Yesterday’s Collect of the Day, which as usual serves throughout this week in the Daily Office, has an interesting history and pedigree. In the historic Prayer Books it served for the Second Sunday after Easter, which was Good Shepherd Sunday. In the 1979 Prayer Book, this Collect traveled to the another part of the year to serve for Proper 15 (mid/late August). And now in the 2019 BCP it’s back in the same relative position in Eater, the Third Sunday of Easter.
Almighty God, you gave your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and an example of godly living: Give us grace thankfully to receive his inestimable benefits, and daily to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
So let’s take a look at what makes this Collect so versatile.
Theologically speaking, this Collect works incredibly efficiently at drawing together models and doctrines of the atonement. Jesus is both a sacrifice for sin (substitutionary atonement or something like that) and an example to imitate (moral example). These models then lend themselves to a double application: we are to be thankful in the reception of his grace and daily to follow (or in the classical and perhaps more honest wording, daily endeavor to follow) in the footsteps of his sinless life. The call to thanks-giving, our Eucharistic sacrifice, and to faithful obedience, our Christian duty, go hand-in-hand. With such lofty and gospel-central themes, this prayer could make its home nearly anywhere in the Christian year, though Eastertide is most natural as the celebration of the resurrection of Christ most directly begs the question of what we are to do next. And since the Easter Vigil and Day collects tend to focus on baptism and the resurrection life, it is only logical to move on to a eucharistic (thanks-giving) theme thereafter.
Paired with the Good Shepherd readings in the historic lectionary, this collect serves as a first line of application for the image of Jesus as our good shepherd. Recognizing what the Shepherd does for the sheep and recognizing his voice, we learn to give thanks and to follow him.
But now, in the 2019 Prayer Book’s version of the modern lectionary, this collect is paired with Gospel lessons that deal with post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in Luke 24 or John 21. The good shepherd connection is replaced with a “response to the resurrection” sort of mentality. Rather than latching onto a specific image (Jesus the Good Shepherd) this Collect works in tandem with the general Eastertide theme: resurrection and new life. It may make the prayer itself feel a bit more arbitrary, but it still gets the job done.