Gleanings from the Collects: 3 Epiphany

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect first appeared in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It draws from the collect for the Feast of St. Andrew which begins, “Almighty God, who didst give grace to thine apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of they Son Jesus Christ…”

Several gleanings present themselves from this brief collect. First is that we need grace to answer our Lord’s call. This is not a work to be done in our own strength. It is not a matter of reading the most recommended book, or coming up with the newest strategy or attending the latest seminar. Evangelism, and by extension the growth of the Church, is begun continued and ended in grace. When we stray from that truth our efforts at evangelism look more like selling used cars than sharing the love of God.

Second this collect makes clear the nature of our calling. It is “to proclaim to all people the Good news of his salvation.” And since this collect is prayed by the whole Church, it means that this calling is to the whole Church. Evangelism is not just the work of ordained clergy or those with a special gift. We are all to be witnesses to “his marvelous works.” Remember that the first witness and proclaimer of Jesus’ resurrection was not an Apostle or an Evangelist. It was blessed Mary, a humble follower of Christ. And like Mary we do not have to become great apologists or skilled debaters. We simply need to bear witness of what we have experienced as forgiven sinners. 

Third we must note that the call to proclaim the Good News of his salvation is “to all people.” In this age of compromise and relativism that truth is severely challenged. Years ago I met a man who went to his denominational headquarters to express his desire to take the Gospel to the Orient. The response to his inquiry was “Why, they already have a religion.” If anything, the belief in the uniqueness of Christ for salvation has waned even more since that time. 

But this collect is based upon the eternal truth that salvation in Christ is meant for all the peoples of the earth. And that truth is rooted in the commission that Jesus gave to His Church. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[1]That is why the Apostles traveled throughout the known world and preached that “everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.”[2]

Lastly the collect reminds us of the ultimate goal of evangelism. It is not so that people may find personal fulfillment, although that happens. It is not to grow the Church, although that happens. It is not to make the world a better place, although that happens. The ultimate goal of evangelism is so that “the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works.” In short we evangelize for the glory of God. We share the Good News so that more voices will sing the new song, “Worthy are You to take the book and break its seals; for You were slain and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”[3]

[1]Matthew 28:19,20  ESV

[2]Acts 2”21 NASB

[3]Revelation 5:9,10 NASB

Gleanings from the Collects: 2 Epiphany

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This collect first appeared in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It was drawn from a collect in the Prayer Book of the Church of South India. While it is not clear why the collect that had been prayed for over 300 years needed to be replaced, nevertheless it fits the season of Epiphany that focuses on the light of Christ. 

The wording of the collect is masterfully assembled. After speaking of Jesus being “the light of the world,” we are called upon to be “illumined” and “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.” 

Several truths contained in this collect are informative. First it declares Jesus to be the light of the world. This accords with John’s Gospel that reads, speaking of Jesus, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”[1] 

This simple statement is bolder than it first appears. To declare Jesus as the light of the world means that Jesus is more than my personal light, or even the light for all Christians. He is the light of the whole world, who “enlightens every man.” Thus apart from Him humanity walks in darkness. The popular notion that all roads lead to God is exposed by this proclamation to be untrue. Only Jesus is the light of the world. There is no other.

Second the collects tell us how we are to go about being enlightened. It is “by your Word and Sacraments.” Some philosophies teach that enlightenment comes by emptying oneself of personal awareness and becoming one with all things. But this collect tells us that rather than becoming emptied, we become enlightened by being filled. We are to be filled with Word and Sacrament. 

Third the word “and” is important here. We are illumined by Word AND Sacraments. It is “both/and” not “either/or.” So if either Word or Sacraments are missing then illumination is incomplete. As has been pointed out, to have Word without Sacrament is like reading the menu but skipping the meal.

Fourth we are told the purpose of seeking illumination. It is neither to gain gnostic insight nor to become superior to others. Rather we are to seek to shine with Christ so that He would be “known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” Our calling is not to glorify ourselves but rather to glorify Him. We are to seek to be illumined so that we may take this light to others. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”[2]

Lastly when the collect speaks of Jesus being “known,” it implies something more than mere intellectual awareness or assent. This is clear by the words that follow; “worshipped and obeyed.” To know Him is to have an intimate and very personal relationship with Him. To know Him is to love Him; it is to be united with Him. That is why we, and people everywhere, would worship and obey Him to the ends of the earth. 

