“Suffer not our trust in thee to fail.”
Lent came early and harshly this year. As we began our forty-day fast in search of deeper self-awareness and repentance and were receiving on our foreheads the mark of humility and surrender in ashes, a 19-year-old was marking his former fellow students for death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Just as our ashes were an outward sign of who we are as humans, “dust and unto dust,” so did Ash Wednesday’s shooting painfully begin to reveal once again elements of who we are as a society and nation.
The events of our individual and collective lives reflect both our faithfulness and our brokenness. They are among the things God invites us to consider, humbly and vulnerably, in the discipline of penitence. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find Jesus holding up a mirror to people – his own family and disciples, strangers, religious authorities, government officials, saints and sinners of every sort – inviting and challenging them to see themselves as God sees them. Time and again he pushes them to take account of their actions, of how they live, and of their relationships to others, and consider whether those patterns and structures that have become acceptable to them are likely acceptable to God.
Jesus repeatedly used current events and familiar historical incidents to show his contemporaries who they were in the fullness of their humanity, something he well understood, having become fully human himself. In so doing, he politicized the actions of individuals and of the religious and civic communities to which they belonged, intending that it would cause them to ask the hard questions and take the bold actions that would build a society reflective of the will and kingdom of God. And Jesus asks us to do the same.
This is difficult work. It challenges our patience, tolerance, and humility, and makes us susceptible to polarization and demonizing. The power of evil wants it to divide us and leave us more distant from one another and from God. But God wants it to draw us closer and help us realize God’s vision of a world bound together in love. That is, after all, our vocation as the body of Christ – to surrender ourselves to God’s will and become what God dreams for us to be, reconciled to one another and to God. And this work begins with prayer.
This Lent has been particularly difficult. I have yielded at times to feelings of helplessness and despair about who we are as a society and a nation. In many areas of our common life, it seems that self-interest and defensiveness have eclipsed self-sacrifice and generosity. From both sides of any issue, we argue to endless stalemates over whether to enact ineffective technical fixes when what is needed are cultural shifts that will require everyone to give. Not to give up, nor to give in, but to give over. To give over our will to God’s will and our lives to the sacrificial and risen life of Christ.
To address my burdened spirit, I have turned to a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer and made it my discipline to pray it a number of times every day. In the section of Prayers and Thanksgivings, it is the first of the Prayers for National Life, the prayer For our Country. It speaks to our faithfulness and our sinfulness, to our responsibilities and our dependence upon God to shoulder them. Its daily repetition has encouraged me to meet helplessness with trust, a trust that will cost me to give over more than I will doubtless want to afford. That is, of course, the price of resurrected life.
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, p.820)
With every blessing of the Risen Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio