Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This collect, carried over from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, is a revision of a collect from the 1549 BCP. In the 1549 BCP it was appointed for the feast day of St. Phillip and St. James.
The collect is dense with insight. First it acknowledges that everlasting life comes from “truly” knowing God. Truly knowing God is distinct from simply acknowledging Him. As St. James said, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”
How do we truly know God? Jesus said, “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”Therefore the petition is “Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life…”
This call to truly know the Father and the Son is an important corrective to those who mistakenly believe that knowledge of Holy Scripture is all sufficient. Jesus corrected this thinking in the Jewish leaders when He said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”As one of my professors said, “The Bible is the treasure map but the Treasure is Jesus.”
The second part of the petition is “that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal glory.” It is in knowing Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life, that leads to steadfastly following His steps. In other words our obedience is a result of knowing and loving Him and not due to legalism or fear. In the Gospel appointed for this day Jesus will say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Lastly this collect reminds us of our destiny. Note that our future is not only eternal life but also “eternal glory.” And the collect reminds us that our eternal glory is dependent upon how steadfastly we have followed in His steps.
St. Paul spoke of building our lives on a foundation of gold, silver and precious stones (things eternal) versus foundations of wood, hay and straw,(things temporal). Then he said, “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Jesus’ priority was the Kingdom of God. His first sermon was “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” If we are to “steadfastly follow his steps” then this must be our priority as well. Thus Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
The strong language of this collect, that calls us to “truly” and “perfectly” know the Lord and to “steadfastly follow” Him, is a call to discipleship. While we may not be able to drop our nets and follow as the first disciples did, we can submit to Jesus as Lord and seek to do His will each and every day.
James 2:19 ESV
John 8:19 NIV
John 5:39,40 ESV
John 14:15 NASB
I Corinthians 4:12
I Corinthians 3:13-15 ESV
Matthew 4:17 ESV