“To err is human, but to arrr is pirate.” This is a story of both of err and arrr. When Julius Caesar was a young man, he was captured by pirates and held for ransom (it was an err that the arrrs would regret). The pirates, being pirates, were not so bright and set the ransom at 20 talents. Caesar was horrified. How dare these pirates set such a price for his liberation. It most certainly had to be in err. A talent was roughly the equivalent of the salary a laborer could make in nine years. Caesar was beside himself, not because he feared, at that price, he would never be redeemed, but that the ransom was way too low for someone of his rank and status. In fact, the ransom was embarrassing. And so, Caesar demanded that the pirates (arrr) increase his ransom to a more fitting fifty talents. They gladly agreed. For the next 38 days, young Caesar was held hostage until the exchange could be made. During these long days, Caesar needled his pirate captives with promises that, upon his release, he would hunt them down, have them arrested and summarily executed. The pirates thought it was a big joke (hardy arr arr arr). But no. Shortly, after his release, Caesar did exactly what he had promised. He found all the pirates (arrr), arrested them (for their err), and then had them all crucified. Arrr, he did just that. Aye, ya don’t mess with the Caesar J.
I don’t know about you, but I would love to see my enemies get their comeuppance in such a dramatic way. True, I would accept being set free from those who oppress me; but what I really would like is to see my enemies trounced, crushed, vanquished and flattened. I would love to hear the echo of their voices reverberate through the corridors of time, “Aye, ya don’t mess with the Pastor D.” In short, I don’t like my enemies. That’s not news. This might be: God doesn’t like my enemies either and has promised to annihilate them. Now, my enemies have names, people names (I won’t bore you with their actual names). Interestingly, God also puts names on my enemy. He names them sin and death and Satan. Here’s the thing about prayer. Prayer is God’s means to give us what he desires for us, and that principle is most clearly seen in this prayer with its focus on the victory over our enemy secured by Christ in his death and resurrection. It is an Easter Sunday prayer, and it is a prayer to be celebrated.
who for our redemption
gave your only-begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection delivered us
from the power of our enemy:
Grant us so to die daily to sin,
that we may evermore live with him
in the joy of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This is our tenth prayer, and it is one of my absolute favorites. What makes it so is not only its beautiful language or its rich theology, but its unexpected twists and turns. Unexpectedly, we start off with the most succinct and simple of all the addresses in the Book of Common Prayer. The prayer simply starts, “O God.” It’s not much of a beginning, especially compared to some of the other prayers we have examined (addresses such as, “Almighty and everliving God,” spring to mind, as does “Most merciful God” and “O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you”). But as the prayer goes on, we see why. It’s a prayer anchored in rich theology. In one fell swoop we are remined of all that God has done in giving up his Son to die on a cross so that we could be redeemed. At least, that is what we think if we pray this prayer too fast. When we pray it slowly (as most good prayers should be prayed), we realize that, far from being a prayer aimed primarily at our head, this is a prayer aimed directly at the heart. It is that second line. God did all of this “for our redemption.” He did this for us. He gave. Jesus died, and we were set free.
But the prayer continues. God not only gave his Son over to death for our redemption, but in his glorious resurrection he delivered us from the power of our enemy (arrr, here be our enemy spoken of). Now, the New Testament talks about three enemies, namely, sin, death and the devil; and yet, they are so closely tied together, we can speak of them as a singular enemy, just as we can include all sorts of other enemies (fear, despair, guilt, shame, etc.) as numerous manifestations of our one enemy. This prayer considers all those enemies defeated by Christ’s resurrection as the enemy who seeks to exert power over us, and I would not disagree with that perspective. One enemy stands against us although it manifests itself in many forms (Think The Lord of the Rings—“one ring to rule them all”; one enemy binds all our enemies together and stands against us). But here’s the good news. This enemy has been defeated in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Our sin is forgiven. Death is eviscerated by the resurrection. And Satan and his hordes have been utterly defeated and destroyed. The victory has been won, and we have been redeemed to the uttermost. Not only is that spectacular news, but it is delivered in typical Book of Common Prayer style, with grace, charm, parallelism and alliteration: “Redeemed by his death, delivered by his resurrection!” Our ransom has been paid in full, and we have been released.
