Sermon: The First Book of Common Prayer (1549)

I confess, I love reading Stephen King, enough so that when I’m not satisfied with other things that I’ve been reading, I’ll go pick up one of his books that I haven’t read for awhile and read it again. I also like reading about how he writes and what sparks the ideas for his stories and books. In several of these stories, he actually writes about a writer, and in the case of the short story, The Body (the movie Stand by Me is based on the story), he writes about Gordie LaChance, an author who is telling the story of when he was twelve. On writing, Gordie says, “The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish them – words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller, but for want of an understanding ear.”

Therein lies the problem of language, which limits our ability to properly communicate. With increased vocabulary and more technical words, we can get closer, but there will always be this distance between the person who wrote the words and the person who hears the words, because of our inability to fully express what’s in our hearts. However – and I’m no philosopher, so I could be wrong – there is one way that the reader can fully understand the author with perfect clarity, and that is if they share the same heart, the same passion – if they are one.

Today’s celebration probably seems like a rather odd one to those outside of the Episcopal Church, because today we celebrate the first Book of Common Prayer of 1549, but what makes the prayer book so brilliant is that it achieves this communication between author and reader where other writings are unsuccessful. Consider this passage from the Eucharistic prayer: “He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.” If you knew nothing of the faith, that would mean little, but for those who are one in Christ Jesus and because He has given us His Holy Spirit, those words are not diminished in their transmission, because they are no longer only conveying the heart and passion of the author, but ours also.

I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone but me, but it is one of the many reasons why we celebrate the Book of Common Prayer. Its not just words on a page, but the Prayer Book holds and speaks our prayers as the community of Christ, and not just the community of St. Matthew’s, Enid, Oklahoma, but in all places where it is used.

Those little red books that automatically fall open to page 355 are a gift and a blessing that have been handed down to us from 1549. They’ve changed over the years, but they have all had the means to unite us in our worship of the One True God.

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