Traditional orders for Compline did not have a Scripture lesson as such, though the devotional reading of 1 Peter 5:8-9a has been a mainstay of the office – often near the beginning of the liturgy. As the Office of Compline entered into the 20th century the lessons (both in Anglican and Roman practice) took on a distinct position in the liturgy, mirroring the other Offices in the daytime. The Canadian and American Prayer Books of 1962 and 1979 included three readings from Jeremiah 14, Matthew 11, and Hebrews 13, as does the Church of England’s Common Prayer (2000). The additional readings from 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, 5:23, and Ephesians 4:26-27 (and Jeremiah 14:9a again) are drawn by the modern Roman Liturgy of the Hours.
The Four Primary Scripture Lessons in the 2019 Prayer Book:
Particularly appropriate for Fridays and other penitential days, this verse comes from a plea for mercy despite Israel’s sins. Famine and disaster has struck, yet despite their unworthiness Jeremiah pleads for God to save his people once more. As the worshiper prepares to sleep, this verse echoes the same cry of the heart: “Leave us not!”
One of the Comfortable Words in the Communion service is found here, taking a more literal context of finding “rest” after the burden of the day.
These verses are a benediction, delivering the blessed promise of sanctification at God’s hand. The image of being “brought again from the dead” is a source of peace in preparation for sleep.
1 Peter 5:8-9
This is the quintessential Compline verse. It highlights the spiritual danger typified by sleep, and the need for wakefulness. In this sense it also provides the raison d’être for the service of Compline: it is our act of sober-minded watchfulness at night, resisting the prowling darkness that surrounds us at this time of night.
The Seven Additional Scripture Lessons:
The promise of God’s “perfect peace” upon those “whose mind is stayed” on him is “an everlasting rock” of hope, appropriate for bedtime.
This is the verse that inspired the popular Collet for Quiet Confidence (#82 on BCP 670), and provides another liturgical purpose for the Office of Compline: return and rest in the Lord.
Putting the mind at ease at the end of the day can be difficult, and the Lord’s exhortation “Seek first the kingdom of God… do not be anxious about tomorrow” can be precisely the correction one needs right before bed.
2 Corinthians 4:6
The imagery of light shining out of darkness is a straight-forward connection to the devotional place of Compline in the overall life of worship.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10
The death/sleep versus life/awake theme is evoked in these verses, infusing our act of going to sleep as an act of faith and trust in God’s predestination and Christ’s death for us.
1 Thessalonians 5:23
This verse is another benediction, and the language of being “kept” is appropriate for the context of Compline. As we sleep, only God can keep us; in the same way, only God can keep us blameless and sanctify us completely before the dawn of Christ’s return.
Similar to 1 Peter 5:8-9, these verses remind us of the active danger of the devil and our need to take action to give him “no opportunity.” Specifically, the worshiper is reminded to give up sinful anger before the day is over – Compline is our last chance to repent before we sleep!