By: Emily Meeks
“Let us hear from prophets foretelling the first coming of Emmanuel and proclaiming “God with us.” Let us remember prophecies fulfilled in the distant past and strive to proclaim Christ’s transforming presence in our own generation.”
We don’t usually hear these words in the liturgy at Saint Mark’s in the summer. They mark Advent and typically emerge from a dark night in the coming of winter.
This year that changed when the Seattle Chapter of the American Guild of Organists Conference hosted the national convention and asked Saint Mark’s to offer its beloved “O” Antiphons Advent Procession with Carols. This liturgy draws from the music of Peter R. Hallock, former organist and choirmaster of Saint Mark’s, and uses seven antiphons – Wisdom, Adonai, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Rising Dawn, King of Nations and Emmanuel – to address the Messiah with imagery and light.
I have loved this service for its time of bare reflection and steady rhythm of scripture, silence and incense. The light of candles helps prepare the way into the journey of Advent. However, when I signed up to serve for this service happening in July, I wasn’t sure how it would feel when the days of Seattle summer stretch long with evening light and outdoor activity.
As the first hymn, “Prepare the Way, O’ Zion” unfolded, and the incense curled upward, I turned to see every pew and side section filled with people. Sunlight spilled into squares of stained glass instead of candles illuminating the shadows of emerging darkness. I sat on the edge of the front pew, watching the procession of acolytes and banners. I settled into the flow of collect, antiphon, reading and music.
That same week, my husband and I made an annual early-season trip to Mt. Rainier’s Sunrise entrance with the opening of the main road. We brought a friend who had not yet been to Rainier. Each move further into the park brought her closer to seeing the many different angles of Rainier’s glaciers. However, due to the snow levels, we could only get to the cusp of our destination. We rested our ice axes instead of forging more unstable tracks on slanted ice slopes and marveled at this paradox of snow on the weekend of Fourth of July. “It reminds me of tomorrow’s gospel,” my friend and I discussed as we sat on the edges of snow and rock and thought about the words from Luke 10:9, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
The next day a cashier in Whole Foods picked up the portobello mushrooms on the conveyor belt in each palm. She recalled a documentary she watched and enjoyed about fungi, which prompted conversation about good show recommendations. She especially liked the works of David Attenborough. “His voice brings hope to the edges,” she said. She described how there is so much that is going on in the world, but when she hears his voice, she feels hope – that it can help hold the weight of what is ahead and bring her back to feeling, caring and acting.
Bring hope to the edges.
I’m taken back to the service of “O” Antiphons and the views of Rainier sitting on a rock ledge. The first letters from the antiphon’s Latin root words string together “Eros Cras” – I shall be [with you] tomorrow. It’s a message of bringing a renewed vision of a God who can work on and past the edges to bring healing and good news.
This is why “O” Antiphons and a snow capped volcano can feel right even in the wrong season. We stand weary at what’s before us in the weight of court decisions, gun violence, war and pandemic. It takes work and time to cut out new steps and forge new paths, even when we know it’s the work that we need to do. The cashier’s observation of bringing hope to the edges is a reminder to me of Advent’s continual calling to turn and prepare the way with the promise of faithful knowing – Emmanuel. God with us. The kingdom of God has come near.
Emily Meeks loves finding adventure and connection outside, especially while running, biking, hiking and kayaking. She attends and serves at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.