Advent: Fling wide the gates!

One of the things I miss most as a result of working from home is not posting a daily “Stupid Saying” from my page-a-day calendar. For nearly twenty years at World Library Publications, I posted the daily page from a tear-off calendar, which I’d originally received as a Christmas gift. It became a ritual for people to stop by my office to see what stupid thing had been shared that day, and often we would share a chuckle or a laugh.
Though I no longer post a stupid-saying-a-day, along the way of posting those others, I found a number of insights to be gained from the human foibles and blunders enshrined in these calendars—proof positive that the Holy Spirit can work through all our human frailty.

Advent brings back the memory of one December page (this was prior to camera phones and social media) on which two signs posted on an entry gate outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, London were recounted. Sign number one, the one on top read:

CHRIST IS COMING!

It seemed clear to me that it was there as part of Advent’s sense of preparing the way, very likely professionally lettered and printed.

Below it was the second sign, which I envisioned as being written by a member of the custodial staff, magic marker on cardboard:

Please do not obstruct these gates.

I was most certain that those two signs at St. Paul’s Cathedral were posted by separate individuals working in isolation from each other. I’d wager that whoever posted the second sign did not even read the other one carefully enough to notice the whimsical relationship. But these signs focus us on two things that are critically important to the life of liturgical ministry, particularly during seasons like the one we are currently in: communication and attentiveness.

Since liturgical ministry is primarily about relationships, it should come as no surprise that effective means of communication are essential to our ministry. To this end we have developed all sorts of committees, schedules, planning forms, mailing lists, phone trees, social networking groups, and so on. To the extent that these measures facilitate communication for ministry, they are great. When their multiplication for their own sake makes things more complicated, then it is time to pare back.

But we manifest the sin of Eden when we stop at trying to make effective communication with each other our only goal, for we lose sight of the ultimate relationship to be strengthened by all this communication: our relationship with Christ in our worship and with the Christ in each other. It is no accident that the same heart pulses in the words “communion” and “communication,” and we even refer to the reception of Communion as “communicating.” To build on St. Augustine, the Body and Blood that we receive—a sign of Christ’s relentless desire to communicate with us—is the Body and Blood of Christ that we—the baptized—also are, and so our Communion is the model of our need to remain “communicated” with one another in prayer and ministry.

At a recent Sunday morning warm-up, as we prepared the hymn “Lift Up Your Heads,” I observed that we really needed to use the word “fling” more often, as when the hymn tells us to “fling wide the portals” of our hearts. It hadn’t occurred to me all the hundreds of other times I’d sung that hymn, or that text as a choral work, but in flinging our hearts wide open we are imitating Christ, for whose coming we prepare. To fling the gates of our hearts wide for Christ—as well as for the least and lowly who are his image and presence—is a far, far different thing than merely being sure the gates don’t have an obstruction in front of them.

My synoptics prof said we probably have documentation of about one hundred hours—less than a week—from the life of Jesus (far fewer hours at anything we’d describe as “liturgical”). Even at that, one thing we do know is this: he was a man who was persistently attentive to others. He was a man who flung wide the portals of his heart to heal, to teach, to admonish, to feed, to guide, to save.

Too often we can easily dismiss this personality trait of Jesus (and our obligation to follow his example) as his Divine nature in action, a supernatural ability beyond us. But we must likewise remember that, in so many ways, Jesus first imitated us. He opened his eyes for the first time in that manger in Bethlehem, and opened them every morning when he awoke. Daily he lived with his eyes, ears, mind, and heart always open, attentive to the presence of the reign of God in absolutely every moment and each person. As true disciples, we are called to do the same.

Christ is coming! If we are to let the King of Glory in, the God who dwells among us in the lives of others and in our sacraments, then we must fling wide the portals. If we, in our ministry, are to be ready and make others ready for this coming, we need to open wide the gates of our own eyes, ears, minds, and hearts.

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