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ch08 - CH08.QXD 9:14 AM Page 151 Chapter 8 ANALYZING...

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151 Chapter 8 A NALYZING L EXICON Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant(s) with thy saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mor- tal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return. For so thou didst ordain when thou createdst me, saying, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” All we do down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, al- leluia, alleluia. Into thy hands, O merciful Savior, we commend thy servant [Name]. Ac- knowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming. Receive him/her into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light . . . . Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tomb. The Sun of Righteousness is gloriously risen, giving light to those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. The Lord will guide our feet into the way of peace, having taken away the world. Christ will open the kingdom of heaven to all who believe in his Name, saying, Come, O blessed of my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you. Into paradise may the angels lead thee; and at thy coming may the martyrs re- ceive thee, and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem. [Prayer, 1979:484–5] These are the familiar words spoken at a traditional Christian funeral. They were taken from the Book of Common Prayer, an Episcopalian document, but any contemporary Christian—Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, probably even CH08.QXD 7/30/2004 9:14 AM Page 151
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152 UNIT II: GENERAL FORMS OF CRITICISM Mormon or Roman Catholic—could recognize and approve of them. Even though the edition cited here was dated 1979 with a first printing in 1789, few changes have been made over the years, making its style old yet ageless. While ordinary Americans do not offer formal salutations (“Come here, O Jennifer”) or use antiquated tenses (“didst ordain,” “createdst”), they can understand what is being said here. Also, while they now “request” rather than “beseech,” “sing” a song rather than “make” one, and refer to each other as “you” instead of “thee,” they can still appreciate the prayer. Its imagery is either naturalis- tic (“formed of the earth,” “Sun of Righteousness”) or corporeal (“arms of thy mercy,” “guide our feet”) and hence reaches across the generations. The prayer’s themes—human sinfulness, the divinity of Jesus, salvation for all believers—are so well wrought and so familiar that even their archaic language cannot sap them of vitality. No doubt, the Book of Common Prayer could be rewritten in contempo- rary language. Some denominations have done so. But for many believers, these words will do just fine, thank you very much. For them, this prayer’s lan- guage is precious, in part because it is old and in part because it has brought comfort over the years to so many loved ones standing at so many gravesides.
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