Some commentary on the Eastertide prayers

The opening responses are intended to encourage us to get in touch with the joy of the raising of Jesus from the dead.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Our hopes are raised
Life emerges from death
Right is wrested from wrong
The uprising of Love has begun!

The first two lines are from the regular Easter greetings of many churches. The next four lines are my own compositions which were strongly ‘driven’ by the desire to express something of the significance and joy of Easter in less conventionally religious terms by using phrases with a more ordinary work-a-day life  provenance. So we talk in everyday life about raising hopes, but here ‘raised’ also has a more literal resonance. The term ’emerge’ has gained currency from science and business and here is intended to evoke something of the meaning of scientific discovery, perhaps the new version of order-from-chaos imagery which is part of the Christian way of talking and thinking about the Resurrection. The penultimate line tries to gesture towards something of the wider meaning of resurrection -and the alliteration was a happy discovery which was reinforced by the choice of the word ‘wrested’ as verb. ‘Uprising’ is chosen to suggest both ‘raising’ from death and also an insurgency as Christians love the world to death -and beyond empowered by the same power which raised Jesus from death.

The next prayer implicitly uses the story of the walk to Emmaus.

Draw alongside us, Lord Jesus,
Open up the scriptures to us by your Spirit,
so our hearts might be lit with fresh understanding
and fired up by your presence

This is one of the few prayers in this collection that addresses Jesus directly. Since the Lord’s Prayer addresses the Father, that is the norm for these prayers. However, in this case, since it is attempting to pray something of the Emmaus road scene from the end of Luke’s gospel, it is more natural to stick with that and address the petition to Jesus directly.

The use of  ‘lit’ and ‘fired up’ derive from the ‘hearts burning within us’ description of those disciples’ experience. ‘Fired up’ plays on the contemporary idiom for being excited and enthused while alluding to the ‘burning hearts’. The phrase ‘by your Spirit’ makes explicit what the story does not state: that the experience of ‘getting it’ is something that is the work of the Holy Spirit -both then and now.

One of the things I attempted to do in many of the offices was to have a section at the end of the readings corresponding to the creed in a number of orders of morning and evening prayer. I also felt that using materials from the gospels where there were responses to Jesus would be a good basis for this. The whole idea was to take the receiving of the words of scripture as building up our faith and an encounter with Christ, in a sense which called on us to respond with faith.

After the readings we have a simple cue and response phrase.

Here ends the reading.
Here begins its outworking.

It aims simply to encourage us not simply to read and that be it, but to recognise that the words we have heard are meant to become part of our lives; the message works out into our lives. It is an encouragement to reflect in such a way that we change, be it only a little bit.

So, in that vein, -of seeing the message take root in our lives and being encouraged to respond- in this office we have this:

Jesus said: ‘Do not doubt but trust.’ With Thomas we respond,
‘My Lord and my God!’ 
Let us hear for ourselves what Jesus replied,
‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to trust.’

We have these words so that we may come to believe and trust:
Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,
we have life in his name. 
[ based on John 20:19ff ]

The bulk of the changes from the original passages are, of course, to enable it to be used as being addressed and addressing prayerfully rather than ‘observed’ as from a third party perspective. So ‘Let us hear for ourselves’ is an invitation for us to take the words as if addressed to us -which is not far from the writer’s stated intent for the whole of the gospel. The translation of the line after that has been tweaked: most translations have ‘come to believe’ but it is possible and arguably desirable to recall that the word connotes trusting belief rather than simple intellectual assent, similarly at the end of the next line where both English words have been used.

Moving into the ‘hallowed be your name” section, we have:

We set God always before us:
who is at our right hand; we shall not fall.
Our hearts are glad
and our spirits rejoice;
Our flesh shall also rest secure.
For you will not abandon our souls to Death,
nor let your faithful know the Pit.
You will show us the path of life;
in your presence is the fullness of joy
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore
[ From Psalm 16 ]

These words from Psalm 16 enable us, I hope, to both reflect on and to celebrate what is achieved in Jesus’ raising from the dead. The sense of a decisive turn of events for good which gives us confidence in the face of death (and note the choice to capitalise Death in the text). The final four lines are traditional lines for the funeral service and again reinforce the sense of joyful hope worth celebrating -something indeed to hallow God’s name for. And there is a pause recommended at this point to enable us as users of these words to get in touch with and encourage within ourselves the Spirit-borne response of appreciative expectation. After which we get to …

O God, roll away the stone from our hearts, and brighten our imaginations with the dayspring of new life. In Christ you spoke into the unmaking void of death,raising your Life from death and enfolding us in that victory.
God of new creation:
Hallowed be your name

The first couple of clauses are actually petitionary but they are at the service of asking for help to appreciate what God has done. The imagery of rolling the stone away is, of course, from the resurrection story and the implied imagery of dawn also references that. The word ‘dayspring’ means dawn but is an archaism which nevertheless has a poetry to it which makes it worth keeping, and it echoes its use in the Benedictus and hymnody. It is hoped that the wording of these more petitionary phrases would inspire a praise-ful mood for the section.

The next sentence uses imagery of creation to think about death and resurrection -God speaking into void comes from Genesis 1:2. And the last clause tries to get us to think about our own inclusion in the resurrection -we participate in what God has done in Christ.

Next up are the petitionary prayers corresponding to ‘Your kingdom come ..’. In this case they are arranged to invite us to think about what we are concerned about with a view to considering and holding them before God with an intention to discern what or how God’s will might be in those situations. We are invited into that with the phrase,

We ask for God’s eternal-life-giving to be known in our world, saying:
Living God:
glorify your name

The response -which is used several times subsequently, comes from a prayer in the Church of England book of additional prayers called ‘Patterns for Worship’. You can see the ‘original’ set of prayers as section F71 on the webpage for ”new Patterns of Worship’. You’ll notice if you compare, some differences. ‘Faithful God’ has become ‘Living God’ because in these prayers the background is resurrection and new life which rests in God’s ever-living. ‘Glorify your name’ reminds us that in what happens we are wanting God’s awesome loveliness to be exposed for what it is which will bring a response which glorifies God. In practice, I think, this amounts to the same sort of outcomes as ‘your will be done’ hence its use at this point.

The call and response follows into the next section, daily bread, where the introductory phrase in a sense acts as a link. We are still asking God, but, as the first phrase here makes clear, the focus turns to our own needs.

In our needs and weakness in our provision and supply;
Living God:
glorify your name.

Then there’s encouragement to recognise before God what we need, and this is placed in the context of our life in Christ. In a sense, the phrase steers us not to asking for any old thing that we think we’d like, but to consider our needs and wants in the bigger context of a life lived with and for ‘God’s kingdom and righteousness’.

We consider what we need to continue living in Christ
The risen Jesus makes common table with us.
As we make common cause with Christ:
Give us each day our daily bread.

The image of Jesus making common table is inspired, again, by the Emmaus road encounter with the risen Christ: it was at table, breaking bread, that he was finally recognised and we recall that this recognition is borne of the many other times Jesus broke bread with his disciples and indeed enquirers and even hostile questioners. The image also calls us to mind the times when we, remembering Jesus gathering people at table, gather round the table for communion: a common table. And the word ‘common’ is then picked up in the next line using the ‘secular’ phrase “common cause” to name that idea of us living our lives within and for the reign of God and God’s values. And to round off, the phrase from the Lord’s prayer itself (Lukan version).

The next section takes us into consideration of our wrong-doing.

Full-lively God, we come to you in sorrow for our sins, and confess to you our weaknesses and unbelief.
Recollection of what we need to confess.

‘Full-lively God’ is an unusual phrase. The aim was to capture something of the idea that God is abundant life itself. The phrase comes over as having a slightly Tudor feel which makes it arresting and memorable, perhaps. It’s unusual but not incomprehensible. The ‘weakness and unbelief’ phrase is drawn from liturgies of the Church of England. Then we come to the first part of the actual confession of sin.

We have fallen back into the law of sin and death, and failed to live the new life of the risen Christ.
Merciful God, forgive us.
And restore us to life.

‘Law of sin and death’ is a phrase from Romans, taken here to be a way of phrasing the ‘ways of the world’, a set of assumptions and habits of thought and action that are self-reinforcing and perpetuate but do not serve God’s agenda or desires for a world characterised by love, joy and peace. The new life is characterised by those things: that is what the risen Christ stands for. We want God to change our status and re-knit us to life in all its fullness. The Lord’s prayer reminds us that part of the deal of living forgiven is living forgiving. In the following phrase we continue with the life/death reflection, seeing unforgiveness through that motif and using the image of the tomb to characterise it.

