A Note to My Readers -
I've decided to remove my Sunday posts from the weekly cycle. Although I hope they've been of benefit to some of you, they are necessarily secondary to my regular work of sermon preparation each week. I've found that having that extra post to write simply added to the burden of my work. For those readers who would still like access to my weekly work in Scriptural exposition, I would ask them to access the podcasts of my sermons (available through a link in the sidebar), since that remains the primary form of my Bible teaching each week.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

95 Theses, #84-85: Prayer and the Communion of the Saints

To see the introduction and disclaimers for my 95 Theses, first go to: 95-Theses-Introduction

 (Painting: "Maria von Aegypten," by José de Ribera, 1651, oil on canvas)

84.) Prayer as an Image of the Whole Christian Life - Prayer stands as the ultimate Christian discipline, encompassing in its many forms both the apophatic and kataphatic aspects of spirituality. Prayer will lead us into seasons both of desolation and of consolation. It leads us down roads of negation—of silent, wordless prayers of contemplation—and of positive requests and praises—of intercession, supplication, and gratitude. In prayer itself, which is a microcosm of the whole life of relationship-with-God, we find all the dimensions of walking day by day with the God of the universe. Ultimately, prayer should become our “second nature” (in more than just the idiomatic sense)—it is the active form of the renewed human nature in Christ; human nature in constant relationship with God, through all our activities and thoughts. Prayer achieves its highest form, though, not in individualized prayer, as important as that is, but in the prayers of all the people of God as they join together in the worshiping community. It is in worship that we “live into” our true nature in its fullest form. In our worship, liturgy, and communal prayer, we as the community of the new Kingdom take part in an event-outside-of-time, the worship of the whole people of God around the throne, as pictured in the book of Revelation.

85.) Prayer and the Community of Saints - Prayer is ultimately directed to God alone. However, requests for aid or intercession can be made of any believers, and it has always been encouraged that Christians seek the aid-in-prayer of other Christians, especially Christians who are living lives of exemplary holiness and constant prayer. This principle, according to some of the most ancient traditions of the church, applies not only to those Christians in our immediate time/space context, but also to those saints who have passed on to their rest. Existing as they do outside of normal time and in a temporary disembodied form, they are thought to be taken up with “spiritual” activities such as prayer and contemplation. As such, one of their main functions has been seen as representing the needs and requests of currently-living Christians, to whom they are mystically united in the body of Christ, in a single act of prayer-volition before the throne of God. It is not known, and perhaps not knowable, how they could perceive all the requests for intercession that may be addressed to them. But just as we here on earth would especially seek the intercession of those whom we perceive to be “closest” to God, so requests for intercession are addressed to those with well-known reputations for holiness and powerful prayer. The Virgin Mary is the standout example of this category. Such a practice need not be seen as requirement of Christian piety, but it is acceptable and perhaps even commendable. In our daily lives as Christians, we often find that God's consolation and assistance is most readily manifest to us in the words and deeds of our brothers and sisters in Christ towards us; it is not a great stretch of theology or piety to conclude that God might similarly choose to bless us through the encouragement and advocacy of many of the great heroes of the faith who have gone on before us, but to whom we remain connected in the timeless mystical union of the Body of Christ.

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