But all of that is just the foundation. We haven’t even made our petition yet. Instead, all we have done is to address God and remind him who he is and what he has done in the past. Reminding God in this way presents reasons (to God and to us) for why God should grant our request. But with this solid foundation, we are now ready to present our petition; and it is at this time that the prayer takes an unexpected turn (at least, unexpected to me!). See, this is an Easter prayer; and I would have guessed we would be all Easter-y here. Based on all that God has done to redeem us, I would have expected the petition to center on teaching us how to give thanks for such a great salvation or how to live in light of the resurrection (one example: Brennan Manning confessed, “For me the most radical demand of Christian faith lies in summoning the courage to say yes to the present risenness of Jesus Christ.”) or how to worship more enthusiastically. You know, something Easter-y—a beautiful super-spiritual request with a nice chocolate taste that excites, but quickly peters out like a sugar rush. But instead, this Easter prayer gets real and serious fast. How ought we to give thanks for such a great salvation? We are to offer ourselves up as living sacrifices. See, in his death and resurrection, Christ has defeated sin, death and Satan. But there is one more enemy that needs to be conquered, and so we pray: “Grant us so to die daily to sin.” We are the last enemy. And so, we ask God, because he is our redeemer and deliverer, to move in us so that we may die daily to sin. By dying to our sin, by conquering the enemy within (by God’s grace and through his power), we respond to God’s redemption.
Now that sounds like work. That sounds hard. It sounds like every time one enemy is defeated, another one pops up in its place or that, while technically being defeated, these enemies just don’t know it (think Battle of the Budge or think of Miracle Mike, the chicken who lived 18 months after his head was cut off). But that is not the perspective of this prayer. Why should we die to sin? It is here this prayer takes a very unexpected, but very welcomed turn: “that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection.” We’ve finally found Easter in this prayer. We started off with the cross and redemption (no doubt, very Easter-like). We moved on to our deliverance from the power of our enemy through the glorious resurrection of Jesus from the dead (another very Easter-centric theme). We then took hold of our response: that we would die daily to sin (a quintessential Easter response). But then, Easter came into full sight with one quick purpose statement that transforms the whole prayer, “that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection.” I feared the whole prayer would end with a simple statement of “ought,” that it would be all about our response of obedience in light of God’s redemption, but I was way off course (arrrr). This is a prayer about joy!
See, our enemy comes and steals away everything we value; our love, joy, dreams, future, hope, meaning and then takes away our lives). Our enemy is death and darkness and despair. But in the resurrection, Jesus delivers us from all of these adversaries and crowns us with unspeakable and irrepressible joy. But that is the way prayer works. All our prayers will end in our delight, maybe not immediately, but ultimately. That is why we pray. We pray to be swallowed up in joy.
But this is not just our dream come true, this is also what God wants for us. Our problem is that we often are so focused on what we want God to do for us, that we forget to ask what God wants to do in us. But that is the goal of all uncommon prayer, isn’t it? To move beyond our needs and greeds and ask God for he wants to do in us. And so, we pray that God would forgive us because we know that God gave his Son to redeem us. And we pray for eternal life because we know that in the resurrection, there is life, that “we may evermore live with him.” And we pray for God’s kingdom to come over all the earth because we know that our enemy has been defeated because “by his glorious resurrection” we have been delivered from the power of sin, death and Satan. And we pray that Christ may be formed in us so that we will be like him, and so we “die daily to sin,” so that we can “live with him in the joy of his resurrection.” And because we know Jesus has risen, we will also rise. That’s also a source of unspeakable joy.
Learning to pray, not for things that we want, but for things God wants is what true prayer is all about. The fact is, we rarely can pray on our own. We need a mentor to guide us and teach us so that we can get out of our own way and discover ourselves anew in God’s presence. We need a mentor so that we can find everlasting joy. These ten prayers lead us to that place.
Why are pirates pirates? Because they just arrrrrrr. Why does God desire such joy and such overwhelming good for us? Because that is who he is. And aye, ya don’t mess with joy!