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Prayer for the week

09 August 2013

Adrian Leak compares peace as the world knows it with that of Christ


O GOD, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen

Second Collect at Evening Prayer (BCP)

EVENSONG on a summer evening: we are lucky these days to have a choir to sing the Office. After a hymn, the tiny congregation settles to the rhythm of the Prayer Book. "We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. . ."

Later, the second collect reminds us that, without God's grace, our hearts are wayward, our deeds fall short: "O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed . . ." The prayer is ancient, its Latin origin earlier than the eighth century. Our medieval ancestors in their private devotions used the Middle English version: "God, of whom ben hooli desiris, right councels, and iust werkis . . ." (14th-century Primer).

Parson Richard Graye, my Tudor predecessor in Withyham, would have been familiar with the Latin: "Deus, a quo sancta desideria, recta consilia, et iusta sunt opera", but, like his generation of clergy, he had to switch to the English of Cranmer's Prayer Book.

But what of us this evening, as we make these words our own? Instinctively, we know that our desires this day have been less than holy, and our intentions, although not entirely dishonourable, have not been pure. As for our works: have they been just? Well, perhaps - if you can dignify cooking lunch or mowing the lawn in such lofty terms.

Yet that is just what St Benedict would have us do: sanctify the commonplace. The Prayer Book is redolent of his spirituality. It is what George Herbert meant, in his hymn that we sang earlier:

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see;
And what I do in anything
To do it as for thee!

"Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give." Jesus told his disciples on the eve of his arrest: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you" (John 14.27).

The world's peace is a truce, a cessation. Christ's peace is different. He also said: "I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10.34). Simeon knew this, when he told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul. "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace" (Luke 2.29).

In our congregation this Sunday evening, there is not a man or woman who has not felt the sword. May they be defended from the fear that kills. May they find their rest and quietness in Christ.

The Revd Adrian Leak was, until his recent retirement, Priest-in-Charge of Withyham in the diocese of Chichester.

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