I’ve been ruminating! Oh dear…
I think that it’s appropriate that I share with you my intention to stop sharing this regular time of Wednesday prayers with you on the last Wednesday of April. When I inherited this time of prayer from Douglas Allan, we were in the deepening first phase of the pandemic, and I was delighted to continue something I found precious and meaningful, and that I knew many others did, too.
I’ve been fascinated by the way my own prayers have evolved (I mentioned that last week) – clearly because my thoughts, like yours, have been constantly evolving too; but even when one is writing prayers down, composing them as a text, prayer is always also a dialogue with God. In a sense, COVID has been a bit like the grit in the oyster around which a pearl forms; a deeply uncomfortable irritant that produces something precious. These prayers have always been about the pandemic, but never simply, and sometimes not even largely, about the pandemic.
Likewise, today. A theme that’s emerged in my mind, as the light at the end of the tunnel that vaccination provides is dimmed, even occluded, by surging levels of coronavirus infection all around us, there’s a lot that might make us feel that our control over this is slipping. And we hate being out of control. Today’s prayers emerge from that, and from a number of conversations I’ve had this last week – and also from the new perspective all of this offers on our very human issues with control.
We can only hope that, come the end of April, the situation will have changed, and the pandemic be under – yes! – control. None of us can know the context in which my successor will take office in June. However, glad and grateful as I was to inherit these prayers from Douglas, and unthinkable as it would have been then that I shouldn’t have continued them, I feel it’s probably a good idea that my successor, whoever that might be, should come to her or his own view about what is fitting at that point.
I’ll offer these prayers for us to share up to the end of April, and then I’ll offer ad hoc prayers, which won’t establish a precedent, thereafter. I wouldn’t want just to stop! But as we pass through what we all pray is one of the last phases of the reality we’ve lived with all these months – whatever comes next – hope will transform our work and witness, and we are called, as Christ’s Church, to be shaped by the future, not the past!
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them; and they were in great fear. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD; and they said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt, `Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today… Exodus 14:10-13
If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. Rom.14: 8
And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 24:42-3
Let us pray:
1) For understanding of ourselves
Control, Lord –
we have so much difficulty with the idea of it.
We are so afraid of being out of control
that we can become controlling.
We control details. We control others.
We control what we can.
We control, even when we know how much we hate being controlled.
And sometimes, we are simply not in control.
That you, the God who made all things,
in whom all existence is grounded,
should relinquish control – it astounds us.
Yet is that not what incarnation is?
Is that not the risk of loving, which Jesus took –
• loving the unrespectable, risking gossip,
• loving the unrighteous, risking disapproval,
• loving the lowly and marginalized, risking dismissal and contempt;
• relinquishing the control that prudence gives,
outspoken, reckless for the justice and righteousness of the kingdom?
And is not his cross the risk that incarnation ran
and love ran, and the Son ran – and the Father, too –
because God so loved the world?
2) For understanding of our shared calling
You call us, your Church, to the risks of discipleship,
To relinquish control for trust.
Control, we know, can be the substitute for trust.
We come to you as a Presbytery
of a church that is not in control;
shorn of social power,
the influence of a great institution.
Teach us that that’s all right.
Teach us that in the world in which we witness –
• in the deep, conflicting currents of our society
• in the ebb, flow and riptides of global culture,
• in the breakers of crashing crises rolling in, that mark the flux of the contemporary, the reality in which we are situated – the reality in which we are the Church –
this is entirely expectable.
And yes, Lord, we know that we must exercise control
over what we can control – for that is our responsibility.
Our careful shepherding of precious resources,
our diligent planning, our difficult decisions,
our shared ministry, as a presbytery,
of leadership and the exercise of authority –
we offer these to you.
Teach us Lord, that beyond what we can control
is what we cannot,
and that that, too, is all right;
that is as it should be.
3) For understanding of our mission to our society
Lord Jesus, we hear your call to follow you
into a world suspended between despair and denial,
Control and abdication, adoration of might and anarchic self-assertion.
You call us, in this reality, this real world, to risk all–
and to do it responsibly and recklessly,
prudent so that we may be prodigal,
to control what we can, and relinquish the rest
into God’s hands.
You call us to witness to the world another way to be;
your way – your way of trust in the Father.
Lead us into your obedient faith –
faith that when the alternatives
and possibilities we have calculated
and take control and the illusion of control with them,
God’s impossible possibility will appear,
For this is the faith you call us to live before all the world.
4) For our society, our communities, and the people we know
As the promise of vaccines, and vaccination underway
bring the promise of control over the virus,
and returned control over our life as a society
the crisis of COVID deepens again,
and again, in our society, and our communities,
people feel control slipping away.
We pray for them.
We pray for leaders, political, medical, scientific,
balancing the urgent need for control of a pandemic
with the imperative to trust people, to appeal to them to be sensible,
to hope that some will, while knowing that some won’t.
We pray for the responsible –
those who venture out as little as possible, and work from home;
those who must venture out to work, or to care,
those with caring environments to control,
in care homes, clinics and hospitals.
We pray for the fearful
who seek some control over life
in prudent but costly retreat from much of life.
We pray for the frustrated,
whose reckless self-assertion and folly
is not control, but denial,
not being in charge of their lives,
but defiance of what seeks to save them –
and how we recognize that pattern!
Teach us to teach the world to trust,
By relinquishing our control into your hands,
And be controlled by Jesus’ liberating love alone.
Hear our prayers for the needs we know [SILENCE]
And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father…