The Presentation / Purification / Candlemas

February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, also known as The Purification of Mary, or Candlemas for short.  I thought I’d take up some of the liturgical tid-bits that characterize the celebration of that day, and point out something of how they inform us of the Christian Faith, and biblical interpretation.

There are three primary worship services in Western liturgical tradition: Morning Prayer (or Mattins), the Mass (or Communion or Eucharist), and Evening Prayer (or Vespers).  Although they are normally held throughout the day in that order, the Communion service is the “principle” celebration of the day; that means that the scripture readings in that service are usually the most significant ones for the given holiday, and the readings in the Office are supplementary.  Also, what exactly the readings are, and how many of them exist, will vary between different specific traditions.  Older Anglican Prayer Books differ slightly from newer ones, and Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox liturgies also have slightly different choices in many cases, but over all the similarities tend to outweigh the differences.  With that in mind, let’s dive in!

The Collect

The “Collect of the Day” is a prayer that is meant to collect together the theme(s) of the day from the Scripture readings.  Looking at how this is done in a given Collect can reveal the theological, devotional, or practical emphases that the tradition is putting forth.  Here is one Collect for the feast of the Presentation:

Almighty and everlasting God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

This focuses on the historical event (Jesus’ presentation in the Temple) and draws a spiritual analogy to the end product of our salvation: the Day we are all made completely holy in Christ such that he may present us to the Father as adopted members of the household of God.  It also points out that Jesus was in “our flesh,” providing an emphasis on the incarnation and the exchange that takes place: God entered into our humanity so that we can enter into His divinity.

Morning Prayer readings

One Old Testament reading that some of the classic Prayer Books set forth for the Office of Morning Prayer is Exodus 13:1-16.  This makes for a great first reading on this holiday because it gives the Old Testament Law of Moses background for what’s going on with Jesus and his family.  In the wake of the Passover (Exodus 12), God instructs Moses that by destroying all the firstborn males in Egypt except for those households protected by the blood of the Passover Lamb, all firstborn males in Israel now belong to Him.  Therefore they must be redeemed (or bought back) after they are born.  It’s like a first-fruit offering, except because children are not to be sacrificed, they are to be paid for instead.  (Interestingly, it’s the same concept as an indulgence – a debt is owed, but another form of payment is accepted.)

This is what Mary and Joseph were doing in the Temple with 40-day-year-old Jesus; they were obeying this law going back to the time of the Exodus.

Holy Communion readings

Across the board, the Gospel reading for this holiday is Luke 2:22-40, as that is the account of the event on which this holiday is based.  There we find the story of Jesus’ family in the Temple, Simeon recognizing Jesus and singing his prophetic song (or Canticle), and Anna the prophetess recognizing Jesus and sharing the good news of His arrival as well.

The Old Testament reading often included here (including our 2019 Prayer Book) is Malachi 3:1-5.  Much of that passage provides material for the preaching of St. John the Baptist, which inevitably draws the participant in the liturgy back to the season of Advent.  For there we heard for one or two Sundays about John and his preaching, and the accompanying Advent theme of the future return of Christ for the final judgement echoes in this reading too.  But most importantly, the very first verse here says “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”  Obviously this has multiple fulfillments, as Jesus visits the Temple many times in his life and significant things take place at several of those visits.  But this is his first arrival in the Temple, and there are two people there (Simeon and Anna) who had been seeking him there.

Other readings

An Epistle reading found in some Daily Office lectionaries is Galatians 4:1-7.  There we find a theme mentioned briefly in the Collect – our own becoming sons of God.  It also mentions the dynamic of moving from being bound to the Law to being adopted as sons.  Jesus himself, it says, was “born of a woman, born under law,” which this holiday describes.  So the sharing of Christ in our humanity leads to our sharing in his divinity, because “since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

One reading often used at the end of the day is Haggai 2:1-9.  This prophetic writing speaks of the newly-build second temple and its inferiority to the original built under King Solomon.  And yet, God promises that it will be greater in glory, for “in this place I will grant peace.”  This promise is empty and void throughout Old Testament history; it is not until Jesus arrives there that God’s presence actually ever even enters the Temple again!  As the Christian goes through Evening Prayer and sees this promise of peace at the end of the Old Testament lesson, he or she will be drawn back in memory to the Gospel reading earlier, specifically the words of Simeon: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.”  Haggai’s words are directly answered by Simeon in Luke’s Gospel book!

