Christ, alive and at large in the world

by
10 February 2017

Philip Lockley on a prayer by a Bishop of Winchester who was concerned about life at ‘both ends of the line’

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Seeking the Kingdom: John V. Taylor when he was Bishop of Winchester

Seeking the Kingdom: John V. Taylor when he was Bishop of Winchester

Lord Jesus Christ,
alive and at large in the world,
help me to follow and find you there today,
in the places where I work,
meet people,
spend money,
and make plans.
Take me as a disciple of your Kingdom,
to see through your eyes,
and hear the questions you are asking,
to welcome all with your trust and truth,
and to change the things that contradict God’s love
by the power of your cross
and the freedom of your spirit.
Amen.

 

John V. Taylor (1914-2001)

 

THIS is a worldly prayer. It names the ordinary world of our every day, and prays within it, for it, and through it. The prayer acknowledges the world to be the location where God in Christ is found and followed. And it identifies Christ’s Kingdom as a way of seeing, questioning, wel­com­ing, and changing things in this very world. The Kingdom may not be of this world, but it is very much in it — just as we are, and just as God is.

John V. Taylor composed this prayer for his enthronement as Bishop of Winchester in 1975. Those present in the cathedral were invited to pray these words each day, before going to work, “or while you are travelling there”.

Taylor’s instructions were tied to his sermon “Christ at both ends of the line”, which recognised the reality of commuter life in modern Winchester. Christ might easily be brought to mind in the quiet ca­­thedral city, when at home, or in church at the weekend. But Taylor’s hearers were also Christ’s disciples on the other days of the week. They were to serve Christ even in the daily grind to London, Reading, or Sout­­hampton.

This, then, is a prayer of prepara­tion before work. Our work need not necessarily involve a commute, as Taylor imagined, or even be paid employment. Many kinds of work take us out of the house: raising children, main­taining home, sustaining community.

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The prayer itself acknowledges that the purpose of the day ahead might be meetings, shopping, mak­ing plans. In all these cases, the day’s journey is no less about seeking Christ, following Christ, and finding Christ.

Several arresting phrases here exhibit the same poetic touch as Taylor’s much loved books, The Go-Between God (SCM Press, 1972, 2004) supreme among them. That Christ is “alive and at large in the world” is the first such expression. Despite the allitera­tion, the col­loquial “at large” jolts slightly. It is not typical prayer language. To talk about Christ’s “presence” would be more expected.

And yet the appropriation of this idiom gives multiple meanings to the affirmation of presence. On the one hand, “at-largeness” fits the implied city setting; on the other, it is prisoners who are “at large” when they have escaped and are on the run.

With this, the mind conjures a vision of Christ once captive to death, now broken free and run­ning, free-wheeling, through the world. It is we who seek the fugitive — asking “to find you there” — not to recapture Christ, but to join him in his freedom.

The middle line of the prayer offers the pivotal petition: “Take me as a disciple of your Kingdom.” This request to “Take me” stands out by virtue of its not being “Make me” — a familiar bidding in other Christian prayers, and the verb in keeping with the Gospel imperative to “make disciples”.

Instead, “take me” asks to be ac­­cepted, allowed in, or on to the team. I aspire to submit to the dis­cipline of your Kingdom, Jesus; now take me on, show me the ropes, and train me up.

That taking and training rolls through the remainder of the prayer in an apparent continuation of the worldly journey begun in the open­ing lines. Christ “at large” is moving in the places where we ourselves move. But
he sees certain things, and asks certain questions — which we want to be trained to see and hear.

What it is that Christ sees, and the critical questions that he asks of our world, will surely be consistent with the Christ of the Gospels. Then, Christ saw faith and hypo­crisy, joy and injustice. He asked questions of the powerful, and enquired after the true motiva­tions of his followers.

Now, our learning to see and question like Christ links to the contrasting lines that fol­low, con­cerning welcome and change; for welcome is about acceptance, and seeking change is not. That Christ’s Kingdom is known in trusting and truthful welcome means that it is about receiving at face value — the trust part; and acknowledging things that have been hidden, dis­guised, or past — the truth part. An accept­ing welcome requires both trust and truth.

Even so, being disciples of the Kingdom also involves not accept­ing, but seeking “to change the things that contradict God’s love”. As God’s love is the measure of rightness in the world, we can assume that change is brought only in love.

And yet the lack of punctuation in the final lines confirms this more fully: the power and freedom for us to effect change come through the cross and spirit respectively.

The cross has power by being the worst the world could throw at the Kingdom; and still it lost, and God’s reign of love won. The spirit is freedom because it is release from the world’s restriction, control, demand, and servitude.

So this is a daily prayer with depth and dynamism. Its theology enables us to venture forth from home into our day — into the world — with truthful assurance. Christ awaits. Christ invites. Christ’s freedom and power are ours. This prayer makes this no ordinary day, but a day for the Kingdom.

 

Dr Philip Lockley is an ordinand at Cranmer Hall, Durham. He was formerly a Lecturer in Theology at Trinity College, Oxford, and taught modern church history in the university.

In this version of the prayer, the word “men” has been omitted: line 11 originally read “to welcome all men”.

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