Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Cast Down and Raised Up: Revisiting a Favorite Prayer

Kathy Staudt

At the Good Friday service this year, I was struck once again by one of my favorite prayers in the prayer book -- a prayer we encounter most often at ordinations, and so a prayer treasured by many in the clergy -- but one that most of the laity do not hear except on Good Friday, if they are in church (and sometimes at the Easter Vigil -- I’ll get to that). It comes at the point in the service when we have heard the story, and been drawn as deeply as we can be into the utter brokenness of the world God loves, and the mystery of the Cross - whatever it has come to mean to each of us on this year’s round of our shared journey. We gather at the foot of the cross, as the Church, and we offer prayers for healing and reconciliation for the whole world -- and the prayers are summed up in this collect:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 280). 
The prayer names the connection between the utter darkness and ugliness and cruelty of the Cross-- Jesus, the loving God experiencing all the brokenness that our human sinfulness creates-- and the Cross as the beginning of the story of Resurrection that we are continuing to live: “things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new.” By offering this prayer we are drawn into the New Thing that God is already doing, and invited to join in. And it all begins at the foot of the Cross.

The other place this prayer appears, besides in the ordination services, is at the Easter Vigil, after the last reading from Zephaniah which tells of the gathering of God’s people (BCP 291). Even if we attend the Easter Vigil we may not always hear this prayer offered because most churches choose just a few of the readings, and Zephaniah isn’t always one of them. I like it that this particular prayer is placed right before the celebration of Baptism at the Vigil, reminding us what it means to be the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ in the world. I’d like to see the people of God claiming and offering this prayer more intentionally, and I use it a lot in my teaching about the vocation of all God’s people. But I was especially moved again this year by the reminder that we offer this prayer first on Good Friday, at the foot of the Cross. I am offering it in my own prayers this Easter season, breaking up the central part of it as a poem, so I pay closer attention:
Let the whole world see and knowThat things which were cast downAre being raised upAnd things which had grown old Are being made newAnd that all things are being brought to their perfectionBy him through whom all things were made.
Or to put it another way: 
Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! 

Kathy Staudt is a member of Our Saviour, Hillandale and an adjunct faculty member at Virginia Theological Seminary and Wesley Theological Seminary. Share your experiences and thoughts from this Easter season on Facebook.