Tonight is a vigil. Tonight, on the eve of Easter Sunday, I’m taking all the thoughts and cares I have and placing them before the God of everything. A night of prayer. There is no limit, no prescription and no proscription for prayer. Prayer is life, submission. A breath can be a prayer, a life lived for God is prayer. My whole life is very obviously not solid wall-to-wall prayer – you know me, I stumble and fumble along – but tonight, tonight is a prayer. From beginning to end. Or as long as I can stay awake (the heart is willing but the body is weak). This blog? A prayer. This breath? A prayer. This clumsy finger plonking on the key board? A prayer.
Prayer can be a decision.
Staying awake, under a wide deep black Welsh sky is prayer, if we stay awake with God.
He is in my thoughts and in my heart, he is in all my experience so I don’t have to recite a list of all my wants, dutifully working through the friends who are at this moment in desperate need of his comfort. He knows. Just as I am aware of those I love, and of the terrible chaos of the world, of those who are grieving and those who are dying, and those who keep watch over them, he knows my heart. I don’t need to find the right words.
My prayer is that those who are in need will love him more and more, know him better, hold him closer, be conscious of his presence and his peace, that they will glorify him whatever they’re going through right now, buoyed up by him, and that their devotion will grow. I don’t take this to God in words because we don’t need words to pray. Prayer is above and beyond words. You need words – you’re reading a blog after all. And I need words, here they are… so many words…. going on and on…. but God needs no words. He knows.
He is the God who created the immeasurable Cosmos, who made the Sun so large that over a million planet Earths could fit inside it, who made the Moon to bring us gravity and tides, who hurtles our little planet through space at 1000 miles an hour. He’s the God who brought me into the world, and you, and who will take us from it one day. He knows the synapses and the neurones and the neutron transmitters of every wonderful, mysterious human brain. He hears the cacophony of a billion voices raised in prayer. Do I really believe that the Creator hears one piping voice in a million billion, clamouring over all the centuries?
I do. So there.
I believe he hears my unspoken thoughts, my unworded longings. My silent voice. And even more than this, I believe that prayer is powerful. Not because of those who pray, but because of the one who listens.
Tonight friends are holding their own vigil, as a dearly loved wife and mother gradually slips away into another life, into death. Their night vigil may take days or even weeks, and so they’re uppermost in my thoughts. Good thoughts though, completely trusting thoughts, I have no fear on their behalf, knowing he has them safe…. they love God, and where there is love there is no fear. ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8:38/39
But the end of life can be distressing and painful, so it’s a hard hard time for these friends, just as it’s a hard time for Ukraine, for all the frightened and grieving people over there. Just as it’s a hard time for all those in sickness and mourning the world over. In this life we will have trouble. What was the next phrase? Ah yes, “But take heart, for I have overcome the world.”
Tonight, because I am old and have no call on my time, this is a vigil. We don’t all have the privilege and luxury of night-long prayer, indeed I may find in a few hours that the brain has ground to a halt and my eyes are closing. I make no promises! But these retirement years are a good time for prayer and meditation, for timelessness. Every life and season in life is different. In the daily round children need to be fed, work needs to be done, sleep needs to be slept and even silly jokes need to be joked. But we can do all these things as prayers. That may all sound more diluted than a silent vigil in an Easter night, but they’re just the same to God. He knows our hearts, he knows our longings, and he honours them.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
Our God, our wonderful God.
God stretches out heaven over empty space and hangs the earth upon nothing. He wraps the rain in his thick clouds, and the clouds are not split by the weight. He shrouds his throne with his clouds. He sets a boundary for the ocean, yes, and a boundary for the day and for the night. The pillars of heaven tremble at his rebuke. And by his power the sea grows calm; he is skilled at crushing its pride! The heavens are made beautiful by his Spirit; he pierces the swiftly gliding serpent. These are some of the minor things he does, merely a whisper of his power. Who then can withstand his thunder?
Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. The day we remember the resurrection of Christ, our image of eternal life, the life he has given to everyone who turns to him. The life he gives us even as we are dying, the life he gives us even as we are grieving. The life he is holding out to all of us.