Last week, I spoke a bit about Morning Prayer, and how it was really quite different in intent from celebrations of the Eucharist. I’d like to continue to look at the Daily Office, which is the name for the collection of services which we have, that are really meant to be prayed every day: Morning and Evening Prayer, along with Noonday Prayer, Compline, Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, and a seldom used service entitled an Order of Worship for the Evening. These are all found toward the front of the Book of Common Prayer. Often they are only noted as the stuff that we skip over to get to Eucharist in the middle of the Book.
But the understanding is that Christians really need to pray every single day. And if we really want to try to pray as Jesus taught us, we might find it helpful to pray in somewhat the same manner as he himself prayed. The pattern of prayers for the Jewish people in the time of Jesus was centered in two places: the Temple and the Home. Going to the Temple, would be a bit like going to church. It was not normal for most folks to do so daily. Even if you lived in Jerusalem, getting to the Temple took a bit of time. And perhaps it should not surprise you that our ceremony of the Eucharist not only recreates that last Supper Jesus had with his disciples, but it also draws heavily upon Temple worship patterns.
But the other model for prayer is what is said every day in the home. The Daily Office is modeled on the daily practice of prayer. It certainly was not long ago that most Episcopalians said the Morning or Evening Prayer, or both, every single day. By doing so, they not only were able to pour out their hearts to God, but also to learn the faith, the scriptures, and to develop the discipline and habits of sound religion. Today, most of us don’t say these prayers daily. But if you are in the habit of using the small devotional booklet Forward Day by Day, you are hitting the core of Daily Prayer.
I said last week that the first and biggest part of Daily Prayer was reading the Psalms. Their honesty, their depth of devotion, their pouring out of all of our thoughts, feelings, experiences is dramatic. The second part of Daily Prayer is to spend some time reading the scriptures. I know, having a priest recommend reading the Bible is not exactly shocking news to any of us. But doing so in the context of prayer can be pretty dramatic.
Morning Prayer, when said daily, uses a different lectionary or plan, for how the readings are to be followed. Like the Eucharist, there are three readings assigned: one from the Old Testament, one from the early letters of Christians – the Epistles, and one from the Gospels. But unlike the Eucharist, these lessons are arranged in course. That is, they are arranged in order. The first day one reads from Chapter 1, the next day picks up right where the first leaves off, then again the next, and so on.
In this way, we not only get the whole of the story, but we also get some stories that are often overlooked. Little details like Moses asking to see God’s face, and God telling him no, it’s too awesome and wonderful, it would cause Moses to die. But Moses insists, so God hides him in the cleft of the rock and covers Moses with his hand. And then, as God passes by, he lifts his hand and lets Moses see God’s “back most part.”
For our Noonday services that we are live streaming on our Facebook page, we’ve been reading from the Epistles. Some teachings and reflections upon how Christians live. I’ve found many of these last weeks to be really quite illuminating in this time. Some of the lessons are things that I try to do already. Some of the lessons are things, well, I will try again. And that leads me to the biggest lesson of all about the second point of Daily Prayer. If we are reading the Bible, even just small parts of it daily, we are also praying the scriptures. I am not only learning, I’m not only being edified, I’m also praying, and having my prayers guided and shaped by the worlds of the Word of God.
This Word now comes to us, dwells within us – drawing us closer to God, helping us become the People of God. Remember how the priest will say, “The Body of Christ” when giving communion bread? We also know the Church is the Body of Christ, and the physical stuff of the human Jesus was also the body of Christ. I want to point out the connection here to the Word of God. If Jesus was fully God and fully human, as we say we believe, then the Body of Christ is also human and Divine. The Divine part is the very Word of God made flesh. When we say Morning or Evening Prayer, we are partaking of the Word of God, just as surely as receiving him in the communion elements.
Who knew that reading the Bible was just as much a receiving of the presence of God as taking communion? Anybody who prays daily, actually.
Don’t forget, Noonday prayers are offered Monday through Saturday at noon on our Facebook page ( facebook.com/stfrancistempletx). And on Sunday’s we live stream worship from St. Francis church building at 9:30 am. (Download the Morning Prayer service bulletin for Sunday, May 3 here.) No Facebook account or experience is needed. If the times are inconvenient, one of the blessings of Facebook is that you can watch it when you are able. Don’t forget to leave a comment, it helps others who might be feeling lonely, or wondering if they’ve been remembered.