Gleanings from the Collects: Palm Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, in your tender love for us you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon himself our nature, and to suffer death upon the Cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and come to share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect for Palm Sunday is a slightly revised version of the collect for Palm Sunday in both the 1662 and the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. These collects date back to the Gelasian sacramentaries.[1]

Archbishop Cranmer altered the earlier collect to reduce implications of works righteousness by changing “grant that we may merit both to have the teaching of his patience and a share in his resurrection” to read “grant that we both follow the example of his patience, and be made partakers of his resurrection.” By doing this he avoided any suggestion of “merit”[2]on our part.

The strength of the collect is that it combines the incarnation (“to take upon himself our nature”) with the atonement (“to suffer death upon the Cross”). As Jesus said, it was for this reason that He was born.[3]

And yet one wonders if, following Archbishop Cranmer’s example, the editors of the 2019 BCP should not have made further revisions. Its weakness is that it gives only a partial, secondary, or even tertiary reason for Jesus’ death upon the Cross. His indescribable suffering was vastly more than just “giving us an example of his great humility.” He gave us that example every hour of every day throughout His life. He suffered death because He was “the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”[4]There are countless examples of humility in both history and Holy Scripture but only one Savior of the world and so it is regrettable that the salvific reason for His death is not highlighted in this prayer.

The other weakness of this collect is that it links sharing “in his resurrection” to walking “in the ways of his sufferings.” Will only those who suffer then be raised? Even if that link was not intended, a casual reader could easily come to that conclusion. It would have been far better to make a direct connection between our resurrection and His atonement, just as we pray in the collect for the Feast of the Annunciation, “…[5]so by his cross and passion we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection…”

The beauty of this collect is Archbishop Cranmer’s addition “…in thy tender love toward man…” In this we are essentially praying John 3:16. It sets the tone for the holy week that follows. As we are confronted by His passion on Friday and comforted by His resurrection on Sunday may we keep before us that it is all because of His tender love towards us. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”[6]It is a wonder to realize, as A.W. Tozer taught, that the One who knows the worst about us also loves us the most.[7]Blessed Holy Week.

[1]Books of Christian liturgy from the 8thcentury

[2]Other than casting ourselves on His mercy, we do nothing to “merit” God’s mercy. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

[3]John 12:27

[4]John 1:36

[5]1928 BCP p.235

[6]John 15:13 KJV

[7]And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings from the Gospel of John

Gleanings from the Collects: The 5th Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

This collect is taken from the Gregorian sacramentary[1]and is found as the collect for the 4thSunday after Easter in the 1662 and 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Its new place in the 1979 and 2019 BCP is a vast improvement over the previous collect. That collect was all too brief and was not necessarily reflective of the season of Lent.[2]Such a generic call for protection is more fitting for ordinary time.

First this collect accurately captures our human condition apart from the grace of God. It is in agreement with Romans 1 that our “unruly wills and affections” enslave us. The division and decadence that permeate our culture today bear witness to that sad reality.

But then the collect points us to God. “Grant your people grace.” His grace will create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us.[3]As a result, instead of being driven by unruly wills and affections, we begin “to love what you command and desire what you promise.” It is this recognition, that while we cannot change ourselves we can look to God’s grace to change us from within, that led St. Augustine to pray, “O Lord command what you will, and grant what you command.”

The collect goes on to accurately describe the condition of our world and why it is not the place to fix our hearts. It speaks of “the swift and varied changes of this world.” As Louis L’Amour put it, “The only thing that never changes is that everything changes.” This can be a source of great heartache so thanks be to God we have the option of setting our hearts “where true joys may be found.” 

There used to be a commercial that said we only go around once in life and so we need to grab all the gusto we can. This collect reminds us that there is another life ahead and that if we will walk in God’s grace here then the real gusto is yet to come. Turning from our unruly wills and affections to loving what God commands captures well the purpose of Lent.

[1]The name given to books of prayers traditionally ascribed to Pope Gregory I (590–604)

[2]“We beseech thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy people; that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” 1662 BCP p.138 

[3]Psalm 51:10

Gleanings from the Collects: The 4th Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This collect is new to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It was adapted from a prayer in The Prayer Manual.[1]

The collect seems to pull us out of Lent, since it is a radical departure from the collect that it replaces.[2]But that is likely the intent because the 4thSunday in Lent is called “Laetare Sunday.” This is the mid point of Lent. The introit begins “Rejoice” (laetare), the vestments are rose, and the Gospel is the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. All of this comes together to suggest a Lenten intermission.

