The following prayer requests appear in the Good Friday Liturgy (page 279 in the Book of Common Prayer) On this Monday in Easter Week, these requests offer a roadmap for the work of Easter:
Let us pray for all who have not received the Gospel of Christ;
For those who have never heard the word of salvation
For those who have lost their faith
For those hardened by sin or indifference
For the contemptuous and the scornful
For those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and persecutors of his disciples
For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others
That God will open their hearts to the truth and lead them to faith and obedience.
We’ve got Easter work to do
For me, the celebration of Easter was (and remains) awesome. I don’t mean to be Debby Downer, but I’m still thinking about the Good Friday Liturgy. I was struck by a few prayers in that service, included above. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them, as I consider the state of our church, as I think about how people come to faith, or not. In my heart, I think Easter has something to say about those prayers. They provide some Easter work to do. Let’s look at those petitions one by one:
We pray for those who have never heard the word of salvation: I remember going to see the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. I sat behind a family, two young teenage children with parents explaining, “That’s Jesus. That’s Judas. That’s Mary.” The kids apparently had no idea about the story. I taught a confirmation class to a bunch of teenagers and on the first day, to gauge level, asked them to name the two parts of the Bible. Crickets. Too often I hear people associate faith with rules, with judgment. How might people associate faith with grace, with inclusion? We have Easter work, teaching in a culture that is increasingly unfamiliar with the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
We pray for those who have lost their faith: A report came out last week that said that the fastest growing group in terms of religious affiliation in our nation are those people with no religious affiliation (atheists, agnostics, those self-describing as spiritual not religious). The percentage of population in this category now equals number of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, all three groups at 23%. Mainline protestant affiliation continues to plummet, now at 11%. Many of the non-affiliated folks were raised in Catholic churches, in evangelical churches, in mainline congregations. I call them the spiritually wounded. Religious refugees. Often, I totally see why they left. We have Easter work, healing work to do.
We pray for those hardened by sin and indifference: In our research into the spiritual vitality of Episcopal churches (sometimes called the frozen chosen), about a quarter of Episcopal congregations can be described as complacent. One such church, with a wink and a nod, said they were changing their tagline. They would now be called, “St. Swithin’s: Spiritually shallow and fine with that.” We have Easter work to do, work of engagement of the heart.
We pray for the contemptuous and the scornful: I think of how social media has affected our discourse about everything, including religion and politics. People who communicate this way (including yours truly) often write things online with contempt and scorn, things they would never say in person. We have Easter work to do, in how we speak the truth in love to each other, while respecting the dignity of every human being, a thing we pledge to do in baptism.
We pray for those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and persecutors of his disciples: So we pray this morning for all Christians suffering for the sake of the gospel, especially for all those who on Easter Day 2019 lost their lives or lost their loved ones in Sri Lanka, as we have prayed for those shot at a bible study in a Charleston church, or the young girl who lost her life in Charlottesville standing against hatred, or those churches which were recent targets of arson. We have Easter work to do, supporting those who face persecution.
For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others: The brilliant preacher, author, priest Barbara Brown Taylor was recently interviewed by CNN. She talked about how some Christians depict her as an outcast pastor. She calls them the true believers. “True believers are among the meanest people I’ve ever met.” In my own experience, some of the folks who give the most lip service to grace are the most judgmental people I’ve ever met. We have Easter work to do, letting compassion be our highest value.
The Good Friday prayers conclude with this request:
That God will open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience: God opening hearts. That is Easter work, God’s work. As the stone was rolled away, the grave opened, so the message of resurrection says that hearts can be changed. We get to participate in that work, which begins with asking how our own hearts need to change before we go to work on anybody else’s.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.