The Canticle of Simeon

Let’s stick with Simeon’s song for a moment here.  It’s Luke 2:29-32, specifically, and is actually used throughout the entire year as a canticle (prayer-song) in the Daily Office.  Traditionally it’s a canticle appointed for Compline, the bedtime office of prayer.  In that context, it is read by Christians sort of in union with Simeon with our approaching bedtime as a picture of our eventual death (as Simeon had been promised that would not die until he’d seen the Savior).  In Anglican practice, the Canticle of Simeon is also used in Evening Prayer, but the end-of-day/end-of-life context and effect is the same.  My point is that a regular participant in the liturgy will be intimately familiar with the Canticle of Simeon.  As a result, hearing it in the liturgy for this particular holiday will have an interesting effect.

Two major promises stand out in the Canticle of Simeon: Christ will be a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and will be a light to be the glory of Israel.  The theme of light coming into the world is echoed throughout the seasons of Advent (Romans 13:12’s armor of light), Christmas (John 1:9’s light coming into the world), and Epiphany (Isaiah 60’s light shining upon the nations).  So as this holiday wraps up the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle, the theme of light is brought to the foreground and celebrated quite visually.

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The Blessing of Candles

This holiday’s nickname is Candlemas, because of the tradition of blessing candles on this day.  All the candles to be used in the Church for the coming year are gathered up to be blessed for their sacred purpose.  Additionally, other candles are blessed and distributed to the people to carry in procession and to take home.  This is a physical enactment of what we learn from Simeon – Christ is the light of the world for all nations, including ourselves!  One can also find in the Gospel books the words of Christ, “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14 and following).

Light does many things.  It drives out darkness and exposes what’s hidden.  Thus, the blessings spoken over the candles include both penitential aspects as God’s people repent of their sins, and apotropaic aspects as demonic spirits are to flee from the light of Christ.  The Scriptures do attest, after all, that the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).  So, by receiving candles and lighting them, we participants in the liturgy are given physical reinforcement to the words and teachings of Scripture that we are God’s adopted children, receiving Christ the light of the world promised in ages past by the Prophets.  And we receive this not just as some abstract teaching, but as historically linked to real events that actually happened.  Christ the Light of the World is not just a spiritual reality that occurs in our hearts, but is grounded in the real arrival of the real Christ child in the real (though now long-gone) Temple.  And with all that in place we are pointed to look ahead to the Day we each are presented in the heavenly temple to our heavenly Father by our adoptive brother, Christ Himself.

This post, apart some new edits, was originally published on my blog Leorningcnihtes boc, on 3 February 2016.

The Double-Duty Collect

The up-and-coming 2019 Prayer Book appoints this Collect for the third Sunday after the Epiphany, and thus for this week in the Daily Office:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This Collect does double duty; it comes back for “World Mission Sunday,” which the calendar recommends for the penultimate Sunday before Lent (though authorizes for any Sunday in Epiphanytide between the first and last).  I’ve mentioned here before my preference to omit the World Mission Sunday option, but let’s take a look at this Collect.

As far as I’m aware, this Collect originated with the 1979 Prayer Book; it certainly has no previous life in the historic prayer book calendar tradition.  It is one of the several “mission-themed” Collects that comprise the Epiphany season in the modern liturgical calendar.  Arguably it is a favorite of the mission themed Collects, since it was selected for the World Mission Sunday option, too.

It begins with a rare switching of order – the petition precedes the address: “Give us grace” before “O God.”  Some Collects have a longer address than others; this is one of the shortest.  In fact, not only is the address brief, but the petition is brief too.  It is the third part of this collect (the purpose) that occupies the majority of its verbiage.  We pray for grace “to answer readily the call” and to “proclaim to all people”, so that “we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works.”

