Monday, February 01, 2010

Covenant Prayer : Nunc Dimittis

I am no longer my own, but Yours:
Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering;
Let me be employed by You or laid aside for You,
Exalted for You or brought low by You;
Let me be full, let me be empty;
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am Yours. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation...”
Luke 2:29, 30

[‘nunc dimittis’ – Latin, ‘now dismiss’ – is the name under which this prayer has been passed down within the Church]

The ‘Covenant Prayer’ was written down by John Wesley as a prayer of re-dedication. In some Methodist churches, the congregation pray it together annually. It has also been taken up by The Order of Mission (established in 2003). Whenever new members make their temporary vows, or when temporary members come to make permanent vows, they pray this prayer and those existing members witnessing the occasion pray it with them. They are dangerous words, and as an Order we are really only starting to grow in our understanding of just how much such a prayer can cost. And yet, to take it seriously, we need to regularly revisit and wrestle with each clause.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Candlemas, commemorating the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38). When the baby Jesus is brought to the temple, the Holy Spirit prompts a man named Simeon to go there. He has waited patiently to see something before he dies: the one God had promised to send. God had chosen a people to be a light to all peoples, but instead of fulfilling that purpose they had been overwhelmed by darkness. And so God had promised to send them someone who would not only rescue his people from darkness, but would fulfil their calling to be a light that would draw all peoples to God. And God had promised Simeon that he would see it.

Simeon sees it, and is satisfied. He does not live to see the outworking of salvation. He does not live to see the miracles, the crucifixion, the resurrection. He does not get to see the spread of the early church, the at times painful working-out how to be a community of faith made up of Jews and Gentiles. Instead, he allows God to make a prophetic declaration through him and then dismiss him from this world.

“...Let me be employed by You or laid aside for You...”

“...Let me be...laid aside for You...”

To the extent that our identity is found in what we do, being laid aside feels like failure, or punishment, a vote of no confidence. To the extent that our identity is found in what we do, having been laid aside feels disorientating, and disappointing. To the extent that I recognise these responses in my own heart, my identity is misplaced.

Simeon is not only dismissed, he is dismissed in peace. He is not dismissed too soon. God is good for his promise. Simeon’s identity is not found in what he does – we are told nothing about his life story, only that he is of godly character – but in his confidence in God’s promise, confidence that allows him to let God be god and Simeon be himself before God.

God has me in this place at this time. And he is working out his salvation, here. I will not get to see the fulfilment, and perhaps not even the flowering, of that salvation. This is true of both the passing encounters of any one day, and the ongoing relationships over the three more years I am likely to be here. Indeed, it will always be true, for any of us.

If my place is to name the infant work for what it will be, and be dismissed, please God let me be dismissed in peace.

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