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Prayer for the week

23 November 2012

Jo Spreadbury prays that she will be able to look upon God at the last


Meeting the gaze: the central panel of the Last Judgement by Hans Memling

Meeting the gaze: the central panel of the Last Judgement by Hans Memling

IN A GROUP of enquirers or those preparing for confirmation, I find that the conversation quite quickly turns to "What happens beyond this life?" This prayer is often in my mind, as I describe how I try to picture what is traditionally referred to as the Last Judgement. Once we are confronted by the reality of God's beauty, power, and glory, our Christian hope is that we will be able to respond to that vision of God, and to say "Yes!"

If the ways in which we have lived and whatever we have known of God in this life have prepared us for this final encounter, we will surely find that God's overwhelming love is something that we are inescapably drawn to and into. But, since God gave us free will, it may be that some, in effect, say "No" at the last, and turn away, finding the holiness of God is for them unbearable.

As C. S. Lewis said, "Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again." Yet I trust and pray that God's love is so attractive, so compelling, that in fact no one chooses to turn away from it at the last. But I have to allow the possibility that some might, and this would, in effect, be hell: to see God, and not to bring oneself to say "Yes" to God, but choose to turn away.

This prayer, then, is for me a good way of trying to reflect imaginatively, to meditate on the Last Things, and to ask God so to prepare me in this life that I may be able to say "Yes" more and more, to be made ready for that final response.

I try to imagine what God is like, but the reality is always beyond anything I can dream of or long for. I try to think of the greatness of God's power, but all the forces and energies of the universe, in the vast galaxies and the tiniest atoms, fall short of helping me to comprehend the strength of God's love.

I believe that we are invited by God to share in glory; I talk about God's glory often in worship, but the awesome and awe-ful nature of God's glory is something that I will not easily be ready to bear.

The account of Moses asking to see God's glory (Exodus 33.12-end) lies behind this remarkable prayer. Originally written by Janet Morley as an alternative collect for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, follow-ing the ASB lectionary, it was first published in her collection All Desires Known (SPCK, new edition, 2005).

Now it is given to us in Common Worship as a post-communion prayer, and, although the impact and challenge of the prayer remain, we have the reassurance that in the communion that we have just shared, we have encountered God - and we have lived.

God is no longer a stranger to us; for, in Christ, in word and sacrament, we meet God face to face. We are no longer forbidden, like Moses, to see God's glory; in fact, the vision of God's glory is what we are destined for. But there is always more of God than we can conceive, more of God ahead of us to dazzle an delight us.

In Byzantine tradition, it is only at the Transfiguration that Moses finally sees God's face, when he and Elijah together behold Jesus. Let us pray that, through our encounters with Christ, we may be transformed from glory to glory, so that at the last we, too, will be able to see God and live.

The Revd Dr Jo Spreadbury is the Vicar of Abbots Langley, in the diocese of St Albans.


prayer for the week

O God, whose beauty is beyond our imagining

and whose power we cannot comprehend:

show us your glory, as far as we can grasp it,

and shield us from knowing   more than we can bear

until we may look upon you without fear;

through Jesus Christ our   Saviour.


Common Worship post-communion for the Third Sunday after Trinity


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