On Worship

Hi friends, Lucy’s and my eighth wedding anniversary was on October 9th.  I was still foggy with a concussion from my (heroic, unbelievable, action-packed) scooter accident on that particular day, so we didn’t do too much celebrating.  Instead, I was mostly on the receiving end of Lucy’s love “in sickness and in health.” I’m immensely grateful for and proud of her. Being Lucy’s husband is one of the forms of life into which God has led me, for my good and for hers and for those around us, and it is through my vocation as her husband that I have learned much of what I know about belonging to God.  Today, I want to reflect on what being a husband has taught me about worship.

In the 1662 edition of The Book of Common Prayer, there was no exchanging of rings in the marriage service.  The only ring involved was one the man gave to the woman. After the vows, when it came time for the ring, the man said to the woman, “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow….”

Let’s pause here and acknowledge the obvious: this one-sided giving of rings is one of a few places in the 1662 marriage service that reveals an unhealthy relationship between the sexes.  Perhaps the most glaring is the discrepancy in the vows themselves: only the woman promises to “obey” and to “serve,” and only the man promises to “comfort.” As though wives don’t deserve obedience and service, or husbands comfort!

Having said that, I confess that despite the problematic contextual dynamics that contributed to this piece of the service, I find these words to be beautiful and true:  “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow….” The ring is a symbol of a total and unequivocal offering. All my worldly goods, even my body itself—they’re no longer simply mine because I am no longer the center of my universe.  My body and my wealth have found a newer, richer home in the presence of one who is not I.

That line, “with my body I thee worship” is probably the sexiest thing ever said in a church outside the lines of the Song of Solomon itself.  But those words are not simply about sex. At their most basic, those words are a way of acknowledging that everything we do as human beings we do with our bodies: run errands, fold laundry, wash dishes, walk the dog.  When we enter into a relationship like a marriage, we have new disciplines and demands placed upon us, and those disciplines and demands change our physical experience of the world. I wash dishes I didn’t dirty; I fold clothes I don’t wear; I try to go to bed and rise when Lucy does; I no longer ride scooters after dark.

This is no less true of “all my worldly goods.”  None of the money in my paycheck is simply mine; it’s ours.  The stipend I receive as Vicar of St. Liz is our only household income.  I am the one who does the work of vicar’ing, yet Lucy need not ask before buying a book or getting a haircut.  The mutual commitment of worldly goods made in our marriage precedes any change of job or income status. What I mean is that it’s not the case that, on payday, I ‘give’ Lucy ‘my’ money.  The work I do at St. Liz and its compensation is all part of our marriage. I’m not ‘giving’ Lucy ‘my’ money because those categories have been subsumed by the categories of marriage: our worldly goods, one household, shared life and work.

When I do all of these things, I am ordering my physical, embodied life and my material resources so as to acknowledge the worthiness of Lucy’s desires.  Her desires are a gift given to me, and they lay a unique claim on my life. They safeguard me from the illusion that I am the center of my own universe.

We can begin to see how these words from the 1662 marriage rite might be instructive in learning about worship, not just for husbands but for any Christian person.  

To worship God is to acknowledge God’s worthiness and the worthiness of God’s desires.  Since God is our creator, God’s worthiness is absolute. To worship God is to ascribe ultimate worth to our Creator.  (The words worship and worth have the same root.)  When we acknowledge the worthiness of God, then God’s desires begin to lay upon us new gifts, new disciplines and demands.

God’s desires are two, and they constitute a total claim on our lives: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength….You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).  This claim is also unique: “you shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).

Our bodies and our worldly goods are no longer simply our own.  We kneel in prayer, we use words instead of fists when we’re angry, we listen to each other, we visit the sick, we care for each other with food and affection, we receive this bread and this wine, we open our homes for life groups, we pledge to our church.  All of these things are simply ways we acknowledge the worthiness of God’s desires—worshipping with our bodies and all our worldly goods, receiving as a gift the disciplines and demands of living in God’s presence.

This past weekend we had our bishop’s visit.  We witnessed several folks, most of them new to St. Liz, be confirmed or received.  Others reaffirmed their baptismal vows, and if you were present at church on Sunday, you renewed your own baptismal covenant.  You promised to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” You promised to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”  You promised “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” You promised to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” (Book of Common Prayer 1979, pgs. 416-417).

These are not little promises.  It’s as though we all looked at God and said, “with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow….”  

Powerful vows.  Imagine God’s pleasure, Her Divine Joy, at having the promise of your whole life glittering on the gentle finger of heaven.  Imagine your own unending joy, for as long as you both shall live, the life everlasting.

God’s Peace,

Fr. Daniel+