For the Blessing of the Animals service, October 6th, 2015.
This prayer was given to me by a parishioner aptly named: Kitty.
This day is celebrated because of a man named St. Francis of Assisi. I read a sermon of his online in which he preaches to the birds. His sermon is, literally, for the birds. It’s adorable but it made me wonder if perhaps the man was a bit insane. Then I realized, I talk to my dog all the time. The thing I find myself telling her with the utmost seriousness, again and again – as if I’m realizing it for the first time – is: “You are a good dog, and I love you.” It is her doggy-ness that I love. I love her for exactly who and what she is. I imagine, in some small way, this is akin to the delight and love God feels when he looks at us. God, when he created the world, saw all that he had made – including us – and said it was “very good.” You are a good world, and I love you.
Animals are somewhat of a running motif in the Bible. God refers to himself like a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wing. When speaking of Heaven, the prophet Isaiah says the lion will lay down with the lamb, there will be peace between even animals when Christ comes again.
Even in the Law, in Deuteronomy, God takes into account the important role of animals in the agrarian society,
“If you see an animal that is overburdened, you should lighten its load to help it.” Jesus teaches us that we are like sheep, and our Lord, the God of Heave and Creator, chooses to identify with one of the humblest of jobs, the care-taker of sheep, a shepherd.
God has brought animals into some of the most significant aspects of his salvation of Creation whether it is riding in on a humble donkey, being born in a stable; it is in the sacrifice of animals and the shedding of blood – their innocent life – that paid for the sins in the Jewish sacrificial system and paved the way that Jesus ultimately fulfilled when he gave his life and shed his innocent blood on the cross. John 3:16 reminds us that for God so loved the world… that he went the distance from heaven to earth, in order to bring us – all of his very good Creation – back into loving relationship with him, free from the consequences of sin.
The temptation for us in the church is to act as though our faith is solely an intellectual one, operating in the realm of ideas and transparent, unseen things, but our God is a God who was born, who was a child, who suffered and… rode a donkey.
Our faith is an embodied, physical faith. It’s why eating – taking Communion – is a part of our worship. Our pets are uniquely able to help us be present, to be aware of our physicality, to see how connected our body and soul really is – and I believe are one of the ways God touches our lives.
My dog, is a good dog. Here she is, patiently enduring a halloween costume.
One of the things my faith helps me face, is that one day I’m going to have to say – for one last time – “See you later,” to my pet. This little life of hers won’t last – but it has been very, very good, and our faith tells us that every good and perfect gift is from God, a glimpse of heaven, so to speak, and foreshadowing of what is to come.
At funerals in the Anglican and Catholic tradition, we are reminded of the promise of resurrected bodies – the only clue about what that’ll look like is the resurrected body of Christ himself. We will have a resurrection that looks like Christ’s resurrection. Where we eat with our friends on the beach like Jesus did. Heaven will be like a wedding reception with great food, and the bridegroom is Christ, and the church is the bride. There are no more tears, no more sickness or dying. And in a mystery that I can’t explain, this whole, beautiful earth, filled with the life and the goodness of God, all of creation will be made whole again, and friends and family – furry and less furry – that we’ve had to say goodby to in this life we’ll never have to say good-bye to again.
Our God is a good God, his goodness is demonstrated in his creation. Because of his son, Jesus Christ, we can have hope that –
Our bad things will turn out for good.
Our good things can never be taken away from us.
The best things are yet to come.