Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Joyful Hope

When the community finishes the Our Father, the presider offers a short prayer which picks up right from where we left off:
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free from sin
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
It draws our prayer to its natural conclusion -- us waiting in joyful hope for Jesus, and the coming of the kingdom.

You might notice that some priests will say "protect us from all needless anxiety" instead of "all anxiety". That's not the sacramentary's form, but it never seemed like much of a difference to me, either, until a friend pointed out to me that adding "needless" makes it seem as though there's some anxiety that it would be just fine to have, a kind of grace. But unlike, say, remorse or guilt (or maybe even shame, depending on your take on it), anxiety is never a good thing. That is, it never takes you anywhere or yields something positive. It's a form of emotional and spiritual paralysis. So, no need to add "needless"; it all fits that category.

I'm always fascinated by the term "joyful hope", too. Two rich words, but not ones you often put side by side. Joy emerges from an experience of God's graciousness. It's the cup that runneth over with gratitude and generosity, having been cared for by God, a response to grace. Whereas hope is by definition a desire for something that has not yet occurred. How can one be joyful for that which is not yet present?

One could say, well, we've all had tastes of Jesus' love, of the kingdom, of God's graciousness, and that's what allows us to feel both joy and also hope. And there's a certain wisdom in that. But I think it's almost more interesting if we rather leave its meaning unresolved and instead let the term have simultaneously these two different momentums or directions. They're not contradictory -- it's not like an object that's being pulled equally forward and back at same time, and therefore never goes anywhere. It might be more like a spiralling arc -- joy taking us forward while hope keeps lifting us up in anticipation.

(Who knew that liturgy and pre-calculus would have so much in common!)

We conclude this section with a little prayer of acclamation of God's power. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. And we move on to the sign of peace...

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