I spent the first twelve days of November in Ontario/Quebec this year. The Board of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund had our annual Fall meeting followed by, a few days later, the Anglican Church of Canada’s Council of General Synod meeting. With them only being a few days apart this year, I decided to stay in the East rather than fly back and forth across the country twice in twelve days, confusing my biorhythms and exposing myself to double the germs.
Each time the Board meets, we conclude our time together around the Table with a short Eucharist service. Usually, the Primate presides at the service and offers a few short reflections. This meeting, I was honoured to be asked to preside in the Primate’s absence. It is, however, a little intimidating to offer a few reflections in the presence of so many amazing colleagues and friends, including a retired archbishop, a bishop, an archdeacon, a canon, and a few folks who have been ordained much longer than I, not to mention the lay people who have had long careers in the Anglican Church.
I had the interesting challenge of reflecting on the readings for the commemoration of Richard Hooker, whose day in the church calendar it was, while also reflecting on the work of a relief and development agency. It felt like an odd juxtaposition.
The gospel for the day was a selection from John 17 – 17:18-23 – so I focused on that as I reflected on the work of the previous days of meeting and the work ahead of us as we left our meeting…
Some reflections offered on November 3, 2017 offered in a Toronto Airport Hotel conference room with the gathered Board of Directors and management staff of PWRDF:
One of the things that I have come to appreciate in my travels is prayer. That sounds a little cliché … but what I mean is, that I have come to appreciate our shared global language of prayer: It is this thing that has so many layers of meaning and importance even above the actual words that are said or unsaid.
I remember being in Ephesus. It was the day after Matthew and I had gotten engaged and we were standing in the middle of the ruins of the church dedicated to Mary the Theotokos. Another group of pilgrims were gathered in a circle around where the altar would have been, praying together in unison. I didn’t understand the words, but I understood what they were saying and the power of the moment gave me goosebumps.
Or there was worship in the Cathedral in Grahamstown, South Africa where, for the first time, I worshipped with the people who wrote the mass setting that I’d heard bits and pieces of here in Canada, but there we sung the prayers as they were written – in Xhosa accompanied by marimbas, swaying back and forth to the music.
And just the other night, as Bishop David led us in Compline, we came to the Lord’s Prayer and I looked up across the table and saw [our partner visiting from Guatemala] Gregoria praying along with us in her own language.
Prayer transcends time. It transcends language. It unites us across time and space.
Think of Jesus. We have this huge chunk in the gospel of John where Jesus is praying and we get to learn a whole lot about the things that were and are important by what Jesus prays.
On the night before he died, after sharing a meal with friends, we find Jesus, praying in the garden:
I pray that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me…
I love to think about non-linear time and how those things that Jesus was praying, he was praying about us here today gathered in a hotel conference room after a few solid days of meeting and deliberating and holding up the mission of God through work in policy, and volunteer management, and institutional evaluations.
That Jesus was praying back and forward across time, across national and continental lines, and encompassing all of the saints from all times and places. And as we have gathered this week in prayer and to share in God’s mission, so we are preparing to go out in prayer and live into God’s mission around us.
Jesus prayed, As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…
We will soon be sent out to go and return to our daily lives. But we do that surrounded by prayer. Jesus was praying for us then, to accomplish that for which we have been sent. And is praying for us now, alongside that whole communion of saints that the church also celebrated this week.
That prayer carries us forward in our work as we strive to participate in God’s mission on earth by working to create a truly just, healthy, and peaceful world. And considering that participation in the mission of God is, in itself, an act of prayer – an act of “Your kingdom come God, as it is in heaven.”
And so as we prayerfully gather together around this table, may we be aware of those who have gone before us and those who will come after us in this mission. Of those who have been praying for us since the beginning of time, and those who continue to hold us in prayer day in and day out … so that, as Jesus prayed, the world may believe that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me…