Our Mortal Nature

In our conversation on Ash Wednesday, I quoted the Invitation to a Holy Lent from the Book of Common Prayer and said we’d spend some time throughout this season talking about the language used. The invitation concludes with the asking us to “mark” our mortal nature by kneeling before God. “So,” I hear some of you asking, “just what is our mortal nature and how do we acknowledge it by kneeling before God?”

Kneeling is an act of devotion and submission. In our 21st Century western world culture, most of us have a difficult time with the submission part. We may be willing to follow rules and stay (even loosely) within cultural norms but to admit submission to another really dents our egos.

In the ordination service for deacons in the Episcopal Church, there is a place in the service where the person being ordained kneels facing the bishop and the bishop places her or his hands on the ordinand’s head and prays. For me, as I’m sure it is for others, this was the most significant moment of the whole service. It seemed as if Bishop Reed’s hands weighed more than my whole body and would crush me. My first impulse was to push against the weight and stand. Thankfully I didn’t.

As Bishop Reed prayed these words, “Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your son, give your Holy Spirit to Nancy …” the weight lifted and I knew I had no need to fight against this, that whatever may come, I’d be given the strength I needed and that there was no greater freedom in this life than to submit my will to God’s.

And this understanding of submission isn’t limited to deacons and priests. When we are baptized, we are submitting ourselves to Jesus. In the Episcopal Church, one of the promises we make at our baptism is to follow and obey Jesus as our Lord (we’ll discuss the title Lord tomorrow, so stay tuned).

Jesus tells us that when we follow him, when we submit ourselves to God, we find our true mortal nature because this is the life we are created to live1. God created each and every one of us to live in loving relationship with God. Developing the wisdom that we are the created and God is our creator doesn’t take away our value or worth, it unmasks our invaluableness (is that a word?).

I still find myself from time to time fighting against this submission. I think, that too, is part of our humanness. And God is always lovingly waiting for me to return and rediscover my true mortal nature as God’s beloved child.

How and why do you find yourself fighting against the wisdom of submission?


1See the 10th and 16th chapters of Matthew’s telling of the good news story and the 9th chapter of Luke’s telling.

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