Monday Matters (November 13, 2023)


The Collect for Sunday November 12

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Speaking of the Devil

Margaret Mead was an active Episcopalian. She walked around New York City, short of stature but clearly in charge, wearing a long cloak (not unlike a cope) and brandishing a long walking stick (not unlike a crozier). One might have even mistaken her for a bishop.

She played a key role in the shaping of the service of Holy Baptism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer book. She was initially invited to offer a guest consultation with the committee working on the liturgy. She ended up in charge of the committee and brought her own wit and wisdom to the proceedings.

I’m told that when they came to the part in the service when the renunciation of evil was framed in a series of questions, she argued for preservation of language about Satan. Some in her group said that modern people didn’t believe in Satan any more. Dr. Mead disagreed, informed not by her theological training as much as by her work as anthropologist. She insisted on the inclusion of this question: Do you renounce Satan and the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?

Granted popular culture has made discussion of the devil into something slightly comical, large red elf with barbed tail, pointy ears, pitchfork in hand, perhaps marketing hot sauce. Easy to dismiss. New Yorker cartoons which depict businessmen checking in at the front desk of Hades don’t help. But our Prayer Book, in the baptismal liturgy and in the collect we heard yesterday in church (see above), as well as our scripture, call us to take seriously the works of the devil, to recognize that we live in a world with devils filled that threaten to undo us, to borrow language from Martin Luther.

Dismissing cinematic or cartoonish renderings of the devil, we might want to note that the scripture sometimes refers to this destructive presence as an angel of light. The gospels tell us that Jesus came into the world to meet and beat that destructive presence. Jesus’ ministry couldn’t get off the ground until he had encountered this presence himself. In the wilderness, when Jesus was hungry and tired, the devil came offering food and power and worship, all good things. Jesus resisted, and began a ministry that sought to overcome the forces that would do us in, forces he met with arms stretched out on the cross, forces vanquished on Easter morning.

Our collect tells us that such a victory means the world to us. It means we can be children of God, heirs of eternal life, that we may be made like him. We need to hang on to that promise in our world with devils filled. The daily news shows how around the world forces of death and destruction fueled by greed and fear are breaking hearts, are breaking lives. We can see those forces at work not only far away, but also close to home and in our hearts. When G.K.Chesterton was asked in an interview what he thought was the problem with the world, he said: I am.

The victory we claim in Jesus is clearly not yet fully realized, which is why we are a people of hope. There’s a lot we have to hope for. A lot we have to wait for. But in our own encounter with forces that would threaten to undo us, we can claim the power of Jesus that can transform our hearts, that can heal our relationships, that can move us toward being a reconciling presence in our world. As the collect says, we can indeed become more like Christ. What might that look like for you this week?

-Jay Sidebotham

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