Sunday, August 30, 2009

Remember Not

Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, nor the offenses of our forefathers; neither reward us according to our sins. Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and by thy mercy preserve us for ever. Spare us, good Lord.

The above words follow immediately after the Invocation of the Trinity in the Great Litany. They are what is known as a “obsecration,” or earnest pleading. In it, we pray God not to remember sins, pleading that the consequences of our sins will not be visited on us. Henry Purcell, the great 17th Century Anglican composer, set the 1662 version of the text to music; it is a haunting and profound meditation on this masterpiece of prayer.

This prayer necessarily follows the Invocation, in that once we call to mind the holiness of God, our own sin becomes immediately apparent. How may we proceed in praying for the world when we ourselves are so compromised, so identified with the very brokenness we submit to Christ for healing and redemption? We should instinctively join the Prophet in saying: “Woe is me…for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5)

To remember – to make present – is central to the Christian life. At every Eucharist we remember Christ’s command to “do this” – making Him present by the action of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Mysteries. Each time, the consequences of God’s love in Christ are poured out upon us.

In this portion of the Litany, we in effect ask God to forget. Joining with the Psalmist in Psalm 51, we cry out: “in your compassion, blot out our offenses.” We, who are burdened by the present effects of our sin, our lost opportunities for holiness, plead with God to lift from us all the unbearable horror of this oppressive weight.

“With men it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:26) As the Litany is addressed to Christ, so it is through His mercy and grace made known eternally on the Cross that we have access to the Father, and thus the weight of sin, which “clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1) may finally be shed.

Intercession on the world's behalf is senseless without the mercy of the Cross. Our puny attempts to “make a difference” by ourselves would be worse than hopeless. In Christ, though, we have the victory that frees us from despair and helplessness. Sharing as we do with Him in a ministry of reconciliation, it becomes our joy and our mission to bring before the Throne of Grace all those many people and needs which come our way. Indeed, the "fruit of good deeds" done in our own local or personal circumstances require a direct connection to the concerns of the wider world. Through the life-giving Cross, this connection can be made without overwhelming us. Rather, we find added compassion and peace by sharing in Christ's ongoing intercession for the world.

By turning to Christ with contrite hearts in this opening petition of the Litany, we take off our “spiritual shoes” and stand on the holy ground of God’s own redeeming. We are now ready to call upon our God in humility – the prerequisite for true Christian intercession.

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