We have laid others in the tomb of our unforgiveness,
enshrouding them in our contempt and withholding the word of life.
Forgive us, Merciful God
And restore us to life-giving.

The reprise of restore us to life, is modified to help us to recall that forgiving is part of giving life in all its fullness; playing our part in creating and maintaining a gracious community of ‘full-lively’ people. This section rounds off with the following.

Let us attend; Christ breathes upon us the peace and forgiveness of God.
A moment for quiet reflection on our forgiveness.
Who will rescue us from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

The pause to ‘take in’ God’s forgiveness is important. I very much believe that written and pre-formed prayers can and do ‘work’ for us because they call us to pay attention to true things that the Holy Spirit is constantly striving in our spirits to achieve. In this case, the Spirit is fanning an appreciation of being forgiving into the heart of who we are and a prayer like this tries to encourage us to co-operate and be attentive to it.

The thanks giving phrases are drawn from 1 Corinthians 15: 57 part of Paul’s reflection on the significance of the Resurrection. Having paused to be thankful for our forgiveness, we then move into the fifth section of the Lord’s prayer looking forward with a view to following Christ into it and being wary of our own weaknesses (which confession of sin may well have alerted us to). That is the kind of agenda informing the introduction to the next section.

As we seek to forge a new future living the life of Christ let us pause before the likely events and involvements and the unpredictable happenings that face us.

A collect prayer may be said.
In our laughter, and tears, in our fear and our hope;
Living God:
Glorify your name.

The situation of someone using these words consciously-before God is conceived as taking a few moments to consider their diary and plans for the day and to think about the challenges that could arise from them. And also to recognise that life is rarely fully predictable and perhaps we should consider how we do when faced with changes and chances of this fleeting world.

And at the end of that bit we see reprised the call and response from earlier. Part of the point of having it again here (apart from it being an appropriate thing to say in this context) is also to recall to us that there is a wholeness to the Lord’s prayer; it isn’t five prayers lumped together but the parts reflect and depend on one another. The line before the call and response is also written in the style of those earlier petitions. In a sense it is one of those petitions but placed here because of its topic -which fits better here.

The next bit in a sense moves us from recognising what the coming hours might hold to actually moving into that future and it does it by reminding us that we don’t go alone.

Jesus comes to us and says,
‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’
He breathes on us and says; ‘Receive the Holy Spirit….
Pause to reflect on Christ’s risen presence and call before we return to the rest of our lives.

Again the story behind the choice of words is one of the resurrection appearances where Jesus has particularly apposite words for us. This little section encourages to recognise that the resources of the Holy Spirit are shared with us to live Godly. These words are to provoke us into awareness of that.

The next and final phrases are a mash-up of a traditional closing response phrase and a biblical quote. They intersect in the second line, “Thanks be to God”, which is the final line of a closing phrase but the first line of a quote from 1 Corinthians 15:57.

Let us bless the Lord:
Thanks be to God
Who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.



Commentary: Lent

The order for Lent has a number of pre-loved sources, mostly the have been edited and repurposed. There are also a number of original elements -though of course ‘original’ can often owe a huge debt of gratitude to something else. What follows gives some backstory and framing which may interest and help some users.

It’s worth recalling that the forms of these daily offices tries to do two things. One is to offer a prayerful context for the reading of scripture which reflects the season -in this case, Lent. The second is to give a form of prayer using the structure of the Lord’s prayer and, here, to do so with a seasonal, Lenten, twist. So these comments will simply go through the order and offer background and thoughts about the compiling and praying of the words.

The first sentence borrows from the Ash Wednesday service.

Remembering we are dust and to dust we shall return, we turn from our waywardness to cultivate Christwardness.

Those on Ash Wednesday who have ash placed on their foreheads are told “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return…” it seems fitting during Lent to recall this defining liturgical moment from the start of the season, reminding us of the frailty and (without God) the futility of human be-ing. The second sentence echoes but paraphrases the next part of the Ashing phrase which says, “Turn from you sin and follow Christ” or similar words (different traditions have it slightly differently). One of the things I have tried to do in editing and writing prayers for BOCP is to move away on occasion from normal church liturgical language to help us to see/hear afresh what it is we are saying. So here: ‘waywardness’ deputises for ‘sin’ and at the same time gestures towards the imagery of the wilderness which features in early Lenten lectionary readings. To be wayward is to have lost the path and suggests having wandered off potentially into a wilderness. The phrase also implicitly invites us to consider our life as being lived in a wilderness -with its temptations and the potential to see it as empty of meaning and haunted by forces uncaring of human life.

