In church the other week I noticed the intercessions (prayers of the people). I noticed that the person preparing them had put a lot of time and effort into what they were saying, and said it in such a way as to make me believe that they were really praying, not just reading something out of a book). That made it possible for me to pray the prayers along with them.
Then came the time for praying for individual people. I went through the list of those for whom I regularly pray.
Then I began to think. When I say my prayers at home, I pray for the same list of people. Does it make a difference whether or not I say these prayers in Church with others, as part of the Prayers of the People or not?
Well, in one sense the answer is ‘No’. On both occasions, I bring before God those for whom I want to pray. That is the same.
The other thing that is the same is this: The famine in East Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula has been in the news recently. So these people have been on my mind. Then in the psalms for this week, there is mention of the righteous, and how God looks after them. One verse read in Psalm 37: “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.”, and psalm 33 “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His loving-kindness, To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine.
Reading this, I first of all said “Which you don’t!!!”. And then remembered those poor people dying in the famine, and then gave my Lenten ‘alms’ to World Vision and the Australian Board of Mission.
So here is a structure. Via the media, I become aware of some need. Because of t the way my consciousness has been shaped through years of going to Church and being a Christian, I am not filled with distain for those whose ‘karma’ has made them live in Africa where there is famine. I do not say ‘It is a dog eat dog world, and everyone is responsible for themselves. “ Instead, I am filled with pain at their pain.
And then the reading of the bible prompts me to say something to God. First in anger because what is said in the psalms does not seem to be true in this instance. Second I express my sadness at the situation. Then I do what I can about it.
And here is the reason why doing the Prayers of the People in Church is important. This structure of response that happens to me personally, I have learned from the structure of the Eucharist. This is the way that the ‘Ministry of the Word’, the first part of the Eucharist, works. We prepare ourselves to hear God’s word by bringing all that we are into Church. We bring something. “Almighty god, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden”. I bring my heart, I bring my desires and secrets. What I bring is the ground that is ploughed up and into which the seed of God’s word is planted. Then I hear the Word of God read and preached. Then, in response I pray with the whole congregation. Then the whole congregation either goes out to do something as individuals, or as a group.
So here is the thing: What I do individually, I have learned from the Eucharist. As I keep saying “The Eucharist is the intensive, symbolic form of the more extensive, less symbolic form of life lived while not in Church. The structure is the same. Church life is not a removal from ‘life’ but the way in which we learn what ‘life’ is!
So that’s one of the reasons that we need the Prayers of the People. They tell us how to pray individually, at home. But there is more.
The Prayers of the People are done in a Group. In Church, it is not just ‘me saying my prayers’ but it is we, as God’s priestly people who are saying our prayers. At the time of praying the prayers of the people, it is as if the whole of our town is before God, but not all of the town is doing this action. Not everyone knows about God, not everyone cares. But just as in ancient Israel, when the priest went into the Holy of holies, representing the people of Israel, in the form of a breastplate, so we, as Gods chosen ones, represent the whole of our town before god on a Sunday morning. We are ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.“ (1 Pet. 2:9)
Going to Eucharist on a Sunday is not something we do to do a favour to any one, nor is it something that we do in order to ‘get something’ but it is our royal duty, as God’s priestly people, to come to intercede on behalf of the whole town, and then the whole world, which does not know even its need, much of the time.
There are those who say “I do not need to go to Church to pray, I can do it at home’. Well yes you can (just as I do). But what I can’t get at home is the formation in how to pray, what to pray for, and the knowledge of how God views the world. That comes from the structure of the Eucharist itself and of regular listening to God’s word in the preaching. And what else I can’t get at home is that sense of the collective offering of my ‘bounden duty and service’ as part of God’s priestly people. We do something of Sunday morning on behalf of the whole town.
So although I say the same list of people in my personal prayers, and often pray for the dame issues, the Prayers of the People are an indispensible part of any Christians life.