Friday Is a Good Day to Die
I’m not Anglican. But a centuries-old practice from The Book of Common Prayer changed the way I think about the weekend.
It’s Friday morning. The sun hasn’t yet peaked over the horizon when the 6:00 a.m. alarm on my watch starts buzzing. A split-second later a super-bright light switches on, shining right in my face. A few moments after that, my phone starts beeping.
Time to wake up!
But with all that, I still hit the snooze a few times. More accurately, I silence my watch, turn off the bright light and tap snooze on my phone.
But by 6:30, I’m sitting in my favorite chair with a mug of coffee, a Bible and my adapted copy of the Order for Morning Prayer from the 2019 edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. I’m still blinking cobwebs out of my eyes as I begin the Office, as it’s sometimes called, with a short Scripture reading before moving to Confession. The coffee kicks in while I’m reading from the Psalms and the Gospels, reciting the Creed and praying the Lord’s Prayer. By the time I come to interceding for family, friends and ministry concerns, praying the Collect (pronounced cawl-ekt) For The Day and the Prayer of Thanksgiving, I’m awake and starting to hear noises coming from the bedrooms above.
Until I began the discipline of the Morning Office, my Friday mornings were usually spent in anticipation of the weekend.
I’m not Anglican and don’t have any Anglicanism in my background, but as COVID lockdowns persisted, I knew I needed something more structured than my usual read-a-passage-and-pray approach to morning devotions. My pre-COVID habits had quickly proven insufficient to ground me in and center me on God’s care and provision in a stressful and disorienting period.
I found exactly the structure I needed in the Office, with all of its prescribed patterns of reading and prayer, morning and evening. But schooled as I am in the liturgy of low-church evangelicalism, I initially found the prescription and repetition of the Office to be off-putting and insincere, formulaic, rote and empty.
But a friend, himself an Anglican going through the discernment process to become an ordained priest, encouraged me to persist. “The insincerity you feel,” he told me, “is a feature, not a bug. You’re supposed to feel that way until the practice and the words become your own.”
So I persisted, and have come to love the grace- and joy- and life-filled routine that is the Morning Office.
Especially on Fridays.
The day we die
Why Fridays? Because after praying the Collect for Friday every week for a year, one Friday in particular the Collect finally broke through the morning haze and indelibly printed itself on my schedule. Consider the prayer(p 23):
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Until I began the discipline of the Morning Office, my Friday mornings were usually spent in anticipation of the weekend. Best case scenario: my sermon for Sunday is done and Friday and Saturday are all mine!
TGIF, because finally I can do what I want to do, instead of over-exerting myself trying to meet all the obligations that work and family and life have put on me. Finally, I am in charge. I can sleep in. I can watch the game. I can go for a long run. I can mow the lawn. I can get the oil changed. I can putter around in the garage. I can read. I can play catch with my kid. I can go see family. I can stay up way too late having way too much fun with friends. I can do what I want.
I assume you caught the repeated word.
That was my attitude, until that Friday morning when the Collect hit me right in the I.
On Fridays in America, we anticipate the weekend. That’s what Fridays are for.
Unless you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, walking in His Way. If you are, then Fridays are the day you remind yourself: on that Good Friday so many years ago, the one you follow wasn’t looking forward to a weekend of self-centered, autonomous self-indulgence. No, on that Friday, the way to “joy” and “glory” led directly through the cross.
I thought the goal of my life was to find “life and peace” by avoiding pain.
And paradoxically, as we follow Him, “walking in the way of the cross,” we walk praying and trusting that the longer we walk in this way, the more we will find it to be “none other than the way of life and peace.”
The value of repeated prayer
The experience of praying the Morning Office has convinced me that there is great value to be found by us evangelicals, if only we embrace the discipline required to enter into a five-hundred-year-old way of worship.
Because The Book of Common Prayer—or the BCP, as it is commonly called—comes from a time and a place so foreign to our own context, praying its prayers lifts me out of my own cultural milieu and, by introducing me to the concerns and the requests of men and women so far removed from my experience, it forces me to look with fresh eyes on my own cultural context.
