A time for community

Published 10:16 am Saturday, March 28, 2015

by Andrew Book

When we think about prayer, most people picture a solitary person seeking God. Maybe that person is kneeling at a bedside or in a church sanctuary or maybe they are in a field with hands uplifted to God, but regardless of where that person is, the chances are they are seeking God alone. As an introvert, I connect well with these pictures of prayer that is “me and God.” I can even find them in scripture, but this is not the only picture of prayer (or even the primary picture of prayer.) presented in the Bible.

For most people whose stories are told in scripture, prayer was a community activity. They invited other people to be a part of their prayers and they joined together with the prayers around them. The Psalms reflect this understanding of faith. Even the Psalms which are talking about personal situations usually invite the community to join with the one praying to thank God, ask for God to intervene, or even complain when God seems to be absent. Even Jesus sought out others to be with him in his most intense time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26).

I have spent a significant amount of time over the past weeks sorting through the psalms in order to set up the readings for The Psalms Challenge (see below). Part of the challenge I faced was dividing the Psalms into weekly themes for each week of the season of Lent. As I delved into the psalms, I was reminded of something I discovered when I studied the Psalms in seminary: there are a lot of psalms which are prayers prayed, thanksgiving given, and praise offered where the community was coming together to pray. As I divided up the psalms into each category, I realized that we all need a reminder that there is something special about prayer in community.

Over the past few decades, I have moved a lot and been a part of a number of different communities of faith. Each of these communities has different people and characteristics that have endeared them to me, but I have found that the most powerful habit a community can have is to truly be a people who commit to pray and pray together. There is nothing more powerful than to know that the people around you are praying for you, that they are joining you in lifting up the concerns of your heart and the community around you, and that they will truly join you in giving God the thanks and praise when those prayers are answered. Such a community naturally becomes a place where people care for one another because we have been lifting each other to God in prayer on a regular basis. It easily becomes a place of worship because God is at the center of the community’s life and the community is able to see God at work in answering the prayers of the people. A community of prayer is a beautiful place, and it inspires me to grow as a person of prayer.

As we approach Palm Sunday this weekend, the day where we celebrate Jesus entering Jerusalem to the praise and adoration of the crowd, I have been thinking a lot about the crowd and wondering who was the first person to take up the shout of “Hosanna!” which helped that community to be a community of prayer and praise. We don’t know who lead that community to praise, but know someone was the first to offer praise to Jesus on that day. That person took the step that allowed the others to join in praise.

The crowds we live in are not much different than the people in Jesus’ time. We are people who want to pray and praise together, but unless someone offers the first “Hosanna” (which was both a word of prayer, “Save us!” and a word of praise “You saved us!”), we can easily be led to the cry, “Crucify Him” which the crowd would proclaim soon when Jesus was placed on trial before them. The difference was that someone called them to prayer.

May you be the first one who calls out “Hosanna!”

This Sunday at Courtland United Methodist Church, the children have been given the opportunity to call us to praise. They will be opening our worship in song and bringing palms (our tools of worship) to those who have gathered. They will be leading us into the sanctuary and helping us proclaim, “Hosanna.” If you need someone to invite you to pray join us, and let a little child lead you!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.