Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness


A reasonable caution about the potential for infection in church is not to be mocked, but now that the use of hand sanitizers has become a quasi-sacramental rite in many congregations, the ancient sign of peace is omitted for fear of passing more than peace, and some people refuse to take communion from the hand of another (not to mention from a common cup or even by intinction), my inner mocker can no longer be constrained. People, people, really! Germs are not the enemy, antiseptic obsession is! (See The New York Times Magazine, May 19, 2013, “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs.”) Sigh. Knowing that I will convince no one who is otherwise persuaded on this matter, I share with you a Blessing and a Communion Prayer that you may freely make use of to ensure a sanitary worship experience for your congregations (originally written for a community service at Andover Newton during flu season).


Blessing of the Holy Hand Sanitizers

 Holy One,

Thou art godliness indeed,

and cleanliness is next to Thee.

To Thee the ancient psalmist prayed

Wash me, Lord!

Sprinkle me with hyssop,

and I shall be cleansed of every stain.

We too come to Thee,

confident in Thy promise

to create in us pure hearts,

to keep us squeaky clean,

and to free us

from all who seek to do us harm,

bad microbes great and small.

Bless then, O Antiseptic One,

this your servant, Purell,

fruit of the Dow Chemical Company

and gift of germophobe deacons

whose concern for us

is second only to your own

and even more irrational.

As we share its sanitizing power,

grant that we may be

not only a clean people,

but also a more cautious people,

more vigilant,

more on guard against germs,

and the contamination of bodies,

more afraid of the Other

and of one another,

now and forever. Amen.



Communion Prayer, with Words of Institution

O God, dear Lord,

Jesus is Thy gift to us,

and we thank Thee for him

with all our hearts.

He said a lot of nice things about Thee,

and he told some terrific stories

about soft lambs and small children.

We like soft lambs and small children.

We are, however, a little disappointed in him.

Well, very disappointed,

if Thou must know the truth.

 We know it was not his fault

that when he was born

his parents showed poor judgment

by allowing dirty cows to breathe on him

and dirty shepherds to kiss him.

But when he grew up and became an adult,

he made some poor choices of his own.

 He was not careful about whom he ate with.

He did not wash his hands

or make anyone else wash theirs.

And he even put bread

in the smelly hand of his own betrayer.

What was that about?

That night before he died?

When he took bread and thanked Thee

and called the bread his body?

We do not like to talk about bodies

or acknowledge in church that we have one—

for bodies are kind of icky

when you get right down to it.

(By the way, did you notice?

He handled that bread,

without tongs or gloves.)

 And what was that about,

when he took the cup and called it his blood—

which is a yucky thing to say under any circumstances—

and had them drink it,

from the same cup,

without a napkin?

(He even said,

Do this in memory of me!

And so we were stuck with it.)

Anyway, dear Lord,

we want Thee to know,

as we gather around this table,

leaving ample personal space,

that we don’t hold it against him;

but, no offense and with all due respect,

we really couldn’t let it go.

Thou wouldst not expect us to,

wouldst Thou?

No, of course not;

so we have taken care of it.

We have corrected his deficiencies.

We have tightened up.

We wash our hands.

And just to be doubly sure

that no one worries about germs,

distracting them from the pure worship of Thee,

we have decided that it isn’t really food we’re sharing

but a holy token

that vaguely reminds us of food

come down out of a gleaming stainless steel kitchen

in heaven from you.

And we barely touch it,

let alone slurp or chew.

It will do Thy heart good, we are sure,

that as meals go,

this one is teensy,

and it does not often make us glad.

And we offer it only to our own,

to those we have vetted,

who are wearing ties,

who never clear their throats,

who have showered,

and who manage to look good in the artificial light

of most of our sanctuaries.

For this satisfying solution,

and for all your blessings,

we who stand before you

with clean hands and antiseptic hearts,

offer thanks and praise to Thee,

to whose godliness our cleanliness is next,

now and forever. Amen.