Words

When we don’t have the words, the Church provides them.

I have a friend who came to the Episcopal Church as an adult, although she had been active all her life in another Christian denomination. It was an Easter Sunday when her children dragged her to St. Mark’s Church in downtown San Antonio. What she was struck with that first time, she says, were the words, especially the words of the confession, asking forgiveness “for what we have done and for what we have left undone.”  “That’s exactly how I felt,” she says, “but I had never had the words to express it.”

When we don’t have the words, the Church provides them. How often do I go to the “back of the book” – pages 814 to 841 in The Book of Common Prayer – when I need help and don’t know how to ask for it? 
“Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor . . .” – from a Prayer for Guidance (p 832).
“Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us do . . .” from another Prayer for Guidance (p 832).
“By the might of your spirit, left us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God . . .” from a Prayer for Quiet Confidence (p 832).

So it is with the psalms.  We read them and exclaim, “Yes, that’s what I was trying to say.”  

Psalm 70, which is appointed for Wednesday in Holy Week, uses words that are also found in Psalm 40 (vss 13-17) with minor variations. There is speculation that Psalm 70 was detached from the end of Psalm 40 for use in temple worship, just as one might take part of a hymn and use it as a chorus.

We are familiar with the first two verses of Psalm 70 as the opening words of Noonday Prayer (BCP p 103). 

The scriptures we read this Holy Week put us in remembrance of the first Holy Week and all that have followed. The words put us at the scene as we follow Christ’s journey.  Interestingly, in the Revised Common Lectionary, which most Episcopal churches use, the lectionary readings for Holy Week do not change from year to year, unlike the readings for Sundays and the weekdays the rest of the year.  Every Holy Week we read the same words we read last year and the year before. Even so, they offer new revelation for our lives. As today’s post from Society of St. John the Evangelist (ssje.org) says, the continuing revelation of God is sometimes less like learning something new, and more like remembering something we’ve forgotten.

I invite you, the Church invites you, to find words today that speak comfort or transformation or hope or even lament to you in this time. Find them in the prayer book, find them in the psalms, find them in your favorite poetry, recall them from your own history.

Read them again and again as we walk toward Easter.

Psalm 70
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!”
    turn back because of their shame.

Let all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
    say evermore, “God is great!”
But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
6 You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay!

Find all of the lectionary readings for Wednesday in Holy Week here.

Marjorie George serves the Diocese of West Texas as a consultant in Adult Christian Formation. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.  Or leave a reply below. 

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