Last week I was down to lead the Intercessions. It made me think about what Intercessions are and how we should go about interceding for others. I offer these thoughts to you this morning.
Someone I was reading wrote that it was when he prayed he found he was most himself. In praying for others, he wrote, “I found the real me”. Not many of us get that deep in prayer, do we? But this writer also found something else he wasn’t expecting: when he found himself in prayer, he found he was not alone. He found company – the whole world of people, living and departed. Of course, he could not remember everyone he had ever met, but starting with his relatives, then those he had come to know well, and those who had a particular need at that time. He found that his real self was an intercessor.
What is it to be an intercessor? I used to think it was a time in the Eucharist that was best got over with quickly. When I became a priest, I found it was often listening to people telling God what they wanted to happen, or telling God what to do. I now think that done properly, intercession is as important as any other part of the service. Intercession is a prayerful concern for others who are always present with us when we lift our hearts to God. We get to use that wonderful God-given imagination of ours. Intercession is a natural part of our worship, and it is an essential part of our humanity. And anything that is both divine and human reflects Jesus the Christ.
Anyone can be an intercessor for anyone else – I often think that the onset of old age will help me be a better intercessor, as it limits my other activities and usefulness. When we intercede for someone, it isn’t a condescending activity – as though we were superior persons, helping those who are less fortunate than ourselves. For they can intercede for us, too – what they receive from us is as important as what we receive from them. The whole Body of Christ gives and receives from each other.
It is as important to think about what it is not, as well as what it is. For some, sometimes it can be a bit of a power game – ‘I can’t get you to think what I think, or do what I want, so I ask God to give you a kick up the backside so you will come around to my way of thinking, and do what I think you should do.’
Intercessions is NOT about giving God instructions about how to deal with ‘difficult’ people.
No, intercession is realising my identification with the company I find within myself, so that whatever form my prayer takes, it is their prayer, too. To do this properly might require me to think regularly about each person I pray for – their circumstances and their happiness. Intercession might need preparation – but it can also be spontaneous. As I think about their needs and problems. I do this not to tell God what to do about it, but to lift each one up to His presence and hold them there. For a short time. It is like putting myself at their disposal before God. In intercession, do not try to solve their problems for them, but offer yourself and your resources to God, so that in His wisdom he might use them to help the person you are praying for.
Intercession can be very hard work if done properly. You can’t intercede quickly – although any prayer is better than no prayer. Intercession takes time, energy – spiritual, mental and physical – but it is only by being willing to give ourselves in this way that we can become properly aware that we are members one of another, just as they are of us. In this exercise of mutual giving and receiving we can come to know we have a common identity, or as Paul puts it – that we are one in Christ.
Now, when we realise that our identity as persons is the same thing as identifying with others, then we shall find a fair degree of suffering – their sufferings become our sufferings. To intercede for people is to be willing, in some measure at least, to share their hurt so it lies on our own shoulders as well as theirs. So, if we intercede for others we must also be willing to accept some of their pain, and the pain of others we come to recognise as our own pain. Intercession can sometimes demand from us that we share the bloody sweat of Gethsemane, where Jesus was about to make that great act of intercession, and he prayed that the cup might pass from him, if it were God’s will. But all our prayers, like Jesus’s prayer in the Garden, should end: not my will but yours be done. It is lovely to rejoice with those who rejoice. But sometimes we have to weep with those who weep.
We can’t avoid bearing the griefs and carrying the hurts of others: when we do so, we begin to transform that hurt into richness and glory – when you experience something on behalf of someone else, then you might become aware of God’s glory – and you can bring that to the transaction, – they can’t because they are in pain – that’s your contribution, which along with that of others doing the same, begins to transform the situation. Paul wrote: ‘Death works in us but life in you.’ Intercession can often be the sharing of other people’s Good Friday, so that they might see, however distantly or obscurely, the Easter that awaits them. That vision is always life-giving.
Intercession is not easy: it is exhausting and it can hurt but it cannot fail to keep us in the presence of God. In God’s presence is where intercession takes place. However much others do not realise we are praying for them, we can know that it might be our task and our privilege to realise it for them. Amen.