Amy and I are in the final stages of editing our new book, Common Prayer: Reflections on Episcopal Worship. It’s a collection of personal essays by theologians, writers, and artists on their experience of worship in the Episcopal Church. We hope to send the manuscript to the publisher in the next couple of weeks.
Below I offer another excerpt from my essay on how worship saved my marriage. I thought it might provide some food for thought as we look forward to All Saints’ Day this week.
Amy and I recently had the rare treat of worshipping together at All Saints’ Chapel in Sewanee, Tennessee. We were at the School of Theology for a couple of weeks of continuing education as fellows in residence. It was All Saints’ Day, a perfect time to be in a chapel named for this principal feast in the church year. I cherish the opportunity to sit in a pew next to Amy. Sometimes, it is sheer bliss to participate in worship without leading it. The liturgy was beautiful, the sermon very good, and the choir excellent. It had all I hope for on All Saints’ when we pray in the collect of the day to the God who “has knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord,” and ask that “we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you.”
The closing hymn was “A Mighty Fortress.” I croak along more or less in tune, but Amy sings like an angel. She sings this hymn by heart. Not only was her father a Lutheran pastor, but also her grandfather and her great-grandfather. I think of how many times she must have heard this hymn even before she was able to speak. Cradled in her mom’s arms in the congregations her dad and her grandfather served, Luther’s song of God’s triumphant love must have pulsed in her tiny ears quickening a trust in God’s promises that Luther knew God’s Word created even in infants. Then, as she grew, her own clear and true voice joined the congregation.
Amy’s grandparents and parents are gone now, her mom and dad dying from cancer at far too young an age. I think of the gifted and gracious priest she has become and of how proud her parents would be of her. We sing “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still.” Then it strikes me. It’s not right to say that her parents would be proud of her, but rather that her parents are proud of her. It’s All Saints’ Day and we join our voices with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. Past, present and future compress. Forebears, who sang ‘Ein feste Burg,’ are now forerunners singing ‘A Mighty Fortress.’ A swirl of voices mingles with ours as the communion of saints draws us into their eternal praise and the souls of loved ones jostle alongside a dear one who sings a hymn she has heard since birth. My throat catches and tears flood my eyes. I can no longer sing, but am content to be in such goodly company. I want to be there always, in the presence of God, in the communion of saints, beside my wife, hearing her strong, clear song.