Back to the Prayerbook: The Litany of Thanksgiving

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When asked to choose a prayer with which to close their Sunday School class each week, a group of fifth graders surprised and delighted me by choosing to pray the “Litany of Thanksgiving” (BCP 836-837).  We don’t say it in church often:  usually on Thanksgiving itself, and perhaps on a major parish anniversary or milestone.  On the cold morning last year when I heard a group of nine and ten year olds take turns with the call and response of the litany, I was taken aback.

“For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea,” they said.

We thank you, Lord.

….

“For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,

We thank you, Lord.”

The Prayerbook invites us to use “A Litany of Thanksgiving” in place of the Prayers of the People during Eucharistic worship.  It works well in a devotional setting, too.  As the days remain cold and the wind remains biting, the litany is as encouraging as any prayer I know.  If it rings hollow when I pray it by myself, I just might find a group of nine and ten year olds, and pray it along with them.

Back to the Prayerbook: Thanksgiving for a Child

On the first day of this month we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, and until recently, I hadn’t thought much about it.  But this year I was struck.  For thousands of years we have stopped each year to celebrate, and still we stop.  We hold a feast, we celebrate the way that Jesus’ community named, circumcised, received, and upheld him at eight days old. The scriptures don’t tell us much about how it happened.  Luke tells us only that, “after eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”(Luke 2:21).  We imagine that faithful Jews gathered around Jesus on that day to receive him, and to celebrate the ways that Jesus’ given name would be a sign of the life that Jesus brought to the world. 

GraceduringworshipWe baptize children and adults, and at baptism we celebrate their initiation into the family of God.  Even before baptism, we receive children into our common life with the same joy, hope, and gratitude with which Jesus’ community received him.  Often, this hope and gratitude begins with the gathered community’s prayers for the Blessing of a Pregnant woman (Book of Occasional Services 157).  “As soon as is convenient after the birth [or adoption] of a child,” the prayerbook tells us, “the parents, with other members of the family should come to the church to be welcomed by the congregation and to give thanks to Almighty God.  It is desirable that this take place at a Sunday service.”  The “Thanksgiving for a Child” (BCP 439) gives us a way to receive, give thanks for, and uphold for every child that enters our common life, just as Jesus was received and upheld by his community.  We give thanks with Mary’s own song, finding her words fit to welcome a new child into the life of the church, because “whoever receives a little child in the name of Christ receives Christ himself”(BCP 443).

 

The first Sunday after my premature son was released from the neonatal ICU, I took him to church in a tiny outfit, and cradled his four pound body on my shoulder.  I was surprised to see after the peace, that the priest was approaching me.  She took his tiny frame from me, and carefully held him high, walking around the nave for each member of the community to see him.  (It was a little bit like the closing scene in The Lion King, except that it was…you know…not a Disney cartoon.)  Her bold physical gesture in  holding him high, in upholding his tiny body on behalf of the gathered community remains imprinted in my memory.  As the priest held Isaac high in the air, the congregation prayed for and received him.  I knew, as I watched him held high, that he belonged to that small, gathered community of believers.   And I knew that I belonged too.

As I travel around our diocese, members of parishes speak their worry to me about not having enough young people in their midst.  It is a worrying thing.  And I know that babies don’t come to church every day.  But when babies do come to church, we’ve been called, equipped, and charged to give thanks in public, possibly gratuitous ways. We are called to receive every baby that enters our communities, and to celebrate the gifts those babies bring to God’s world with the same joy with which Jesus was received and celebrated  so long ago.  When babies are upheld in our parishes with publicly joyful hope and expectation, young parents are reminded that  in the stressful, sleepless months and years ahead, there remains a place for (even the noisy, smelly, defiant members of) their family at God’s table.  The Thanksgiving is, of course, just the beginning.  But it is a beautiful beginning indeed.

Blessing in homes at Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1,

(http://suntreeriverdesign.blogspot.com/2011/12/epiphany-arise-shine.html)

On Epiphany, the wise men were led by the great star to a baby in Bethlehem.  They opened their treasure chests to worship him, to offer gifts to him there.  This Sunday, we celebrate the way in which God manifested God’s only Son to the peoples of the earth by the leading of a star (see BCP 214).  The Book of Occasional Services (2003) reminds us of the traditional blessing of the family home that has long been  celebrated in the week around Epiphany, recalling the hospitality that Mary and Joseph extended to the three kings “in a stable rude.”   Mary and Joseph made space for the three kings to worship the King of the Universe.  Gertrud Mueller Nelson notes that often as a part of a family Epiphany celebration, “the initials of the legendary names of the Magi,  Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar are written with chalk on or over the main doors of the house and framed by the numbers of the new year:”

20C+M+B+14

Nelson notes that some people suggest that CMB stands for “Christe, Mansionem Benedica,” that is, “Christ, bless this house.”  [See Gertrud Mueller Nelson.  To Dance with God:  Family Ritual and Community Celebration.  (New York:  Paulist Press, 120).]

As Epiphany approaches, a prayer from The Book of Occasional Services “Blessing at Epiphany:”

Visit, O blessed Lord, this home with the gladness of your presence, Bless all who live here with the gift of your love and grant that they may manifest your love to each other and to all whose lives they touch.  May they grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you; guide, comfort, and strengthen them; and preserve them in peace, O Jesus Christ, now and forever.  Amen.

Back to the Prayerbook: Telling Time through the Collects

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us…”

The Birth of Christ by William Congdon, 1960.

We are a church whose common life is formed by the prayers that we share.  And yet … praying together is not always easy.  During this month’s discussion with Christian formation ministers around the diocese, we talked about how praying together — even in Sunday School or at youth group — can be uncomfortable, can require vulnerability that we are not ready to offer up.  We talked about how the thought of praying spontaneously sometimes intimidates us into silence.  While the catechism reminds us that prayer is not always expressed through words (see BCP 856),  God’s people have been praying in a liturgical form, with words offered to us by the tradition, since the sixth century BCE.  We are a people who learn how to live  as God’s people as we pray together morning, noon, and night.

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The Book of Common Prayer assigns a collect to each week of the church year, and encourages us to repeat the assigned collect twice daily (during Morning and Evening Prayer) throughout the week.  Why add collects to an already cumbersome list of prayers?  The collects root the rest of our prayers, written and spontaneous, in God’s action and in God’s time.   Every collect names God’s action, the specific ways that God (surprisingly, confoundingly, graciously, gently) works in the world.   During this Advent season, the assigned collects address a God who…

… who has promised to come and be with us.

…  will come again to judge the living and the dead.

… has sent the prophets to preach repentance and to prepare the way for our salvation.

… who is at work, preparing us to become a dwelling place for God.

The collects draw our attention to what God is already doing, and compel to pray in response to God’s action.  (And, after all, prayer is responding to God’s action.)  The collects also root us in God’s time.  In Advent, the assigned collects make clear that it is time to for us to prepare to receive God in Christ, to receive God in the distressing disguise of the poor.  The collects root our daily prayers in God’s action and God’s time, so when we pray, we come in a posture that recognizes, and responds to God’s grace, which always, always precedes us.