Praying Humbly

The Collect for Proper 12 (or, in classical prayer books, for the 12th Sunday after Trinity) is a truly humble prayer.  If you want to see an example of what it means to pray with a humble heart, look no further.

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 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.

This prayer acknowledges several things that takes our egos down a notch.

  1. God is more ready to hear than we are to pray.
  2. God gives us more than we desire or deserve.
  3. God forgives us the things of which we’re afraid to ask for forgiveness.
  4. God gives us god things that we’re not worthy even to ask for.
  5. We’re only worthy to ask God for things through the merits of another: Jesus Christ our Savior.

If you chase down some Scripture references this one prayer could be turned into a Bible Study, even a sermon!  And why not? let’s grab a few verses right now.

  • Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. – Isa. 65:24
  • God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. – 1 Kings 3:11-12
  • I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. – John 16:33

Sometimes in a conservative, confessional, liturgical, or otherwise traditional church setting, we might find ourselves downplaying the prodigal love of God toward us, preferring to take a more severe and sober attitude concerning our sinfulness or concupiscence, pushing back against the excesses of pop-evangelical culture, or worse, the prosperity gospel heretics who go on about bastardized versions of “God’s love” all the time.  It’s important, with prayers such as this one, to maintain that biblical balance between sober awareness of our sinfulness and joyful recognition of God’s loving-kindness.

So enjoy this prayer for the rest of the week, and revel in God’s love for you!  (But if you’re in a classical-prayer-book parish, then I guess you have to wait another month or so for your turn with this Collect!)

St. James’ Day

It’s July 25th, you know what that means!  No, no “Christmas In July”… it’s Saint James’ Day, I warned you this was coming!  One of the “inner three” of Christ’s apostles, James’ story comes to an abrupt end in Acts 12.  Let’s start with prayer though:

O gracious God, your servant and apostle James was first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ: Pour upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service, by which they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Though he tends to get less press than a few of the other apostles, James is one of the ones we know the most about from the New Testament.  This is reflected in several of the Scripture readings appointed for today.  The special reading for this feast day in Morning Prayer is from Mark 1, where we see the call of James with his brother John, sons of Zebedee.  At the Communion today the Gospel (from Matthew 20) has Jesus’ subtle prediction of James’ death, and the reading from Acts 11 & 12 (in the place of the Epistle) accounts for James’ death directly.

If you chose to make use of the Midday Lectionary provided by this Customary, you’ll also read from 2 Kings 1 today – a curious story in which the prophet Elijah calls down fire from heaven upon multiple groups of soldiers until a group entreats him with the honor due his office as a Prophet.  This sets the Old Testament background and precedent for another story of James (and John) in Luke 9, wherein they ask Jesus if they should call fire down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that rejected Jesus’ teaching.  One can see that St. James was indeed a zealous disciple of our Lord!

So, as the Collect of the Day, how about taking a little time today to pray for pastors, deacons, priests, bishops, that they might be ready, like St. James, to lay down their life for you and those whom else they serve in the name of the Lord?

Pairing a Collect with a Hymn

One of my favorite things about the 2017 hymnal, “Book of Common Praise“, is that among its extensive indices it has a liturgical index that suggests hymns to match each Collect, OT lesson, Epistle lesson, and Gospel for each Sunday and holy day in the traditional calendar.  (Yes, traditional calendar, not the modern 3-year lectionary, because the REC made this book, and they still use the classic Anglican calendar.)  If you pay attention to the traditional Collects and find where they are in the modern (2019 Prayer Book) calendar, then you can profit from this liturgical index.

Take, for example, the Collect for Proper 9, which is this coming Sunday.  It corresponds with the 9th Sunday after Trinity (most of the post-Trinity collects numerically line up from the old to new calendars like this, which is handy).  The collect reads as follows:

Grant us, O Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who can do no good thing apart from you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord…

The 2017 hymnal recommends the following hymns to match with this Collect:

Dear Lord…” right off the bat reveals its connection with this collect: “Forgive our foolish ways!  Reclothe us in our rightful mind, In purer lives thy service find…”  The recognition that we need God to enable us to good is clear throughout the hymn.

Breathe on me” is perhaps better known.  It’s not as “negative” about the sinful self, but its plea for reliance on God is just as sincere: “Fill me with life anew, That I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do.”

O thou who camest” is a hymn for Confirmation in this hymnal.  It isn’t until verse 3 that this hymn’s connection to the Collect is clear: “Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire to work, and speak, and think for thee”.  Verse 4 also contributes: “Ready for all thy perfect will,
my acts of faith and love repeat”.  Its emphasis on doing the desire of one’s heart is revealed to be the godly intention of desiring what God desires, and thus plays into the main theme of the Collect.

