As those who have been participating in the Lenten Series know, the Christian mystics all assert that in order to get close to God, we have to get out of our own way. They call this process of getting out of the way “purification.” Our Lenten disciplines are part of this purification, as are any of the renunciations and purgations that we participate in. The mystics also name obedience as part of purification.
I’m thinking about obedience this morning because of the Bishop’s directives regarding worship, and especially Holy Week, during this Covid-19 crisis. I’ve sworn oaths in three ways throughout my life. My baptism included a series of oaths that my parents made for me, but that I’ve reaffirmed many times since. I swore an oath when I got married. I swore an oath to obey my Bishop when I was ordained. So the practice of obedience has been part of my life, as it has in the life of any Christian. We renounce evil and swear to uphold our relationship with God, our loved ones, our neighbors, and, yes, even our Bishops.
I went to bed last night chafing under the yoke of such obedience, but God worked on me during the night. This morning I got up and submitted myself to my regular discipline of morning devotions. As I’ve said in my last two posts, I’m using Morning Prayer during my devotional time so that I can come to a greater understanding of how this liturgy works on the human spirit. This morning I sat down to pray the office with my mind full of anguish over Palm Sunday. I have had to rework our Palm Sunday service twice already, and after the Bishop’s directives I will have to rework it a third time. Yet the discipline of Morning Prayer brought me to today’s Daily Office readings, which included this from 2 Corinthians: “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.” Right. Triumphal procession is an “always and everywhere” thing. We can process through our own homes and be assured that Jesus is as present to us as in a church.
I wouldn’t have encountered this passage today if I wasn’t obedient to my daily devotions. I wouldn’t be thinking about how it applies to Palm Sunday if I wasn’t obedient to my Bishop. There are, of course, times when the person we’ve sworn obedience to proves themself unworthy of our obedience. Obedience should never be blind. But it shouldn’t be reactive either. We shouldn’t reject what authorities in our lives are trying to teach us, just because we don’t like authority. And when we allow ourselves to submit, we find that we can get out of our own way. The voices in our heads that tell us that we have to be in control and have our own way can fall silent, and in that silence we can hear something new, or something old that we are hearing in a new way. “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.”