This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Prayers and burdens

Grace and Truth: A word from pastors

I wish I could say that people come to church for my sermons. The pews are filled instead because we want to be there to hear the prayers, sharing aloud our joys and concerns, bringing them before God and receiving each voice as an invitation into the body of Christ. Through prayer our lives are mingled, becoming part of one another. Villegas Isaac(1)For if one member suffers, all suffer together with him, and if one member rejoices, all rejoice with her. One person celebrates the news of the birth of a healthy baby, and all share in the joy of new life. Another mourns the death of a friend, and all share in the pain of loss. Someone reminds God, and us, to provide for those who are hungry and can’t afford to buy food, and for people in our community who do not have housing. Depending on the Sunday, our prayer time lasts longer than the sermon —gratitude for a new job, anguish at the bad reports from a parent’s losing battle against cancer, distress due to a lack of work, appreciation for gestures of kindness, despair at the return of depression. As we pray, I can’t help but be drawn into a communion of tears with friends whose vulnerability displays such courage. “We thank our Lord that our burdens are staggered,” Kate Roberts prayed a few weeks ago, “so that we might have the strength to carry another’s weight.” The church is a people of staggered burdens, as Kate put it, a community where those who bear much pain do not have more than they can bear, and those who have little can share the load. Recently a church member shared with us the burden she had been carrying for the past three years. “I had lost all hope, so death seemed like the logical option,” she said. After three years of failed suicide attempts, through our ordinary congregational life she slowly began to feel God’s affirmation of her life. “The love and grace you shared with me has restored my faith and hope,” she testified. “Not only have I stayed out of the hospital for more than a year; I am happy and at peace for the first time in years.” I think about her words whenever I start wondering why we keep on meeting as a congregation. It takes plenty of work from a lot of people to make church happen every week. But all of it is worthwhile if someone decides not to kill herself, despite the darkness of this world, and instead to live another day, another month, another year because somehow she has felt God’s affirmation and love through our lives of worship. God’s mission involves the maintenance of communities that sustain life in the midst of a culture of death. “I have come that they may have life,” Jesus said, “and have it abundantly.” “As our souls wait and as our bodies whither,” Kate Roberts closed her prayer, “might we feel the comfort of Christ, might we see glimpses of restoration.” In the silence after her words, my mind was flooded with stories of withering bodies, stories from the life of our congregation and our communities. But I also felt the comfort of Christ; the weight of the world would not crush the life of God growing in us; for, in the words of Menno Simons, we are “flesh of Christ’s flesh and bone of his bone … one with Christ in Spirit, love, and life.” Peace is a way of life that has everything to do with how we share burdens and pray for one another. Yes, to be a peace church involves us in protesting against war and violence wherever they appear in our world. Yet such a position flows from a culture of worship where life is affirmed as we rest in the peace of Christ—the Christ who comes in our communion, in our fellowship, in our joy and despair, as the Spirit enables us to expose our vulnerability to a group of people who won’t abandon us in our time of need.

Isaac S. Villegas

Isaac S. Villegas of Durham, N.C., is president of the North Carolina Council of Churches and an ordained Mennonite minister. Read More

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