The Prayers of the Saints
Last week I attended my first school assembly since becoming pastor of this church. The local Episcopalian minister invited me to join him so that I would know what to expect when I came to take one myself. Great idea, so I enthusiastically turned up.
Given that we were getting close to Lent, the minister decided to teach the children what Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday was about. After all, as he correctly pointed out, not all of the churches around here practise this. So he started by showing a palm cross which the congregation would have received at the Palm Sunday service last year. This Sunday they would take the crosses back to the church where they would be burned to ash and on Shrove Tuesday the people made pancakes prior to attending a service the next day, Ash Wednesday, when they would receive the sign of the cross, made with the ash, on their foreheads as a sign of penitence.
All was going well as the minister demonstrated the burning of the cross and made the mark of the cross on his lovely assistant’s forehead, that’s me, and invited questions as he went along: does anyone know what next Tuesday is known as? Nobody gets it so he tells them its pancake Tuesday. Does anyone then know what Wednesday is known as? One hand goes up sharply and the boy shouts out, waffle Wednesday! No, no, says the minister it’s Ash Wednesday. Boy’s hand goes up again and he asks, do they get the ash from the pancakes that get burnt the day before? Sensing that the minister is potentially on a slippery slope the teacher recovers the situation but at the end she reminds the children, who had witnessed the burning etc., not to do this at home because, only ministers should do this!
If like me you grew up a Baptist, Presbyterian, or whatever, you may have not much more knowledge regards Lent than those children. But in recent years I have found it helpful to use this period of the year to focus on the lead up to Easter. I normally follow a Lent book. This year it is ‘Lent For Everyone’ by Tom Wright. I also like the set prayers used by Anglicans, Episcopalians etc. Yes, they can be followed slavishly and religiously, a form of tokenism, but they can also get us praying when we might not bother or when we find it hard to pray. After all, when Jesus disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he gave them a set pattern, known to us as the Lord’s Prayer, which we follow to this day.
On my bookshelf I have an Anabaptist prayer book, a Presbyterian one and various other books of prayer collections from throughout the ages. Revelation 5:8 speaks of…the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the lamb. Each one had … a golden bowl full of incense which are the prayers of the saints…Many of those prayers are recorded for us from throughout history so why not use them this Lent as we move towards the Cross.
A Prayer for Lent
You, Lord Jesus, knew great power,
to heal, to transform,
to proclaim the reign of God.
So you met great temptations.
The wrong way, glittering and possible, was open;
you could rule if you chose,
in majesty and wonder,
more victorious then Alexander,
more imperial that Caesar.
But said No,
simply, decisively, for ever, for us.
We pray for the Church, tempted like its Head.
When the Church seeks political power,
Jesus stay with us.
When the Church longs to become wealthy,
Jesus, speak to us.
When the Church strives to impress with splendour,
Jesus give us simplicity.
When the Church wanders from the way of sacrifice,
Jesus hold us,
When the Church listens to the call for cheap grace,
Jesus, keep us always in your way.
Holy Spirit of God, enable us to respond to temptation
with the strength of your Word within us,
so that we may hold firm to our calling
and take your better way in faithfulness.
 Bernard Thorogood in, The SPCK Book of Christian Prayer, (London: SPCK, 1995), 385