It’s not an unusual thing to pray for the mission of the church.  Making it personal (“give us grace, O God…”) is a good step up from that.  And taking it further to describe the purpose of such missional prayer – that all may glory in the marvelous works of God – sets before us a sort of destination.  We don’t pursue evangelism and missions for the sake of “saving souls”, as it were, but so that all may see God.  One of the challenges of stirring up the call to evangelism and outreach is the trap of self-aggrandizement: “look how successful we are because of all the people we’re reaching for Christ!”  Keeping the purpose of evangelism and mission firmly fixed upon the glory God, not ourselves, is a helpful reminder indeed.

Praying in light of St. Paul’s Conversion

Today is the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, one of the wonderfully-Epiphany-appropriate holy days of the church year.  When you look at our Collect of the Day (yesterday at Evening Prayer and today at both offices, plus the Communion if you’re able to attend one) you’re looking at a prayer that hardly changed a bit in centuries.  Here it is from 1662:

O God, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we beseech thee, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may shew forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The only changes are of spelling and grammatical construction, such that it flows better for the modern reader.  So today, let’s look at what the Collect says and prays, rather than compare and contrast old and new traditions.

The Address

God has “caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world,” and he has accomplished this “through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul.”  In our modern evangelical culture which is very focused on the ongoing work of missions and evangelism it may strike us as a bit odd to see such a triumphalist attitude in our prayers.  But it is a worthwhile reminder: thanks to the efforts of Saint Paul and the other Apostles, the Gospel really has spread all over the world.  It’s also worth noting the method mentioned – preaching.  If the Gospel is to continue to advance around the world, we must continue to preach it.

The Request

This, too, may feel like an odd prayer at first.  It is a prayer that we could “show forth our thankfulness.”  Compare it to the General Thanksgiving in the Daily Office, however… it is a prayer for an active thankfulness.  Our thankfulness is:

  1. rooted in remembering Paul’s conversion,
  2. directed towards God,
  3. and expressed by following Paul’s doctrine or teaching.

The first is in recognition of the holy day.  The second is a reminder that we worship and glorify God alone; we aren’t thanking the departed Saints directly.  The third is a recognition of Paul (and other Saints’) contribution to the present Christian life, namely, their teachings.

The Epiphany

When you read the Scripture lessons for this holy day, multiple epiphany connections can be drawn.  The dazzling appearance of the risen Christ was a literal “light to the world”, or at least to Paul (then Saul).  The prayer of Ananias shed the blinding scales from Paul’s eyes, giving him new vision – literally, an epiphany.  The subsequent Gospel preaching of Paul across the Mediterranean world was a light to the nations.

Happy holy day!

The January 1st Feast

Happy feast of the Holy Name and Circumcision of Christ!
(What, did you expect to see “happy new year”?  This is a liturgy blog, not a social calendar!)

For many people, today’s commemoration might seem a bit strange.  Why are celebrating the “holy name” of Jesus?  Is this day like those over-emotive worship songs that repeat endlessly about how precious is it to say the name “Jeezus” over and over again for five minutes?  Is this something more “catholicky”, where we silently meditate on the sacred name of Jesus in a mood of affected piety?

First of all, it’s probably helpful to observe that this feast day might better be termed the Naming of Jesus.  The Gospel lesson at today’s Communion service is Luke 2:15-21, in which Jesus is circumcised and given the name Jesus.  This takes place on the eighth day, according to the Law of Moses, which (in case you haven’t noticed yet) is literally today.  On the 8th day of Christmas, Jesus got circumcised and named.

