The formal name for the prayers that follow the Creed is “the Prayers of Intercession.” This portion of our worship is based on St Paul’s instruction to his friend Timothy; “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way [1 Tim 2:1-2].
The place where this prayer happens is not accidental and points to two specific things. First, it happens after the lessons and the sermon. The things we hear – in the words of the Bible and the instruction in the sermon – regarding God’s hopes and dreams for the world and for people are to be reflected in our prayers. While this prayer includes intimate things; requests for healing, thanksgivings for good things and the like, it is also a prayer for the world, for our place in that world and for all people. Second, at times when a baptism takes place is immediately before this prayer. The first thing a the baptized people of God participate in are the prayers of intercession.
A few things to note about the form of this prayer is specific. The opening words, “Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs” reminds us of the two great concerns of this prayer; the church and the world. The way each petition, or section, ends, with the words “Lord in your mercy; hear our prayer” is to remind us of the prayers to God at the beginning of our worship in the Kyrie. And the concluding words, “Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray,” recalls Jesus’s prayer on the cross [Luke 23:46], while the final words, “trusting in your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord” reminds us of 2 Corinthians 3:4 and Psalm 52:8.
Creed [Credo, in Latin] literally means, “I believe.” It is the opening words of the statement following the sermon. After gathering together, praying a bit, hearing the stories from the Bible and an explanation, we stand up and say, “I believe.” It is generally thought that before the fourth century, the Creed spoken by a congregation was a local understanding of the faith, generally based on Jesus’s baptismal commandment in St Matthew 28:19 [baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…].
In the fourth century, 325 to be exact, the idea of the Creed became standardized when the Council of Nicea composed a creedal statement to outline accepted Christian faith, particularly in regard to who Jesus is. This Creed was modified several times in response to other crisis in regard to the nature of God, Jesus and the church. As you might imagine, these were quite controversial issues. The Creed was a declaration of what was boundaries of true faith.
The Creeds are complex documents that say a lot in a few words. Over the years, literally hundreds of creeds have sprung up in Christian communities all over the world. Within our tradition, three came to be used in worship as summaries of true, historic, orthodox Christian faith. These are the Apostles’, the Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds. The Apostle’s Creed evolved out of the eighth century as a compact Baptismal formula, a simplified understanding of what it means to be a Christian. The Nicene Creed has since, the fourth century, had a place in the formal, festival liturgy of the church. The Athanasian Creed, which is very long, has an emphasis on the Trinity [which, when used, has been said on Trinity Sunday].
It is important to remember that the Creeds don’t always ask for understanding, they ask for faith, hope and trust in who the church has said that God is and what God is about. We may say them, but they have their fullest expression in how we live our lives. It is important to note that these are words that profess what we, as individuals, believe, but they are also words that bind us to the faith of the church that stretches back to the earliest Christians. To say and believe these words is to unite ourselves with a very long and deep story.
We also should note that these are words we say to each other, words we say to the world. To confess one’s faith is an action we make toward others. These are words that are directed toward the world. “I/We believe” is a bold action we make that seeks to tell others how we understand ourselves and understand them and the world we inhabit