Shield the Joyous
Sermon for Evensong, Oct. 25, 2014
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Parish, Pacific Palisades CA
Following my homily we will hear the choir sing the prayer that begins,
“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night..”
They are there in the hospitals, waiting in the emergency rooms, cruising our streets in the middle of night protecting us—they are those who work or watch this night.
And then also awake through the night, but for a different reason are those who weep. Sure as the sun rises some greet it with tears.
Then we pray:
“…and give your angels charge over those who sleep.”
It finds an echo in the antiphon that concludes Compline: Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.
Then comes a little verb—the word “tend”—to tend, to pay attention, to be focused, to want something to be right. “Inclined to action” is another dictionary definition.
“Tend the sick, Lord Christ….”
To pray for someone who is ill we do not need to know what it is that has caused their illness or even from a medical point of view what is the best strategy that will bring them healing. It is enough to see Christ there at the bedside. With tenderness.
And then almost like a litany we have a series of petitions for four conditions of human experience that cause us grief and bring us to our knees.
“…give rest to the weary, bless the dying, sooth the suffering, pity the afflicted….”
And then comes the last petition. Maybe the most curious prayer to be found in our Book of Common Prayer. The prayer ends with this petition:
“…shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”
Hmm. Shield the joyous. What does it mean?
I welcome your ideas when we gather for a social time following our evensong. But allow me a few thoughts from musings I found on the internet.
One pastor wondered if those who work and watch at night are charged with shielding the joyous. Some of them wear a shield as law enforcement officers. Some wait in emergency rooms or the quiet long hallways of the hospital upstairs. Maybe. I don’t know
We all know something about the joyous—especially at night. Someone just engaged or discovering love. Maybe a group of friends at a late night dinner. They may not have watched the evening news or are they ware of that last horrible thing that has happened. They may be able to travel home or wherever with a sense of joy—and may they travel safely. May their joy last through a night.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe there’s more.
Another wondered if joy wasn’t always a gift of God waiting to be discovered. Tasted. And held long enough to be a memory—perhaps the memory that would sustains us through some other long dark night of weeping.
To be joyful is to be vulnerable, needing protection lest we are shattered by someone else’s reality.
Do you know the noun agelast (ah-jel-last)? It is someone who never laughs. We have grumpy people we all know. Always ready to remind us how awful something is. Always doubting or criticizing or complaining. The glass is always half-empty.
I think there is a special place in sight of the gate of heaven for the grump people. And there is smiling joyful angel who greets and pulls aside those who are the most grumpy. He cheerfully addresses each, saying: “On the other side of that gate is heaven. There is no complaining beyond those gates. There is nothing you have to try to fix or even finish inside. We want you with us but only when you’re ready to smile, relax, and enjoy…did you hear? When you have enjoyment, you have joy. That’s what’s ahead if you’ll come.”
And until they meet that angel we pray “Oh Lord, please Shield the joyous.”
Now joy can’t last forever on this side of things. But may it linger. We watch a brilliant sunset we savor its waning moments of light. And then the stars come out. Savor such moments.
Joy can’t last forever, but like that bouquet of flowers, we pull out those that have died, discovering the beauty of the few that remain in that vase.
Joy can’t last forever, but we flip through the family album smiling at the face that fell asleep in his first birthday cake, knowing he’s all grown up, he deals with much reality most of the time, but there was that precious moment of innocence coated in frosting. Yes, shield the joyous.
You have your memories of fleeting joy. We have our memories of fleeting joy in this community. Memories that can be fertile ground for other times of joy to come; other gifts of God’s joy to those who hunger and thirst for peace and happiness.
One more thing. Look for the word joy as it comes in our Eucharistic celebrations.
We say we lift our hearts to the Lord. And the Celebrant responds:
It is right to give him thanks and praise. It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.
And as we come to the end of that prayer the celebrant prays for
“the last day” when God will “bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom.”
Grumps in this world you will not have the last word. The last word is the joy of heaven. So it is that we pray for now “Shield the joyous. And all for your Love’s sake.
God’s name in this prayer is love. And wearing God’s amour—the God who shields us— our joy is protected in God’s love. Let it be, let it be so. Amen.