Gleanings from the Collects: 1 Christmas

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, kindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

This collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer was adapted from the collect for Christmas in the Sarum Rite[1]of the 11thcentury. The 2019 BCP has moved it to the 1stSunday of Christmas. It is fitting for that Sunday because the Gospel appointed is John 1:1-18 that has multiple references to Jesus as the true “Light.”

This collect calls to mind the prophecy of Isaiah. “Arise, shine: for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

This collect and this prophecy both remind us that there are two manifestations that result from the true Light coming into the world. The first is that we become personally enlightened. Without the light of Christ we were among the peoples who were covered in deep darkness. But the grace of God has changed that condition. His light has been “kindled in our hearts” and we now see our need for Him more clearly every day. His purpose for our lives comes into greater focus. More and more we love what He loves. And while we often fall short, we also see that His mercies are new every morning. It is why we love to sing, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

But the light of Christ does not stop with our personal enlightenment. We who have received the Light are also to be bearers of the Light. As the moon reflects the sun, so we too are to reflect the Son. We are to live intentionally so that His light “may shine forth in our lives.” The original collect said it well. “Grant that the light which through faith shines in our hearts may shine forth in our works.” This prayer matches the admonition of Jesus, “You are the light of the world….Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify you Father which is in heaven.” (Mt 5).

[1]Used in Salisbury Cathedral in the Middle Ages until the Reformation

Gleanings from the Collects: Christmas

“Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.”

This theologically rich collect first appeared in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer although it is similar to a collect in the Gregorian rite of the 10thcentury. It is repeated in the 1662, 1928, 1979 and the 2019 BCP. 

The collect is well echoed in the proper preface[1]“Because you gave Jesus Christ, your only Son, to be born for us; who, by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary his mother, was made truly man, yet without the stain of sin, that we might be cleansed from sin and given the right to become your children.”

“This day” is in brackets, giving the option of omitting it when the collect is used in Mass throughout Christmas week.

This prayer is one of the most theologically rich of all of the collects. At least 7 core doctrines are proclaimed.

  1. The Trinity – All three Persons of the Trinity are included
  2. The Divinity of Christ – “your only begotten Son”
  3. The Incarnation – “take our nature upon him”
  4. The Virgin Birth – “born this day of a pure virgin”
  5. Regeneration – “we who have been born again”
  6. Adoption – “made your children by adoption and grace”
  7. Sanctification – “may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit”

It is not the point of this prayer to explain or defend these doctrines. Rather it simply declares them to be so. 

It is important to not miss the forest for the trees when considering this theologically saturated prayer. It is a prayer not just for the head but also for the heart. The recitation of these vital truths should fill us with wonder, overwhelming gratitude and joy. Why did He do all of this? He did all of this for us! 

The lesson we can take away from this collect is said so well by St. Athanaius (d.373). “He became what we are that we might become what He is.”

[1]  The proper preface is the variable portion of the Eucharistic prayer that marks the season or occasion. 

Gleanings from the Collects: 4 Advent

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever.  Amen.”

This powerful collect has a long history. It is found in the Gelasian Sacramentary[1]of the 8thcentury, a volume that contained material from the 5thand 6thcentury. The collect is also found in the Gregorian Sacramentary of the 10thcentury and the Sarum Missal that was in use in Britain from the 11thcentury until the Reformation. 

Archbishop Cranmer added a couple of phrases in this English translation in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It was the one remaining collect of three, found in earlier liturgies, that begin “Stir up….” These words are echoes of Psalm 80:2 “…stir up your power and come to save us!” 

It was appointed for the 4thSunday in Advent. A version of it was moved to 3 Advent in the 1979 BCP but is returned to its original place in the 2019 BCP.

This collect is appropriately placed just days before Christmas. We call on the LORD to “come among us” with His “bountiful grace and mercy” because we are “sorely hindered by our sins.” This cry of deliverance is a cry for a Savior, whose incarnation we will soon be celebrating. The timing for this prayer could not be more perfect. 

Additionally, calling on the Lord to “stir up your power” and “with great might come among us” is a plea for our ultimate salvation which will come at the Lord’s second advent. In His first Advent He comes in humility with grace and mercy but at His second He will come with power and great glory. Thus both themes of Advent are brought to mind though this prayer.

One commentator referred to this prayer as “dangerous.” As we take a step back and see what we are asking, we can see that he is not far wrong. We who are “sorely hindered by our sins” are asking the Holy One to stir up His power and come among us? Is that what we truly want? Wouldn’t we perish in the presence of His holiness? Yes, apart from Christ, but are not asking to be apart from Christ. We are asking just the opposite. We are asking for His “bountiful grace and mercy” to “speedily help and deliver us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

There is another lesson from this collect that comes from what it no longer says. The 1549 collect refers to “our synnes and wickedness” as does the 1662 BCP. In the confession at Holy Communion in the 1928 BCP “we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.” And yet a reference to our “wickedness” has been removed in this version.  

