Come Quickly, Lord Jesus! - 19th Sunday after Trinity
October 2, 2016
O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. (Gradual for the 19th Sunday after Trinity. Psalm 141:1-2)
The Gradual is an ancient element of the church's liturgy. Gradual means "step" and is so named because it was chanted from the step below the the lectern (ambo), the place from which the Holy Scriptures were read.
Originally the Gradual was comprised of a whole Psalm, but over time was reduced to only a verse, like the one we have today which is a portion of the 141st Psalm. It used to be chanted between the Epistle and Gospel but liturgy evolves over time, and so in our day it is chanted between the Old Testament and Epistle . That, too, is a lesson we need to learn, that liturgy evolves. Not radically as many have urged, but slowly, thoughtfully and with the agreement of all her parishes, nor is it a Christian virtue to be frozen in time.
Why the Gradual? We learn its rationale from the words of St. Paul, who teaches us that God's people should, "speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with the heart … " And so the church employs all the beauty and truth available to her, and there is nothing more sapid than the honeyed voice of our God.
While this has always been true of God's people in liturgy, we live in a time when minimalism is the order of the day. Which is all the more reason to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." And how could we do anything less when we gather in the presence of our God? The prophet Malachi writes, "For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations … for I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations." (Mal. 1:11 & 14)
And so on this 19th Sunday after Trinity God's people pray, "O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice."
This Gradual is both a prayer, and a prophecy of Christ. In it King David whose life was marked by setback after setback, sin upon sin, and one trouble after another, turns to his God in liturgy! He asks that the LORD would hasten to come him. That God would open his ears to his David's prayers. That he would consider David's cries for mercy to be sweet incense rising before him, and accept them as a sacrificial offerings, and send blessed relief.
Today, David's prayer is our prayer! Today God sends relief to us. But let us learn this, too. That if we wish to speak properly about our prayers we should not think so much of "saying" prayers, as "offering" our prayers to God … for they are most assuredly sacrifices that God loves to hear and loves to answer.
He says to Moses, "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey," (Ex. 3:7-8)
This same Lord sees your affliction, too. And as he came down to deliver his people then, he came finally in the person of his Son, who by the lifting up of his hands on the cross, late in the day (9th hour), and "late in time," became the Evening Sacrifice for us, and who delivers us from our sins.
By the flesh of Jesus on the cross, the ordinances that condemn us are erased. We are set free. Our fears are calmed. Our needs are met. Our life is preserved, and our prayers arise as fragrant incense to our God. And so, indeed, "let us pray"! For to pray is to praise; and to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to our God who, " … will supply all your needs according to the riches of his grace in Christ Jesus." (Phil 4:19)
But God's coming down to save us is not only a past event, but a present one as well, as he comes to his people in Divine Service each Sunday. This is the place where he gathers us under his wings, as a hen gathers her chicks, where he feeds us his flesh and gives us his blood to drink, where he shelters us, and tends to our every need. This is the office of the Great Physician and no one ever leaves here without health and salvation.
Here Jesus is present in the Word he speaks, and in the bread and wine which are his body and blood. The baptismally-cleansed Bride can have no more intimate communion with her Groom than this Holy Communion. Here we are with Jesus; in Jesus; and he in us. We can rest from our labors; and set aside our fears; for all is well; Jesus is here!
But even this is not the last word because Jesus will come again. Not in a manger, nor under the forms of bread and wine but in his full majesty. That will be history's final and finest moment! Then we will understand all things. Then we will see face to face. Then we will know, even as we are known by God. Then the dwelling of God will be with man in a world without end. And so we pray today "hasten to me," "Come quickly Lord Jesus!" Amen.