Thursday, October 02, 2008

Forgiven? What a disappointment

This morning began, as Thursdays always do, with the BCP Communion at Church on the Hill.
It's a gentle service, with a small but focussed congregation and it's something I always find valuable, despite my linguistic struggles.
No problems with the liturgy itself, you understand - I'm old enough to have grown up with Series 2, so "thous", "thees" and "oblations" may not be the stuff of everyday, but they're still on my mental map - but the readings, particularly from Paul, are a different matter altogether. After all, his thought processes are pretty compressed and dense even in modern language. He's dealing with Big Stuff here and he doesn't believe in diluting it unduly.
Add to that the confusion of words whose meanings have evolved and changed over the decades, the way subclause within subclause unfolds (or doesn't) and verbs hide themselves away at the end of the sentence to jump out on the unsuspecting reader, and the whole thing becomes a real challenge.
Some weeks it is like nothing so much as leaping from the topmost diving board, without knowing for sure if there's sufficient depth of water to allow you to survive . .Some weeks, even when I know the passage well, I don't feel that I've made it sound remotely comprehensible, and worse still, I don't know that my listeners actually expect to understand it.

This morning was one such...A chunk of Ephesians (the passage set for Trinity 19 under the BCP lectionary) proved almost incomprehensible, so I thought I'd base my minimal homily on the Gospel, Matthew's account of the healing of the man "sick of the palsy".
As I read, I wondered how he would have felt when Jesus, the man with this huge reputation as a healer, turned to him and said
"Your sins are forgiven"
Do you think he was even conscious of his sins?
I'd imagine he was, actually, hugely disappointed.
Other cripples were walking home singing, lepers were hugging their wives and children and setting off for a party - and him? He was still sick of the palsy.
Worse still, he was becoming the subject of a religious controversy over whether or not Jesus was qualified to offer the forgiveness that he himself hadn't sought at all.
Not only was he being offered something he didn't want, but this unsolicited gift was causing no end of trouble.
Then, almost as an afterthought, he gets what he thought he wanted all along - but it comes couched in disconcerting language
"So that you may know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins - arise..."

And there it was.
The miracle he had waited for, hoped for, maybe even prayed for.
But not as he'd expected it.
Merely as an incidental to this other matter, the forgiveness of his sins.

I wonder how often the rest of us miss the real miracle as we strain after something else, something that we think we need beyond everything...
I wonder how often we take the miracle of our forgiveness as read.


Chris said...

Thank you, Kathryn. Definitely a thought worth holding on to.

I wonder, would your congregation accept a more readily understood Bible translation, always retaining their BCP liturgy?

Kathryn said...

That's a helpful idea Chris...I might just try it. To be honest, the Thursday morningers aren't really's more a question of my having myself organised enough to hunt out readings in advance. Somehow Thursday morning always takes me by surprise;-)

Mary Beth said...

How splendid! Thank you.

We had Choral Evensong last night. For some insane reason, the music director (whom I adore) decided to use preces and responses in Rite II (as we term it). It sounded mad.