[1]New American Standard Bible  John1:9

[2]KJV Matthew 5:16

Gleanings from the Collects: 1 Epiphany

Eternal Father, at the baptism of Jesus you revealed him to be your Son, and your Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove: Grant that we, who are born again by water and the Spirit, may be faithful as your adopted children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

In the ancient Church the baptism of our Lord was celebrated on the feast of Epiphany. The Eastern Church continues that tradition today. It is also called the Feast of the Theophany because it was at Jesus’ baptism that the Father revealed Jesus to be His Son, as confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

Over time the Western Church separated these two events and so this collect does not appear until the 1979 BCP on the first Sunday after Epiphany in an effort to return to ancient practices. The collect is said to be an adaptation of two collects from the Roman sacramentary.[1]

This brief collect is dense with truth. First it addresses the Father as “Eternal.” It is this attribute of God that makes Him so trustworthy. We who are limited by time and space are blessed to trust the One who is limitless. And so we sing, “Eternal Father strong to save whose arm hath bound the restless wave…”

In this collect we see not only the Holy Trinity named but also the nature of their relationship. The use of the possessive “your Son” and “your Holy Spirit” point to the loving unity of the Trinity.

Interestingly the collect moves from Jesus’ baptism to our own thereby revealing the efficacy of the sacrament. In the sacrament of baptism we are “born again by water and the Spirit” and we are made “your adopted children.” Thus regeneration and adoption reveal that baptism is vastly more than a symbolic act. But neither is it “once and done.” God calls us not only to begin the race but to finish it[2]and so in this collect we also pray to be “faithful as your adopted children.” 

While the thought of being faithful to the end can be daunting, we can have confidence that the LORD in His love has provided all that we need to finish the race. Beyond the already mentioned wonders of regeneration and adoption, He has sent us His Holy Spirit, continually empowers us through Word and Sacrament, and makes us “very members incorporate in the mystical body of all faithful people” and “heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom.”[3]The prize for finishing the race is so beyond compare that nothing should prevent us from staying in the race and crossing the finish line. With His grace that is exactly what we will do.

[1]Liturgical book that contains the words and prayers of the celebrant dating back to the 6thcentury. 

[2]I Corinthians 9:24

[3]Holy Communion p83, 1928 BCP

Gleanings from the Collects: 2 Christmas

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This beautiful collect first appeared in the American Book of Common Prayer in the 1979 edition. However it is an ancient collect that is taken from the Leonine Sacramentary[1]from among the prayers for Christmas. Along with the Roman Catholic Church today, the Anglican Church in North America has appointed this collect for the 2ndSunday after Christmas.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded a popular song called “Woodstock” that contained the lyrics, “We are stardust. We are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” It’s a good song but it is not good theology as this collect points out. 

In the garden we were “wonderfully created” but in Christ the dignity of our human nature is “yet more wonderfully restored.” Thus we are not going back to the garden, rather we are going forward to the heavenly Jerusalem[2]. Because of Jesus mankind will go from being keepers of a garden to become a royal priesthood.[3]In the garden mankind knew God as Creator but in Christ we know Him as Father. The epistle appointed for this day proclaims this truth in an astonishing way. “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the kind intention of His will.”[4]

As unfathomable as it may seem, our adoption through Jesus Christ makes us “heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.”[5]While we cannot even imagine all that God has in store for us, we do know that we have a future that far surpasses anything that a return to the garden could offer. Our destiny is not to go backwards but rather to progress from glory to glory.[6]

Like this collect, Leo the Great captured what Christ has done for us through His incarnation. “The Son of God became the Son of Man that the sons of men might become the sons of God.”

[1]The Leonine Sacramentary is a book of prayers attributed to Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome who died 461. It is the oldest surviving liturgical book. 

[2]Hebrews 12:18-24

[3]I Peter 2:9

[4]Ephesians 1:4,5

[5]Romans 8:17

[6]2 Corinthians 3:18