By Jared Cramer
I am not always on time. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I am often running behind. This is a bad enough habit to have as a person, but it’s even worse when you are a clergy person. People generally prefer it when their priest is on time to liturgies. Early is even better. My wife is doing a good job of trying to make me more punctual, but she’s not working with the most malleable of people. Bad habits sink in.
This past Wednesday, I was not going to be late. I set my alarm precisely for the time I needed to get up. I told myself there would be no snooze button. I was set to be the celebrant for our parish’s 7:15 AM service of Holy Communion and I was going to be there early, ready to go.
Except that when I set my alarm I was thinking the service was at 7:30 AM.
So, when I came to the doors at the back of our chapel at 7:22 AM, arms laden with Bible, BCP, and alb, I was briefly confused upon seeing a morning prayer service already in action. Then I realized my mistake. I was mortified. I turned away from the door, briefly considering hiding in my office, thinking saying “I forgot” would be better than “I don’t know what time your service is.” But it was too late, someone saw me.
The lay person officiating finished the creed, saw me, and then invited me to come and continue with the prayers and then to move into Holy Eucharist. I apologized profusely and came to the front of the chapel, continuing the liturgy they had already begun, my face likely as red as my stole.
I worked through the rest of the Rite I liturgy they had begun with a constant stream of self-deprecating thoughts in my head. Then, right before the end of the prayer, I came upon the key paragraph:
And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses, through Jesus Christ our Lord;
It’s tempting, when you are a new clergy person, to begin to believe that the life of the church rises and falls on you. But that morning, as the newly risen sun streamed through the windows of our chapel, persistent grace reminded me once again that, late or not, I am always unworthy to offer any sacrifice. My heart joined to the words, knowing that, even given my momentary shame, this was still my “bounden duty and service.”
Every day our offering to God begins and ends with God’s grace. Some days, our need for grace is painfully evident. On others, we can begin to think that we are the ones making this thing called the church actually work. And even in that prideful failing, our offering remains wrapped in grace upon grace.
And, reminded of this powerful truth, I did not eat humble pie, but received with gratefulness my risen Lord. I tried to accept that grace, as the wafer dissolved on my tongue. Next time, I’ll double check my calendar. But today, I’ll try to believe what Paul heard God say about his persistent weakness, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
The Rev. Jared C. Cramer is a Clergy Resident at Christ Church, in Alexandria, VA and blogs at Scribere Orare Est. He is also the author of the forthcoming book from Lexington, Safeguarded by Glory: The Ecclesiology of Michael Ramsey Applied Today.