Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | November 3, 2008


Shortly after chrismation, I was blessed with the opportunity to serve as an Acolyte. In a Western Rite parish, this covers a fairly wide range of jobs from Epistler (Pipes) and Thurifer (Smokeman), Acolyte 1 (Bellman) and Acolyte 2 (Doorman). In a mission sized parish like ours, the shortage of folks pretty much means one of these jobs falls your way every weekend… unless you claim some sort of schedule “conflict” or leave town. While there’s a fair amount of doings to get down, the hardest part seems to lie in maintaining your body temperature at a level somewhere beneath 5000 degrees.

I imagine that if they ever make a movie of an Orthodox “crewe” of altar servers, it would star nothing but the young and the ever buff sorts that, in all truth, we surely are. Right. But to carry on with the fantasy for a moment, consider that “suiting up” would be presented as just another turn of the day for “Ace”, “Rocky”, “Mike” and “Nat” together with Father – who would of course also be young… and buff… but that movie’s not been made yet.  I’d call it “Five-Love” just for the numbers involved at the Altar… but surely someone’s got a better name out there. And no, Central Casting won’t be dropping by given that some of us still trip on the cassock, creak on our knees, and find ourselves generally puzzled at the conflict between matters of stagecraft, presence, and prayerfulness so long as our prayer remains for the Mother of God to help us get through another service without tripping too obviously on something or someone or other, without forgetting our place, without messing up someone’s worship… but instead managing to give our best in our supporting roles. No, we are not a “crack” team of well-drilled servers… but simply ordinary folks trying to “get ‘er done”.

Yet this service offers opportunities close to the altar to observe up close, to hear all the words and prayers as you listen intently for your next move – picking up many of the subtleties so often missed (and sometimes still missed), and to offer one’s own silent prayers and reflections in a way that melds with these as well to the Glory of God. It is a daily lesson in humility, in obedience, and service to the Church, to Father, and to the people that is worth better than we can give… and yet we give what we have. And through it we come to know our parish family, something of how they approach the Cup, how each offers their prayers, and we see not just the unity of our worship, but the tremendous diversity of God’s creation within us as well. God grants us to see things in this service… as in all services to God whether in the family, acts of charity and mercy, or beyond… that yield us much more than we might imagine. There is far more personality and consistency in these aspects of our worship lives than we see from our own eyes alone… and in this our need for our parish family really is all to plain.

Yesterday we celebrated a baptism of Katherine Davis, a beautiful, not-quite two-month youngster,  and so our parish family has expanded if just a bit. Doubling as Crucifer and standing behind the baptismal font next to the altar and the Celebrant in a literal ring side seat … there is not much that escapes the eye and ear. This was also our Feast of All Saints Day… so we had quite a litany before the exorcism and blessings of the waters and the beginning of baptism, quite some time to “warm up” and meld into the service, and quite some time to meditate on the meaning of baptism… from that of our Lord through our own, to this day and this child.

And as you look upon a child through this… it is hard as well not to see just the “old man”…. but the sense as well that the there really is a death of this old man through this water. Literally. For this day and this baptism the similarity between us at our birth and death was at once far more than otherwise…. as our all too evident fragility, fears, dependencies and surprise in these states… between infancy and old age, between those that we must help and hold, and those who trust in their continuance entirely to others… and ultimate acceptance of that which comes next… for there is simply no other choice. And whatever it is… does indeed come next… and whether life or death or somewhere in-between, come it will, cold and wet as the flushing of our past into a new, and warmer moment… even as we greet it with surprise, some tears, a cry or two, and perhaps a ceasing of struggle… at least for a time… as we are engrafted into the arms of our loving Father and passed into new life.

Those with subtler minds and softer hearts already know this, have sensed it from the beginning, and wondered how anyone could miss it. But here it is lived out, re-enacted, and plainly visible. Thanks be to God…. even those of us less atuned can finally see it here in Liturgy… and maybe carry that back with us to a newness in our own lives.

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