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Today feels like a moment of transition. This past week, I closed the books on one of the longest academic years I’ve ever experienced. Today, my youngest child graduates from Calvin University. With commencements commencing and mask mandates lifting and summer coming, I think we are all experiencing that sense of turning some kind of corner.
I want to share with you today a prayer appropriate to transition moments. It’s a prayer offered earlier this week by my friend Natalia Connelly at a Western Theological Seminary chapel service. The morning after Monday night’s seminary commencement events, the students in town for their distance learning “intensive” gathered for Tuesday chapel. Natalia gave a beautiful meditation on Luke 11 and then led this prayer based on the Lord’s Prayer.
I thought about editing the prayer to make it more generic, but then I decided that the best pastors (and Natalia is among the best, for sure) speak into particular moments in particular contexts. So I left the particulars in, and I invite you to replace them as you need to in order to reflect what still needs completing for you, what is changing, what is becoming new. As you will see, the prayer was punctuated with a sung Alleluia. You can find your own melody there, too.
And one other thing: Natalia and her husband, Mike, recently welcomed a beautiful daughter, Philippa, into their family. Pippa was born in February. She’s just a little gal yet, so Natalia delivered the whole meditation and prayer with Pippa held close in a baby carrier. So imagine this prayer offered by a mother holding her infant, swaying gently side-to-side as parents do.
Many thanks to Natalia for permission to use this prayer.
Father, Mother, the One Who is Love, you have gathered us here as your people and your children. You have formed us out of love and for love. As you have united us here, virtually and in person for distance-learning intensives, may it now be the same love that animates our life in community this week.
Each person in this community has been called to this place, to our own path and program, with unique gifts, and with our own work to do to complete another semester. As you long for our flourishing, so we long to find our place in your work of renewal. Take us by the hand and guide us with the wisdom and joy of an adoring parent, that we may walk the path before us as a child walks confidently in the fields of her father.
We thank you for the graduation ceremony last night that acknowledges and affirms years of hard work and faithfulness of students, staff, and faculty. We pray that you would send the graduating class of 2021 from this place with an impenetrable sense of your blessing and an enduring sense of belonging to your great cloud of witnesses. We thank you for the ways your Spirit has moved in and through this school, and through hundreds of teaching churches, hospitals, communities and neighborhoods, preparing students for lifelong ministry in your name.
Hallowed be your name. You alone are holy, O triune God. You alone are worthy of our praise, for you alone stand at the center of time and the crux of creation. You alone have bent the light of the sun into an arc of white fire; you alone have made the chickadee to sing. Your Trinity is the glorious mystery we are delighted to ponder. We come to you in awe that you have first come to us, and that with all your tender ferocity you have formed us for your delight. May our lives be ever riddled with reverence for you.
Your kingdom come. How we ache for justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. We long for black mothers to no longer weep, for refugee fathers to not fear for their children. We lie awake at night, wondering what of your creation will remain at dawn. We grow anxious at your timing and our wavering faith. And we admit that, so often, we want so much that is not your will. Even so, we wait and we hope and we pray for your kingdom to break in fully and finally as you have promised, that peace may spread like water over a burning plain, and that healing may trickle down to the ashes in each of us.
Give us each day our daily bread. You alone know what we need. You know the hunger of our bellies and the dreams of our hearts. You know how we feign self-sufficiency and yet quake at our own dark thoughts. You know what this past year has been like for us and for the world. We need your persistence, your wisdom, your food, water, providence, and care. We need you, we need you, we need you, God of grace.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. This is, at best, aspirational. We are bad forgivers, God. We judge and we hate. And we feel so justified in our stinginess, for others are so very irritating at best, and cruel at worst. We wish you would not make us admit that we ourselves are the same. O have mercy. O forgive us even for this—our arrogance, our obtuseness. Let our roommates and our partners and our parents and our children—and, dare we say, our enemies—find in us the softness to forgive and the strength to ask for mercy. And though we know you will not give up on us, for our sake we must ask you still.
And as your prophet Reverend Denise Kingdom Grier urged us last night, we repent of the ways we participate in the dismemberment of the church; for when we have said to our sisters and brothers, with our words or deeds or, more often, our silence, “we have no need of you.” Help us to be people who re-member your church by dignifying your image in every person and dismantling the systems of oppression that strip us all of our humanity.
And do not bring us into the time of trial. Do not let us be found in the dark alley of suffering without the light of your presence. Yet should that day come when we are bid to carry our cross to a place called Golgotha, would you find in us the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, the Spirit who has not left us orphaned but who remains with us, our Advocate and our Counselor. You have promised to never leave us alone, and on this we have staked everything.
As we go now to our classes, our meetings and our desks, let your light shine in us, and let it not be overcome. Bless our work and our rest this week, and perfect it all for your purpose.
We offer all of this to you in prayer as our Lord Jesus has taught us, trusting that he himself intercedes for us. Take our speech and our silence, O God, and take all of us, that everything may find its ultimate meaning in you. Amen.