…and above all, in the Word made flesh, Jesus your Son.


We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son.

This opening paragraph from Eucharistic Prayer B, and especially its last seven words, has had a special resonance for me lately.

It started around Christmas, and all its seasonal references to “the Word.”  The author of John began that Gospel, of course, with the acknowledgment that “the Word” got this whole ball rolling, so to speak:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… (John 1:1)

It’s not easy for me, I must confess, contemplating the sheer foolishness of Christmas, and the whole concept of “Incarnation” — the act of the Divine somehow occupying flesh (or carnis, in Latin).  Think of it — the Ubiquitous Power of all Existence, choosing to appear in that Creation as a utterly helpless and completely dependent bastard infant of a poor, oppressed peasant girl.  Truly absurd.


In the beginning was the Word...

But every so often, Grace breaks through.

Maybe it is the darkness that comes in late December and early January, but there is something about this time of year that seems to pull me further into Mystery.  Natural light is at a premium, and we dwell in darkness, metaphorically as well as literally.

And when it comes to “mystery” it may well be that “the Word made flesh” is the ultimate Mystery of all.

I am a lawyer, not a theologian, and as a habit I don’t like mystery.  (I often tell my staff that it is what I don’t know that bothers me.  I can take just about any bad news, and adjust as the circumstances warrant; it’s the “surprise” that often kills a case.)  If I were theologian, I might know more about all the meaning contained in that one little word, “Word”  (logos, in the original Greek).  As I understand it, though, “Word” or Logos in John’s context puts this whole “nativity” thing into a brighter light.  When the writer of John’s Gospel began his text “In the beginning…” not only was there the intention of going back to the Hebrew text and first words of Genesis, there was the revealing of the whole purpose of Jesus as “The Christ.”

For John, “In the beginning was the Word…” meant that logos was present from the start.  This Greek term was marked by two main distinctions — the first dealing with human reason (the rationality in the human mind which seeks to attain universal understanding and harmony), and the second with universal intelligence (the universal Ruling Force governing and revealing Truth through the cosmos to humankind, i.e. the Divine).

And so for John (and for any of us that are so bold as to dare comprehend it), what Jesus represents is nothing less than the Highest and the Best and the Ultimate of humankind, and of the vast cosmos, merged into human form:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…Out of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son…he has made him known.”  John 1: 14…16

And now, as I write this, we have moved from Christmas into the season of Epiphany. And I guess, even at the ripe “old” age of 62, I’m having one.  This one little word — “Word” — is taking on meaning and depth beyond what I could have thought possible, and certainly more than I deserve.

During the Eucharist in Epiphany, the Celebrant often recites…“Because in the mystery of the Word made flesh, you have caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of your glory in the face of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord…”  Normally I don’t pay that much attention, but last Sunday, that word jumped out.  That word — “Word” — seems to keep pursuing me, and almost always it is in the phrase “the Word made flesh.”  And frankly, it’s a little creepy.

But maybe, that’s not an altogether bad thing.




…marked as Christ’s own, for ever.

Then the Bishop or Priest places a hand on the person’s head, marking on the forehead the sign of the cross [using Chrism if desired] and saying to each one…   N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. Amen.

Not sure what it is about Baptism, but I become a misty-eyed old fool most occasions. It’s not the babies that get me all sentimental. After all, cute though they are in their snow white “Christening gowns,” those little cherubs are basically just sleeping & crying & feeding & pooping machines. No big deal.
Christs own forever

The Christian version of branding a calf…signed, sealed and delivered.

And yet, what our tradition offers to them is a very big deal. It is an extraordinary thing we offer these pudgy-faced lumps of flesh in baptism — we name them and brand them.

“(Jackson Benjamin or Mary Catherine or John Jacob Jinglehimer…), you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as CHRIST’S OWN…FOR EVER!!!!!!!”
I look at the priest holding that baby, and sometimes think of a little calf scampering off having just had its rear flank permanently seared by the red-hot branding iron. And for whatever reason I mist up, knowing (or at least wanting desperately to believe) that whatever lies ahead for that infant, whatever future choices are made for or by that child, whatever those innocent eyes see (or refuse to see) in the lifetime waiting ahead, I am being told that this newest Christian belongs, not just to our parish, not just to the one holy catholic church universal, but to Christ!
Christ named him.
Christ claimed her.
And Christ marked and sealed that young child as his own.
And NOTHING can separate him or her or any of us from God’s infathomable Love and Grace.
For ever.
Quite overwhelming, when you think about it.

“…to prize highly, and guard carefully…all who have lived valiantly and died bravely…

Summer is here. Well maybe not officially in schools yet, but the dreaded slow “Summer Schedule” has taken over in most churches. While the old adage ithat “God never takes a vacation” is of course true (to which I can only quickly reply “Thank God!”), the plain fact is that God’s people do. And when they do, they tend not to attend church.

Dawn breaks at the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg.

Yesterday’s attendance at my parish on Memorial Day Weekend Sunday was sparse to say the least. And that’s a pity, because those absent would have heard an exquisitely poignant collect to commemorate the actual and original intent of this holiday. I asked the Celebrant afterwards about it, and she gave me her xeroxed copy. It’s not in the Book of Common Prayer, but rather from a book of collects for various occasions.

Now, I am not one to look down my nose at NASCAR and Indy races, beach trips and lake outings, or even a good retail “SALE!” or two. (Frankly, I wish I made more time to enjoy those distractions.) But it IS important, vital really, to indeed REMEMBER on Memorial Day, and to hold especially close in our hearts those men and women upon whose sacrifices we can enjoy such things.

Herewith then, the prayer yesterday that caught my breath so:

Almighty God, by whose grace thy people gain courage through looking unto the heroes of faith: We lift our hearts in gratitude to thee for all who have lived valiantly and died bravely that there might be truth, liberty and righteousness in our land. Help us to prize highly and guard carefully the gifts which their loyalty and devotions have bestowed upon us. Grant us the joy of a living and vigorous faith, that we may be true as they were true, loyal as they were loyal, and serve thee and our country selflessly all the days of our life, and at last receive the victor’s crown, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

…bring us to that heavenly country

In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters...

I’d like to think that the writers of the 1979 Prayer Book had Chapel Hill, N.C. specifically in mind as they labored over this part of Eucharistic Prayer B. That’s where I went to law school at the University of North Carolina in my late twenties, and where this “love for the liturgy” probably began. Like so many others who have come and gone, I hold Chapel Hill sacred. For me, just like my undergraduate alma mater of Davidson College, it is indeed “heavenly country.” And besides, Chapel Hill DOES have the nickname “Blue Heaven.” And it IS a well-documented theological fact that God is a Tar Heel…the sky being Carolina Blue and all.

But other than Chapel Hill or Davidson, what did the prayer writers intend — what to WE intend –when we pray about “that heavenly country”? What’s it like? Is it in fact an actual physical place in this universe? (When our entire galaxy is literally like a bread crumb in the Dean Dome, who can say what mysteries are held in its Vastness?) Or is “that heavenly country” more of a spiritual place? A sublime higher state of mind? All of the above?

…All questions of course way beyond my understanding — this side of Paradise.

What I DO know, without any hesitation or doubt or angst, is that I WANT there to be such a place. Its form and location matter little, so long as the promise is true. For if it is — IF it is — then nothing else really matters.