This Advent, our parish scrapped a set of poorly-attended noonday services and replaced them with daily morning prayer. At first, it was mostly the staff, but after a few days, a group of laypeople began to grow around the service, busy people who wanted to take some time for prayer together before heading off to attend to the tasks of the day. And so it was that, a few days after Christmas, I logged into my e-mail and found a message from one of them. She wrote that she had come to Morning Prayer as usual on Christmas Eve, but that nobody else was there. (This was true. The church offices were closed and the clergy and staff were all preparing for the four services that evening.) The e-mail continued, I went ahead and did morning prayer alone. I don’t know if you want to note in the liturgy Register that MP was done that day.
When I read her words, my heart rejoiced. It spoke to me of the ways that we hold one another up in this church community, each person’s faithfulness carrying the community in an hour of need. We are each standing in a vast web of prayer, of love, of people who take the time to care for us even when we do not know they are out there, of people who pray for us even when they do not know our names. They whisper our story in the darkness: for those who live with cancer, for those who are struggling with addiction, for those who have lost hope, for those who have none to pray for them.
People used to think that the church belonged to the professional Christians, to the priests and monks and nuns who made prayer their earthly work. We know better now. Beyond the people like me, who get to put on robes and fancy brocades and stand in front of congregations, there are thousands upon thousands of of God’s people — people who wake in the night to care for infants, people who gulp coffee as they run out the door, people who struggle to do what is right (and sometimes fail), people who try to fix the wrong they have done — all the people whom God calls and loves. The people who speak God’s name, because God first spoke theirs.
Every man his own priest, Luther wrote. He was not being funny. He was speaking a great truth, one we too often hide. Your priest does not stand between you and God, imparting divine messages to people who could not otherwise hear them. Rather, we listen to God together, learn from what we see God doing in one another’s lives. Sometimes, it is the “ordinary” person in the pew who shows me what God looks like that day. Often, in fact. Most days.
Don’t sell yourself short. And, thank you.