Unruly Wills and Affections

The Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent is one of my favorites, full of rich imagery and language. I didn’t preach today because I spent it with our kids. They’ve been learning about the Eucharist and today I talked with them about it during the Liturgy of the Word. At the offertory, we rejoined the main congregation and the children gathered around the altar for the Great Thanksgiving.

All this meant that I really hadn’t spent any time with the propers this week, so the beautiful collect came to me as a wonderful surprise while I was presiding at the early service:

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 the 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

It has an interesting history. It derives from early sources (the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries), where it was used in the Easter season. Cranmer appointed it for the Fourth Sunday after Easter. His translation was altered in 1662, introducing the phrase “bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners.” The 1979 Book of Common Prayer moved it to its current location. It seems much more appropriate as a Lenten collect than as an Easter one.

I’m taken by the understanding of human nature expressed in the prayer. The phrase “our unruly wills and affections” certainly implies sin, but doesn’t dwell on human sinfulness. But there is also an appeal to God working in us to effect our salvation, the request to God to give God’s people grace “to love what you command and desire what you promise.”

It then moves out to put us in our context–amid the swift and varied changes of the world and expresses the hope that we might focus our attention not on the constantly changing scenery around us, but on our true hope.

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