Pastoral Perspectives—On the Charge and Benediction of Joy in Prayer and Thanksgiving
Pastoral Perspectives—On the Charge and Benediction of Joy in Prayer and Thanksgiving (shared article adapted from previous posting)
The words continually ring true. The charge and benediction of my pastor at the end of Sunday morning worship services from my childhood and teenage years even now resound throughout my very being, and maybe especially so in the deep recesses of my heart and mind. I had the honor and privilege of reciting the very same words as a pastor and guest preacher nearly six years ago in the sanctuary of my old home church in Mount Vernon, New York. I cannot even imagine growing up and going through life without a regular charge and benediction on a regular basis, particularly at the end of each service of worship. There may be varied incantations but the general gist of it goes something like this:
"Go forth into the world in peace! Take hold of that which is good. Do not pay back wrong for wrong. But support the fainthearted, and help those who are in need of help, for you thereby show due honor to every person. Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus our Lord. And may the love of God the Father, the grace of God the Son, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you and those whom you love this day and always. Amen."
It was a heartfelt moment. It was an emotional event. To have a sudden, immediate, keen awareness of God's hand upon you as your life seemingly flashes by before you. When things appear to come full circle in the unity of all things past and into the present future, one cannot help but stand in reverence and awe at the wonder of the Lord's providential grace in one's life. Still before the Holy One, there is a sense of speechlessness amidst the experience of the eternal presence.
Thomas Merton writes on the Feast of the Dedication of Gethsemane's Church, "Nothing could be more beautiful, nothing could make me happier." Tears of joy, peace everlasting, grace abounding. Such gladness of heart with gratitude to God. "And yet it raises again the unanswerable question: 'What on earth am I doing here?' " Yes, I hear the charge to go. Yes, I heed the exhortation to receive and live the good word. But what exactly am I doing here for God's sake? For what purpose have you and I been called? And why did I say yes to serving for this brief time of transitions in ministry?
Merton goes on to write, "I have answered it a million times. 'I belong here,' and this is no answer. In the end, there is no answer like that. Any vocation is a mystery, and juggling with words does not make it any clearer. It is a contradiction and must remain a contradiction."
It's like that saying, "The more you know, the more you realize the less you know." Even when questions may be answered, they beget more questions. And so, it is enough to surrender in awe with great thanksgivings unto the One Who is worthy of all our praise. As the psalmist proclaims, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord!’”
Therefore, beloved, this Thanksgiving through Advent and always: Go in peace! Do good, not wrong. Support, help, honor, rejoice, pray, give thanks each and every time! We belong here together in the here and now, as well as the not yet, for such a time as this. This is our lot in life. Let it be so.
To God be the glory,