Last week I was officiating a committal service in our cemetery. It had rained the day before, so not only was the ground very soggy, but also the dirt that I use to throw on the casket during the service was a bit wet too – despite the fact that we tried to keep it covered overnight. What I did not realize was just how wet the dirt would be. After I tossed the dirt, my hands we covered with crumbling mud. Despite my efforts to rub the dirt off my hands, my Prayer Book pages got dirty and even the back of my Prayer Book had smudges on it.
As someone who loves books and likes to show my respect for books by caring for them gently, normally something like this would freak me out. But my Prayer Book lives a very different life than my other books. My Prayer Book has been sullied with dirt and sand from funerals and interments. My Prayer Book has gotten damp from baptisms and the use of an aspergillum. The pages in my Prayer Book that have the ordination liturgy have oil smears because the bishop anointed my hands so that I may anoint others. No one could ever argue that my Prayer Book is pristine.
But that is exactly why I love my Prayer Book. My sullied Prayer Book reminds me of the incarnate life we all live together. Each dirt smear reminds me of a beloved parishioner, or a family who was completely unknown to me until they came to me for liturgical help. Each hint of a drop of water reminds me of the babies and young adults I have baptized into the faith. Those touches of oil remind me of the many times I have said healing prayers with others. My Prayer Book caries in it the incarnate memories from this blessed vocation I am privileged to live.
As I think about next week – Holy Week in the Church – I am looking forward to more of those incarnate moments with others. Palms that will be shoved into the back of my Prayer Book, Chrism that I will receive from the Diocese that may drip on those pages, water from the washing of feet that may splash into the book, and wax from the Vigil candles that may drip on a page of my beloved Prayer Book. The liturgies of Holy Week not only encourage us to remember Jesus’ journey toward the cross and resurrection, but also the liturgies involve our senses, our bodies, and our messy incarnate ways. I am looking forward to messy memories next week with St. Margaret’s!