Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Prayers at Death

Tuesday, January 22, 2008 -- Week of 2 Epiphany, Year 2
Vincent, Deacon of Saragossa, and Martyr, 304

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 945)
Psalms 26, 28 (morning) 36, 39 (evening)
Genesis 9:1-17
Hebrews 5:7-14
John 3:16-21

The first verse of the reading from Hebrews jumped out to me this morning: "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission."

Yet the answer to Jesus' prayer was not accomplished during his lifetime. He was not saved from death. He was crucified and he died.

We cannot know the interior psychology of Jesus. So we don't know what he understood or thought or hoped as he died. The church has always insisted that Jesus was fully human. The death that he endured, he experienced as any human being would.

Mark's gospel indicates that part of what Jesus felt as he died was the experience of complete abandonment from God -- "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!" He had placed his hope in God for deliverance, and he realized that he was not going to be saved from death. Very likely he also felt the loss of the intimate relationship with God whom he called Abba (Papa, Da-Da); God had been the motivating center and energy of his life. For Jesus on the cross, God was absent; Jesus was suffering exquisite physical torture; there was no escape; there was no answer; he was dying a humiliating, painful, public death; there was no promise that anything good would come out of this.

"In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries of tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission." We know the rest of the story. Jesus was vindicated. Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus lives. But the living did not happen until after the abandonment and death.

How often do we pray, and we experience no answer. What we have sought from God, that God would save us, is denied, and we feel no sense of response, escape or deliverance. Yet the story of the resurrection reminds us that God brings life out of death. God can accomplish what is beyond our imagination. God surprises us. The scope of God's response can be beyond our horizons.

Today is the feast day of Vincent, a deacon from Spain who was the bold spokesman of Bishop Valarius of Saragossa. In the early fourth century persecution he was martyred because of the boldness of his speech in defense of his faith in Jesus. Legends abound with gruesome descriptions of his torture and the grotesque punishments he endured before dying.

So often when I see the grotesque suffering and senseless killing that fills our globe I feel like my prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who is able to save them from death are futile and hopeless. Nothing is changed. People die daily. Injustice abounds. For so many there is no escape; there is no answer.

Yet I cling to the hope of resurrection. God brings life from death. And I hold on to the conviction that the central reality of creation is God's love for the world. We hear that again from John's gospel today. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." I've never been convinced that this was a trivial formula for punching a ticket to heaven -- believe and get eternal life; don't believe and go to hell. That notion turns God into such an arbitrary monster. The word "believe" comes from the same place as the word "belove."

I think of those who do not know Jesus, but do know some form of love. Maybe they are somewhere in Kenya or Sudan or Iraq today. Maybe they are being caught up in some form of horrible violence, some terrible threat or torture from which there is no escape. Their love cries out with prayers and supplication, with loud cries of tears to the one who is able to save them from death. Regardless of their "belief," Jesus is with them. Jesus is one with them. Jesus knows and understands their experience. Their blood is their water of baptism. They will be heard, because of his reverent submission.

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:34 AM, Blogger Jared said...

I still struggle with understanding how others belief system or lack thereof can be held against them by a god who I perceive as all loving. As a Christian, I see Jesus as the greatest example of peace, hope, and love that I have studied, read, or believed. The biblical description of what must be achieved to get to "heaven" is a bit inclusive and your last paragraph of today's reflection did a nice job of showing or explaining how that contradiction in our mind might possibly be explained. Well said.

At 7:49 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks Jared,

From the stories we have, Jesus was always generous toward those of other faiths and acknowledged the presence of God in them. The early church was not always as generous as Jesus, nor has the church throughout its history. But we can reclaim the gracious face of Jesus toward our brothers and sisters to seek and experience God in other traditions.



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