Praying with Jesus #4: “With the whole communion of saints…”

The rabid individualism of our culture infects and spoils our lives in a myriad of ways, not least in the life of prayer.  We are told that we need to “have a personal relationship with God”, which is true enough, but does not tell the whole story.  And if our prayer life is only seen through the lens of our own “personal relationship with God”, more will be lost than gained.

Every word of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-14) is crucial.  Most people I think would agree with this.  Most Bible teachers would even agree with this.  Yet a pivotal word of the prayer is often overlooked.  It is the first word of the prayer in English, the second in Greek:

“Our”

Jesus does not counsel us to pray, “MY Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name”; he counsels us to pray “OUR Father who art in heaven…”, and this is important, for it conditions us to see that (as a friend of mine recently put it) while we are called to know the God Jesus called “Father” FOR ourselves, we are at the same time not called to know him BY ourselves.

When we pray, we pray in the company of the faithful, across space and time and down through history.  “The whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth…”

This has at least three important implications, as far as I can see it:

1) We never pray alone.  When we bring ourselves to God in prayer, we are not simply having private intimate conversation with Jesus, like two lovers (though that will sometimes happen).  We are joining with the people of God who are lifting up their voices day and night to their Lord and Maker.  The life of prayer, then, is less like an isolated act that we do every so often, schedule permitting, and more like a river, a chorus that is constantly being sung and said before God, which we occasionally join with, adding our voices to.  The Church was praying long before we arose for prayer, and long after we finish.  She carries it.  We join it.  This is why the Psalms have always been treasured among the People of God.  When we lift our voice through the Psalter, we are praying “in the fellowship of the saints.”  Following from that…

2) We are called pray out of the Great Tradition of the Church.  It has been an IMMENSE help to me to use, for example, the Book of Common Prayer in my own personal prayer life.  It saves me from wandering around in circles with my speech and prevents my prayer life from devolving into a laundry list of narcissistic items for my life.  It shapes my devotion (and hence, it shapes me) to embody the beliefs and concerns of the People of God down through history.  The Great Tradition teaches me to address God as Trinity, to run to Christ Jesus as the Great High Priest, the Mediator, and the Last Adam, and to walk in the illumination and power of the Holy Spirit.  It teaches me that I am to pray for “city to which I am sent in exile” (America), which includes its leaders, something I would simply not do on my own.  It calls me, on a daily basis, to remember in prayer the poor (“let not the needy O Lord be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor taken away…”) and those around me who have not yet touched or tasted the kingdom.  It teaches me that the first and most appropriate response of the creature to the Creator is worship and gratitude, and not bellyaching about my crummy life.

In short, when I pray with the Church out of her Great Tradition, it molds me in ways that smack of the Kingdom of God, and it makes that molding far less haphazard than it would have been otherwise.

And finally…

3) We pray in, with, and through Jesus.  Paul wrote in Galatians 4:6 that “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “AbbaFather.”  The Spirit who resides in us is the Spirit of the Son who leads us – all of us, his people – through his own Sonship into fellowship with the Father.  Through the Spirit we all are caught up into and shaped by the Son’s life, a life that he lives forever to the Father.  The “our” of the “Our Father” finds its Christological grounding and fullest meaning in Jesus and in our participation in his Sonship.

That is to say, the energy of our devotion is the energy of the God the Son’s love and obedience to God the Father.

“In him we live and move and have our being.”  And even pray.

This also has been an immense help to me.  I do not always want to pray.  But the Spirit draws me to prayer.  And when I come, the opportunity that stands before me is the same as it always is – to die and rise again with Christ, into Christ, and then to live and pray and worship THROUGH Him… to let his life and energy animate my life of devotion, making it warm and rich and robust.

“I have been crucified with Christ” Paul wrote, “and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:2).

May you find yourself praying in the company of all God’s people, in, with, and through Christ Jesus today.  And may you be strengthened in so doing.

Grace and peace…

8 thoughts on “Praying with Jesus #4: “With the whole communion of saints…”

  1. I can’t figure out why we would do it when there is “one Mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ…”

    At best it seems superfluous to me. What do you make of it? Do you do it?

  2. Honestly, even as an Orthodox I haven’t become completely comfortable with it, perhaps because of being taught for so long that it was evil. The reasons for doing it (praying to/with the saints) is beautiful, though. The idea is that God is the God of the living, not the dead, hence the saints are not dead and still have the power of intercession and help as they did when walking around in the flesh. In the same way that you would ask your pastor, friend, or family to pray for you we ask the saints to pray for us. Since we – the Church past and present – are all one Body in Christ, we continue to help each other in the journey. One would not think to withhold pray requests from their pastor due to the fact that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man, thus neither should we be shy of involving the saints in such prayer.

    Like I said, beautiful! but difficult to put into practice after so many years of not participating.

  3. Yeah that’s kind of how I understood their position… and it seems totally reasonable to me, if really foreign.

    The other thing that I trip over is the trajectory in the OT of not consulting mediums and spiritists… talking to the dead in any capacity seems to be categorically rejected in the OT, and the complete absence of “praying to the dead” in the NT would seem to at least be CONSISTENT with that fundamental conviction.

    Just thinking out loud… your thoughts?

  4. True, but mediums use magic to consult the dead, and, as the Bible reveals, they consult with demons and/or familiar spirits. The whole thing is icky. Not at all similar to praying with the ever present Church.

    The OT being categorically against communicating with the dead… I suppose, but again, is God the God of the dead or of the living? The saints aren’t dead any more than Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, the lack of praying to Mary, for instance, in the NT seems perfectly logical since Mary was still alive during the production of much of the NT. In addition, there weren’t many Christian saints and martyrs looking on from on high during its production. They died later. 🙂

    You have to admit, its pretty amazing how far back praying to/with the saints goes. Plus, it fits the title of this blog post perfectly – “Praying with Jesus, with the whole community of saints.” 🙂

  5. Haha. True. Any idea when praying to/with the saints started? Any relevant, early, theological texts to consult? Was an apologetic needed? Or did the patristic-era church adopt it easily and naturally?

    I’d LOVE to see a full history of the dogma… to me, it seems like a move that Paul, a good Jew who knew a fair amount about not talking to dead people, wouldn’t have approved of. Not a deal-buster, but it seems to me that the early church was fascinated enough with the person of the Risen Christ that at best they would have cast a crooked eyebrow at the suggestion of praying to/with the saints, especially if the Christ is the one to whom the whole of his people is summed up. To put it another way, why chat with Antony when what you love in Antony is summed up in Christ?

  6. I believe the practice of praying with the saints began in the 1st century. I’ll do some more research later, but I can tell you that part of this was actually influenced by Jewish practices of establishing shrines and/or holy places for the prophets and others who were considered holy, indeed when the apostles found Christ talking with Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration they were ready to make 3 shrines, not just one.

    And, our worship and prayers to Christ are in no way violated by our praying with the saints, again, any more than our pastor praying for us violates it. Christ is the unique mediator between God and man in that He was the incarnate Christ and that He is the Mediator of a new covenant. No man holds that role but Him. As a Body we (us and the saints gone before us) operate in unison in our worship to God, and in our private journeys to God. As the hand helps to comfort and heal the injured foot in no way violates the Head from being the Mover and Power of both. 🙂

  7. That’s good stuff bro. If you have any 1st century stuff to pass my way, I’d love to see it. Appreciate your interaction…

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