Saturday, 16 April 2016

Taking It Between the Shoulders: The Holy Spirit in the Prayer Books: Part Three

This was published in the Spring 2016 issue of Anglicans for Renewal, the Anglican Renewal Ministries magazine—follow the link the ARM Office to subscribe here

In his farewell blessing to the tribe of Benjamin, Moses said,
The High God surrounds him all day long, and dwells between his shoulders. (Dt 33.12)
That the High God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ dwells between their shoulders struck me between the eyes when I read it in Morning Prayer the other day. I’d not noticed it before. I hope he dwells between mine, too.

A good way to remind myself of holy possibilities like that is to pray the Anglican daily offices of morning, evening and night prayer (midday, too, if I’m especially keen). It’s also a good way to keep my heart, soul, mind and body (head, heart and shoulders) centred in the crosshairs of God’s amazing grace and empowering Holy Spirit.

Consider THE ORDER FOR MORNING PRAYER DAILY THROUGHOUT THE YEAR in The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) (Anglican Book Centre, 1962) for example. The opening sentences for Whitsunday and Embertide are:
The love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us. (Romans 5.5) 
Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1.8) (p2)
Wonderful reminders with which to begin a day. The love of God has been “poured into our hearts” (ESV), in other words, right between our shoulders through the working of the given Holy Spirit. What a gift! Love and The Comforter shed abroad, poured and given. And not only that, power was received when the Holy Spirit came upon us.

When did the Holy Spirit come upon us? For most of you who are vintage BCP Anglicans, it was before you knew it. Just before you were baptized the Priest prayed that you would be baptized and sanctified with the Holy Spirit (BCP, p523), that the Holy Spirit would be given to you (BCP, p525) and that you would be regenerate with the Holy Spirit (BCP, p529). And power was received, whether you knew or not. Then, with Confirmation, came the Bishop’s prayers that you would be strengthened by and daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more (BCP, p560).

Or, for those baptized and confirmed according to the BAS rites, “Fill them with your holy and life-giving Spirit,” the celebrant prayed, and “Teach them to love others in the power of the Spirit” (BAS, p155), “Anoint them” (BAS, p157) and “Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit” (BAS, p160). The bishop then confirmed it all when s/he prayed,
by the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound us to your service. Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at their baptism. Send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them. 
The bishop also prayed that we would be strengthened, empowered, sustained and would
daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more (BAS, p628). 
Empty prayers? I suppose they could be if we let them be. I say, fill them! Why not follow Epaphras’ example and so some struggling in our prayers (Col 4.12) for the Holy Spirit to come upon us all, right between the shoulders, and fill us so that all those prayers prayed over us when we were Baptized and Confirmed would come true to the honour of God’s holy Name, and the good of his Church and people. After all, if we who are so scattered, careless, sinful and easily offended,
know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Lk 11.13)