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Last week we wrote herebelow about friends who might or might not last out the year. We were not writing in the abstract; we never do. For the last several days a full third of the AO production staff has been in a hospital room in New Jersey, waiting. The rest of us have waited from afar in prayer, sharing small portions of the weight of Frederic's illness in our hearts as best we can.

This week, we can only ask your prayers for Frederic as he walks manfully through the last days of his earthly pilgrimage. We know from scripture and tradition—from the life of Christ himself—that love is stronger than death, but we are learning this afresh right now, painfully and against our reason.

Many of you do not know Frederic in person, but you do know well the fruit of his quiet good work behind the scenes in producing AO each week. Those of us who do know him in person are preparing to lose a husband, a friend, a coworker, a brother in Christ whose feisty, contrarian personality could not mask his deep, abiding faith. Pray for him, for Cynthia, for all of us as his life is changed but not ended.


Hallo again to all.

We know several people with serious afflictions, who might or might not last out the year. Yes, we know that everyone eventually passes on to the next life, but neither the travelers nor their beloved ever seem quite ready for it. It is of course an inevitable byproduct of aging: the more time we spend in this life, the older our friends get and thus it is less surprising when they start to succumb.

As Anglicans who try to follow our Lord's teachings, we are impossibly grateful at times like this for our faith, our worship, our Bible readings, and our prayer book. We've all seen comments such as this one from the Prayer Book Society of Canada:

The Book of Common Prayer is not only of interest for students of Anglicanism, however, since it has played an important role in the life of the English speaking world more generally. Along with the King James Bible and the greatest works of English literature, the Prayer Book has been central in shaping the culture and thought of the English-speaking world.

Irish BCPYes, we've seen those comments, but what exactly does it mean to say that the Book of Common Prayer 'has been central in shaping the culture and thought of the English-speaking world'. Perhaps that query could be an essay question on a university examination in history or philosophy; if so, the students would produce a full spectrum of answers. 'In 500 words or less, justify the above assertion about the role of the Prayer Book. Write only on one side of the paper.'

But with our various friends struggling nearer to the ends of their lives than we would like, we have an easy time finding clarity. When something that is nearly unthinkable is poised to happen, such as the death of someone we love, what are we supposed to think? What are we supposed to say, or do? We've noted that even our friends who assert that they are not religious or that they are not Anglican are responsive to language from the Book of Common Prayer in grieving or burying the dead or praying for the afflicted. There's no consensus about who first noted that 'there are no atheists in foxholes'* but it's certainly a telling observation.

Several times we have attended a funeral service in a family claiming not to be religious, burying a family member who might never have attended church, and found that the first words spoken by the officiant were 'I am the resurrection and the life'. We asked once 'why?' and got the answer 'What else are you supposed to say? It's a funeral service.' We can't imagine bothering to hold a funeral service unless it's done in the name of Christ, but people do. But they can't find words, so they use our prayer book's words, acting as if they are cultural and not prayerful. As they wish; a funeral is a hard time under any circumstances.

We think that perhaps quoting from the Book of Common Prayer is a roundabout way for a person too embarrassed to admit to his friends that he secretly holds Christian beliefs to say that 'For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.' (1 Cor 15:22) If someone calls you on it, you can always offer up the excuse that it's part of the culture and thought of the English-speaking world and not actual faith.

Death is one of those things that renders most people speechless. We know that in future years when our loved ones eventually die, we'll be speechless each time. The love of Christ in our hearts won't make functioning words in our mouths, because we'd just weep. We're so pleased to have in front of us a well-worn book that offers suggestions for what we might say, and we're perfectly happy to share that book and those words with people who pretend that they say and believe the words because it's part of 'the culture and thought of the English-speaking world'.

And then the minister may say

May God our Father forgive us our sins
and bring us to the eternal joy of his kingdom,
where dust and ashes have no dominion.

Just culture? Culture and thought? We don't think so.

See you next week. Amen.

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Last updated: 9 March 2008

*Atheist organizations often take offence at that phrase, though writer James Morrow pointed out that the phrase 'is not an argument against atheists, it is an argument against foxholes'.

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