While Jesus was struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane, his disciples, though physically present, were not with him in spirit. We are all familiar with the concept of being lonely, even within a group of people. This was literally true for Jesus during his final hours. There was no one who understood what he was going through, no one who could stay with him, even from a distance, and pray for him. This utter loneliness is painfully familiar to many of us. While the world sleeps, some of us endure the dark night of the soul, apparently alone and cut off from the solace of a comforting touch or an assuring promise of presence. This has been all the more real for those with loved ones in hospital at the moment. Due to essential restrictions, we cannot be present with our loved ones as they face acute medical care on their own. While phones and social media may help, many are too unwell or frail to take calls or even to hold the device that would connect them to their loved ones. As well as the stunted grieving process that is restricted by inhibiting our ability to grieve and support those grieving, I believe this separation from loved ones in their greatest time of need will have a lasting impact on family, community, and society for many years to come.
While the answer for us as Christians is obvious, ‘we can pray’, I am aware that this solution may seem glib and facile. And yet there is absolute truth in the reality that prayer connects us in a unique way with God and the person for whom we offer up heartfelt prayers. At a time when prayer may feel hollow, it is actually an enriching reminder that while we can’t be present, God can, and is! ‘Underneath are the everlasting arms’. (Deuteronomy 33:27) ‘Never will I forsake you, never will I abandon you!’ (Hebrews 13:5). These are more than words of comfort, they are words of promise. The death and resurrection of Jesus makes them so.
All of this is to remind us that prayer for and with one another is a critical part of our Christian life. It is the heartbeat of our community. It is the fulfilment of our calling, ‘Cast all your burdens upon the Lord, for he cares for you’. (Peter 5:7). The launch yesterday of the ‘Prayer Tree’ is very much part of this need to pray and to be prayed for. At a time when we are exhausted, burnt out and even hyper- anxious, we need one another even more than ever. There are days when I cannot pray. It happens to many of us. Those are sometimes the days that are actually filled with unexpected blessing, as I realise there are people praying for me. Your prayers carry me through these unchartered waters. And so it can be (and must be) for others as well. When we add our prayers together it’s not that it changes God’s heart (he already loves and is present with those for whom we are praying), prayer changes us, it unites us, it helps us.
So these two weeks of focussed praying around the ‘Prayer Tree’ are an opportunity to give and to receive. If you have loved ones you would like us as a parish to pray for, please send me as much detail as you are comfortable with. Even a first name is enough, though you may prefer to explain what specific prayer our team would offer for them. That name will be written on a white dove and placed around the cross in the porch, and we will pray for them every day between now and Good Friday (and beyond if needed). As well as asking for prayers for loved ones, you can join us in prayer, committing to praying daily for a small number of people each day. While all you may have is a first name, God already knows you, them, and their circumstances. It can be challenging to pray like this, but it works in ways we often don’t understand.
This time last year, as the first weeks of lockdown were unfolding, I went outside our church a bit before taking one of the new online services. I went out to clear my head and calm my soul. Outside I met someone I know very well, sitting on the grass bank in front of our great East windows, she was listening to the organ music soaring through thickened walls. She explained that she was praying for her baby grandchild who was gravely ill and not expected to survive. I assured her, we would watch and pray with her; and week by week, alongside literally hundreds of others, we prayed. And it worked. This beautiful baby celebrated her first birthday a few short weeks ago. Similarly, over the years, are many examples of answered prayer. Sometimes, of course, the answer can be eternal rest rather than physical or emotional healing (the empty tomb is the greatest event of healing in history).
So I invite you now to text 087 948 4407 or email email@example.com with a prayer request or an offer to watch and pray with us. As well as names written on white doves, their names are already carved on the pierced hands of God.