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Stirring Up ...
It is 'Stir up Sunday' according to the Book of Common Prayer collect for the last Sunday before Advent -
© Aelred Arnesen
Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.span>
The collect is famously known of course more for the preparation of the Christmas pudding and cake than for its theological sentiments. There is still time to do the stirring up as Christmas is still four weeks away! But that God should stir up wills? And if we do good, shall we expect to be rewarded? Once one begins to look at ancient collects and other elements of traditional corporate worship, one is given to think. That is obviously a good result, but then what shall we say about the theology that we have uncovered in our thinking? It is very difficult to encapsulate in the collect style of prayer some true reflection of our understanding of what God is like. Words like 'Almighty' trip off the tongue unbidden when we begin to speak of God.
But there has always been something to be said for a type of language in worship which is somewhat hierarchical, not just a collection of mundane sentiments. The problem is where do you draw the line? What we hear in church is going to have repercussions in our thinking, and particularly in our approach to prayer. I suppose what has happened, people on hearing some theological conundrum in a collect or other piece of worship material, have translated it into something which they can understand. It happens during sermons, when someone thanks the preacher afterwards for saying something appropriate, when the preacher actually never said anything like it!
People have tried to write prayers suitable for public worship for centuries. It is probably too much to ask that the results should always be theologically perfect. The challenge lies with you and me to do the thinking and reading which will bring something more like the truth to our minds. It has long been said that the language in church has put off the modern person. It is probably true. So then, much depends upon our own acceptance of the core of the writings of the authors of the New Testament. In all literature there is nothing to compare with the extraordinary perceptions of most of those writers.
The problem has always been that we have felt it necessary to invent more and more words to translate for ourselves the lucidity of the gospels and to add other meanings to what we read there. That is not to underrate the need for critical appraisal. It has often been the case that the 'expert' in critical study of the New Testament has been able, more than most of us, to speak of the themes of the Good News in terms we can understand and accept as meaningful to us.
There's a challenge for these next four weeks in the run up to Christmas. Traditionally, during this period, much has been made of some statements in the New Testament, that Jesus will 'come again'. 'Again'? We have to ask if that is the truth that we read about the person of Jesus in the New Testament. Is he not 'with us' already and, at the 'end', will appear before us? Over to you!
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© Aelred Arnesen