(Skip to about 1:14 in the video to listen to Eucharistic Prayer C. Video from St. Bartholomew's Church, New York City)
Lord God of our Fathers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.
--From Eucharistic Prayer C, p. 372, Book of Common Prayer
Easter is a time Eucharistic Prayer C is often used in the Episcopal Church, and this year at Trinity (as in many years) we are using EP-C this Easter. It's often called "The Star Wars Prayer" because of all the references to outer space, and folks seem to have a love-hate relationship with it. As a space geek, liturgy geek, and lover of the night sky in wide open spaces, I don't have to tell you I'm in the "love" crowd. But I also love it for two other reasons: First, that it plays out the most often repeated theme in the Bible--the theme of Creation-->Sin-->Repentance-->Restoration, and reminds me this theme is played out in each of our individual lives, multiple times. Second, because it has several responses from the pews--the gathered faithful become a bigger physical part of the Eucharistic process itself, and it emphasizes that the mysteries of the Eucharist happen because of all of the gathered participants are present, not that the priest does special magic stuff. Yes, you do need the priest to preside and consecrate the elements, but as my spiritual director is fond of saying, "You can't have Mass with one person, even if that one person is a priest. That's why it's called Mass."
So how does this turn into a post about a medical school graduation?
I once again was asked by a graduating KCOM class to be one of the marshals--aka the "hooders"--during Commencement. They are the ones who actually put the doctoral hood on the graduate. It remains one of the most joyful and simultaneously humbling honors in my life. I always say each time it happens, "If this is the last time I ever get to do this, it will be enough." You see, for me, it is always like glimpsing a little slice of Heaven.
I dearly love the mystical moment where they become a doctor, and I love being the first to call them "Doctor"--to call them a title they have longed for, for some time--a title, that in their intern year, they will come to feel quite inadequate about, but a title they will spend the next few years growing into, all the same.
For me, the joy the graduates radiate from that moment, is my peek at what EP-C talks about--it "opens my eyes to see God's hand in the world around me." It's a moment where the sacred meets the secular--or rather, shows me the sacred that was there all along in the secular, that most of the time, I'm too nearsighted to see.
You see, it was medical school graduation that taught me the value of liturgy.
I have to confess, the first two graduations in my life, I was quite blind and deaf to their power. My high school graduation, all I wanted was out. Out of Macon, MO, out of the house, out of the dysfunction in that house that kept me totally ignorant to what "normal" was in dealing with others, or caring for myself. I only wanted to walk across the stage and be done with it. I was quite the grouch with my family, I was not appreciative of the overtures of reconciliation going on in my family towards me, I was not letting any of them in my head to share my moment. In fact, I was quite unhappy about what should have been a happy moment.
My college graduation was a disaster, thanks to Mother Nature. My college graduation went down in the history of Truman State University as "The year it rained cats and dogs at Commencement." The decision to have it outdoors was made at the last moment. As we started marching from Baldwin Hall to the football stadium, suddenly we began getting drenched. I mean DRENCHED. They diverted us to the basketball arena, where there were no chairs for the graduates, the family members crowded onto the benches, steam rolling off our wet gowns, black inky bands forming on our skin as the wet caps dripped on our foreheads. So we just never got around to the "enjoying Commencement" part.
They say, though, third time's a charm.
Now, there was no reason to expect any joy at all in my graduation from medical school. My folks were three years out of a very contentious divorce, and it felt like we were still in the middle of that divorce. I had heard for weeks, each of my parents complaining what they expected the other to do. Add to that the fact my beloved grandfather had died unexpectedly six months prior.
I was heading towards graduation, not looking at the wonderful future ahead of me, but filled with anxiety that everyone I loved would be working overtime to make it clear that I had not put their needs ahead of my desires.
But then an absolute miracle happened.
For some mysterious reason, which I can attribute to no single thing I did or said, the entire family (and several people who make up my "extended family") morphed into this happy, cordial, civil group of people who not only exchanged pleasantries with each other on the "quad" at the University of Missouri, but they continued this back at the Elks' Lodge in Macon, at a party that lasted till 2 a.m. People drank and danced and socialized mightily, and although I worried that they were all drinking enough for a horrible fight to break out, they were instead dancing with each other in some very unlikely pairings.
Of course, a couple of days later, everyone was back to their old contentious selves, but it was my own personal version of "The Christmas Truce."
People had told me before that weddings, graduations, and baptisms have that kind of power. I had never believed it--until my medical school graduation.
It has only been recently that I recognized what was behind all that--the power of liturgy.
What I have come to believe is that the power of liturgy overcomes "the power of 'me'."
Gathering people together for a higher purpose--whether it is to sacramentalize a committed relationship, join a person to the company of saints through the waters of baptism, or ceremonialize a course of study--changes people. They desire to be part of a group bigger than themselves, so they find it easier to give up control and let the ceremony be the controlling force. We find ourselves willingly coming to these "tables" for renewal and strength, with very little thought about ourselves.
Gathering people together for a higher purpose also brings people out of the woodwork, simply to have cause to celebrate as a group. To snitch straight out of Isaiah 60:
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall be acceptable on my altar, and I will glorify my glorious house. Who are these that fly like a cloud, and like doves to their windows?
It is so incredibly easy for me to be joyful when I am standing in the radiance of a newly minted doctor. May we all find the same kind of joy when we are basking in the radiance of a group of people fortified with the sacraments of Christ's Body and Blood.