Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you we prayed in the age old Collect for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity.
We prayed it looking back on a day by day chronicle of violent indiscriminate attacks on civilians recently claiming hundreds of innocent lives across Europe. The attack just miles away on a Christian eucharist in Normandy and the murder of a village priest is an extraordinary sacrilege which has impacted those who gather with me at this altar day by day.
Where are ‘God’s merciful ears’ when priests are being slaughtered at the altar? How can we be ‘obtaining our petitions’ in this spate of killings? How can we find and pray for what ‘pleases God’ in this extraordinary scenario?
I put these three questions linked to today’s Collect as a way into capturing afresh the way Christian faith grasps reality’s deepest significance, lighting up God’s big picture and the future he beckons us to.
First let’s look at mercy. The mercy logo on the front of our service booklets this year will have been displayed at Saint-Etienne du Rouvray in Rouen. It is the symbol of the Year of Mercy we’re sharing in Chichester Diocese with the Roman Catholic Church. Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants. At Mass Fr Jacques would read as I did, for him among the last words he heard, the prophecy of Jeremiah Chapter 14 Tears flood my eyes night and day, unceasingly, since a crushing blow falls… prophets and priests…are at their wit’s end. How those words ring true today!
We have in St Giles a stained glass window of St Etienne. He is St Stephen, the first martyr, who knelt, as Jacques knelt, only to be stoned to death. One of those who stoned Stephen, Saul of Tarsus, was utterly transformed by that experience and became the arch-apostle of Christ. May our new martyr’s blood avail to turn the wrath of humankind to God’s praise in like measure! Those who murdered Fr Jacques shouted God is great. Today’s collect, and the example of so many holy martyrs, remind us how God’s greatness is found chiefly in his mercy. When we’re made aware of that mercy in the suffering and death of Jesus, of God’s merciful ears attending to our brokenness, we lose any desire for violence. Those aware of their need of mercy have no need to lord it over others, let alone to murder them.
The events of the last two weeks – Nice, Munich, Ansbach, Tokyo and Rouen – are rooted in personal resentments and mental health issues as much as ideology let alone religion. Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants - prayers for those who know not what they do, perpetrators who’re themselves victims of minds unhinged by the exigencies of 21st century life.
How can we be ‘obtaining our petitions’ in this spate of killings? I asked earlier. Last Sunday we gave thanks for two ladies in our coffee group whose lives were spared when Penny’s car turned over and crashed. Today we’re thinking about the murder of a priest in Church. How do these two square up?
Our Christian faith is nothing obscure and nor is it geared to outward appearance. To have faith is simply to see your life and your surrounds opening up repeatedly to God’s future, seeing the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the depth of things, bringing light to the world through both joyful and sorrowful happenings, growing hope and love. Christianity is in this sense the biggest of ‘big picture thinking’.
In a recent publication Pope Francis wrote of faith in these words. Faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths… each of us comes to the light because of love, and each of us is called to love in order to remain in the light… in this circular movement the light of faith illumines all our human relationships, which can then be lived in union with the gentle love of Christ.
To the eye of faith there’s something deep going on below all the mayhem of world events. Just as we’re gifted by faith to see Jesus behind the words of scripture and the preacher and under the form of bread and wine, the same gift of faith enables us to see beyond the 24-7 news flow something that’s heading to glory. Something moving, as Christ himself moved through suffering and death, into the glorious future of the resurrection spoken of at the end of the Bible when the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)
Back to the Collect for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday: Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you
We’ve reflected upon God’s mercy and how Christian faith sees its operation by opening us up to the depths of reality. Lastly we might ask, contemplating the unpredictable godless violence we’re living through How we can find and pray for what ‘pleases God’ in this extraordinary scenario?
In this last consideration I invite you to move from what I’ve shared about how God’s merciful love enfolds the world and beckons it forward into his possibilities on to how we best play our part in working for that best future.
Prayer, yes, is work, work that starts from the facts of life. In the current situation there are a number of indisputable facts we must lift to God:
· The responsibility of civic and national leaders to improve the world by addressing the sources of injustice and conflict
· The responsibility of people of faith, and especially faith leaders, to dialogue with one another and also to remind their own communities of the positive things said in their traditions about non-adherents
· The responsibility of everyone on the earth to see the atrocities shown on our TV screens not primarily as a call to retribution let alone revenge but as a call to recover common humanity and a fresh sense of our need of mercy from God and from one another.
These are some ends that are surely pleasing to God which might inform our working out of the beautiful, thoughtful and challenging collect for today:
Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Let your merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of your humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Common Worship Collect for Trinity 10