“From Aztec shore to Arctic Zone, to Europe and Far East, the Flag is carried by our ships in times of war and peace: And never have we struck it yet, in spite of foemen’s might, who cheered our crews and cheered again for showing how to fight. We’re always ready for the call, we place our trust in thee. Through surf and storm and howling gale, high shall our purpose be. ‘Semper paratus’ is our guide, our fame, our glory too. To fight to save or fight and die! Aye! Coast Guard, we’re for you.” (U. S. Coast Guard Hymn)
Today, at the end of our Independence Day weekend, I have remembered my years in the Coast Guard and the many experiences that reflected the truth of our motto, semper paratus — always ready. Preparation for quick and decisive response to the most unexpected was our hallmark. Our role in saving lives and protecting national security was ever paramount. I was proud to be able to serve, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
2020 has certainly be a year of the unexpected: the emergence of COVID-19. Over one half million are already dead from the virus. Jobs and economic independence have been lost– the U.S. unemployment is now down to 17 millions of workers. Lost too is much freedom. Prudent people avoid the hazards of group interaction, including in-person worship, and minimize potential exposure. But shutting down and staying in can be a hard burden. But, as Jesus tells us in this morning’s gospel passage, in him it can be light.
I am proud to say that the Church has adapted well to the unforeseen. Now clergy are conducted private services and archiving them to You Tube, or at least blogging the sermon (as I do), or livestreaming Mass (as I will do soon). In many churches, real ‘virtual’ choirs are springing up, telephone contacts increasing (as with us), zoom-room meetings (as we Okie clergy have every week with our two bishops), and our zoom Bible classes (ours having been offered by Shelley Martin Young). Researchers for the diocese tell us our web offerings are picking up a lot of views from people who would never have tried an Episcopal service in-person, inquirers who can now find an opportunity to check us out online. Evangelism tools we never expected!
At the same time, though, we need to guard against two key heresies that go hand-in-hand in our culture. First is the notion that religion is a commodity, a form of inspiring entertainment paid for by tithes, available on-call, and providing worship “experiences” for the private Christian consumer, No, religion as we understand in it in our Anglican context is a way of life that involves full surrender to God. It is deeply rooted in history and lived out in two thousand years of unbroken Catholic succession. For each Mass is a participation in the eternal sacrifice of Christ before the Throne of Heaven, at all times and for all people. (“He is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.”) We do not provide Communion as a commodity; it is the ritual by which we celebrate who we are. We offer ourselves a living sacrifice, even as we offer the Sacrifice of Christ to the Father for the sins of the world. When gathering for worship and physical reception of the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood can be imprudent, even downright dangerous as it is now, we can still make our own Spiritual Communion today and every Lord’s Day.
The second heresy is the idea that religion is a purely private matter. No, we the Body of Christ, are one people on one journey heavenwards. We have one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. And we are a family, not a collection of lone-ranger consumers. As such, we are able to resist the tendency of many in our country to confuse Christianity with our culture’s false values. Reactionary politics divide, while Christ unites. We focus on replicating in ourselves the actual life and teachings of our Master.
In summation, as we move through these most uncertain and disheartening times, we must remain true to who we are, patient in our adversity; united with each other in love, prayer, and service; and semper paratus — always ready for the call to respond in new creative, sacrificial ways to whatever may come, to see that God is doing exciting things in us in unexpected ways.