It’s New Year’s Eve [day]. The final day of weird 2016. Maybe it hasn’t been a weird year for you. It’s been a weird year for me, although I’m not sure I can fully articulate why. Regardless, I am grateful for the new beginning each new year brings.
Every day, Saint Sam gives me an update to Armageddon. We’re at t-minus 21 days and counting. Many are preparing for what, we don’t know. But the concern and uncertainty is motivating people to mobilize. It’s an opportunity for us to re-examine those things that are important to us, asses those ideals and principles we hold dear, and recommit to our faith.
Watch Night began with the Moravians, a small Christian denomination in what is present-day Czech Republic. The first service is believed to have been held in 1733. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, picked it up from the Moravians. Methodist Watch Nights were held once a month, with the first service in the United States taking place in 1770 at Old Saint George Church in Philadelphia. These services continue today, usually being held on New Year’s Eve. The purpose of the service is for one to annually renew their covenant with God.
Watch Night services are also strongly associated with African-American churches where it is known as “Freedom’s Eve.” Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was being enacted on January 1, 1863. It stated, “[O]n the first day of January … all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”
The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery at the moment it was issued, but it did proclaim some slaves as free. The nature of that year’s Watch Night within the African-American and abolitionist communities most certainly added a second layer of what was being watched for: the coming of freedom at the stroke of midnight. Among African-American congregations the coming of freedom is permanently woven into the fabric of the original, making New Year’s Eve Watch Night services as much now about remembering the end of slavery as it is upon personal reflection on the state of one’s soul.
John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer is often considered a form of New Year’s resolutions, but ones that emphasize the importance of doing and being as much as believing. It asks questions of our faith and demands that we examine our relationship with God. The prayer represents a commitment to being a disciple and putting God first in our lives and in everything about our lives: what we do, what we say and who we are. It is both a surrender to, and a trust in, God.
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
Maybe you will find a few moments this evening, before 2016 ends and 2017 begins, to sit in silence and maybe even pray this prayer. I’m sure there will be something in this prayer that will be easy to say and something that will be difficult to say. That ease / unease is a good tension. Tension stretches us.
If this has been a weird year, next year might be a wild year. I know I will be spending a few silent moments tonight. The Covenant Prayer will be part of my New Year’s Eve … along with celebrating my anniversary to Saint Sam!