Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Amazing Feasts of Comites Christi—Praying the Days after Christmas

Christmas comes and in our imaginations we surround the Incarnate Word, the Babe of Bethlehem with star struck shepherds and gift-laden star gazers. The church in its zig-zag evolutionary wisdom of praying with Christ discovered other “companions of Christ” (comites Christi) who confront our mix of culture and gospel with contrasting visions of Christmas: Stephen, the first Christian martyr, John the evangelist, and the innocent children whom Herod maniacally slew as the Holy Family escaped to Egypt.

These characters are like alcohol or hydrogen peroxide swabbed on a wound: they sting our easy and facile revelry with the surface of the Christmas story and invite us into the paradox and mystery of Emmanuel—God with us. They help us to confront our questions about all the things that don’t fit “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night, Holy Night.” In no way am I proposing that we should not celebrate Christmas with all of the riches of its popular traditions. But like the emerging practice of celebrating “Blue Christmas Services” with those who mourn and those who experience the nativity heavy with the sense of loss—loss of a child, a spouse, a parent, a marriage, a job, one’s health or well-being—these “companions of Christ” becomes lenses through which to see expansively the meaning of Christ among us. They expand the story to include our stories--and the diverse voices of those who are also the companions of Christ; sometimes the unlikely companions of Christ.

Instead of further prosaic commentary on these companions of Christ, I invite you to pray these “saints” whom the church has juxtaposed with Christmas. Indeed, they are commemorated on the second, third and fourth days of the twelve days of Christmas. What follow are prayers I composed a decade or more ago for use in The Daily Office of the Order of Saint Luke, Volume I (Second Edition published in November 1998. (See the copyright notice at the end of this blog.) I post them here with the kind permission of the Order’s office of publication.

As you pray, allow the unexpected and the unbidden to appear, dance, and come into your awareness as you pray.

Dec. 26—The Second Day of Christmas: St. Stephen, the Martyr
The feast of St. Stephen can be traced back to the 4th century in the East and from the beginning of the 5th century in the West.

Lord Jesus, when the teeth of rage and resistance threaten us,
fix our vision on you at the right hand of God.
With Stephen, make us free to yield ourselves to you
and ask for mercy upon those who would destroy us. Amen.

O God of stars and martyrs,
we wonder with thanksgiving at the Christian mysteries.
With Mary at the manger and with Stephen outside the city,
we ponder the paradox that we can rejoice and mourn at the same reason.
With the shepherds and the saints,
we bow in adoration at the wonderful exchange:
Christ’s blessedness for our wretchedness.
We give you unceasing thanks for your richness toward us,
and for the mystery that we remain in possession
of Christ’s own inexhaustible riches
though we be assaulted or suffer any hardship for his sake. Amen.
Based on a text from Fulgentius, 6th cent.

God of mercy,
in baptism you call us to share your cross and passion.
In the hour of extreme demand when our flesh and heart would fail,
be our strength and portion forever,
through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

Dec. 27—The Third Day of Christmas: the Feast of St. John, the Evangelist
The feast of John the Evangelist also dates back to the 4th century in the East. John, whose symbol is the eagle, approaches the meaning of Christ Jesus, soaring in language of Word, Light, Grace and Truth.

O Mystery!
O Wondrous God,
we thank you for our revelation in the Word made flesh
and for the record of eye-witnesses
who declared what they had heard and seen and touched.
We thank you for the intimacy of community
with all in your church
as we abide in common fellowship
with you and with your Son, Jesus Christ.
We bless you for the forgiveness of sin and all the means of grace by which we remain in the Light. Amen.

Everlasting God,
in the Word made flesh,
we have seen your glory, full of grace and truth.
We rejoice today with John, your evangelist,
who declared the mystery of the incarnation
and wrote of Jesus with the eagle’s view.
Evermore bring us to believe in your son
and to have life in his name. Amen.

God of many names,
bring us again and again to know eternal life
by the One who is
bread from heaven,
light of the world,
gate for the sheep,
resurrection and life,
the way, the truth, and the life,
the true vine. Amen.

Dec. 28—The Fourth Day of Christmas: Holy Innocents
The earliest mention of the feast of the Holy Innocents dates back to the city of Carthage in 505. These companions have close connections with the stories of Christmas.

Lord Jesus, from your birth, you are “martyr-master.”*
We thank you for your love poured into our hearts,
even when we do not comprehend the darkside of your blessing.
In this time of Christmas joy,
we are grateful that,
when the darkness of the world comes
with senseless wasting of lives,
you make victims your dearest prize
and enable us to see “sweet heaven astrew in them.”*
Now hear us as we lift dark circumstances
into your holy and perfecting light:
the troubles and as –yet-senseless sufferings of our own lives…
all victims of abuse, political oppression, economic degradation and disease…
the people and leaders of nations who struggle in the world’s present darkness…
the people of God in our quest to be faithful…
those areas of our lives which we lift up asking for mercy and grace….
*Phrases from G. M. Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland”

O God of mercy and protection,
we thank you that you maintain the cause of the needy
and execute justice for the poor and innocent.
We thank you for every prompting of grace
that enables us to look beyond the shadows of present suffering
to see the Light of your eternity.
We thank you that a day will come when all victims and tyrants,
all innocents and terrorists,
will be “wound with mercy round and round”*
and every knee shall bow to the Babe of Bethlehem,
the Crucified Jesus, the First-born from the Dead.
We thank you for the vision of every tear wiped away and no more death.
Hear us as we pray for
all victims…
all who are advocates and defenders of the oppressed…
the prophetic ministry of the church…
those concerns that present themselves to us now…
*Phrase from G. M. Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland”


When we have tasted the “cup” of these companions of Christ in our prayers and musings, we return with the church in prayer and praises rejoicing in the festivities of
Christmases’ fifth through twelfth days with a deeper sense of the mystery of what it means to be the companions of Christ in our own time for this world.

The prayers above are copyright © 1998 OSL Publications, P.O. Box 22279, Akron, Ohio 44302-0079 (e-mail: books@saint-luke.org). They may be printed, copied, distributed, reprinted in church bulletins or newsletters, or otherwise used for nonprofit local church worship or education with the inclusion of the copyright citation. They may not be used for profit or republication without prior permission. They may not be reproduced on any website without permission, though other websites are welcome to link to them on this blog (http://strongcenterwidehorizon.blogspot.com/).

Dan Benedict

No comments: