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Prayer for the week

05 December 2014

Kevin Ellis reflects on the rich inheritance of faith with an extract from Ephesians


I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

Ephesians 1 (NRSV)

ON THE walls of the building that serves as our church hall in Holyhead are photos of my predecessors: reminders of those who have gone before. One day, perhaps, someone will be helped by my gaze looking down on them - less sternly, I hope, than that of some of those whose past ministry here I benefit from.

On Holy Island in Anglesey, I am also aware of the legacy of the Celtic saints Cybi, Ffraid (Bridget), and Gwenfaen, who loved and hallowed this place. As human beings, we are interconnected. As Christians, we share a common bond with all members of the Church Universal, living or departed. The writer of the Letter to the Ephesians prays that the readers of his letter may know that they are part of a rich inheritance. For me, this inheritance can sometimes seem like a shackle, as I am regaled with stories of the saints who have lived in this edgy part of the British Isles. At other times, their having been here provides rich narratives of hope.

When I feel hemmed in, I find myself transported to this passage, a prayer motivated by pastoral love and a desire that this early Christian community should understand that it is part of a great cosmic plan. I hear it prayed by an elderly Pentecostal minister in Southey Green, Sheffield, whose church I attended as a teenager. I hear the rich cadences of his voice uttering phrases such as "immeasurable greatness of his power". I have sometimes tried to read the Greek text to myself in the same way, wondering what effect these words had on their first hearers, and whether they, too, would have been captivated by the prose and the expressive reading of it. Did it reverberate in their souls?

This pastoral intercessor asks that we may be enlightened, beginning to see who we are in Christ Jesus, with the unlimited potential that this brings. This can be a tall order for church communities, as we struggle with increasing age and declining numbers, limited energy and sparse finances. When we remember that the original hearers of the letter feared for their lives simply because they were part of the Christian community, we should recall that our own challenges today are distinctly First World.

Hearing in my mind that Elim minister from my teenage years, I think of a man whose faith had stood the test of time, and who, like our intercessor, believed that, in prayer, heaven and earth meet, and both are transformed. If for us as Anglicans that language does not quite resonate, we should recall that our Eucharistic Prayers include the acknowledgement that worshippers on earth join in with the song of the exultant company of heaven.

The prayer roots all this in the greatness of God's power. It is through God that we are enveloped in the wider divine drama. Reminded of this, I can sit not too uncomfortably alongside Gwenfaen, Ffraid, and Cybi, confident that each of us is embraced by Christ's love.

Prayers that include the word "power" can make me uneasy. God's power is fundamentally different. Our church hall in Holyhead is more than a hall. It is Eglyws y Bedd, which, being translated, is Church of the Grave. All hope, riches, greatness, and power stem from something that happened in a Palestinian tomb. I put aside my queries about power, and embrace my inheritance, hearing again the timbre of that elderly Welsh voice in a church in Sheffield: "Let us pray."

The Revd Dr Kevin Ellis is the Vicar of Bro Cybi, in the diocese of Bangor.

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