Over the summer I have been reading the lovely short memoir written by someone who worked as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York*. It’s about what it is like to pass your days surrounded by so much beauty, and the, sometimes curious, responses and requests of visitors. Once a lady asked to see the Mona Lisa. On being told that this was, unfortunately, not in New York but in Paris, she responded by saying that a copy would do, and seemed rather put out that the Met only displayed original works. In our internetiferous age, when images are so freely available, perhaps the idea of being exposed to an original object is rather novel, but perhaps the Collect, the opening prayer, of this (24th) Sunday can help us.
The prayer comes in three compact clauses. First of all, we talk to God as Creator and guide of all things, not just the one who started everything going, but who guides and guards creation at every moment. And we ask that we might be able to serve him with all our hearts. Not just with a bit of us, not in a spare moment or with a passing thought, but with all of ourselves, and, of course, serving our neighbour too. But why? Why this request now? That is answered in the purpose clause of the prayer, which, since this is following a Latin original text, comes in between, in the middle of the prayer. So that we may feel your mercy. Feel here really means something rather wider; understand, know, grasp, experience, but feel will do. Similarly, mercy stands in for everything that Jesus does to put us at rights with ourselves and the world, which is a lot to get our heads around, so mercy will do.
If we know what it is to care for others, then we have a chance to not just to know about, not to copy and paste, but to experience what it is to be cared for.Museums aren’t repositories of stuff or information, we can go online for that,but are instead full of real things we can encounter and be surprised by. Of al peoples we ought to be the ones who value Real Presence the most, because it is in real things, people, that we encounter mercy, the mercy of the Creator and Guide, the Maker and Re-maker of our world and of each of us.