This is the last in a series of entries on leading the church in prayer. The last prayer of our services is the one following our celebration of communion (see here for context). This prayer has been referred to as a prayer of dedication, which I find appropriate. These thoughts draw on Leading in Prayer by Hughs Holiphat Old, which I’ve mentioned before. Old, particularly draws on the Hallel Psalms (113-118) traditionally used in the celebration of Passover, the Didache (one of the earliest post-apostolic documents available, which has a section on leading a communion service), and John Calvin. Here are five themes, which have significant points of overlap but are worth addressing particularly…
1. Response: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) summarizes a recurring theme in the scriptures. As we have just experienced the love of God in communion it is appropriate to respond with praise and thanks which reflects our love. There are so many angels and avenues for rejoicing in God’s great love for us:
Psalm 116 What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD. Psalm 118
Psalm 118 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Let those who fear the LORD say, “His steadfast love endures forever.” Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
2. Longing: When we celebrate communion we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 10). As Jesus instituted this sacrament he said to his disciples, “I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” As Christians we are meant to long for God himself as well as the renewal of all things. Communion, in a unique way, points forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19) such that expressions of Christian hope and expectation should pervade our prayers. This is a great time to enlarge the vision of God’s people as to the incomparable worth of the glory that will be revealed to us. What will it mean to see God face to face? What will it be to have him wipe all tears from our faces and banish evil from this world? What will it mean to be perfected in holiness?
3. Dedicating ourselves: In response to God’s love we renew our commitment to him. This can draw specifically on themes from the sermon or take a more general approach. John Calvin in the Genevan Psalter prays…
“…Now, also, grant us grace, that we may need be unmindful of these things [Christ’s death for us]; but rather carrying them about engraven upon our hearts, may advance and grow in that faith that is effectual unto every good work. Thus, may the rest of our lives be ordered and followed out to thy glory and the edification of our neighbors;”
4. Dedicating our church: In the Didache the minister prays for the gathering and perfecting of the church as part of the communion prayers. This is an amplification of our individual prayers of dedication and alludes to to praying for our mission. It is not enough for individual Christians to grow, as it is the whole body that is meant to grow in maturity and love (Eph 4). Again there are general categories for praying for the church (apostolicity, sanctity, unity) and more specific requests based on the life and events of the congregation. At this point it is worthwhile to pray for the church as a whole in Worcester and throughout the world. Communion is a reminder of our union with Christ and his people across both space and time.
5. Dedicating our mission: In communion we celebrate Jesus’ sacrificial death for his enemies and should remember the great cause of proclaiming this good news in the world. This ties into our individual and corporate prayers of dedication and our longing for the world to come. Waiting for Christ’s return is not characterized by passive disengagement but active pursuit of his great cause in this world. Thus we should pray for the conversion of the lost both locally and throughout the earth. We should pray for the extension of God’s mercy in good deeds which proclaim his love and point towards his good reign. Specifically we should pray for God’s increasing influence in our city and region, helping people to imagine what that might be. Here are some of the specifics that come to mind…
Instead of money or power being the source of meaning and hope people know God’s grace in Jesus so that the wealthy are radically generous with their resources, those with political and institutional power share their influence for the betterment of the city and the inclusion of those on the outside. Those struggling economically no longer envy or despise the wealthy, have a great sense of worth due to God’s love for them, and feel hopeful about the future since God is for them.
Rather than the usual tensions of town and gown there is mutual appreciation and collaboration with selfless investment in the good of the other. College students are not simply a commodity which we use for city’s economic vitality. Neither is Worcester a “scary place except for my campus.” How can the city work to enrich the life of college students, regardless of whether they stick around after graduation as an expression of God’s hospitality? As an expression of God’s commitment to the unlovely, students can stick around when they might have an opportunity in a more attractive place.
In contrast to the normal practice of burnout and fatigue the leaders and workers of the many service agencies and non-profits would be sustained in their service to the needy by a sense of God’s calling and increased success. Hope would overshadow disillusionment and cooperation the need to build one’s own agency and reputation. With long term leaders and workers more effective and lasting service in the city would improve the quality of life for many on the margins.