We Remain In This World
It is hard to try to pick a favorite part of the Liturgy. Yet, there is a special part of the Liturgy that remains without parallel in my eyes: the serving priests take the time to ask the people to forgive them of any sins they have committed. In monastic communities, I have witnessed the whole community asking for and offering forgiveness from and to each member of the community present. It’s beautiful. And every time I see this part of the service, I pause and I remember.
People screw up.
There is nothing new under the sun. And people continue to screw up. It doesn’t matter who the person is: whether they are a bishop, priest, deacon, chanter, reader, lay person, mother, father, child, male, female, employed, unemployed, married, single… people screw up. We get it wrong so much of the time. I get it wrong so much of the time.
Today the Gospel reading reminds us that we live in a sinful and adulterous generation.
Sometimes I wonder if certain categories of sinners exist exclusively to test and try the patience of the right-minded religious types. We have people that we can so easily bypass on our way towards extending grace and compassion to people. So many tragic things happen when people in the Church forget that the Church is a hospital for sinners. And so many other tragic things happen when people in the Church forget that the Church exists outside of Her buildings.
I read a story about an elder who wondered if his monks were worthy of God’s Kingdom. He sent the monks to prepare for a vigil several towns away. When they were on the road, the two monks encountered a man sick and wounded aside the road who pleaded them for their help. They refused saying they were on an important errand to prepare for the vigil. Later the elder passed by the same spot for he too was on his way to the vigil. The man cried out to the elder for help, but when the man realized the elder was all alone, he excused the elder from helping him as the elder was an aged man. Yet the elder insisted that he bring the man to a place where he could receive care, carrying the injured man on his shoulders. The elder strained with effort in the desert heat, but he remained determined to tend to the sick and wounded man. As he continued to carry the wounded man, his load got lighter… and it got lighter… and it got lighter until he looked back at the injured man he was carrying. The injured man revealed himself to be an angel. He said that God sent him to tell the elder that his monks were not worthy of God’s Kingdom because they failed to have love.
It’s easy to look at this story as an outsider, but I wonder what that elder felt. These monks unworthy of God’s Kingdom were his monks, his spiritual children. He had helped form them spiritually. And I think he approached that vigil service absolutely crest-fallen, entreating God for His wisdom, especially as he realized that he failed his spiritual children.
So we continue to pray for God’s mercy and illumination. May we walk with one another onto life everlasting.