This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Afghanis killed after prayer
The Angel with the Little Scroll
10And I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.2He held a little scroll open in his hand. Setting his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land,3he gave a great shout, like a lion roaring. And when he shouted, the seven thunders sounded.4And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.’5Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and the land
raised his right hand to heaven
6 and swore by him who lives for ever and ever,
who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: ‘There will be no more delay,7but in the days when the seventh angel is to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled, as he announced to his servants* the prophets.’
8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’9So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, ‘Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.’10So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.
11 Then they said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.’
Again the author tells the reader that there will be no more delay but goes on to depict a delay-in this case the story of the scroll and the task given to the author. There seems to be a contradiction here. The idea is that God has already done the decisive thing; the great judgement has already happened in the death- and -resurrection of Jesus, which judges the world forever. It is once-and-for-all. But on earth time still continues through the patience of God who holds back the final implementation of the judgement in order to give time for his servants to announce it as a warning and a call to repentance.
The splendid angel whose roar is matched by the seven thunders brings the scroll of the gospel which is also the judgement on the world. There are not two messages-one of good news and the other of bad: there is only the one gospel of the crucified lamb which is sweet in its promise of salvation but bitter in its call to suffering; sweet in the gift of life to those who heed it; bitter in its reward of death to those who reject it. Mingled joy and sorrow define the task of the faithful prophet.
It is an experience shared to some degree by all who try to announce the gospel truth in any place or time. When I preach the gospel I know that it runs counter to my own desire for comfort, security and success; and that many who hear it will dismiss it as unrealistic twaddle, unfit for use in the real world. Well, one day we’ll all hear what the seven thunders said.
The Lord’s Prayer
11He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’2He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father,* hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.*
3 Give us each day our daily bread.*
4 And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’*
Perseverance in Prayer
5 And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.”7And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.”8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9 ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for* a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish?12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit* to those who ask him!’
The prayer of Jesus, in the shorter version given by Luke has the same meaning as the longer version but omits the explanatory additions that we find there. It is the prayer of God’s son and all God’s children who (1) reverence the Father’s character (name) by their commitment to God’s rule on earth; (2) live in the shared life or communion of the holy spirit in which God’s provision for everyday is held in common (OUR bread) and God’s rescuing generosity (forgiveness) is received and transmitted by members of the family. Finally the child of God, who has begun the prayer with the word “Father” asks, as Jesus did in Gethsemane, to be spared the time of trial ( this is the precise meaning of TEMPTATION in the traditional translation). The child of God is not Superchristian, confident s/he can handle anything, but is aware of human frailty.
It’s a marvellous gift, this prayer, not least because we can imagine Jesus using this brief and sober utterance, and can interpret its meaning by his life and death and resurrection. I’ve sometimes thought that there might be a true church throughout the world, whose members promised each other simply that they would pray this prayer for themselves and for each other, every day. It might do more as a vehicle of God’s goodness than all the cathedrals in the world. If you’re interested in forming this church, please let me know by commenting on this blog.
Prayer for Jesus of course is not just words: it’s a whole life of asking, seeking and knocking, that is, a bold and active faith that challenges God to make his goodness real in the land of the living. God is not like the reluctant friend who eventually responds to our request, but is as ready to give as we are to receive. Our on experience as parents tells us this. But we must express our readiness in thought and action: we are not to sit on our backsides waiting for God to supply our needs.