Second of all, it should be further noted that until 1979, the Anglican tradition called this day the Circumcision of Christ – making that rite the primary feature of the day, and his name/naming secondary.  Unlike the 1979 Prayer Book, though, our Collect still acknowledges the old emphasis alongside the new:

Almighty God, your blessed Son fulfilled the covenant of circumcision for our sake, and was given the Name that is above every name: Give us grace faithfully to bear his Name, and to worship him with pure hearts according to the New Covenant; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This double focus, as you can see, is expressed well in our Collect.  To honor and bear the name of Jesus, and to join with Christ in the New Covenant because he has fulfilled the Old, are both concepts close to the heart of the Christian faith.  But it’s also worth looking back at what used to be…. this is the original Prayer Book Collect for today:

Almighty God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man: Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Notice, free to be more specific, how this Collect draws us to covenant faithfulness, or obedience.  To worship God “with pure hearts” in the new Collect is an accurate summary, but when you take the time to pray about “being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts”, you get a better picture of what such “pure hearts” actually look like.

All this besides, Jesus’ keeping of the Law is what proves his innocence, his sinlessness, and thus what sets the rest of the Gospel in motion.  If he wasn’t bound to the Law, his obedience to it would not have the significance that it had.

Along those lines, if you deign to pray the Great Litany today, perhaps this is a good opportunity to re-write one phrase back to its original form.  Near the beginning when it says “by your holy nativity and submission to the Law” feel free to pray what this petition originally said: “by your holy nativity and circumcision“.  This may not be the most popular part of the Gospel and Nativity story, but it’s one of the many moments of key importance, hence its place among the great feasts of the church year.

Christmas Day versus Sunday

Imagine if Easter wasn’t always a Sunday, but sometimes a weekday.  What would we do in church on that following Sunday?  Well, given that the resurrection of our Lord is rather a big deal, it would make sense that we would continue to celebrate that holiday on Sunday, perhaps with slightly different lessons so as not to make Sunday a total re-run for those who showed up on Easter Day itself.  That’s how it is with Christmas Day and the First Sunday after Christmas: the Gospel is the same (John 1:1-18) but the other Scripture readings are different.

The Collect is changed, too.  On Christmas Day it’s much more direct to the event:

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen

Whereas for the Sunday it’s a bit more general:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

This is consistent with the analogy I began with.  The “primary” Christmas celebration is on the day itself (December 25th), but the Sunday after is a second pass at the holiday so that those who missed Christmas in church will still get the holiday covered, and that those who attend both will have an enriched experience of the season, not simply repeats.

However….  Something that is often overlooked is the fact that the First Sunday after Christmas is expendable.

If that First Sunday is December 26th, 27th, or 28th, then the Major Feast of that particular day is to be observed that Sunday.  That is the traditional way to handle this Sunday and our Calendar for the Christian permits (if sadly doesn’t mandate) this method.

Furthermore, if Christmas Day is itself Sunday, the “First Sunday after Christmas” is to be omitted.  Traditionally, what you do on that Sunday instead is celebrate the major feast of the Circumcision of Christ (now “the Holy Name”) (January 1st).  Our Prayer Book also authorizes use of the Second Sunday after Christmas on that Sunday, but don’t.  Just celebrate the major feast days in our calendar when they land on Sundays like that… most folks in our congregations have sadly lacked such experiences for the majority of their lives!

Anyway, tomorrow is the First Sunday after Christmas.  Enjoy it!

Faith Never Found Wanting

Today would be an Ember Day, but instead, as forewarned, it’s a major feast day – we’re celebrating Saint Thomas the Apostle!  The Collect for this day is:

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Obviously this primarily references St. Thomas’ famed moment of doubt when, like the other Apostles, he refused to believe the resurrection of Christ until he saw with his own eyes.  Jesus’ words at the end of the encounter, “blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed” are implied in the words of this Collect as we pray for a faith never found wanting.

But something that takes this lesson a step further is the fact that the Collect speaks of faith, not in the resurrection, but “in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God.”  It is lifted beyond the Easter context and applied to the fullness of the Gospel.  We are called to believe the words of the Prophets (the Bible), the humanity of our Lord (Christmas), the divinity of our Lord (Epiphany), the passion and death of our Lord (Lent), the resurrection (Easter), the ascension (Ascension), and return of Christ (Advent).  Thus the language of this Collect is such that the feast of Saint Thomas could have been placed into the context of any season of the church year and still “fit”.

Enjoy this feast day, amidst the bustle of Christmas preparations that so easily swamp us at this time of the year.

