Tuesday, November 27, 2012

No One But Us: Preparing the First Sermon of Advent

"How can I buy the communion wine? Who am I to buy the communion wine? Someone has to buy the communion wine. Having wine instead of grape juice was my idea, and of course I offered to buy it. Shouldn't I be wearing robes and, especially, a mask? Shouldn't I make the communion wine? Are there holy grapes, is there holy ground, is anything here holy? There are no holy grapes, there is no holy ground, nor is there anyone but us." 
             --Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm 

I am facing the first sermon of Advent--or, rather, it is facing me. On Sunday morning, this coming Sunday morning, I will climb the stairs and shuffle my pages and lean into the microphone and look out over the sea of faces populating the hard, wooden pews. I will look out into that gathered, beloved community, and marvel at the privilege and responsibility that weighs heavy on my sternum. And then, with a deep breath, I will have to begin.

I have been trying to create a holy space of preparation for this sermon. I have been trying to cultivate a more prayerful presence in the world this week, trying to carve out more quiet times of reflection. I have read and copied out the lectionary passages, planned lamp-lit sessions with good commentaries, chatted with my partner/pastor over leftover turkey in a kitchen hemmed in by the stillness of stars and snow beyond the windows.

But who am I to address the congregation? Who am I to share the holy word? I feel, with poet-minister George Herbert, like brittle, crazy glass. I spent the car-ride into church last Sunday morning stretching out an argument about the garbage being taken out. My mind wanders, with some frequency, into movie plots during morning prayers. How can I ascend the holy hill, I who have so often lifted up my soul to what is false?

And then there are the logistics. I sit with a Bible in my lap for ten minutes, then hear that a load has finished and must pull myself up to switch the laundry. I pull a few containers out of the refrigerator to wash after lunch, and just moments after I curl up in prayer an ancient half onion, expanding as it warms to room temperature, pops the lid off its container and startles me witless. Never mind my long to-do list: the vegetables themselves will not let me live a life of the mind.

How dare I stand in the holy place of the Most High? My hands may be rough-skinned with cleaning, but how could my heart ever be pure enough?

But then I read, then I remember: there is only us. The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof--the onions, the soup pot, the wash--and light still shines through cracked and dusty windows. Lift up your head, I whisper to myself: we are only asked to seek.

1 comment:

  1. I can see your home (in my minds eye) as I read this descriptive narrative. I can also see myself as one who has shared holy concepts from an unworthy vessel.

    My heart aches for you and simultaneously fills with joy at the thought of your willingness to be a conduit of matchless grace.