Parsing the Collect
A weekly worship aid from the Interim Rector
The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (“Epiphany 6”)
Archbishop Cranmer did some redrafting of this collect before inserting it into the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, but he inserted it pretty much right where it had always been found from the 6th and 7th centuries in Western liturgy (as compared to the liturgies of the Eastern Churches, as now generally referred to as Orthodox). So, in the 1549 BCP it was placed after Trinity Sunday, which is otherwise at the beginning of the Sundays after Pentecost. It remained in that place through the 1928 BCP. I don’t know the story about why it was moved into Epiphany, except to reiterate the comments from last week’s Parsing regarding the extended length of the Epiphany season focus. This collect does have some of the feel of the old Epiphany 5 collect, which we know now has a “new” collect. Also, now that there is an Epiphany-shift into the mission of Jesus being carried out by His Body, the Church, it certainly is appropriate to accept that Mission with humility, as this collect petitions. It is in line with the answers from the candidates for Confirmation, adult candidates for Baptism, and throughout the Baptismal Covenant. The question is basically, “Will you be the follower of Jesus Christ you say you will be?” and the answer, “I will, with God’s help.”
Here’s the Collect:
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The collect, of course, comes to us before we hear any of the lessons appointed for the day. In Year A of the lectionary, the lessons all point to the challenge and demand of our choosing to be God’s people, as different than somebody else’s person, and choosing to do the things God shows us are the signs of that willful choice. There is no way around it: God demands that we follow and obey His commandments. At the same time we hear the Epiphany theme of being God’s people and bearing His message, we hear what happens if we are ministering and yet do not follow His commands. Blessings if you do! Yes! – but, as Moses spoke out, “if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,” then big trouble for you. Paul’s letter keeps the pressure on, “For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” and Jesus follows up in the Gospel, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.” And in the scripture readings, again, these are to be the willful choices of God’s people. Goodness! How can we possibly fulfill such!? Our response is to be on our knees, humbly before the Lord.
So, then, the collect begins with addressing God and His identity, that He is, in fact, the source of all strength and power, and especially of those who have chosen to follow Him – and even more so, those who follow who also literally place their trust in Him. Next, the petition is for mercy, that, knowing God’s demanding call to obedience, and the trust He places in us to Ministry in His Name, we are well aware we won’t be able to do it on our own strength. We need His grace , that is, His power, to remain faithful to Him in both obedience and ministry.
Perhaps the Collect should be prayed twice on this Sunday. Once at its proper place, and again quietly to the Lord after we’ve heard all three lessons. And then trust in His faithfulness to us.