Parsing the Collect
A weekly worship aid from the Interim Rector
Seventh Sunday of Easter (aka, “Easter 7”, and “The Sunday after Ascension Day”)
With the collect for this Sunday, we come to the end of the Sundays of Easter and prepare to move to Pentecost, and all the Sundays after, until Advent and the beginning of the new calendar year. That event, of course, is 6 months away! This Sunday, then, serves as a hinge between the first half and the second half of our Church Calendar year. The theme for this 7th Sunday of Easter is actually the Ascension of Jesus. Some have argued over the years that this should be the Ascension “season” of 10 days. However, the Ascension in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is understood to be the conclusion of the Resurrection events of Jesus. As a result, we don’t call this Sunday the First Sunday of Ascension. Still, the only place in the BCP which does allow for this unique place as the Sunday after Jesus’ ascension is in the title of the Collect for this Sunday. Also, each year’s set of lections (or, Bible readings) alludes to the Ascension, most strongly in Year A. If nothing else, the Sunday after Ascension’s focus allows those in the Body of Christ who were unable to join in worship on the previous Thursday to be reminded on Sunday of the importance of Jesus’ ascension for the celebration of Pentecost, as well as a final celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin and death in rising from the dead.
The history of this collect, which was included for this Sunday from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, and has remained since (!), comes from the year 735, when, on Ascension Day, the English priest, monk, and Church historian Bede died, uttering the antiphon from Ascension vespers. Cranmer, formatting a new BCP, did not replace the ancient Ascension collect, but made use of this holy moment and brought it forward to the Sunday after (which at that time included a week’s worth of Ascension celebration).
Here’s the (contemporary) Collect for The Seventh Sunday of Easter:
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
The invitation and address of the collect recall the powerful Psalm 24, “Who is the King of glory?” and identify God as the The Lord of hosts, or Yahweh Sabbaoth, the God Almighty of all Armies. This is the great God of Victory, who has Triumphed eternally through the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We are addressing and praying to this One and Only God. We offer our praise and gratitude by Naming Him as the King of glory.
The bidding, or petition, is a natural response to God in recognizing that our Victor has ascended to glory, that is, he has left us, and thus we feel a sense of anxiety for what is to come. Also, that we desire to be where He is now, and not as orphans and aliens (as Peter would say) here in this alien land of “the World.” As we utter this prayer, though, we are already well aware that the promised Holy Spirit has descended to us, and continues to dwell with and in us. This does not stop us, though, to pray again and again (as Paul exhorts) for that comforting, strengthening, empowering Holy Spirit to “keep us” here, and bring us “there” where Jesus sits in glory when the time has come. Alleluia! May our petition be granted.