Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Third Sunday After Trinity

(Today we continue our series of comments on the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church.)

. beseeching thee to inspire continually the Universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: And grant that all those who do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of tthy holy Word, and live in unity and godly love.

In the opening of this prayer, we ask God to accept three things: our money offerings, the bread and wine about to be consecrated, and last of all the prayers we are about to offer. These three form a triangular foundation for all that follows in the liturgy. It is established at this point that our worship, the Holy Eucharist, is truly a sacrifice which we offer in union with the perfect sacrifice Our Lord offered once for all on Calvary, which even now He, our “Great High Priest,” pleads in heaven.

After asking that our sacrifice be accepted, we then pray for the Church herself. This petition speaks of a “universal” Church and then provides us with a good working definition of what the universal Church truly is: “all those who confess thy holy Name.” It is well to be reminded that the Church, which Jesus Christ Himself founded long ago, is far bigger than anything we can see or experience. We might wrongly think of the Church as our own parish, or we might even think of our own denomination or tradition as “the Church.” Some time ago a visitor casually remarked that our parish serves people who have “left the Church.” That person's concept of the Church is, sad to say, no larger than the denomination to which he or she currently belongs. We might even think of the Church as a vast, powerful worldly institution, impressive in its earthly glory. But even if such a thing can serve as an outward and visible sign of the Church, it is no more than that. The Church is defined elsewhere in the Prayer Book as “the mystical Body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people,” meaning the whole Communion of Saints, those already in the bliss of heaven as well as those of us still trudging along in our earthly pilgrimage.

Our earthly Church, even when we think of it in international, trans-denominational terms, is but one small corner of the universal Church of the ages. The earthly or visible Church, for which we are praying here, is “a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly administered according to Christ's ordinance.” This clearly implies that any earthly manifestation of the Church, which dilutes or corrupts the Word of God, or ceases to administer the sacraments as Christ appointed, simply ceases to be part of the universal Church. Therefore we must pray with fear and trembling that we and all Christians, or all those who call themselves Christians, may truly continue in the religion of Jesus Christ. Heresy and apostasy are no idle words. They represent a clear and constant danger to our souls.

(to be continued)

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