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Grace to Stand before Almighty God

Dear friends,

It quite caught me by surprise. It was a tiny change, but my ear (and heart) heard it immediately.

My mind filled with what was being said and I began to zone out from the final sentences of the Communion Prayer.

I guess it’s being the minister week by week that embeds the language in your head and heart. Here are the last sentences of the official words of Communion Prayer B (Common Worship Order One):

… As we offer you this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,

we bring before you this bread and this cup

and we thank you for counting us worthy

to stand in your presence and serve you.

Send the Holy Spirit on your people

and gather into one in your kingdom …

And here’s what the minister read out – illegally, because you promise at your Licensing: “… and in public prayer and administration of the Sacraments, I will use only the Forms of Service which are authorised or allowed by Canon”:

… As we offer you this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,

we bring before you this bread and this cup

and we thank you for counting us worthy

to be in your presence and serve you.

Send the Holy Spirit on your people

and gather into one in your kingdom …

I have highlighted the changed word. You may well think “what’s the difference?” I think there’s a huge difference.

Stand v Be – that’s a huge difference, a huge theological difference, and a wonderful difference in divine grace. How easy it is to make errors.

When I’m leading this prayer and I come to that word ‘stand’, it feels really exclusive if the congregation are seating or kneeling. I used to worry that only those standing were being referred to – well, that would be me in a church service! Am I the only person worthy to stand in God’s presence? Of course not!

And if the congregation are standing while the prayer is read out, that makes them immediately being counted worthy in God’s presence by virtue of their upright posture. No. That’s not what the words mean.

‘To stand in the presence of God’ is a glorious truth being given to us every time we gather for Communion (especially when we use Prayer B). We have the privilege to stand in God’s presence. It is not that we ‘be’ in God’s presence.

The only true way we can ‘be’ in God’s awesome presence is just like the prophet Isaiah felt (Isa. 6), crying out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King ….”

Before our Almighty God, “holy, holy, holy”, we can only fall prostrate on the ground.

But, and the Communion prayer is so right here, we are able to stand in the presence, stand because He lifts us up, declares us holy and righteous. That’s not that we have achieved anything for that honour, but because of all that Jesus did for us through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave.

Just in that one phrase ‘we thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence’, we have a theology of grace, transforming grace. We are welcomed and forgiven, so we can stand before Almighty God.

That’s the meaning of Lent, the hope of Good Friday and the joy of Easter.

Every blessing to you this Eastertide,

Richard

Contact Info

Christ Church Bedford
140 Dudley Street,
Bedford, MK40 3SX

Telephone
01234 327150