“That They May Be Made Perfect In One”
(St. John 21:16)
By The Rev’d Dr. Robert Crouse
A Sermon for the 10th Anniversary of the Prayer Book Society of Canada
St. James Cathedral, Toronto on April 20, 1996
“The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them;
that they may be one, even as we are one:
I in thou, and thou in me,
that they may be made perfect in one …”
First, just a word of thanks to the Dean of Toronto and to the officers of the Prayer Book Society for their invitation to me to preach here on the occasion of this 10th anniversary celebration. I’ve been involved with the concerns of the Society since its early days, and have followed closely its remarkable growth in numbers, understanding and practical effectiveness: such a remarkable growth, really, that it’s difficult to realize that the Society has existed for only a decade.As for its practical effectiveness, I think it’s widely recognized, for instance, that the preservation of the Book of Common Prayer for the foreseeable future as the official liturgy of the Anglican Church of Canada is in no small measure a consequence of the patient work of the Society. I believe it would be fair to say that nowhere else in the Anglican world has such a broad range of church people given such sustained and thoughtful attention to the theological and liturgical principles of our tradition of common prayer as we have witnessed here in Canada, not only within the Prayer Book Society itself but also among many others who have been drawn into the discussion. That augurs well for the future. and we thank God today for this good beginning, for humble labours richly blessed beyond our expectations or deserving.
But if our service today looks back with thankfulness upon the ten years past, it must also look forward to the future; and in that regard, the scripture lessons selected by the organizers of this service seem to me an inspired choice, for two reasons. First, they are the propers appointed for the Unity of the Church, and that is a matter which must be of very serious concern to Anglicans in the context of our present confusions, and a matter central to the interests of the Prayer Book Society.
Our tradition of common prayer is the distinctive glory of Anglicanism, and it is the only significant principle of cohesion in the Anglican Communion as an institution. If that tradition is abandoned, we are left with only a very hollow bureaucratic unity (the kind of unity constituted by synods and committees). which is ultimately ineffectual. To put the matter bluntly, the destruction of our liturgical tradition involves inevitably the demoralizing and the disintegration of the institution: and those consequences are increasingly evident in the Anglican Church of Canada.
But beyond the somewhat pragmatic consideration of the unity of the institution, those lessons appointed for the Unity of the Church put before us fundamental theological considerations essential to our understanding of our common prayer tradition. The Gospel lesson presents the climax of Jesus’ prayer of self-dedication, as he goes forward to his final sacrifice; the Epistle lesson speaks to us of the gifts of grace in the life of the Church. which flow from that accepted offering: “He ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, he gave gifts unto men”.
In those lessons taken together, we see very precisely stated the whole basis and nature and function of the common prayer of Christians. Our prayer is our entering, by grace, into the perfect self-offering of the eternal Son to the Father, our entering into that adoring charity which is the life of God himself.
The essence of our prayer is precisely that ascent of mind and heart in loving adoration, and all the other aspects of our prayer – our thanksgiving. our intercessions, our petitions, our penitence – all those aspects of our prayer are ancillary; always relative to the central moment of adoration, which is our union with God, our being in God, in and through the Risen and Ascended Lord. “That they may be one even as we are one”, says Jesus, “I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one…”. Our true prayer resides in that adoring love which is the Son’s relation to the Father, and we are caught up into that relation when we begin our prayer, as Jesus taught us, looking towards “Our Father, who art in heaven”. That is the ground of our unity as Christians.
It seems to me that most of our confusions and dilemmas with regard to common prayer – not just in Canadian Anglicanism, but in contemporary Christianity much more widely – have to do with a fundamental lack of clarity about the function of liturgical prayer, the purpose of our worship. Some think of it as an exercise to raise the consciousness of the gathered community, to enhance the community’s commitment, for instance, to goals of social justice. Some think liturgies must be designed to express the political, social and religious aspirations of the disadvantaged, or of minority groups within society. Some think that liturgies should be revised to express more directly the religious perceptions and attitudes which seem to belong to the contemporary world. Some think liturgies exist simply as affirmations of our identity as “the people of God”, and so on. The prospect now seems to be for a proliferation of special-interest liturgies. and an increasingly fragmented Church.
Today’s lessons speak directly to those confusions. Common prayer is not a special interest. Adoration – the ascent of mind and heart to God, in and through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit: that pertains to our salvation simply as human beings: not as Jew or Greek, male or female, bond or free, not as majorities or minorities, not as ancient or modern. not according to any of our divisions, but according to our commonality as human beings. Prayer must not enforce our divisions, but must unite us in our common humanity, “until we come. in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”. as our Epistle lesson says.
Further. as our Gospel lesson reminds us. prayer is not, finally. a means to any other end: adoration is itself the end and not a means. and adoration must always be the basic character and focus of our common prayer: not prayer for the sake of other things. but all else for the sake of prayer.
Now, as the Anglican Church of Canada looks forward to a new phase in the construction and revision of experimental liturgies, I think one of the great challenges before the Prayer Book Society will be to express as clearly as possible the essential commonality of our common prayer tradition, the centrality of adoration, and the theological foundations of that perspective.
Associated with those issues will be many other questions, of course: questions, for instance. about the language appropriate to liturgy – whether contemporary language, inclusive language, or what-ever: questions about which I’ll say nothing here and now, except to observe that language belongs to the very essence of liturgy, and problems about the language of common prayer must obviously be approached with the most careful deliberation.
Undoubtedly, the role of the Prayer Book Society will be as important in the next decade as it has been in the one gone by; and surely the difficulties will be as great, if not greater. During our reception this afternoon, after this service, we’ll be honouring three founding members of the Society, who have contributed much by their courage and steadfastness during the past decade. Similar dedication will be required for the future, and this service is a good opportunity for each of us to affirm his own commitment to work in this way for the building up of the body of Christ. I know that life in the Church nowadays can be very difficult for many of us, full of frustrations and temptations to cynicism: but the Prayer Book Society has made a difference. and it can continue to make a difference.
Keep the faith. And remember that your labour is never in vain in the Lord. Amen.