And then having a word which ends in ‘-ness’, and wishing to further reflect on ‘sin’ by offering an implied opposite, the word ‘Christwardness’ is born. It has behind it John 16:8-9

And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me 

Which seems to imply that a defining characteristic of Sin is not believing in Christ, that is not orienting our lives towards Jesus and the teaching Christ brings.

What is it that we seek?
We seek God’s way in the wilderness.
Let’s seek with all our deciding
Amen. God be our wisdom.
Let’s seek with all our affections
Amen. God be our centre
Let’s seek with all our attitudes
Amen. God be our vision.
Let’s seek with all our resources
Amen. God be our mainstay.

This traces back to one of the opening prayers in the Northumbria Community’s daily office of morning prayer. There the first question is whom do we seek and the following responses are questions with an implied answer developed into a recognition of our weakness in the face of our call to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength. I found the use of the heart-soul-mind-strength theme to be useful but felt that the questions would be better as a mutual exhortation to seek. It then seemed that the song ‘Be thou my vision’ suggested a way of counterpointing those aspects of seeking with characteristics of God might make a satisfying prayer.

Then, after some time of using the form amended in that way, it started to seem that what I knew about the way that ancients would use body parts to talk about aspects of our inner lives was not always the way we understand them. So I substituted with words we might otherwise use; deciding, affections etc.

Then there follows an exhortation to prepare us directly to listen and attend to the reading or readings.

Tested and tempted in the desert, scripture revealed and steered Jesus’ resistance and direction. May we learn and inwardly digest the Wisdom of God we hear.
Let us attend!

The word underlying ‘tempted’ in the stories of Jesus being led into the wilderness, also could be translated ‘tested’ and so using both words seemed a fair thing to do in this context. The basic idea is that in Lent we often start by looking at Jesus’ wilderness experience and temptations and in the stories we have, at the heart of resisting the false paths offered is scripture which clearly helped him both to understand the positive direction he was to take and to grasp the dangers in the wrong paths that opened up to him. This knowing practical right from wrong in terms of paths open to us is part of what scripture usually means by ‘wisdom’. The phrase ‘learn and inwardly digest’ comes from a collect in the Book of Common Prayer which relates to how we approach scripture and seems in this case to characterise well the way that Jesus had evidently internalised chapters 6 and 8 of Deuteronomy.

“Let us attend” comes from Orthodox liturgies and is a way to call people to attention to hear readings from Scripture. The whole phrase is “Wisdom, let us attend!” but since the previous part of the phrase already had ‘wisdom’ in it, it seemed that this part of the announcement had, in effect, already been made.

After the readings and reflection on them we round off the scripture-focused section of the prayer form with this:

Jesus call us to faith in Him.
….pause for reflection
Lord, we believe,
help us in our unbelief.

One of the structuring principles for many of these offices is to have a time after reflecting on the scriptures when we renew our commitment to living out what we learn and sense God leading us into by them. Many of these are taken from the Gospels and borrow from passages where people are responding to Jesus. In this case it is a declaration of faith but charmingly honest to which Jesus then responds positively. Those words to Jesus in Mark 9 have been repurposed to enable us to use them in Lent, the tentativeness of faith they exhibit seems the right sort of ‘note’ to sound for Lent with its attention to our weakness and frailty.

In these offices, a canticle is used to make a transition from a focus on scripture to prayer using the Lord’s prayer as its structuring principle. The praise of God in the canticles acts as a primer for the first phase of the Lord’s prayer pattern. This version of the Song of Christ’s Glory from Philippians 2 has been tweaked . The choice of this canticle for Lent is to do with the motif of ‘humbling himself’.

We will give God thanks:
You are our help and our God.
You are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast faithful love. You seek us out in the darkness of our sin, and exchange beauty of reconciliation for the ashes of our rebellion.
…other appreciations of God may be added.
Our God in heaven, father and mother to us;
Hallowed be your name.

As in a lot of these offices, lines from Psalms are used quite a lot. The phrase ‘my help and my God’ comes from Psalms 42 and 43 and has here been made plural because these offices are conceived as corporate -shadowing the Lord’s Prayer which is unremittingly corporate: ‘Our Father … give us … forgive us … as we forgive … lead us … ‘ The aim, of course is to induct us into giving praise and thanks. The phrase following the opening response echoes God’s revelation of God’s name in Exodus 34:6 which is repeated sometimes with slight variations several times (eg. Psalm 86:15 or Psalm 103:8) through the Hebrew scriptures. Because it is a revealed naming of God, it seems right to use it at a point in the prayers where we hallow God’s name.

