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 sacramentaryand 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.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.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.
The name given to books of prayers traditionally ascribed to Pope Gregory I (590–604)
“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