Monday, July 27, 2009
In the midst of life
. . . we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased."
So run the words of the graveside liturgy, which have always struck me as a concise summation of life on earth: In the midst of life we are in death. We run from highlight to highlight, occasionally smiling and laughing when we can, when we see children and grandchildren grow, when we spend time with friends, when we enjoy a good meal or a good weekend, when we accomplish something good in our vocations, when we celebrate festive occasions, even when we enjoy life's little pleasures (hazelnut coffee, cut crystal glassware, etc.). But between those highlights and scattered about there are troubles, pains, heartaches, tragedies, and death. Always death, always lurking. In the midst of life we are in death.
We like to ignore this little fact, for obvious reasons, and most of us can usually do so without too much difficulty, most of the time.
But sometimes it corners us and we can't escape: a tragic accident, a dread disease, a family crisis.
And at those times, when the laughter ceases, and the heart aches, we find that the presence of loved ones often helps, but ultimately nothing provides succor but the presence of the Almighty, as he condescends to embrace us with his mercy in the blood and resurrection of Christ.
Now can someone tell me why, why in the world, why on God's green earth, would anyone prefer gimmicks and folderol in their church? I mean, how does that help?
Of course I know the answer, and it's a miserable one: those things are just more little diversions. The little funnies, the cute stories, the jokes and puns, all attempts to get us to chuckle and be at ease. They help in that they would have us continue to ignore rather than to overcome those darknesses with which life is beset. And for many people, much of the time, that can work, just as in life.
But that is not why Christ came. In the world you have tribulation. Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
And so, finally, that is why such diversions do not belong in church.
Listen, I did not come to your church to have my troubled heart diverted for an hour. Had I wanted that I could have gone to the movies or read a book; such devices do the trick quite well. I want my heart succored, really helped. I need comfort, and though I know I am not worthy to be comforted, I do know that this is the reason Christ came and redeemed me: to comfort me and promise me eternal victory and gladness. And this is the reason he has built his Church, too: to embrace me and fill me with his life and salvation, and really and truly to drive away death and darkness forever.
On the one hand I do appreciate life's little diversions, and the opportunities I have to chuckle and relax. It's just that I don't want them in church. There I want what Christ came to give me, his eternal promises and his blessed Sacraments.
Is that too much to ask?