Stealing From the Bounty of the Past

Stealing From the Bounty of the Past
Jeff Fisher

This past Sunday at Union we introduced a new song, “Prayer for Lent”. Despite the admittedly uncreative title, I’m very excited about incorporating this song into our worship during this Lenten season, because it draws a connection between our community and the nascent church in the Fourth Century. The lyrics are adapted from a prayer attributed to St. Ephrem, a Syrian monk who died in the year 373. St. Ephrem was a prolific hymn-writer, who became revered for his ability to teach theology through music and combat doctrinal heresies that threatened to divide the church in its early, vulnerable state.   St. Ephrem, a Syrian refugee who experienced persecution and was forced to flee his home in the war-torn trauma of the 4th century, never stopped encouraging others in their faith. 

I think that St. Ephrem would be pleased that we are using his words to edify the body of the church so many centuries later. After all, in one of his hymns he says, “The boldness of our love is pleasing to you, O Lord, just as it pleased you that we should steal from your bounty.”

It’s important that we “steal from the bounty” of the generations of the church that came before us, because doing so provides a necessary reminder that our faith is anchored in something lasting and eternal that proves God’s faithfulness through the ages. It’s so easy to become obsessed with novelty and to look for the “new” thing that God is doing, but I take deep comfort in the knowledge that ours is but one chapter the book of salvation, and that as we flip back through the dusty pages of that tome we find that the words of a 1700-year-old Syrian man can suddenly become fresh again and produce new fruit in our congregation.

So, I hope that singing this song over the next several weeks assists you in preparing for Easter, in letting go of the things that weigh you down and opening yourself up to the new life of the resurrection. I also hope that the story of the prayer and its author open you up to embracing the spirit of philoxenia, the love of the stranger, so that you might discover the ways that God will continue to minister to you as you continue the pursuit of justice and shalom in the places of hurt and despair in our city and beyond.

Prayer for Lent
(Adapted from St. Ephrem’s Lenten Prayer)

O Lord and Master of my life
Take from me the spirit of sloth
Take from me the spirit of despair
Take from me the lust of power and idle talk
Instead, Lord, give to me
A spirit of holiness
Of patience and humility
That I might serve you more
O Lord and King
Help me see these faults of mine
And not to judge my neighbor’s heart
For you alone are God
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen