Gleanings from the Collects: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O merciful Lord, grant to your faithful people pardon and peace, that we may be cleansed from all our sins and serve you with a quiet mind; 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 found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer on the Twenty-First Sunday after the Trinity. It was appointed as a petition in Burial Office in the 1979 BCP and returned as a Sunday Collect in the 2019 BCP.

The brief prayer is instructive. Highlighting God’s mercy it calls on the Lord to grant us “pardon and peace.” The order here is not accidental for without pardon there can be no peace; neither peace with God nor with one another.

Next we see that just as the goal of pardon is “that we may be cleansed from all our sins, so the goal of peace is to “serve you with a quiet mind.” Thus while the world tells us that our goal is be to be happy, we are reminded that the goal of the Christian is faithful service.

But why service “with a quiet mind?” Because service that flows from other sources, such as guilt or manipulation or intimidation, forces us back into unhealthy servitude from which Christ came to set us free.[1]

How do we attain a quiet mind? It begins by being pardoned and it continues as we realize just how merciful is our Lord. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.”[2] A quite mind is attained as we rest in His love, knowing that nothing can separate us from Him.[3] A quiet mind comes from knowing “if God is for us then who can be against us?”[4] A quiet mind comes from entering the room of trust in a loving Father and closing the door behind us. A quiet mind comes from reminding ourselves daily and throughout the day that “I have been accepted in the Beloved[5] and the kingdom cannot be shaken.”[6]

[1] John 8:36

[2] Deuteronomy 7:9

[3] Romans 8:35-39

[4] Romans 8:31

[5] Ephesians 1:6

[6] Hebrews 12:28

Gleanings from the Collects: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, you have taught us that without love, all our deeds are worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you; grant this for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect first appeared in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It reflects the teaching of 1 Corinthians 13 as well as Jesus declaration of the Great Commandment.[1] It reminds us that if we do not love God and our neighbor that our religion is worthless.

But the love spoken of here is unique. It is not romantic love nor is it the self-righteous love that is so prominent in our virtue signaling culture. This love is a godly love and therefore can only become true in us by the work of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul taught that it is first among the fruits of the Spirit.[2]

The collect teaches that love is the “true bond of peace” but adds “and of all virtues.” This is important insight. If we seek to instill other virtues such as temperance, but do not have them bonded to love, then such virtues easily turn into legalism or produce pride.

The collect takes a startling turn from speaking of “the excellent gift of charity” to stating that without it we are “counted dead” before God. At first blush such a statement seems to be the opposite of charity. But upon reflection we realize that it is truth, truth spoken in love.  St. John wrote that anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.[3] He further states that the one who loves abides in God and God abides in Him.[4] Thus to not have love is to not have God and that is why we could rightly be counted as dead.

The prayer ends with the strong appeal. “Grant this for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ…” This is a shorthanded way of asking God to hear us, not because we are worthy, but because Jesus is worthy. We are asking the Father to take into account all that the Son has accomplished and promised and thereby hear our prayer.

[1] Matthew 22:36-40

[2] Galatians 5:22

[3] I John 4:7,8

[4] I John 4:16

Gleanings from the Collects: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord God, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; 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 new to the American Book of Common Prayer. However a similar petition may be found in the Great Litany.[1]

The idea that God’s people are battling “the world, the flesh and the devil” comes from the Epistle to the Ephesians, chapter 2 verses 1-3. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sinsin which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the bodyand the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Care must be taken to properly define these three battlefronts so that we do not form a circular firing squad. When we speak of “the world” we are not implying that the created order is evil. The opposite is true. St. Paul teaches in Romans that creation reveals the invisible attributes of God.[2]If you have had your breath taken away by a beautiful sunset or a royal mountain range or a majestic red wood tree, then you know this to be true.

When we speak of “the world” we are referring to the worldly temptations that draw us away from God. These are not limited to, but certainly include, the temptations of riches, fame, power, and the godless systems, philosophies and cultures that promote the same. 

When we speak of “the flesh” we are not referring to our bodies or even to our bodily needs. God created man as the apex of His creation and God Himself took on our flesh in the Incarnation. The body of a Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit.[3]Thus our flesh is not evil as some heresies have contended. 

The “flesh” in this prayer refers to our longings and appetites that are driven by sin. This is commonly seen when we distort the gifts of God. He gives us bread to eat and we become gluttons. He gives us the fruit of the vine and we become drunkards. He gives marriage the gift of sex and we become promiscuous and perverse. He causes our cup to overflow and we become selfish hoarders. The “flesh” is that two year old that lives in us all who wants it his way and wants it now!

When we speak of “the devil” we are not speaking metaphorically. We are referring to a spiritual being that is our hated enemy. Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the wilderness reveal the devil as one who would be god. Countless souls have been deceived by him and made him theirs. 

A 19thcentury French poet[4]wrote, “One of the artifices of Satan is, to induce men to believe that he does not exist: another, perhaps equally fatal, is to make them fancy that he is obliged to stand quietly by, and not to meddle with them…” While this poet seemed to have not heeded his own advice, the lesson is that we invite peril if we do not believe that the devil exists or if we think him to be idle.

St. Paul tells us that the grace for which we pray to stand against these temptations is readily available to us. Verses 4-7 states, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses,made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

[1]Written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer with the bulk of the material taken from the Sarum Rite of the 11thC. 

[2]Romans 1:20

[3]I Corinthians 6:19

[4]Charles Baudelaire