Did you notice the prayer at the end of the New Testament passage we heard just now, the end of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians? It was the Grace. It’s a prayer we use a lot, particularly at the end of meetings or church gatherings. It is one of the best known and most used prayers in the Christian church, a prayer that unites Christians from every background and denomination.
Have you noticed that in any group where people are saying the Grace, some people look down, or have their eyes closed, and they might make the sign of the cross. Other people look round, trying to catch the eyes of everyone else present – so that they are sharing the Grace, sharing the prayer, sharing the love and the communion, with everybody there. There isn’t a right way of doing it of course, and I usually end up doing a sort of half and half – I catch people’s eyes if they are looking round, and I make the sign of the cross.
It is such a familiar prayer, and having it as part of today’s Bible reading gives us a chance to look at it more closely and think about what it means.
It’s a prayer for three blessings: grace, love and communion. And you can’t entirely separate out the three, because they are dependent on each other, they overlap and flow into each other.
All of the blessings, grace, love and communion, say something about who God is, as well as being a prayer that God’s people might benefit from them.
Let’s start with love, because that’s the key. God is love. Where love is, God is. It is God’s love that creates our world and goes on creating, God’s love that creates us and works with us creatively. It is not a wishy-washy lovey-dovey fluffy-bunny kind of love; it’s not about nice feelings or tender hearts. It’s a love that has no illusions, that sees the best and the worst in people, that is prepared to tackle the darker side of human life head-on, because it wants the absolute best for you, and that means dealing with the problems. Love doesn’t let you off; it deals with the problems and sorts them.
Jesus showed us what love is – he loved us so much that he was prepared to die for us. There is nothing soft about love.
There was a book that came out 30 years ago and which has remained very popular: The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. Peck gives us a very helpful non-religious definition of love. He says that love is:
The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.
In other words, love is wanting someone to grow spiritually and doing what we can to help them get there. And that backs up what I said about love being willing to tackle difficult issues.
Let’s go back to the first blessing in the prayer, which is Grace – the word that gives the prayer its name. Grace flows out of love. It is the generous pouring out of God’s love. There is nothing mean about the way God loves us; it is unlimited and wholehearted. And it includes forgiveness. God’s love is so great that God will forgive us anything and go on forgiving us. So when we pray for grace, we are praying for the insight, the strength, the love that will enable the person you are praying for, and the group and ourselves as well, to forgive, and to go beyond the hurt and damage that we all manage to do to each other. Grace isn’t about ignoring the hurts and wounds of life, but is the ointment that takes away the poison of infection by pouring in love and forgiveness.
Grace is what Christ did by coming to live among us and die for us.
And the third blessing that the prayer calls down is communion. And that means something about our relationship with God and our relationship with each other and our relationship with our communities. Communion says something about the closeness of the relationship, the bond. We are in union, or united with God, with each other and with the community. When we come to church each week, we receive Holy Communion, the bread and wine that become to us the body and blood of Christ, and in receiving them we are united with Christ, and united with the whole church, present, past and future. We are bound together in the sharing.
Communion is also part of God’s nature. The prayer calls for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit – so they’re all in there, all the persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are not three separate individuals, because they are one. God is One, but we experience God in three ways. And the three ways, the three Persons are in communion with each other, in full, loving relationship with each other.
So when we are in communion with God and when we are in communion with each other, we are reflecting the loving communion that is at the heart of what God is about.
So that’s what we pray for each other: Grace, Love, Communion. We are asking God to give us something of himself, something of the qualities that are at the heart of who God is. They are the qualities that will make us better human beings, better able to serve God. They are the qualities that our world needs. There is not enough Grace, Love and Communion in our communities, and God is relying on us to make it happen.
So how can you make them real in your life – Grace, Love, Communion?