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Prayer for the week

by
29 November 2013

By Robin Vickery

ISTOCK

Stir up within us, O God of peace and mercy, a sincere desire for repentance, that baptised with the Holy Spirit and enkindled by the fire of your love, we may bring to every circumstance and setting the justice, gentleness and peace that the incarnation of your Word has caused to sprout up and blossom upon the earth.

Collect for Advent 2  from Benedictine Daily Prayer,  compiled for ecumenical use by an oblate of St John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota (2005)

THERE is a clear link here with the celebrated BCP "Stir up …" collect for the 25th Sunday after Trinity, modernised in Common Worship as the post-communion for Christ the King. This is not just in the opening words, but also in the sprouting-and-blossoming image, which parallels the BCP's "fruit of good works". This is what you would expect in a book produced in an ecumenical spirit.

What strikes me is the prayer's dynamism. It has a sense of moving on, of going somewhere. First off, repentance is not a dreary obligation that we fulfil in a spirit of self-flagellation, but something that we sincerely desire. Also, repentance enables us to be "baptised with the Holy Spirit and enkindled by the fire of [God's] love".

It moves us on to a closer and more joyous experience of God. What a wonderful and liberating concept of repentance we find here. Once we have grasped it and made it our own, we can approach the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent - indeed, penitence in general - with a new attitude of mind. From here, we move on still further. The experience of being baptised in the Spirit and enkindled by the divine love enables us to bring justice, gentleness, and peace to the situations of life.

The notion that our faith is a private matter between us and God is nowhere to be seen here. This prayer is social and political in the deepest and broadest sense. It acknowledges the responsibility that we have to the communities in which we live, and the society of which we are part.

The world is not a neutral backdrop to our individual salvation. The world is in the process of redemption, and our job as the Church is to contribute to the redemptive process in many and various ways. If we do not realise this, then we have not yet understood the gospel.

The prayer moves to its conclusion by setting the efforts we make in the wider context of what God has done in Christ. Justice, gentleness, and peace are already sprouting in the world, because God has taken our human nature. The results of redemption are visible. So, as we work to achieve justice, gentleness, and peace, we can expect also to encounter them - perhaps in some unexpected places, which in turn will require of us the discernment to recognise them when we see them.

This week's prayer is all about the connectedness of God. I am reminded of an occasion at St Augustine's College, Canterbury, where I trained for the priesthood, when Fr Hugh Maycock, vesting for a concelebrated mass and looking at the alb that he was about to put on, remarked that these garments were among the odder results of the incarnation.

With characteristic humour, he had pointed to a fundamental truth. In God's incarnational-redemptive scheme of things, everything is connected in some way or other, and has its particular place.

Redemption is an infinite complex of interrelated forces, the central axis of which is the incarnation of the Word. Discipleship is all about discovering for ourselves how things connect, how we as individuals fit in, and what our contribution might be in terms of worship, prayer, and involvement in our communities.

Robin Vickery

Priest-worker in Southwark diocese

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