Praying for the Church (Part 8):
After praying for the Church as a whole; for its rulers, both civil and religious; for the people of God, that they may receive the Word and serve him in holy and righteous lives; we now come to prayer for those in affliction of any kind: “And we most humbly beseech thee, of thy goodness, O Lord, to comfort and succour all those who, in this transitory life, are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity”.
We pray for those who are inwardly afflicted with trouble, for fear of approaching evils, or with sorrow in remembrance of some losses or crosses they have
sustained; or those who are outwardly distressed, in estate (such as poverty), in need (such as lack of food, clothing, shelter), or in body (as bodily weakness or pain, injury or illness).
Such prayer is intrinsic to the church’s being and activity: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. … And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor 12:12, 26). Therefore, says the apostle: “Remember them … which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). Dean Comber touches on this teaching: “if we be lively members of Christ’s body, we shall so [pray for those in adversity] with a great compassion and a fervent affection, as if we had smarted with them, and shall deeply weigh how hard it would be for us to bear the like burdens; and he that prays with such a sense doth both express a hearty charity, and shall obtain relief for many poor creatures, through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Moreover, Comber notes, what better place to remember the afflicted, than “at this sacrament of mercy, wherein God is moved by the representation of his dear Son’s sufferings to pity all mankind, especially those who by suffering are made conformable to his image…?” So prayer for those in adversity is not something “tacked on” as it were to the Christian religion or the Sacrament: it is intrinsic to the communion we have with Christ and with one another in his Body, the church, and in the Sacrament of his Body.
What is the basis of our appeal? “We most humbly beseech” the Lord. Our appeal is not to our merits, or the merits of those who suffer, but to his mercy, or more precisely, to the infinite “goodness” of God, the good that is so great, that he can bring joy out of sorrow, and life out death, turning even the evil we suffer to our benefit. We are never so conscious of our need for this good, and utter dependence upon him for good, than we are deprived of it, and suffer evils; and so suffering itself is an opportunity for spiritual growth.
What we ask for is God’s “comfort and succor” for those who suffer. Comfort is the strength that supports and encourages us under our troubles, so long as they continue. Succor is the help that rescues and delivers us from our troubles, by putting them to an end. This double motif is made more explicit in the later intercession said at Morning and Evening Prayer in this particular request: “that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities; giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions”. The comfort of “patience under our sufferings” is a share of the same patient endurance with which Christ endured the cross and suffered for our sakes. The relief of “happy issue” – outcome – “from all our afflictions”, our deliverance from affliction, is a foretaste of our resurrection with him. The exhortation to the sick in the Prayer of 1662 runs with this idea: “there should be no greater comfort to Christian persons, than to be made like unto Christ, by suffering patiently adversities, troubles, and sicknesses. For he himself went not up to joy, but first he suffered pain; he entered not into his glory before he was crucified. So truly our way to eternal joy is to suffer here with Christ; and our door to enter into eternal life is gladly to die with Christ; that we may rise again from death, and dwell with him in everlasting life”. In the modern world, we tend to look at all adversities as problems to be solved by the employment of modern science and technology. The Christian view is adversities are not just problems to be solved, but spiritual opportunities to grow up in Christ, into the health and salvation of body and soul which he promises to those who put their faith in him.