The Scripture Collect

The Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent is sometimes nicknamed “the Scripture Collect” for obvious reasons:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

One of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s originals, this Collect has a beautiful and intelligent list of verbs noting a progression of the individual’s interaction with Sacred Scripture: first hear, then read, then mark, then learn, and finally inwardly digest them.  This, I believe, seems to be what most people latch on to when they uplift this Collect as one of their favorites.  But what follows is particularly important; we pray for this venerable interaction with the Bible so that “we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life“.  This may not stick as well in memory, but it’s very important to consider.  As it turns out, that part of the Collect is a paraphrase of Romans 15:4, which says:

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

And this is no random reference; the Epistle lesson for the 2nd Advent Sunday was Romans 15:4-13, until the modern calendars of the 1970’s onward took over.  Though even still, we do have that scripture lesson appointed for the Epistle in Year A of the lectionary’s three-year cycle.  That is why it’s a very good thing that we’ve got this Collect back on Advent II.  I say “back” because the Episcopalian Prayer Book of 1979 (as well as some of the recent calendar revisions in the Church of England) shuffled this Collect off to a spot typically somewhere in November, a couple weeks before Advent begins.  There, it was just a nice prayer.  Here, it is relevant to the season and directly references the Epistle reading (one year out of three).

Unless you attend a traditional parish that uses the historic calendar and lessons and therefore already heard it, take a few minutes to read Romans 15:4-13.  Not only does its first verse echo the Collect, but the rest of the text continues to speak of hope, trust, and peace, as well as make a couple fantastic Old Testament references including “the root of Jesse” – one of the famous Advent & Christmas texts.  It will be well worth your time and devotion!

The Advent Collect: a breakdown

Starting yesterday, this week’s Collect is the great Advent Collect:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

This majestic prayer is, in my opinion, one of the best Collects in our tradition.  In the classical Prayer Book tradition, this Collect was also appointed to be prayed following the Collect of the Day through the entire season of Advent, making it not only the Collect of the Day, and for the week, but for the season itself.  Just looking at it, you can probably see why – it captures the themes of the season so well, it’s hard to improve upon it.

But let’s take a look at this Collect more closely.  Like most collects, this prayer has multiple Scripture references built into it, much of which is not necessarily linked to the official readings of the First Sunday in Advent.

Reference #1: Romans 13:12
Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light

This phrase is straight-up quoted in the Collect; there is nothing subtle about this reference.  It is bolstered further by the fact that Romans 13:8-14 is the traditional Epistle lesson for the first Sunday, though in the modern lectionaries it’s there only on Year A.  (Right now, Year C has just begun, so next year we’ll all be hearing this match-up at last.)

This is the primary exhortation of the season.  Our active preparation for Christ’s arrival is one of cleansing: we put away our evil deeds and pursue the illumination of the light of Christ.

Reference #2: 2 Timothy 4:1
…Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead,
and by his appearing and his kingdom…

This is only a brief quote.  The Collect notes Christ’s role of Judge at the end of the age upon his return.  This is the primary backdrop and context for the exhortation we just received; only in light of Christ’s return and right to judge do we endeavor to be faithful citizens of his kingdom.

Reference #3: Philippians 2:5-8
…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself…

These verses form one of the clearest statements in Scripture that back up this Collect’s claim that Christ formerly “came to visit us in great humility”.  This reference does double duty.  Primarily it adds to the context of this life, in which we receive the exhortation to cease from evil and do good, preparing for the return of Christ.  But by specifically referencing the first, humble, advent of Christ, it gives a nod to the liturgical anticipation of Christmas that the Advent season also provides.

It may be prudent for us to note that the first purpose of Advent is actually to prepare us for the second advent of Christ.  The theme of “getting ready for Christmas” is secondary; the “basic” level that helps us grasp what is primary.

