by Laurie Gudim
In the Book of Common Prayer there are two lines that ambush me every time they are prayed. No matter how I come into worship, whether sad or joyful, preoccupied, prayerful, grumpy or peaceful, either of these sentences, which are from two completely different liturgies, will make me cry.
The first is part of the rite of baptism. It is prayed when the bishop or priest makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person being baptized, calls them by name and says, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.” The second is from the Commendation at a burial. The celebrant says, “Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant, (and again the person is named.) Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.”
I used to think my tears were merely sentimental, an up-welling of feeling for the people who were the focus of these liturgies and for the way in which each celebration binds us to one another in community. But lately I’ve come to know that they arise from a deeper place within me. They bubble up from my core, where God dwells. Each time I hear these prayers, I am awakened and called back to myself, called from whatever has distracted or swallowed me, to the relationship that forms who I really am. I am summoned because I am marked as Christ’s own – a sheep of the fold that belongs to Jesus.
That is who all of us who are Christian are. We belong to Jesus. We dwell in Christ, our nimble and life giving Beloved, that Word that was with God at the beginning of creation, filling the cosmos with love. He is the shepherd whose voice we recognize. That voice, excavated from the rants, demands, attitudes, postures, illusions and values of the world, calls us back to ourselves. And then, when we remember who we are, we are called into a different value system, a different way of living. We are called back to our true identity.
In today’s reading, which is the beginning of the story of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He suddenly awakens her, and, remembering who he is and who she is as his disciple, she confesses, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” She goes and tells her sister, “the Teacher is here and he is calling for you.” And despite the fact that her house is full of important people from Jerusalem, Mary, too, remembers to whom she belongs, and she immediately goes to him.
Our fundamental call is not to a vocation or a ministry. It is Christ’s voice within beckoning us to remember who we are. Jesus is Messiah, resurrection and life, and we belong to him. Knowing to whom we belong, we open ourselves to who we are meant to be. And then we open ourselves to astounding miracle and to mind boggling transformation, at our deaths and in every single day of our lives.
Yes, Lord. You are God incarnate, the resurrection and the life. And I am a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock. You love me boundlessly, and I am marked as your own forever. Amen.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.