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.