Trinity Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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A Collect for the Feast of the Ascension

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

While preparing for Wednesday Eucharist, this collect caught my attention. I immediately assumed that it was modern, but no, according to Hatchett, it derives from the Leonine sacramentary. The first thing that caught my attention was the phrase “that he might fill all things.” My assumptions must have been in overdrive because I thought it had to be a typo–“fill” instead of “fulfill.” But no. Jesus Christ ascended into heaven [so that] he might fill all things. Ascension is not about explaining why Jesus is no longer present among us but about proclaiming Christ’s omnipresence in the universe; to use the words from the Epistle of the Day, he is “all in all.”

Even more interesting is the focus of the petition. The prayer is not asking help for us to believe in the ascension, but rather that we might have faith to “perceive that … he abides with his Church.” To put it another way, it’s harder to believe in Christ’s continuing presence in the Church than in the Ascension.

On second thought, that might not be so strange at all, given the realities of the church in the twenty-first century.

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.

Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.

Before 1662, the Book of Common Prayer did not include special collects for the weekdays of Holy Week. The collect for Palm Sunday was used throughout the week. This collect first appeared in the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The references to being whipped and spit upon point our attention forward to the events following Jesus’ arrest. The collects for Tuesday and Wednesday seem to be reflections on the passion. They connect Jesus’ suffering with our own.

I’m tempted to see a “modern” turn in this development; modern in the sense of modern individualism and emotionalism.

Tuesday in Holy Week: Collect and Reflections

Here’s the collect of the day:

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Apparently adapted from a collect in the 1928 English Book of Common Prayer (so Hatchett), it is Pauline in theology “glory in the cross of Christ” but perhaps shades over into something less healthy with the expressed desire to “gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of … Jesus Christ.”

There’s a tendency in much of Christian piety toward self-abasement. Left unchecked, it can be destructive both on a personal level and for the whole community. I suppose that what bothers me in the collect is the repetition of the word “shame.” Surely “shame” was not at the heart of Jesus’ experience of the crucifixion. Did it play a role in early Christian reflection on the cross? Folly and shame are not identical; nor is shame a stumbling block as Paul observes of the cross in today’s reading from I Corinthians 1:18-31.

It begins:

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

That’s the expression of the central paradox in Pauline theology: the contrast between wisdom and folly, strength and weakness, and the assertion that when we see Jesus Christ at his weakest (i.e., on the cross), we see God at God’s most powerful. It’s an important inversion of our values and expectations, one that Paul seems to have learned through his own experience (the thorn in the flesh mentioned in II Corinthians). To translate these concepts, and this paradox into shame seems to diminish the power of what Paul is expressing.

Given the perversion of the Christian message by folks like Glenn Beck, and the Christian militia, it’s a useful reminder this week that as we approach the cross and Good Friday, understanding what it means remains elusive and easily misused.

Monday in Holy Week

The Collect for the Day:

Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Written by the Rev. Dr. William Reed Huntington, it first appeared here in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It is also the collect for the station at the door on Palm Sunday, and is a Collect for Friday in Morning Prayer.

It is a powerful reminder of the via crucis–the way of the cross that we share with Jesus Christ as his disciples. It does something more however, by reminding us that bearing the cross can be a light burden as Jesus promised in Matt 11:28-30:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I spent some time sitting in the nave today in silence and prayer. It was something of a guilty pleasure given what still needs to be done this week. The bulletins aren’t ready; I don’t have all of the slots for readers and Eucharistic Ministers filled; I don’t know what’s going to happen at any of the services this week. At least I’ve got a start on my sermons.

I certainly am praying these words this week–that the way of the cross, the way of Holy week, may be none other than “the way of life and peace.”

“Unruly wills and affections”

The Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent is one of my favorites, full of rich imagery and language.

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’s 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.

I’m taken by the understanding of human nature expressed in the prayer: “our unruly wills and affections,” which 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.

I followed the last days of the debate over healthcare in the House fairly closely, and when I read this prayer, especially “the unruly wills and affections” I found it rather appropriate to what went on in Washington.