It seems that modern worshippers are not comfortable facing the full extent of our fallenness. That is a shame because God tends not heal what we hide. To truly appreciate what our Savior has done for us we need to face the depth and reality of what our sin has done to us. It is then that we turn from ourselves to Jesus who comes to us in grace and mercy to “speedily help and deliver us.”

[1]Sacramentaries are books that contain the words in the liturgy that are spoken by the celebrant

Gleanings from the Collects: 3 Advent

O Lord Jesus Christ, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found a people acceptable in your sight; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

This collect is taken directly from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer for the 3rdSunday in Advent and is attributed to Bishop John Cosin. An adaptation of it was moved to the 2ndSunday in Advent in the 1979 BCP but the 2019 BCP has returned it to its original place. 

The Church of South India changed the collect to read “Grant that we….” instead of “Grant that the minsters and stewards of your mysteries…” By doing so they emphasized that all of us are called to do the Lord’s work. While that is true, by making this change they have sacrificed and important emphasis of this week. December 16, 18 and 19 are Ember Days. These are days of prayer and fasting as the seasons change and also traditionally the time for ordinands to prepare themselves for holy orders. 

This specific focus on clergy is highlighted by the New Testament lesson chosen for Sunday. The 1662 lectionary appoints 1 Corinthians 4 that addresses “the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The 2019 lectionary appoints 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 that begins “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

Several gleanings can be made from this collect. First, note that the Lord Jesus is being addressed directly in this prayer. In this way we are obeying His admonition to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up workers for the harvest (Mt. 9:38). 

Second, praying for our spiritual leaders helps us as St. Paul commends, “To esteem them very highly in love.” If you are not regularly praying for our clergy this season would be a good time to make it part of your disciplines.

Third this collect makes a very interesting turn in its focus. We are to pray for our leaders to make ready the way of the Lord “by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just.” So it sounds like we are praying for our leaders to impact the proverbial “them.” But then the next line is “that at your second coming to judge the world, wemay be found a people acceptable in your sight.” Thus the disobedient that we are praying for is ourselves. I certainly don’t have to give that much thought before I can agree and say ‘mea culpa.”

Lastly it should be noted that this prayer for the turning of our hearts falls on Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “rejoice.” The color for the day is rose and there is a sense of joyful anticipation in air. 

Some may think that a call to repentance is contradictory to a pronouncement of joy, but that is not the case because the one leads to the other. Through repentance our hearts are turned and they are turned from death to life, from brokenness to wholeness, from mourning to joy. The Psalmist tells us “weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). We are to be a people who pass through Good Friday but live in Easter. Living as an Easter people is the best way to prepare for His coming. 

Gleanings from the Collects

Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

This beautiful collect was placed for the Second Sunday of Advent in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It was moved to Proper 28 in the 1979 American BCP, which is two Sundays before Advent. Most recently it was returned to its original calendar placement in the 2019 ACNA Prayer Book. 

In the Sarum Missal of the Middle Ages, the Epistle reading for 2 Advent was from Romans 15 that included verse 4. “For what ever was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the enlightenment of the Scriptures we might have a hope.” Thus this post-Reformation collect was perfectly suited for the lessons of that particular Sunday. It reflected the importance of Holy Scripture in public and private life, now that the Scriptures could be heard, read and studied in the vernacular. This was a recent privilege for which many literally had given their lives. 

A number of truths can be gleaned from this collect. First it underscores the Divine inspiration of Holy Scripture. It is the “Blessed Lord” and not man who caused it to be written. Additionally He did not just inspired some Scripture rather He inspired “all” Scripture (ref. 2 Timothy 3:16). This means that it is not just the red letters that are important to us. And since the LORD caused it “all” to be written we cannot dismiss the Old Testament or read the Gospels against the Epistles, as early and modern heresies are want to do. 

The order in which the collect calls us to interact with Holy Scripture is informative. The list is arranged so that one task naturally leads the next. After the text is heard we want to read it for ourselves. Reading naturally leads to study in order to gain better understanding, and so we “mark” and “learn.” Study then leads to seeking ways to apply Scripture as a part of our lives, hence we “inwardly digest” it. 

It is also noteworthy that this list reflects Scriptural priorities. There are many more verses in Scripture about hearing God and His Word than there are reading it. Also there are more verses about reading God’s Word than studying it. And the point of doing these three sacred tasks in these ways is to be comforted by His holy Word and thereby persevere in our faith. His Word is to be our daily manna, heavenly food that sustains us for the journey.  

Perhaps the most important gleaning from this collect is that it reminds us of the source of our blessed hope. Our hope is not in Holy Scripture but rather in the One  revealed by the Scripture, namely “our Lord Jesus Christ.” This vital distinction keeps us from hearing Jesus’ rebuke of the legalistic leaders. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, it is these that testify of Me.” (John 5:39).  As one of my teachers so succinctly put it, “The Scriptures are a treasure map, but the treasure is Jesus.”

As we hope and wait during the season of Advent we can celebrate that God in His goodness has given us the most important treasure map of all time. It is up to each of us to open the map and find the Treasure.