In the prayers of the Daily Office, there were traditionally three Collects in a row: the Collect of the Day followed by two set Collects according to the time of day (Morning had two, Evening had two). In the 1979 and 2019 Prayer Books those two Collects got expanded to seven choices, plus a choice of a Prayer for Mission. Among the original Collects, still found among the modern choices, are two Collects entitled “For Peace.” Let’s take a little comparative look at these two prayers today.
Collect for Peace (Morning)
O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect for Peace (Evening)
O God, the source of all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works: Give to your servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments, and that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Naturally, both of these prayers address the trouble of enemies. Perhaps the first question is who are our enemies? Like several of the Psalms, this is a nebulous concept, a fill-in-the-blank opportunity, and we should take care how we treat it, even in the silence of our hearts. In a bad mood you might throw your annoying boss into that “enemies” category, or your misbehaving kids, or the noisy neighbors, or members of the wrong political party, or those gosh-darn terrorist foreigners from that other country somewhere else. The scriptures teach us that the enemies of the Christian are the world, the flesh, and the devil. Those are the forces that turn us away from God; those are the real threats against whom we need protection, and against whom we must fight.
And I say “must fight” on purpose, for as these prayers express, Peace is not found in avoidance of conflict, but in steadfastness despite conflict. Through “the might of Jesus” we pray for God’s defense “in all assaults”, not from all assaults. The goal or purpose of these prayers is that we “may not fear,” and “pass our time in rest and quietness.” With our trust placed in God’s defense and our hearts set to obey his commandments, we find ourselves on the solid ground of God’s Word, in the footsteps of Jesus, in cooperation with the Spirit. There, we can withstand the wiles of the world, the flesh, and the devil; there can be found peace that cannot be found anywhere else.
So whether you pray these prayers every day (as in the old prayer books) or every week (as in the new), take care to note what we’re really praying here. In this life, the peace of God is found amidst the spiritual war, not as an escape from it.