But I did some digging this week, and it is true that conversations about revising the Prayerbook have begun.
First a bit of context. Even lifelong Episcopalians are often unclear about the governmental structure of our denomination.
Each diocese is like a state and mostly runs its own business.
But we also have a national organization that holds the dioceses together like the federal government brings together the different states.
At the national level, we are governed by a legislature, more or less like Congress, called General Convention. Deputies to General Convention are elected from each diocese. This year I was one of the alternates for our diocese, so I would have gone if one of the regular delegates had been unable to make it.
The 2018 General Convention just finished meeting, and Prayerbook revision was one of the things they talked about.
For better or for worse, and it is a little of both in my view, General Convention tends to move slowly. In the case of important issues—and revision of the Prayerbook counts—a committee studies the question. That can take several years. When an important bill is ready for consideration, it has to pass two consecutive General Conventions. Since General Convention only meets once every three years, that takes more time.
An advocate of Prayerbook revision quoted in the Republican, who coincidentally lives on the street where I grew up and serves as Dean of the Cathedral where I was raised, said the earliest the revision could become official is 2030. Between now and then, dioceses are encouraged to experiment with different liturgies.
Here at Saint David’s, we already do that. In addition to the Prayerbook, we often use liturgies from other provinces in the Anglican Communion and experimental liturgies approved for use in the United States.
So, we will keep doing what we are doing. And, maybe, in another decade or two, we’ll have a revised Prayerbook.
That is a long way off. But there is an important invitation to us here and now, an invitation to think about how we pray.
And how we pray matters.
God uses our prayers, in some mysterious way, to shape the world around us.
But I want to focus this morning on how prayer shapes us in the very act of praying. What we say to God, particularly when we say it over and over again, particularly when we pray with other people in the context of worship, those words get inside us. That is one of the reasons we come together in worship.
Now, getting those words inside us can be good or bad, depending on our prayers.
If all we ever pray for is to win the lottery, the desire for money gets inside us. If we pray for victory over our enemies, enmity gets inside us.
On the other hand, when we pray for people who are suffering, compassion gets inside us. If we thank God for the blessings we receive, gratitude gets inside us. If we praise God for the glory of creation and the grace of redemption, awe and reverence get inside us.
I say again, prayer shapes our identity. Prayer shapes who we are, and prayer shapes who we are becoming.
I emphasize that this morning not just because of General Convention but because our reading from Ephesians is a prayer all about internal transformation. Paul begins “I bow my knees before the Father.” Paul says, “I pray….”
And listen again to what he prays for. This is a prayer about what can happen inside us as we pray. Think about this happening inside of you.
Paul prays that we will be strengthened in our inner being with power through the Holy Spirit. Paul prays that Christ will dwell in our hearts through faith. Paul prays that we will be rooted and grounded in love. Paul prays that we will have the power to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth. He doesn’t say the breadth and length and height and depth of what, but I think he means to the love of God in Jesus Christ. Paul prays that we will be filled with all the fullness of God.
Every bit of that prayer is astonishing, and I encourage you to reread this passage a few times over the course of the next week.
But there is still one more prayer, my current favorite from this passage. Paul prays that we can know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. We can know the love that surpasses knowledge. What does it mean to know something that surpasses knowledge?
This is Paul getting mystical in the best sense of that term. Paul is groping for language to describe something that is ultimately beyond all human language.
We can talk about the love of Christ. But we cannot wrap our minds around the love of Christ. Christ’s love is too big for that.
This is the paradox of prayer. Stay with me here.
When we pray, the words we say shape who we are.
But those words also point beyond themselves; the words of our prayers point to God, to the awesome creator and redeemer and sustainer of the cosmos. And before God, all words are inadequate. In the presence of God, our words drop away, and we are left with the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, the love of Christ that roots and grounds our very being.
This is how prayer works in us. Our prayers at their best orient us towards the love of Christ. Our prayers bring us face to face with Christ’s love. Through God’s grace, our prayers help the love of Christ to dwell in us and to be manifest in our lives.
And yet our prayers are at best a feeble, stammering, totally inadequate expression of the love of Christ, a love that surrounds us and fills us and grounds us and changes us all the time.
Words matter. And words are, in the end, inadequate.
Now, I move from the sublime to the potentially ridiculous. But I come back to the General Convention proposal to revise the Prayerbook.
It is good that General Convention is moving slowly. General Convention needs to move slowly because a lot is at stake when you mess with the prayers that help to make us who we are before God. Speaking personally, I am glad that General Convention is moving slowly because I treasure the familiar prayers, the ones I know by heart, the ones that have helped me to glimpse God’s love and to grow at least a little bit in God’s love.
But it is good that General Convention has raised the issue of Prayerbook revision. General Convention is reminding us of what Ephesians says, that the familiar words, however beautiful and comforting they may be, are inadequate to the power and glory and love of God. General Convention is reminding us that the value of our prayers is precisely that they point beyond themselves to the God who is greater than our words, greater than anything we could ever ask or imagine.
And so my prayer for us is that we will all pray until we really are filled with all the fullness of God. And I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who dwells in our hearts and whose love will always surpass our knowledge. Amen.