"When Two or Three is Great Company"
Perhaps you may have noticed that since a while ago, I have been using this prayer written by St. John Chrysostom,
Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two
or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.
It is quite obvious that St John wrote this prayer keeping well in mind our Lord’s promise as it was recorded in the last verse from today’s Gospel, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
This is one of the few universal promises that God ever made. Yes, of course, over the centuries God made promises to patriarchs, saints of the Old and the New Testament and to countless individuals. Which sometimes people like to appropriate for themselves under some sort of fuzzy theology. But let’s not get sidetracked…
But what Jesus this time is universal. It applied from the Apostles all through the centuries of Church history all the way to us, today here in Aylett.
The promise is striking for, according to Jewish teaching and tradition even unto this day, Shabbat services and many other forms of Jewish prayers, require the presence of a minyan, or a quorum of at least ten adults.
So, whether two or three or in fact, “a bunch” or “just a few”, for that is the precise meaning of the idiom “two or three” or, as I said, a minyan, there appears to be a particular stress in corporate prayer.
Of course, one can always pray by oneself, at any place or time. But from time immemorial the sages believed that when ten Israelites gathered either for worship or for study of the Law, the Divine Presence dwelled among them. As Psalm 82:1 says, “God takes His stand in His own congregation; He rules over all the rulers.”
But, you may ask, “Why God does need a group of people so he can hear their prayers or to receive their worship?”
Well, the answer is the God doesn’t need anyone. But we do.
In theological terms God is self-sufficient. God is the plenitude of everything. But we are not. We are God’s creatures and as such, even carrying God’s imprint we are not self-sufficient. I am not talking about living off the grid or boondocking, but rather we need others for survival. In fact, even before we are born, we depend on a loving mother to host us for long nine months!
Since creation we were created to be together. Being connected is “hard-wired” on our DNA. Even after the life-line that once united us with our mothers is cut, nevertheless, we still are connected.
But going back to our text, why did Jesus promise his presence among such a little group?
First, I believe, it is to remind us that we are not individual, isolated individuals but we all are part of a larger Body, the Body of Christ in this world.
So, if we are praying for some individual and even personal need, being together reminds us that we are not alone. Even we might feel totally alone and in a unique circumstance, we are never on our own.
And we pray being mindful of the Body of Christ both our vision as our consolation grows, knowing that God’s answer to our prayers may be different to what we have been praying for. But, nevertheless it will “as it is best for us.”
Second, let me suggest that praying together purifies our intentions. Let’s be honest – There are prayers that we may not wish others may hear. It is not for being about very personal and intimate issues, but because we have our own issues.
Dealing with the issue of transparency in government and governance, Justice Louis Brandeis once said that “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Considering our own personal baggage, whenever we come together in prayer there is no other way than to put all the cards on the table. Paraphrasing Justice Brandeis it could be said that “Prayer is the best disinfectant for our souls.”
In the teaching letter that St Paul wrote to Timothy, he instructed him “first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf and give thanks for them.” Now, that is a problem. We pray for some people who are dear to us. Some others appear every now and then. And others, “God may not like to hear the kind of prayer I may have in mind.” Right?
And then, listen to this, “Pray for rulers, and for everyone who has authority” – well as long as they are from my own party. Or the people I voted for. Or those who believe in the same way I do.
Praying together, then, help us to encourage each other when are not in the mood to pray for others. And keep us accountable, both to God, to ourselves, and to the Body of Christ, the Church.
Finally, praying together, even being just a few, encourages us in our journey. As I said earlier, we are not alone.
Families or groups don’t get depressed. Individuals do. And when the storms of life are raging, when the world is tossing us, and when we find ourselves in the midst of faults and failures, praying together and – most importantly – knowing that Jesus promised to be present, comfort us in our journey, renews our hope, and warms our hearts with the power of God’s love present in my brothers and sisters.
St John Chrysostom completes his prayers with two petitions. And if all our prayers – short and long – could be summarized into what at the end of the day is essential are these petitions.
"Give us the knowledge of your truth." It has long been attributed to Samuel Johnson words to the effect that “'Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth.”
However, let me suggest and earlier date. Since the primeval times of Eden truth has become scarcer by the day.
And in particular in our time and in this our “Age of Disinformation” there is no more “Truth” but “My truth.” Truth has become what one wants to believe.
If Jesus Christ is not just one truth among many, or is “The Truth” as He claimed for Himself, we shouldn’t be afraid of the truth, even if it is inconvenient, or goes against my particular inclinations, or against what I always believed.
"And in the age to come." What great hope is to know that in God’s hands we are never at the end of the tether. There is hope for tomorrow, for in the end our aim is Life. Life everlasting in the Beloved.
Yes. We have our aches, family issues, money, relationships, church, politics, the economy, ecology and one and a thousand other worries. But let us keep in mind “The Best Part.” Let us keep things in perspective. Or in another words, in prayer let us learn to the see our life and our circumstances through the loving eyes of our Creator and Redeemer, even Jesus Christ.
So, my friends, cheer up. We are more than two or three. Let us celebrate God’s presence in the midst of us. Amen.