Yesterday’s Collect of the Day, to be used throughout this week, is robust enough a prayer it could easily be a sermon in miniature.
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray,
and to give more than we either desire or deserve:
Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask,
except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
It follows the classic formula for a Collect: Address, Petition, Purpose, Praise.
The Address: One could technically break this into two parts (Address & Attribute), since God is addressed and then described. This prayer describes him as more ready to hear and give than we are to pray and desire/deserve. This prayer asserts that God is better than us, kinder than us, more merciful, and loving. Divine condescension is more in our favor than we expect, or even want. This may be an echo of Isaiah 65:24, where God promises “Before they call I will answer.”
The Petition: This is simply a prayer for mercy. Like the Address & Attribute, this simple request is followed by a more elaborate “purpose” to explain the request and ground it in God’s being, or, more importantly for this form of prayer, linking the request back to the attributes of God previously detailed.
The Purpose: Forgiveness and “good things” are the purpose of God’s mercy in this case. We all sin, and we typically have secret sins that we keep to ourselves and are afraid to confess – to God or to others. Our conscience is afraid of what might happen if such darkness came to light. This prayer directs us to turn those sins and fears over to the Lord. Accompanying that is the request for good gifts that we don’t deserve – for which we are not even worthy to ask! – yet are promised in God. One can think of Sunday’s Old Testament lesson (in Year A) from 1 Kings 3 as an example, where God gives King Solomon riches and power beyond his deserving, and for which he didn’t even ask. We learn that, in Christ’s merit (sinlessness) and mediation (atonement on the Cross), we are made worthy of the greater honor of eternal life because he he has overcome the world (John 16:33).
The Praise: Like most Collects in the modern Prayer Book tradition, this Collect ends with a Trinitarian formula, praying through Christ to the Father in unity with the Holy Spirit.
As you can see, this could easily be an entire sermon in miniature. Indeed, the best of Collects are tiny expositions of the Scripture they are paired with. This, for example, was historically paired with 2 Corinthians 3:4-9 and Mark 7:31-37. That Epistle lesson addresses human unworthiness of God’s glory being overcome by the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. The Gospel lesson is the story of Jesus healing someone who could not speak, and was therefore incapable of speaking for himself and asking for God to heal him. He had to be commended to Jesus by others. This, too, illustrates the point of the Collect and how our very salvation is not in our own hands. We did not, and could not, present ourselves to God with a worthy request for salvation; we were spiritually mute, or dead. It is God’s grace that reaches beyond the barrier of our unworthiness, often preempting our own impulse and initiative.
What rich theology and pastoral work these Collects contain!