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Angela Tilby: Prayer with an eye on Ascensiontide  

12 May 2023

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NOW that the Coronation is over and Ascensiontide is approaching, I offer for this week a gem of a prayer from the Church of Scotland’s Book of Common Order (1994). To me, it manages to sound both traditional and contemporary, without the jarring notes that quickly date:


Lord Jesus Christ,
We acknowledge your rule over every realm of life:
Subdue the world by the might of your love.

Son of Mary: consecrate our homes.
Son of David: cleanse our politics.
Son of God: grant us eternal life.

Jesus the Carpenter: hallow our daily work.
Jesus the Saviour: save us from ourselves.
Jesus the Life-giver: renew your Church.

Jesus the Crucified: reveal your love and power to all who suffer.
Jesus the King: raise us to live and reign with you for ever.
Jesus the Word of God: perfect your creation
And bring the world to the knowledge of your love.


I love the blend of the material and immediate with the eternal and permanent, the sudden sharpness of “cleanse our politics”, between a prayer for our homes and a plea for eternal life. The third stanza has an echo of the Lord’s Prayer in “hallow our daily work”; an address to the Saviour to save us from our greatest opponent — our own selves; and all before the renewing of the Church. The end is in the beginning, as Jesus the Word of God leads us back to the Prologue of St John’s Gospel, and all the way forward to the perfection of all things in the knowledge of God.

This prayer contains a faint echo of those Gaelic prayers collected at the end of the 19th century by Alexander Carmichael, and published in his influential Carmina Gadelica. I can somehow imagine shouting “Son of David, cleanse our politics!” into the wind of the Shetland Isles. It is no surprise to see that John Bell, of the Iona Community, was the convener of the worship panel that produced the 1994 book.

For me, the only truly uncomfortable note in the prayer is in the perhaps over-forceful “subdue” in the third line. And I instinctively want to add “whole” to “world”, to reinforce the rhythm at the end. But it is a good prayer for Ascensiontide, for personal or corporate dedication, for mission. We need more contemporary prayers of this quality: prayers that enable prayer that calls on tradition and uses simple, common words. Nothing flowery or excessive here — two criticisms often made of parts of Common Worship. It means what it says, and says what it means.

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