Until the BCP reminded me that Fridays are the day we remember the sacrifice of our Lord on our behalf and pray for the strength to endure as we walk in the way of the cross ourselves, I thought Fridays were only about anticipating the weekend.
Until the BCP reminded me that Christ suffered pain before experiencing joy, and endured crucifixion before entering glory, I thought the goal of my life was to find “life and peace” by avoiding pain.
[T]he words of the Collect come to mind and give me exactly the prayer I need to express my heart’s desire to God
And until the BCP reminded me that my calling is to walk “in the way of the cross,” I lived as if my calling was solely to walk in the way of the resurrection. I had no categories for thinking of suffering as anything other than proof that God had abandoned me.
Or, as Kate Bowler colorfully puts it in Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, I lived trying to “Easter the crap out of my Lent.”
But repeated prayers—especially prayers and patterns of prayer from the past—do more than simply transport us out of our cultural context so we can return to our culture anew and know it for the first time.
Repeated prayer acts like an ancient hammer drill. Before the invention of rotary drilling in the 19th century, miners almost exclusively used percussion drilling, which involved attaching a sharp stone to the end of a long pole and repeatedly hammering on the end of the pole to drive the sharp stone into the dirt and rock, eventually boring a hole to the natural gas or salt brine below.
The first time I prayed the Collect for Friday, it didn’t drill itself all the way into the core of my heart. That first prayer was simply the first hammer blow. The second time I prayed the Collect for Friday, still nothing happened. It was just a second hammer blow. But somewhere around the fiftieth time I prayed the Collect for Friday, that last hammer blow broke the sharp point of the prayer through the last layer around my heart and mind, exposing me to the work God needed to do in me.
I no longer look at the weekend’s rest and recreation as a right, something God owes me because of the work I’ve done for Him all week.
Now, each time I pray the Collect for Friday, it works on me just a little bit more, reminding me that my Fridays are not my own. They are the day I follow my Lord in pouring myself out for others.
There is yet one more gift that repeatedly praying the same prayer has given me. It was the words of the prayer that worked on my heart to transform its desires away from self-directed, autonomous self-indulgence and toward other-centered, sacrificial service. And now my heart can use the words of the prayer to express its transformed desire.
Some Friday mornings the Collect for Friday reminds me that I haven’t done a great job of walking in the way of the cross. But most of the time, when my heart spontaneously longs to walk in loving self-sacrifice, the words of the Collect come to mind and give me exactly the prayer I need to express my heart’s desire to God; to once again ask Him to show me the life and peace that comes when we walk in the way of the cross.
A transformed weekend
Most weekends I still sleep in, try to catch the game and go for a long run. I mow the lawn, putter about in the garage and finally get the oil changed. And I play with my kid, spend time with family and even stay up way too late having way too much fun with friends.
But I no longer look at the weekend’s rest and recreation as a right, something God owes me because of the work I’ve done for Him all week. Now I realize that the rest and recreation are gifts of grace, given to me by the One who walked the way of the cross, the One who absorbed my death into Himself in order to offer me life. And I experience the life and peace He offers as I walk the way of the cross, as He did.
All thanks to a centuries-old prayer that lifted me out of my cultural nearsightedness, hammered its way into my heart and gave me new understanding and new words to express God’s call on my life.
It’s been worth the effort.
The first edition of “The Book of Common Prayer” was written and compiled by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and published in 1549. I highly recommend readers interested in its history consult Alan Jacob’s excellent “The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography,” published by Princeton University Press, or Paul Zahl and Frederick Barbee’s more devotional “The Collects of Thomas Cranmer,” published by Eerdmans to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Cranmer’s death.
For an updated version of “The Book of Common Prayer,” I recommend the 2019 Edition by Anglican House Publishers, which can be found for free online at bcp2019.anglicanchurch.net.
Send a Response
Share your thoughts with the author.