these different liturgical traditions we tend to wonder if we can ever contemplate splendid beauty AND enjoy intimate love at the same time–with God or with each other. You might be saying you have succeeded in doing this! Anyway, I love how you push us to embrace more without being so delightedly surprised at the new that we let go of the reliable old. In this case, the old liturgy is to us new and the upstart unrefined program is our old.

  22. Lovely. Thank you.
    Like you, I too adore Anglican music. My children are lucky enough to attend the Cathedral School in our city, and I am so happy they’ll get to experience part of this tradition.

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