(Fragment of extremely rare pink calcite courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
--Collect, 8th Sunday after Epiphany, Book of Common Prayer, p. 216-217
Unless one is a total liturgical calendar geek, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011 would have slipped by unnoticed, save the events of the day. But for the liturgically nerdy, it was a very rare day in the church calendar.
The last time we had an 8th Sunday after Epiphany was in 1943. As best as I can tell, looking at a chart of Easter dates, the next time we will have an 8th Sunday after Epiphany will be in the year 2095. There are three people in our parish for whom this was the 2nd time they have experienced a Sunday like this, and perhaps some of our youngest parishioners will do so again, but for most of us, it was the only time we would live this day.
When I had discovered this fact from one of my Facebook friends, I immediately set out to find out as much nerdy detail as I could about it. I found it absolutely fascinating that since our present Book of Common Prayer was put into use in 1979, the contemporary form of this collect had never been used. Chances are, the next time this Sunday rolls around in the calendar, our prayer book will have been revised again, possibly even not just once, but more than once.
I shared this with my vicar and several other people in the parish on Sunday, and with my Facebook friends. I laughed at how it was almost a litmus test for the "liturgically nerdy." My contacts who also live on the liturgically geeky side of life also found it fascinating. The ones that don't, as expected, dismissed me lovingly as a hopeless nerd--which was all fine.
But as I pondered these little facts, a desire grew in me for this Sunday to be a special day--more special than usual. I wanted to be just a little cleaner, a little more ready, a little more grace-filled, and a little more liturgically smooth as acolyte that day.
From that thought grew another thought: Every Sunday is a special day. This is the day the Lord has made; rejoice and be glad in it. The thought kept growing, as I got in the truck and drove to church. Every day is a special day. Not just this Sunday. Not just Sunday. Every day of my life is a special day, with none of them just alike.
Why is it we hunt and hunt for "special days" in our life, and have a need to rank order everything? We even rank order holidays, liking this one better than that one. Why is it, on our worst days, we can't simply back up from it and go, "Wait a minute. Yes, there are some things about today that really bite--but I am alive to see the end of it. This is a special day, even if it is only because I survived it." But the fact is we do rank order our days, our friends, our food, and our needs.
But it didn't change the fact I wanted Sunday, Feb. 27 to be special.
Now, honestly, I didn't do much that would ever be deemed "special." I went to church. I was acolyte. I had what I would call "a good day at church," but I would never claim it was a red letter day. I did some errands. I worked on throwing more things out of the house, in anticipation of the people coming for the furniture. It was good, but not special.
So for my "special activity" for the day, I decided since this collect was possibly the most seldom-used collect in the Prayer Book, I would spend some quality time with it...and this was the line that jumped out at me:
"Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal..."
Well, I've certainly had plenty of those faithless fears and worldly anxieties. I am pretty sure I have more coming up. To snitch a couple of phrases from my blog friend Elizabeth, I have eaten from the family-size loaf of the Bread of Anxiety, and I have a gold level membership in the Anxiety Airlines frequent flier program. I often remark that I have a hypertrophied paranoid gland.
But next Sunday, our readings remind us of a cloud far different than the clouds of this mortal life--the cloud mentioned on Mt. Sinai as Moses received the commandments, and the cloud that was present at the Transfiguration that contained the voice of God, saying, "This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!"
It's a reminder that God has a tendency to speak from the fog, not from the sunny clear sky.
Maybe, in that sense, there is a purpose to anxiety.
Perhaps it means that every time we feel ourselves headed for the next gate for the next flight from the Anxiety Airlines terminal, we need to consider our anxieties as invitations--invitations to hear God in the vast cloud of unknowing. That would certainly be different. It might even be "special!" Who knows--maybe one of those opportunities is a once in a lifetime opportunity, as rare as the 8th Sunday after Epiphany!