“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”
Saturday nights are school nights for me. I don’t do much exciting. I catch up on the television shows I’ve missed during the week. I eat dinner. I take my pup Evie for her evening walk. I read through my sermon one more time and almost always make a few more edits.
Then I pray before I go to bed. Yes, that habit many of us formed as small children still resonates with me as part of my bedtime routine. Lights out. Rest in the silence for a bit. Then pray.
O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth thine unending day upon us who watch for thee, that our lips may praise thee, our lives may bless thee, and our worship on the morrow may give thee glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This is the prayer for Saturday in the Book of Common Prayer for Evening Prayer. While I have great affinity for many prayers in the Prayer Book, certain prayers have such a rhythm to the profundity of their words they become ingrained in my memory. The prayer is part of my routine as I prepare to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on Sunday morning.
Many of us reading this will be preparing for worship on the morrow (isn’t that a great phrase?). We will gather with fellow Christians, hear the Word of God, pray, and receive the Body and Blood. As we prepare to stand or kneel to receive Christ, who will we stand or kneel alongside?
And none of us get to say, “Oh, I don’t hate anyone. I just really dislike a few people. Walk with me to the parking lot and I’ll tell you ALL about them.”
Hating someone (which Jesus clearly knows we do) means regarding them with extreme ill-will, having extreme aversion to, and (a very telling older definition), holding great grief about.
Are there people in our congregations, perhaps in our lives, we hate? Are there those whom we have excluded or whom we’ve talked about in unkind and even unfair ways? Do we go out of our way on Sundays to avoid them? Do we skillfully miss them while exchanging the Peace? Have we moved to another pew or even another church because of our hate?
While this section of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Plain doesn’t directly address our strained and broken relationships with each other through our behaviors, his words do indirectly address that we, as humans, act and say things that are profoundly hurtful to each other because we want to hurt the other.
And yet, so often we justify our hurtful actions.
“Well, she started it.”
“I wouldn’t have been so rude if he hadn’t said those things about me.”
“We used to go to St. Swithin’s Church, but it’s just filled with so many unchristian people we left and never looked back.”
And Jesus says, “Love your enemies.”
Yes, even those enemies.
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus doesn’t think we are all essentially four year olds who missed our naps and are hungry. On a very basic level, the Holy Eucharist renews us and feeds us so we can grow up from our hurtful behavior.
We gather on Sundays and remember our voices can just as easily be used for praise and reconciliation as they can for defamation and division. God reminds us on Sundays that our lives can be witnesses of love and inclusion rather than hate and exclusion.
Where are the relationships in your life that may need mending? With whom might you need to kneel or stand before the altar of God and allow the love of God to replace discord and disunion as you both receive Christ?
On account of the Son of Man, we are all called to reconciliation, to love those who challenge us. We don’t get a pass from that love. Perhaps our prayers on Saturday night may include the names of those whom we hate, so that on Sunday morning, we can see them more clearly as beloved children of God.
The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.