Reference #4: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

The return of Christ was already referenced in 2 Timothy; what these verses add is the further point that we will “rise to the life immortal” on that Day.  It is interesting to note that the very words of the Collect “rise to the life immortal” point us in an interpretive direction that rule out the popular teaching of “the rapture”, which uses these verses as a proof-text for the idea that God’s people will literally float away into heaven someday.  Instead, our gathering up into the air will be the beginning of our “life immortal” – the resurrection life on earth, inaugurated by Christ’s return to judge.  The populist rapture teaching separates the resurrection of God’s people from the return of Christ as Judge by 7 years or more… a belief rendered incoherent by this Collect, not to mention the united witness of the Bible.

Stir up, O Lord

The Collect of the Day from Sunday that we’re repeating this week is a classic:

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they may plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works, as they await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to restore all things to their original perfection; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

In the classical prayer books, before 1979, this was the Collect for the Last Sunday before Advent, a spot now occupied by “Christ the King Sunday.”  On a cultural level, this Collect earned that Sunday the nickname “Stir Up Sunday”, because, landing just about one month before Christmas, it coincided with the time-frame in which people would “stir up” and bake their Christmas Cakes which would then ripen in the pantry for the following month, periodically re-soaked with brandy.

Curiously, I mentioned this to my parents, and they’d already made our family’s Christmas Cake!  It’s as if they heard the “stir up” collect in its modern week-earlier position 😉

Thematically, this Collect is a sort of wake-up call, heralding the approaching season of Advent: “stir up” is very similar to “keep watch”.  The call to good works as the fruit of faithful Christian living also forms part of the crucial link between Trinitytide and Advent in the historic lectionary and calendar.  In the modern system, it still serves as a pre-Advent Collect, just two weeks ahead instead of one.

Structurally, this Collect is unusual.  The “request” portion of the Collect is tiny: “Stir up … the wills of your faithful people.”  The bulk of the prayer is dwelling on the “reason” portion: good works, as they wait for Jesus’ return, who will restore the perfection of creation.  All sorts of implications could be teased out from this:

  • The “application” of this Collect is kept blatantly simple: we are to be stirred up to active Christian living.
  • As Advent approaches we should first spend more time meditating on the reason for our good works.
  • The “end” of the Christian life ought to loom large in our hearts and minds.

If you have a mid-week service (Communion, Evening Prayer, or otherwise) then perhaps this Collect could be a point of spiritual reflection as you teach, preach, talk with others, or simply pray it again with the congregation.

The Last Epiphany?

The Collect of the Day for this past Sunday, repeated throughout this week, is:

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever  Amen.

In the classical Prayer Books, this was the Collect for the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany.  One might ask why this Collect should be re-purposed to almost the opposite part of the year.  What is an Epiphanytide Collect doing in November?  One might also look at the text more carefully, notice the eschatological content (its emphasis on the return of Christ, the last judgment, and our preparation for that), and wonder what it was doing in Epiphanytide in the first place.  Isn’t this more like an Advent theme?

It turns out this Collect did double-duty.  Depending upon the date of Easter, Epiphanytide and Trinitytide vary in length: when Easter is early Epiphany is shorter and Trinity longer; when Easter is late Epiphany is longer and Trinity shorter.  The 6th Epiphany Sunday, in the old calendar, was the last possible Epiphany Sunday before the Pre-Lent Sundays kicked in, meaning it was only rarely used.  And so instead the traditional calendar appointed the 6th and 5th Epiphany Sundays as extra Trinitytide Sundays to insert in November if and when the 24 Trinity Sundays ran out.

And so, very appropriately, this Collect, with its lessons (most noteably Matthew 24:23-31) served both purposes.  The Collect’s eschatological emphasis and Jesus’ discourse of the latter days in Matthew 24 served both as an anticipation of the Advent season at the end of the Trinitytide sequence, and as the “last” Epiphany.  In the historic lectionary, Epiphanytide was not the ‘ordinary time’ we have today; its lessons were not sequential but topical, exploring various epiphanies of the divinity of Christ.  The last of these epiphanies was this one, in Matthew 24, the final revelation of Jesus upon his return in great glory to judge both the living and the dead.

So enjoy this Collect today, and for the rest of the week.  Its connections way back to Epiphany and its anticipation of the coming Advent season serves us well at this time of year.