Advent Grace

The Monday Brief is a weekly blog series in which I reflect on my experience of the liturgy and pastoral ministry over the weekend. While it is primarily oriented toward pastors and lay congregational leaders, there will likely be something for everyone in it. I do draw on my past experience and occasionally reference my current pastoral assignment for case studies and examples; however, no names are used for the sake of confidentiality and respect.

There have been very few times that I have felt emotionally moved in worship in my career as a pastor and worship leader. The tasks that require your attention as you minister to a group of people in the liturgy take your mental energy and focus it in a different direction than the emotional process of individual congregants. The fact that pastors and worship leaders labor in leading the work of the people, and therefore may tend to experience fewer emotionally powerful moments in worship, isn’t a sign of a lack of worship. It is simply a different form of worship that is offered.

As I celebrated Holy Communion with my congregation on Sunday, praying the Great Thanksgiving and opening the table for the prayers of the people and the sharing of bread and cup, I was struck by a powerful moment of what I can only describe as grace. My ministry in this congregation has been challenging since August this year, and my mental energies have been drained to exhaustion. I’ve felt, at various times, anger and frustration, sadness and mourning, excitement and joy, and apathy and indifference, and often at the same time. The surging of so many emotions left me wondering how much longer I could go on leading them.

But as I stood, praying the prayer of the church at Christ’s Table and looking around at my precious congregation, I was moved in a moment of gracious epiphany: God has been journeying with us. I felt in those moments profound love for this ragtag group of people that have been sometimes very hurtful but are, more often than not, good and decent Christians. I was so overcome with emotion that I could barely make it through the service of communion. In the bodies that gathered for worship on Sunday I witnessed the grace of God as it was gathered into God’s very own body, blessed and broken and shared.

Over the past few weeks I’ve reflected on the difficult parts of ministry. I do not deny those realities, and as I’ve heard from many of you from around the country express solidarity and thankfulness for naming the many issues that plague the church, I’ve felt a strong sense of support in my own work in these past weeks. It has been life-giving.

What I leave for you today is this thought: Amid all the hardships we endure, all the negativity that exhausts and wounds us, all the drama that is unnecessary and irritating, all the relationships and their complexities, God is always with us. Our progression through Advent should serve as a reminder to us that God is coming to us, arms open and ready to receive us. As I presided at the Holy Eucharist on Sunday, I saw the God-in-flesh waiting for me even as I waited for him. And I was overcome with a strong sense of divine grace.

Pastors, I told you on Friday to stand tall. Indeed, do stand tall. You have been called to a task that is incredibly hard, probably the hardest thing you will ever do. You will be under-appreciated and wounded. But remember that you have been called by a God who longs for you even as you long for that divine presence that is so often shrouded in the darkness of everyday ministry in this world. And as you stand tall, friends, may you be graced with a moment of seeing our God lovingly gazing back upon you, saying, “Do it in remembrance of me.”

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