Take my life, and let it be” may be cliche to some.  But the entire song can serve as a meditation on this Collect’s prayer for God’s spirit which alone enables us to do good.  Verse by verse this hymn hands to God our life, hands, lips, heart, voice, and finally our will:

Take my will, and make it thine;
It shall be no longer mine.

Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for thee.  Amen.

If you want to make use of these hymns to reinforce the Collect of the Day on this coming Sunday, one of the best spots to do this is either between the Gloria in excelsis and the Collect.  The rubrics on pages 107 and 125 indicate that the Gloria may be substituted for a different song of praise, which my congregation traditionally stretches a little such that we say the Gloria and then sing a hymn.  I know of other congregations that take this idea even farther and put a whole “praise and worship set” after or in place of the Gloria… that strikes me as a stretch of the rubrics too far.  Whateverso, placing one of these hymns immediately before the Collect maximizes the potential for people to hear the thematic echo of the hymn in the Collect when the celebrant reads it.

If you place the related hymn elsewhere in the liturgy, it may be necessary for the preacher to identify that connection during the sermon.  And honestly, that’s not a bad idea either.  Include an explication of the Collect in the sermon, quote a piece of the hymn that connects to it, and then have the congregation sing that hymn during the Offertory or something.  That way the liturgy stands as a more coherent whole, and you the ministers are helping your flock see that, recognize that, and learn to make those connections on their own. For if we truly believe lex orandi lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief) and vice versa, we should take care to see that our form of worship is just as coherent as our biblical preaching and doctrinal catechesis.

 

Collect for “Proper 8”

This week’s Collect of the Day is drawn from yesterday’s position in the calendar, “Proper 8”.  This is a prayer for God’s fatherly ordering of our lives:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and on earth: Put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things that are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

On its own, simply, this is a prayer that highlights God’s parental role over us.  If you have had children, or have cared for or ministered to children regularly, you know on an experiential level just how important a prayer like this is.  Children often have a hard time accepting or understanding the difference between the “hurtful things” and “those things that are profitable”… what they want is what they want, and that’s that!  Of course, we adults fall into the exact same mentality all the time, we’re just usually a little more sophisticated about it.  “I deserve to indulge myself today”, “Just one ___ won’t hurt me”, “I know it’s bad for me, but I can keep it under control”.  This prayer demands of us an honesty that we’re not always prepared to attain to on our own.

In the traditional calendar, this Collect was appointed for the 8th Sunday after Trinity, and was paired with Romans 8:12-17 and Matthew 7:15-21.  That epistle is very clearly in mind in the construction of this Collect:

For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

The Gospel contains a warning against false teachers – wolves in sheep’s clothing.  This adds to the Epistle’s concern with things that are morally and spiritually harmful or profitable the further level of doctrinal harm and profit.  It is critical that we do not scratch our “itching ears” as it is written elsewhere in the New Testament.  We must pray that God will keep, or make, us open to receive his true teaching rather than the teaching we want to hear.  Our fleshly, sinful, self-centered tendencies can easily overrule our moral, spiritual, and doctrinal commitment to Christ and his Church, so let this Collect remind you in the Daily Office throughout this week to “mortify the works of the flesh”, to discern the disguised wolf from the true sheep, and endeavor to follow Christ as he leads, not as we would have him lead.

Collect for Proper 7

After Monday’s brief interruption with the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the Collect of the Day for the Daily Office this week has gone back to Sunday’s “Proper 7.”  Hmm, we should probably look at what “Proper #” means, one of these days.  But right now we’re looking at the Collect.  Here it is:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

It is written in James’ epistle that “true religion” involves caring for those in need.  As the Collect suggests, that is what the original set of Scriptures, in the traditional one-year lectionary, dealt with.  This Collect was originally paired with Mark 8:1-10 (wherein Jesus feeds the 4,000) and Romans 6:1-23 which provides a more detailed explanation for this: we can either be “slaves” to sin or to God; slavery to one is freedom from the other.

A critical lesson of this traditional set of propers (collect & readings) is that being a truly religious slave of God is active, not passive.  This informs our reading of the Collect as a whole, too.  “Graft in our hearts the love of your name” is a prayer not just for an internal disposition, but for external transformation.  It leads to (or includes) an increase in “true religion”, a nourishment “in all goodness” (that is with God’s goodness or righteousness), and “the fruit of good works” brought forth in our lives.

