Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pray for those in authority

I have again picked up my copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Advent 2016 took me again to the daily readings of the church year, which I generally follow until Pentecost—when I then dive into a more free pattern of Bible reading. I’ve had my copy of the BCP for something like 35 years (it is the 1979 edition from the U. S. Episcopal Church). As the late Mark Ashton, rector of St. Andrews Church, Cambridge (The Round Church) wrote, Thomas Cranmer produced a reformed book of worship for the new Church of England. Though it has been altered, adjusted, updated, etc. through the centuries it retains a great deal of reformation piety and wisdom. It is a thoughtful guide for Bible reading.

Though the prayers in my copy are (probably) no longer Cranmer’s, the BCP is also a rich manual for prayer. And I was reminded of its breadth, depth, and value when I began reading and praying during Advent. Looking for one set of prayers, I was reminded again of this other set of prayers. And I was ashamed to not have prayed in this way during our recent national election. More importantly, I was reminded to pray in this way for all those in political authority now and as we move into a new federal administration.

Regardless of political commitments, whether my or your candidate is out of or in the White House, this is a deeply Christian way to pray. I will say that if more had prayed in this way, things might have gone a different direction, long before our final two-party candidates were chosen.

Prayers for National Life
For our Country
Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly ask that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought here out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, do not allow our trust in you to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(language updated from the 1979 edition)

For Sound Government
O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.
To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.
To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.
To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.
And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.
For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Amen.

These are good patterns for public praying. Too often in our churches we pray for leaders according to the political calendar (Right to Life Sunday, July 4, November 11, elections), or when our most cherished values seem at risk. Shouldn’t we be biblical and pray—perhaps this way, but to pray in any case—frequently?

It is not too late for me to be praying this way. And it is never too late to expect and demand from our leaders the kind of character and commitments that we pray for.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gloria in excelsis Deo: A model for balance in our singing

When two worlds collide . . .

I regularly attend a collegiate chapel which clearly is not catering to my taste. It is, after all, a worship service that students are required to attend, with music planned by and led by students, for students. I get that. In fact, I celebrate that. But when I assert that it is not catering to my taste, I am not referring to the musical style.

What I care about is the content of the typical chapel music set. Again I will say it (I don’t know where I got this phrase, but I use it all the time) “there is no praise without proclamation.” So when students are only offered words to sing that are general or vague praise phrases--however artfully put together, or not--we are not actually, you know, praising God.

Of deeper trouble to me is that many songs do not even get as far as a string of praise phrases. Because they are stuck in expositing the emotions that we have, or wish to have, in this time and place. Presumably evoked by and directed to God; but I use the word presumably intentionally.

That’s one world. The other is writing a program note for a campus performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria. And while writing about the hymn, “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” I was struck with how this ancient model might serve as a pattern for contemporary student chapel worship.

By the third century A.D., the hymn, “Gloria in excelsis” was an established part of worship in the Greek-speaking eastern churches. In the fourth century it was translated into Latin, and in this form became a permanent feature in the liturgies of western Christianity. The anonymous hymn begins with the angels’ words to the Judean shepherds:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill to men.”
To this simple, bold declaration, the unknown author added a rich doxological  theology in direct, exalted poetry. The resultant  hymn is still said or sung regularly in many worship traditions.

So, it has some legs. And maybe, as C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton might argue, we owe our ancestors the respect of learning from it.
The hymn begins where much contemporary praise singing gets to, and where most of it ends. With ecstatic expressions directed to God: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men. (Thus far, the familiar Luke 2 angels) We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you; we give you thanks for your great glory. There is nothing wordy, or academic, or stodgy about this. In effect, this is what much new worship music expresses. But note that neither we nor listeners nor angels (1 Peter 1:12)necessarily know what all this emotional fuss is about. Yet.

The hymn continues, and it is in the body of Gloria that actual praise is expressed. This is a hymn to Jesus, who is: Lord God, heavenly King; Lord Jesus Christ, only begotten Son; Lord God; Lamb of God, Son of the Father who takes away the sins of the world. (Have mercy and hear our prayer!) Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, the only Holy One, the Most High, with the Holy Spirit in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Gloria is a great model for our sung worship. It is emotionally charged; it is biblical; it uses simple, direct, powerful language. It shows us Jesus as we are meant to know him, whom we approach with humble confidence. It wouldn’t hurt to actually sing this hymn . . . but I am arguing here for Gloria as a model “worship song set,” much in the way we can both say the Lord’s Prayer and use it as a  model for our praying.

Our worship will be enriched, we will actually be praising God, we will come to know Jesus more clearly, we will have ample emotional expression, and (least important of all) no matter the musical style, my taste (my thirst) will be satisfied.