“WE PRAY together the grace: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore, Amen.’”
The first prayer of all Christians is the Lord’s Prayer. The second prayer of non-reformed Christians is the angelic salutation (Hail, Mary). But the second prayer of this reformed Church of England is surely the Grace.
The Grace ends almost every church meeting. If I am chairing a college meeting that is nothing to do with chapel, I feel the absence of this closing reminder that, as politicians like to say, “We’re all in this together.” The Grace is an introductory or concluding formula in acts of worship, too. It belongs, in short, to that privileged category of words that define us and what we believe. Like the creeds.
Our prayer books and our Bibles alike are stuffed with words that leave their mark on us. Some of the texts that speak to us most powerfully have their strong effect because (in part) they are spoken as personal: “I was glad. . .”; “Lord, let me know mine end. . .;” “O that I had wings like a dove”; “Thou art a place to hide me in.” Such words become part of our individual praying.
The Grace can be such a prayer for an individual, of course, but it always points towards that greater whole in which we abide together. By its very nature (rather than by habit or common usage), it belongs to the category of the corporate. In other words, to us as the Body of Christ: as the Church.
This is partly a matter of phrasing. When we pray the Grace, we call the Lord Jesus our Lord. We also remind ourselves that we are not only individuals, but elements in a whole, “be with us all”. Unlike the blessing, which a priest or bishop declares to other people, the Grace is shared among us as equal Christian individuals. We ourselves ask for it. Only we ourselves can realise it, make it real.
This grace is the gift of God the Son, a gift purchased despite the cost. The Father’s gift is love; for love fulfils our yearning for relationship. Each person’s life touches many others. If we hear of a life that does not, it fills us with pity and sadness. Even those few who withdraw from the world of other people (as hermits) do so in order to pray — for the world, and other people.
The characteristic gift of the Holy Spirit makes Trinity Sunday as much as Pentecost the birthday of the Church. The Spirit is God our communicator, enabling us to convey feeling, and to be understood. The miraculous language that communicates perfectly, undoing Babel, may begin at Pentecost, but it is completed on Trinity Sunday, when we pray for the Holy Spirit to make us a “fellowship”.
Centuries ago, older Latin translations of the Bible gave way to Jerome’s Vulgate (Common) Bible, jus as the Authorised Version and the RSV were superseded by the NRSV. One word that did not change was the word for the gift of the Holy Spirit here in 2 Corinthians 13.13. It remained as communicatio. A couple of writers tried out societas as an alternative, to emphasise community over communication. But it never caught on.
Communicatio feels right — and is right — because it creates a diagram for us, in the shape of a cross, or the points of a compass. On the horizontal axis, it joins person to person. On the vertical axis, it joins humanity to God. Our hearing of the word and our receiving of God in sacramental signs have both a horizontal and a vertical dimension. In both, what is created is fellowship through communication. Grace and love, in concert with the Spirit, no longer exist only to themselves. Through God’s saving work in Christ, they reach and transform us, binding us to God, who is Holy and Undivided Trinity.
For all that, both world and Church remain fallen. It is our earthly calling both to accept and to resist our fallenness. Individual churches fall out with one another, just as individuals in a congregation do. But we cannot in good conscience remain divided one from another; for that would be to resist the Spirit, and dishonour the threefold God, who calls us to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1.4).