Thursday, August 16, 2018

In the evening hours of prayer. . .

Watch thou, dear Lord,
with those who wake, or watch,
or weep tonight,
and give thine angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend thy sick ones, Lord Christ.
Rest thy weary ones.
Bless thy dying ones.
Soothe thy suffering ones.
Pity thine afflicted ones.
Shield thy joyous ones.
And all, for thy love's sake.  Amen.

Attributed to Augustine

Psalm 141 IS an evening prayer.  Psalm 4:8 includes an evening petition.  The devout among the Jews prayed at many times in the day (Psalm 5:3; 55:17; 119:62; 147), but during the time of their exile in Babylon and Persia the tradition of setting aside three specific times for ritual prayer developed. Though the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, the people continued to offer prayer morning, noon, and evening to coincide with what had previously been times of sacrifice at the temple (see Daniel 6:10).

By the the Middle Ages, prayer at specific hours of the day had moved throughout the Church, from monastic setting to the individual prayers of the priest.  These were informed by and shaped by the Breviary which marked specific hours of the day with prayer, each of the hours having a different title. The schedule began with Matins (midnight) and then continues with Lauds (dawn), Prime (early morning), Terce (mid-morning), Sext (noon), None (mid-afternoon), Vespers (evening), and Compline (prior to bedtime, about 9:00 PM). Also known as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office, the Work of God, or the canonical hours, this practice has continued to the present day, though Matins and Vespers have predominated and most liturgical churches include rites for at least these in their prayer books and hymnals.
  Psalm 55 remind us that the cries of God's people go out in evening, and in morning, and at noon; we pray and aloud do we lift our voices and the Lord hears.  

Undoubtedly those prayers are from restless hearts and minds that seem never to stop.  The soul in search of peace, the guilty conscience in search of absolution, the fearful mind seeking security, the oppressed person looking for refuge, the joyous one who cannot let go of the wonderful moment. . . they all cry out to the Lord in the evening and night hours.  Certainly God watches over His people and gives His angels charge over them to guard them in all their ways -- even when they sleep.   But I have found my attention is soothed best when I think of those who labor in the evening and night hours for me, the people who are soon to breathe their last and those who care for them and the countless others who look out into the night in hope of rest.  To pray for them is find my own prayers answered and to focus upon them is to relieve me of the constant burden of consuming self.  Perhaps you have found this as well.

The best part of the prayer is the last line:  And all, for thy love's sake.  Ahhh, there is peace.  To know Him whose watchful care, safe refuge, abundant forgiveness, gracious healing, and blessed joy comes to us not as reward for our goodness or even for our half-hearted attempt at it but simply and purely out of love.  This is the greatest mystery of God and at one and the same time the greatest comfort.  God is love.  We see this not in the abundance of words but in the God in flesh, Jesus Christ, whose arms outstretched for our sin and suffering for our shame has redeemed us by His blood, washed us clean in Holy Baptism, named us as His own, and even still calls to us through His Word and feeds us at His table.  Thy love's sake.  Yes, that is the answer to the cries that go out into the night.  God is love.

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