If you look back at the Scripture lessons in our modern (2019) lectionary, you’ll find this Collect is a good answer for the Epistle lesson, Galatians 3:23-29, which spoke of faith that is free from the law.

As this week continues, perhaps this Collect will take you back to that lesson on Sunday.  Or perhaps it can lead you in new directions, deeper into what it means, tangibly, to love God, increase in true religion, be filled with his goodness, and bear the fruit of good works.  It is a prayer to aid us against sloth and lethargy – faith is to be active and productive; internal realities are to have external consequences.  Pray for your growth in Christ, this week!

Planning Ahead: Trinity Sunday

Until the revisions of the 1970’s, Trinity Sunday was the hinge of the Church Year.  That was the day the first half of the cycle (Advent through Pentecost) reached its culmination and turning point.  All the revelation about God covered in those seasons find their apex in the doctrine of the Trinity: God is One and Three.  As the Collect of the Day begins:

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who has given unto us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity…

But this day is also a turning point.  We have not only received this faith throughout the year to confess and worship God, but also:

We beseech thee, that this holy faith may evermore be our defence against all adversities; who livest and reignest, one God, world without end.  Amen.

That is what the season of Trinitytide used to do: unfold like a discipleship course in how this faith may be our defence against all adversities.

I beseech you, readers, if you have the slightest interest in Anglican Prayer Book spirituality and history, to take a look at this essay: http://www.lectionarycentral.com/trinity/Phillips.html  It brilliantly lays out how the season after Trinity served as a multi-layered course of dealing with our chief adversary: sin.  The life and doctrines of Jesus are presented with Epistle lessons that together work to demolish our pride, our lusts, all our vices.  There are, for sure, other ways to analyze the Trinity season, but the general agreement is that it’s an application of the teachings of the first half of the year to help us conform our lives thereto.

It’s popular now to say that the first half of the year is “the story of Jesus” and the second half is “the story of the Church.”  This is wrong.  The first half is the story (or better, doctrines) of God, and the second half is the application of the story/doctrines of God to us.  Trinity Sunday is the hinge: it sums up all the teaching about the Father, Son, and Spirit, and presents it to us to believe, worship, and follow.

Enough with the theory, now for some advice.

how to mark Trinity Sunday

A fairly long-standing tradition, now recommended or encouraged in the general rubrics at the end of the Communion service in the 2019 Prayer Book, is to say the Athanasian Creed in place of the Nicene at the Communion Service on Trinity Sunday.  It is uncomfortably long, for the average worshiper, but a paltry once a year won’t kill them.  Plus, it’s honestly the best teaching tool we have when it comes to spelling out the doctrine of the Trinity without falling into one of many accidental heresies.  The 1662 Prayer Book called for this Creed to be read at Morning Prayer about 13 times a year, so once a year on Trinity Sunday is really quite lenient in that light!

If you haven’t used the Great Litany with your congregation in a while, that’s another possibility to consider for this day.  Its strong beginning with a Trinitarian invocation is a standard staple of Christian prayer, and extemporanous prayer these days very easily falls into Trinitarian confusion – addressing Jesus yet ending with “in Jesus’ name we pray”, or mindlessly switching from “Father-God” to “Jesus” as if it’s the same Person.  The Great Litany, or indeed any collect or liturgical prayer, can be a helpful teaching example of how to pray in an orthodox manner, rightly praising the triune God without confusing the Persons or denying the Unity.

There are lots of hymns that address God as Trinity, verse by verse.  If you’ve got an Anglican hymnal then the “general hymns” section usually starts with such hymns.  (If you’ve got a generic Protestant hymnal, that could be a problem here.)  If you opt for contemporary praise music, take care to make sure the lyrics handle the doctrine of the Trinity rightly; it’s very easy to make theological mistakes here!

Last of all, for you preachers out there, for God’s sake (literally), preach the doctrine of the Trinity.  Yes it’s complicated; yes it’s difficult; yes it’s easily seen as boring, or even stilted and of minor importance.  But this is basic Christian dogma; the doctrine of who & what God is the foundation of all Christian teaching.  If we don’t get it right, our congregations definitely won’t get it right, and eventually the whole church will be the sicker for it.  Grab a hold of the many resources in the liturgy that you’ve got, use them to your fullest advantage, and disciple your flock!

The Rogationtide Collects

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow are the Rogation Days – days devoted to prayer for the year’s crops.  We’ve mentioned ‘Rogationtide’ briefly recently.  Now that they’re here, let’s narrow in on the liturgical feature of these days that is the most natural to into our daily rounds of prayer: the Collects of the Day.  (We can, and probably ought to, use these as the Collect of the Day in Morning and Evening Prayer on these three days.)

Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This Collect reflects the more historical form of the Rogation Days.  It is not the same as the Collect in the 1928 Prayer Book, but takes a rather more expansive view in its petition, now praying for the harvest of land and sea, God’s gift and preservation of both, the prospering of those who labor in those harvests, and for our own sense of thankfulness.

But nowadays the majority of our population aren’t farmers or fishermen, so we’ve got a second Collect for other forms of employment:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give us all a right satisfaction in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

This Collect is a good expression of a biblical theology of work.  We recognize Jesus’ sharing in our labor (implying his decades as a carpenter with St. Joseph), the need to be responsive to God’s will in the workplace (that is, being a faithful worker, judging by several parables of Jesus), a healthy satisfaction in our labor (understanding we were made for work), and a just return (the biblical injunctions concerning paying workers properly).  On their own, any of these four elements of the prayer could be twisted – the first to insubstantial piety, the second to undirected zeal, the third to idolatry, and the fourth to un-tethered social justice championship.  But collected together they form a healthier balance of biblical teaching concerning work and labor and employment.

So make sure you make use of these prayers today and tomorrow! Perhaps one in the morning and one in the evening?  Or both each time?  If you’re a teacher/preacher, that second Collect can also make excellent Bible Study material, especially if you bring up the Scripture readings it’s paired with: Ecclesiasticus 38:27-32, Psalm 107:1-9, 1 Corinthians 3:10-14, and Matthew 6:19-24.

The Collect for Easter III

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.

The Collect for Grace (Morning)

The Collect for Grace in Morning Prayer, recommended for Wednesdays in the ACNA liturgy, is one of the standard Collects for Morning Prayer in the historic prayer books – where there were always the same two after the Collect of the Day.  Our version of it reads thus:

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, you have brought us safely to the beginning of this day: Defend us by your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin nor run into any danger; and that guided by your Spirit, we may do what is righteous in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This one is rather rich in Scriptural references.  After acknowledging the beginning of the day, we pray as in Psalm 43:1 “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause.”  The Collect expresses a trust in God’s refuge akin to that described in Psalm 62:7 (verse 8 in the Prayer Book numeration) and Psalm 91:2.  We pray this “That we may do what is righteous in your sight” (Deuteronomy 6:18), putting the prayer together in much the same way as part of Zechariah’s Canticle does in Luke 1:74-75.

Note and remember, too, that although our new Prayer Book prints the same seven daily Collects as the 1979 book did, the rubrics identify which two are the traditional two Collects for the Daily Office, so if you want to “roll back” towards traditional Anglican liturgy the option and direction is provided right there!

Still using the Ash Wednesday Collect?

During the seasons of Advent and Lent, in Prayer Books before the 1970’s, there was a special tradition of repeating the first Collect of the season on every day throughout the season.  For example, this is what you find in the 1662 Prayer Book:

The first Day of Lent commonly called Aſh Wedneſday.

The Collect.
ALMIGHTY and everlaſting God, who hateſt nothing that thou haſt made, and doſt forgive all the ſins of thoſe who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our ſins, and acknowledging our wretchedneſs, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remiſſion and forgiveneſs; through Jeſus Chriſt our Lord. Amen.

¶ This Collect is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the day.

(I kept the “long s” typeface in for fun this time; usually I edit them to the regular S.)

Anyway, notice the rubric underneath the Collect: it is to be used throughout the Lenten season in addition to whatever the Collect of the Day normally would be.  For example, yesterday was the Second Sunday in Lent, so we could have read that Collect followed by the Ash Wednesday Collect near the beginning of the Communion service.  You could even be using this extra Collect in the Daily Office every morning and evening!

Now, there is no such rubric in the 1979 or 2019 Prayer Books.  But there is no prohibition against reviving this traditional practice either.  I’ve made a practice of retaining the Collect for Ash Wednesday (sometimes nicknaming it the “Collect for Lent” or “for the season”) on each Sunday in my congregation.  Yes, it does make an awkward break in the rhythm of the liturgy: people are used to sitting down after the Collect but suddenly they have to wait through a second one.

But this can be a good kind of awkwardness.  This Collect is one of the great gems of our Prayer Book tradition, capturing the wretchedness of our sin and the great love and mercy of God in one beautiful little prayer.  It’s a good interruption to receive in the ordinary course of worship.  I can’t say that anybody has ever come up to me after the worship service to comment on it before, but I do think it is a subtle-but-meaningful tradition to hang on to.