Dread, joy and Morning Prayer

Standing on the 5th tee at St Michael’s in Sydney’s East, the golfer experiences a mixture of nervousness and dread. Here (with some translational notes for non-golfers) is what it’s like.

The hole is a 170 metre par 3 (translation: a long way for hackers). From the tee, there is a shute of dense scrub on either side for the first 80 metres or so, thus doing the golfer’s head in. (“Whatever you do, don’t go right, I mean left, I mean left or right!”). Directly in front of the tee between the forbidding walls of foliage is 140 metres of low, scrabbly, gorsy stuff and sand, so a short but straight shot is also headed for serious trouble (translation: you hit it in there, and you might as well write 7 on your card and walk directly to the next hole).

And so you stand there, trying not to think of everything that could go wrong, and concentrating on just swinging the club and getting it past all the trouble, somewhere in the vicinity of the green. Very occasionally a minor miracle happens: you manage to remain calm enough to make a half-decent swing. There is a snink (translation: the beautiful sound, halfway between ‘snick’ and ‘thunk’, that a golf ball makes when it comes sweetly off the centre of the club face), and the ball soars up and out, and lands gently, like a little white bird, on the distant green.

What is the feeling when that happens? It’s different to elation and more than satisfaction. It’s a warm, relieved joy that the dread judgement has been avoided, and that you are safe and home and right where you ought to be.

If you’ll forgive the irreverence of the comparison, I had a similar feeling this morning as I prayed my way through Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. You start by reading a few verses of Scripture like these:

When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth what which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. (Ezek 18:27)

Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. (Joel 2:13)

Then you are exhorted:

Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God; but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy.

And then you confess, using a series of brief phrases that shine a piercing light into every corner of your disobedient heart:

Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against they holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done, And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders …

Then come these extraordinary words:

Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live; and hath given power and commandment to his ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the Absolution and Remission of their sins: He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel …

Pardoneth and absolveth. This is not a minor but a major miracle. There is no health in us, but there is pardon and absolution in the gospel promises of God. And a feeling of warm, relieved joy spreads through your soul as you realize that judgement is avoided, and that you are safe and home and right where you ought to be.

5 thoughts on “Dread, joy and Morning Prayer

  1. Very helpful reminder… Do we rob our people by not using these great words? I have started to use the AAPB version of exhortation/confession/absolution when there is a 5th Sunday… Such depth! And nothing modern matched the BCP confession from the communion for solemnity!
    Thanks Tony.

  2. I always suspected you were a closet Anglican…did you really need a prayerbook to remind you you are a scum sucking sinner? Just ask your wife.


  3. Gavin – no he didn’t need the prayerbook to remind him of that. He needed a game of golf!

  4. Very encouraging Tony.
    God grabbed me by the scruff of the neck in Feb 1988 and I didn’t become a Christian until 11 monts later, Jan 1989. I knew, from my Bible reading as a non-Cristian, that I was heading to hell – but God hadn’t yet revealed the Gospel of the Cross to me. I was really afraid, really anxious & in deep turmoil of the soul for a long time. I knew that I was going to hell should I cross the tram line at the wrong time. Your article reminded me of the relief I felt the day the light of the Gospel dawned. Instantaneous dread to joy. It is so important that we keep expressing our joy overtly . . . just like you’ve done.
    Christianity is NOT a daily root canal.
    Thanks again.


  5. Gavin,
    Perhaps closet golfer more than closet Anglican! And although all things (including my wife, my golf and Ian Carmichael) do constantly remind me that I’m a sinner, it’s only the gospel that tells me that I’m a pardoned and absolved sinner!

    We certainly rob our people if we don’t have these words and truths in our gatherings. They might be expressed in this particular form and order (the BCP or AAPB one) or in a manner adapted to our particular cultural context and situation, but they have to be there! Otherwise our gatherings become team meetings or chat shows.

    Thanks for the comments.


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