In Celtic theology a thin place is where God’s world and our world interweave. It’s a place in time and space where one senses the presence of God in a very special way, and a sense that one is in contact with something holy, and that something holy is touching them in a special and awesome way. In our opening ‘collect’ this morning we acknowledged a Paschal Mystery. A mystery means it is mysterious, something that is difficult to understand or explain, but with awe-inspiring wonder one can appreciate touching the unknown, and the unknown becoming known to them in a personal and captivating way.
It is in ‘thin places’ that we may experience through the lens of the written Word, or perhaps the spoken Word, sacred liturgy, sacraments, or any door that opens up to that reality. Our lives touch the one who is beyond time and space, the one who is described as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End; the Lord God, who is, who was and who is to come; the one who is not bound by “chronos” time, and it is in the ‘thin places’ that we find ourselves in the mystery of meeting the “Holy Unknown” in the present “kairos” moment, enjoying the beauty of knowing and appreciating the presence of the mystery of faith. (Revelation 1:4-8)
In the gospel passage John, we are told that after the events of the previous days of what we refer to as Holy Week culminating on Easter Day, when it was evening on the first day of the week, the disciples were meeting in a house, and they had all the doors locked out of fear. Then something extraordinary happened, something mysterious: “Jesus came and stood among them”. The disciples were overjoyed as Jesus revealed Himself to them. Then Jesus gives them a commission. He said: “Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you”. Then he did something even more cryptic: “He breathed on them, and said ‘receive the Holy Spirit”. In other words, the thin place was filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit. Not only did God’s space and their space inter-twine, but their space became Gods space and Gods space became their space, enveloped by the Holy Spirit. About a week later, when Thomas was with the others, it happened all over again. Jesus came to them through a room that had locked doors. Go figure…or maybe just appreciate the “Kairos” moment. (John 20:19-31)
At our Great Vigil service, we renewed our commitment to our baptismal vows. Those are powerful vows, but I wish we could have included the prayer over the newly baptized, right after the baptism as part of our liturgy. It’s a beautiful prayer, and it captures the awesomeness and sublimity of a “thin place”, a place where our space and Gods space become all mixed up. Let’s look at this prayer over the newly baptized together:
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of
grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them
an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to
persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy
and wonder in all your works. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, Page 308)
I like the last sentence of this prayer: “Give them an enquiring and discerning heart” (someone that asks questions, a seeker of the truth, not afraid to examine, not afraid to check things out, to search the scriptures and resources and tools available to explore, and someone that chooses to mature in judgment and apprehension of truth). Perhaps Pilate was considering the search for truth himself when out of perplexity and frustration he says to Jesus: “What is truth”? “Pilate asked Jesus, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” The prophet Isaiah tells us to “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6, NRSV)
The baptismal prayer continues: That they have “the courage to will and to persevere”; the steadfastness to stick with a quest of faith, a perseverance of will to continue on the course ahead. And, as the psalmist encourages us to persevere in our spiritual journey with these words: “When You said, “Seek My face, “My heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.” (Psalm 27:8, NKJV)
The prayer continues: “Give them a spirit to know and to love you”: a desire to know God and to be known by God, to love God and to experience the love of God. Paul in the letter to the Ephesians says, “to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”. (Ephesians 3:19, NKJV) And in my favorite final blessing that you so often hear at end of the Eucharist service: “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds on the knowledge and love of God, and on His Son Jesus Christ, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen”.
The prayer closes with this request for the newly baptized: “And, give them the gift of joy and wonder in all your works”: I especially like the phrase ‘gift of joy and wonder’: To enjoy that gift from God, and to marvel and wonder in the thin places that give us pause. I am reminded of the excitement and the sense of awe and wonder of the early church in Jerusalem. I try to capture that moment of anticipation, of expectation, of not knowing what God is going to do next, but excited about it at the same time. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayer. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles”. (Acts 2:41-43)
It is in the thin places, where our space and God intersect, at times when we are overwhelmed, and with ‘joy and wonder’ we anticipate and we appreciate what the Spirit has in store for us next. What’s next God?
My prayer is that we will persevere in our desire be drawn into “thin places” via multiple ways and contexts, and that as we strive to live into our baptismal covenant we will have an enquiring and discerning heart, the courage and will to persevere, a greater desire to know and love God, and a sense of appreciation and joy and wonder as we continue on our Easter journey to “know God and to be known by God”.
by the Reverend Dr. David Madsen