Exemplary Prayers – II

In our last  post we said any address to Jesus in the Gospels can be read as a prayer to God. Sometimes that will seem outrageous. For consider the question of Pilate: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11) By this time, Jesus has had a night of abuse. He has been deserted by his disciples, condemned by false witnesses in a kangaroo court, slapped around, and bound over to the governor for judgment.

Pilate is traditionally treated as one of the greatest villains of history. Therefore, it may be offensive to speak of anything he says as a prayer. Still, which of us has not asked this question in one form or another? How can this man from a no-count backwater, with no following but a rabble of limping crazies, be a king? Even if he is a king in that desert, so what? Even if he is a very great king: say, king of England, or of wherever, so what? There have been kings all through history who have been able to refrain from theological claims about themselves. Those who could not,like  the late emperors of Rome, we simply call megalomaniacs, and let it go.

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Divide expressions

Divide expressions are ambivalent words whose meaning comes clear only when we know which side of a great divide the speaker stands on.

The End

There are several ways this word might be (mis)understood. A few years ago there came the book entitled in all seriousness, “The End of History.” In it, Francis Fukuyama tempted us to think of ourselves as the end, the culmination, the final product, the perfection toward which history has been striving.

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Ready for Worship

The most characteristic activity of a typical parish church is worship. A whole cadre of people swing into action: the altar guild, the flower guild, the chalice bearers, the ushers, the lay readers, the ushers, the coffee hour hosts, and more, down to those who count the offering and those who lock up the place when the service is done. All are devoted to making the sanctuary beautiful and comfortable, and seeing that everyone present is welcome. Their devotion is an end in itself, never to be discounted, but they would be the first to say something greater goes on; something greater than the sum of all their parts.

What is that something else? It is the worship of God, named in the first sentence above. —or is it? Is there not a still greater Something not yet mentioned? Thanks be to God, there is. It is His own self-offering. That is literally the substance of the Eucharist: the body and blood of Jesus Christ, given for you and for all of us. This is clearest in churches that celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass, at every worship service, but the truth is there in those where prayers and preaching are the “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” as the Book of Common Prayer defines Sacrament.

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A Cainish Cri de Coeur

In what follows I ask the reader to accept rather much of the vertical pronoun; please forgive.

I am not a pious man, but a crooked man  to whom ours is a very wily god (Psalm 18:26–27); a sinner in a relationship with God that reflects the fact: thick, and loaded with ironies.

Acceptance

When I joined my Episcopal parish, I hoped the other members’ acceptance implied communality in some large matters. There is little reason to think so, because we seldom actually discuss ideas—especially not theological ones; as with politics, it’s bad manners to do so. However that may be, I suspect this is more than the predictable letdown the morning after the prodigal’s arrival.

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Holiday Mass, Cartagena

People have strong feelings about forms of worship. When I first joined the Episcopal Church, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was still new. It elicited both joy and complaint. We still accommodate different tastes with Rites I and II at different hours.

This is not the place to rehearse all that, but let me venture a remark about holiday services. Undoubtedly people here and elsewhere look forward to candle light Christmas Eve service, greens and candles lining the center aisle, our favorite carols, children lying in their parents’ arms. It is lovely to pour out freshly shriven into the dark night, all smiles.

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Uncommon Prayer

One of the greatest gifts of faith is undoubtedly the power of prayer, spanning the gulf between God and us. Perhaps the most elemental kind of prayer is simply waiting on God in silence; quiet the chattering monkey inside, and hope to hear. One’s daily work can be done prayerfully; repetitive work like sanding a board can be a mantra.

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Worship in Foreign Parts

My wife and I have been lucky enough to travel and worship in England and Italy. When I am in Italy I attend Mass and take Communion. I know the Church has rules against this, because I am not a Catholic. I know the arguments on both sides of the question, and I think they are all good. I take warrant from my late friend Ev Simson, who on a visit to Haiti asked the presiding clergy there whether he could take Communion. The priest asked, Did Jesus Christ bring you here? Ev answered, Yes. The priest said, There’s your answer.

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