To add to the sense of celebration, the 4thSunday in Lent has also been known in Britain and some other English speaking countries as “Mothering Sunday.” It is the custom since the Middle Ages to return on this Sunday to the parish in which you were baptized or to attend the Cathedral, which is the mother church of the diocese. 

The collect begins, “Gracious Father.” While many collects correctly refer to God as “Almighty” it is important to be reminded that He is also full of grace, kindness and mercy. We do not approach Him as enemies seeking quarter; we come to Him as His children, drawn by His love. It is this relationship that makes us “bold to say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…’ ” 

The prayer focuses on Jesus as the Bread of Life.[3]Our request for the Father to “evermore give us this bread” has dual meanings. First is to unite us with Christ as Jesus prayed, “so that the love with which You have loved Me, may be in them and I in them.”[4]

Second this request has clear Eucharistic implications. In asking for this bread we are asking for the LORD to continue to feed us “with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ…”[5]

Lastly the collect captures why Holy Communion is the zenith of our worship. We receive it so “that he may live in us, and we in him.” These words come from the Prayer of Humble Access that is prayed just before we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. It declares that this is not an empty ritual. We pray as we receive Holy Communion, “…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”[6]

For the Lord to answer this prayer we must cooperate with Him. If we hope to evermore receive the Bread of Life we must be diligent in seeking Him and we must be faithful in receiving the Sacrament. It would be foolish of us to pray for food but then ignore the call to dinner. We must not allow time to be a constraint as we almost always have time for the things that truly matter to us. 

[1]London: Mowbray, 1952

[2]“Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of they grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.”

[3]John 6:35

[4]John 17:25 NASB

[5]1928 BCP p.83

[6]1928 BCP p.82

Gleanings from the Collects: The 3rd Sunday in Lent

Heavenly Father, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you: Look with compassion upon the heartfelt desires of your servants, and purify our disordered affections, that we may behold your eternal glory in the face of Christ Jesus; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect, although new to the Book of Common Prayer, reflects both a prayer attributed to St. Augustine[1]and the collect for the 3rdSunday in Lent in the 1662 BCP[2].

The prayer begins with a bold statement that should be self evident to all. We have been made for Him and so we are restless until we rest in Him. We may try to fill our God shaped vacuum[3]with anything and everything else, but since we have made by God and for God, nothing else will satisfy. Life is meaningless until we find meaning in the Him. 

Our restlessness is also true in an eschatological sense. Even after finding peace with God in this life, there still exists a restlessness. This is so because deep within we know that this world is not our true home. Our citizenship is in heaven[4]and we will never know true and complete peace until we are at home in our Father’s house where we belong. It is why the Spirit says, “Blessed are those who die in the Lord.”[5]

The collect goes on to diagnose our true condition. We have “heartfelt desires” and we know that these desires are never pure. Even our highest virtues are tainted with “disordered affections.” We are, as Luther said, “simil justus, simil peccartor.”[6]

However it is vital to note that the collect tells us how to address this condition. We are not to live in guilt or under a cloud of condemnation. Rather we are to acknowledge our need and then call out to the LORD for compassion. He is faithful to answer and “pardon and deliver you all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness and bring you to everlasting life; through our Lord Jesus Christ our Lord.”[7]

We must always remember that we are never alone as we battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Thus we battle from a posture of quietness and confidence[8]as we say with the Psalmist, “I will fear no evil for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”[9]

It is our ultimate destiny that puts the challenges of this life in proper perspective. We know that by grace we will “behold your eternal glory in the face of Christ Jesus.” Anything that this transitory life has to offer, or that can be taken from us, pales by comparison. While the battles continue in this life, Christ’s victory has already been accomplished, and what awaits us is beyond our ability to comprehend. St. Paul declares, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”[10]

And so we continue in our Lenten journey. Repentant of our sins while fixing our eyes on the One who is the author and perfecter of our faith.[11]

[1]“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

[2]“We beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of they humble servants….”

[3]“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”Blaise Pascal’s Pensees New York; Penguin Books, 1966, p.75

[4]Philippians 3:20

[5]Revelation 14:13

[6]“at once justified and a sinner”

[7]1928 Book of Common Prayer p.76

[8]Isaiah 30:15

[9]Psalm 23

[10]I Corinthians 2:9

[11]Hebrews 12:2