Last Spring Caroline and I were on Cunard’s Queen Mary Two. Every sea-day I was part of a Christian prayer group that met after breakfast for an hour or so. At my suggestion we ended our meetings by saying the Grace together.
By the Grace I am referring to the triple benediction found in the penultimate verse of 2 Corinthians: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with [all of] you” (2 Cor 13.14). I found saying together these familiar words at the end of our meetings was an amazingly moving experience. Some of our number had their eyes shut as we prayed for one another using the words of the apostle Paul. However, I along with others followed the custom of many churches and looked around the people in our group and very deliberately prayed a blessing on one another.
By comparison with other Pauline endings, the form of the Grace in 2 Corinthians is unusually lengthy. For normally when Paul ends a letter with the grace, he is relatively brief:
- Rom 15.24: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all”.
- 1 Cor 16.22: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all”.
- Gal 6.18: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit”.
- Eph 6.24: “Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ”.
- Phil 4.23: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit”.
- 1 Thess 5.28: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you”.
- 2 Thess 3.18: “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with all of you”.
- 1 Tim 6.22: “Grace be with you”.
- 2 Tim 4.22: “Grace be with you”.
- Titus:3.15: “Grace be with all of you”.
The Grace in 2 Corinthians 13.14 is distinctively Trinitarian in structure. However, unlike the later fourth century Council of Nicaea, Paul does not use the categories of ‘persons’ and of ‘substance’ which characterized the debates of the early church. Rather he describes the attributes of God: viz. the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. However, the Grace is more than a theological formulation: it is first and foremost a prayer. When we say the Grace together we are praying for one another.
In the two churches of which I was the minister I always ended our communion services by inviting the congregation to bind hands together and say the Grace as a prayer for one another. It became for me one of the great moments of our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Yet in my second church there was a reluctance on the part of some men to hold hands with others. They didn’t mind holding hands with their wives, but holding hands with other men just didn’t seem to be a manly thing to do. Thankfully their initial reservations were soon dispelled as they realized that holding hands together reinforced our praying for one another.
Saying the Grace together is more than a formality and is more than a liturgical means of ending a service. Instead, for me it has become a prayer in which we pray for God to act in three ways:
First, we praying that all of us may experience afresh the grace of the Lord Jesus in our lives. The fact is we are all sinful men and women. In spite of our best endeavours we fail God and we fail one another. As we seek his forgiveness, we need to know that however undeserving we may be, God in his grace accepts us as we are – in Jesus there is always a new beginning.
Secondly, we are praying that we may discover a renewed confidence in God, who continues to love us, however worthless we at times we may feel. For life can be tough and many of us struggle at work and at home with issues relating to self-worth. To know the love of God in our lives is to know that we may feel, we have value in God’s sight.
Thirdly, we are saying to each other that precisely because we are members of a fellowship created by God’s Spirit we will not just pray for one another, but as part of our love for one another we will care for one another and bear one another’s burdens. Indeed, when we bind hands together, the warmth of our hands is a sign of the warmth of our hearts rfor one another.
It is all too easy to allow the Grace to be become a mere formality. Let us ensure that instead we pray for God to act in one another’s lives.