The following sentence about ‘seeking us out’ is adapted from a prayer from the Church of England’s liturgical resources relating to Lent.

The ‘father and mother to us’ is a phrase borrowed from a liturgy of the Iona community. it helps us to recall that the word ‘Father’ addressed to God is a metaphor -a hallowed one to be sure but still simply a slice of characterising God who overflows our human words’ containment. ‘Mother’ also captures some character of God and echoes and reminds us of some motherly imagery from the Bible which applies to God. In times where there is sensitivity to issues of gender it is good to draw on a wider range of verbal characterisations which remind us that both main human genders are made in the image of God and can therefore point to God.

The ‘kingdom come’ phase starts with

We have been led into deserts of dried-up meaning and conflicting desires. We petition for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, that they may be filled
God fulfil your purpose for us:
Send from heaven and save us.

The petitions in this phase, pick up the themes of wilderness and testing. That first one invites us to pick out the parts of our experience that are frustrating and conflicted and to recognise them as part of the human condition in this passing age. The second sentence is drawn from the beatitudes and turns the phrase into a petition.

The following petitions have the temptations in the wilderness at the back of them and use some words and phrasing that is not simply easy but aims to pick up some contemporary secular usage and fold them into our prayer. Sometimes our prayers become too Christianese and it is important, I think, to keep going to the marketplace and refresh our speaking with God -it may even help others to join in more easily sometimes. The petition about bread and its supply in the wider world is placed last in that series of requests so as to make the bridge to the ‘daily bread’ section more smooth.

The ‘open your hand’ couplet is taken from Psalm 145:16 and seems a fitting way to re-express something of the petition for daily bread. The section is, of course, introduced by lines alluding to Matthew 6:33.

The next section, of course, is about forgiving.

We recognise ourselves in the fractured and frail failures of the stories of God’s people. and we pause to reorient ourselves towards love of God and neighbour.

There is alliteration which draws attention to our plight in terms that echo Jesus’ passion and link them to a solidarity with the wider family of God’s people whose failings are portrayed with brutal honesty in the stories of scripture.

The ‘reorient’ harks back to the waywardness at the beginning of this order of prayer and introduces the reflection on our wrong-doing and wrong-attitudes by using the words of the famous Pauline lines on love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. The idea is that as we read and hear the different characterisations of love, we will recall various things from our own lives that need sorting -and the first step is to acknowledge them.

The ‘refrain’ lines between the meditations on love are from Hosea 13:3. They serve as a counterpoint to the lovely and demanding characterisation of love.

You may note that unlike most other forgiveness sections in the other orders in this collection, there is no explicit part relating to ‘as we forgive’. This is because, in fact, many of the attitudes and postures described in Paul’s words imply forgiving very strongly. That is worth thinking about in itself: that love enacted involves forgiving, in effect.

The words encouraging us to know God’s mercy are drawn from a phrase in Ray Simpson’s Celtic Worship Through the Year.

Make us instruments of your peace:
and let your glory be over all the earth.

That phrase, of course, draws on the famous first line of a prayer attributed to St Francis of Assissi.

…pause to reflect on the coming day…

As with all these pauses at this point, the idea is to consider what is known of the likely events of the day (I sometimes look through my diary and ‘hold’ it before God) and consider what challenges it may hold to our discipleship. It is also worth recalling that there are likely to be things that happen that are unpredictable and we may want to pray into responding well, wisely and winsomely.

The final responses are based, at base, on the temptation in the wilderness.

Tempted to breaden stones:
May your Word give us life.
Tested by intimations of invincibility:
Make us wise in your ways.
Trialled by the seductions of power:
Keep us true to you.

The first line includes a neologism, but I think it actually expresses succinctly the idea of changing something into bread.  The second pair of lines references the temptation at the temple to throw himself down for angels to save and the third pair the vision and offer of ruling the nations.

The temptation around jumping down from the temple peak might, among other things, be things like leaving preparation to the last minute and trusting God to make up for our deficiencies.. So it can act as a warning not to take God for granted in such a way as not to make proper provision to play our part -being wise about what that is- for example.