Blessing the Animals
19 Pentecost; October 8, 2023
Saint David’s Episcopal Church
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matt 21:33-46
In a few minutes, we will bless the animals in our lives. But first I want to say something about what the blessing of animals means for us as Christians.
When we think about Christ’s saving work, we mostly focus on what Christ does for us—for human beings and for our salvation. And rightly so. Christ became human in order that we might be in right relationship with God. That’s something worth thinking about!
But as we come to the end of Creation Season, on the Sunday we commemorate Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals, we are invited to think more broadly about Christ’s saving work, which is not limited to us, but rather extends to all of creation.
Although we don’t always attend to it, that broader, more comprehensive understanding of Christ’s saving work is deeply rooted in Scripture.
In his famous vision of God’s peaceable kingdom, the prophet Isaiah foresees a time when
the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox….They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (11:6-7, 9).
It's hard to imagine a lion living on straw! But this much is clear from Isaiah: all of creation will be transformed in God’s kingdom. We will be at peace. And so will all the animals.
Of course, we are not there yet. Today lambs don’t last very long in the presence of wolves. Today our lives are not particularly peaceful either. We don’t live in Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom of God.
And so, as people of faith, we look forward in hope to the day when Isaiah’s vision comes true, when God’s kingdom finally comes.
And, that, too, is true not just for us, but for all of creation, as Paul reminds us in a remarkable passage from his letter to the Romans. Paul speaks about the hope that creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In the meantime, Paul adds, “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now,” along with us, as we and the rest of creation wait for final redemption (8:20-23).
And as we wait, in hope, for that day, we pray. And in our prayers, we are praying not only for ourselves, but, as our Eucharistic Prayer for this morning puts it, we are “giving voice to every creature under heaven” (BCP, 373). We pray in words for those creatures that are not capable of praying in words for themselves.
All that is to say, Christ’s work of salvation applies to us, and ALSO to the rest of creation.
Creation Season, which wraps up this week, is the season for us to acknowledge that broader work of salvation, to acknowledge Christ’s mission of redeeming and renewing all of God’s creation.
That’s why we bless our grounds and gardens in this season. That’s why we care for the environment, including most immediately for us here at Saint David’s, helping to clean up the Connecticut River down at Pynchon Point next Saturday. And that’s one of the reasons we are blessing animals this morning.
That’s a good reason to bless animals.
But there is another, even better reason to bless our pets. We bless them because we love them, and we bless the things we love.
My poor children didn’t grow up with pets, so they didn’t get to experience the way an animal becomes part of the family.
But I did. When I was a child, we had a mid-sized dog named Blackberry. We got her when I was young enough to be intimidated by a puppy that chewed everything, including me. She lived until I was out of the house, and so she was part of virtually all the childhood that I remember.
Blackberry was NOT well-behaved. My mother jokes that she may have been the worst-behaved dog on the planet. I suspect some of our neighbors from those years would have agreed. Many of them had good reason to dislike our dog.
But I loved Blackberry. We all did. Well, maybe not my father. But the rest of us did! And loving always makes us better.
Blackberry loved us, too. And even as a child, I realized that Blackberry could teach me something about love.
Once I tested Blackberry’s love. Before I go farther, I acknowledge that my test was a little obnoxious! I know that.
In this test, I sat in my backyard and pretended to cry. Blackberry rushed over and began licking me. I stood up and did something else for a few minutes, and Blackberry returned to whatever she had been doing. After a bit, I pretended to cry again. Again, Blackberry rushed over to comfort me. I did it a third time, too, just to be sure, and with the same result, although by the third time I assume Blackberry was also wondering why I was being so strangely emotional.
I wasn’t as good at loving Blackberry was. But loving and being loved by Blackberry made me a little better at loving. That means Blackberry made me a little better Christian.
And so I give thanks to God for bringing Blackberry into our family when I was a child. And I am proud to be part of blessing the animals who help others in the same way Blackberry helped me.
And so, I invite anyone who wants to bless an animal in their lives to stand…..
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan