Today I do what I have ever rarely done in four decades of preaching ministry. I take as my text the Collect, the Special Prayer for the Sixth Sunday after Easter (though originally it was allocated to the 6th Sunday After Trinity). By the way, Collects may refer to the collecting/gathering of thoughts around a common theme or the collecting/gathering of the people of God for common/community prayer or both and maybe even more.
Here is the Collect as printed in the 1549 Prayer Book:
GOD, whiche haste prepared to them that love thee suche good thynges as passe all mannes understanding; Powre into our hartes such love toward thee, that we lovyng thee in al thinges, may obteine thy promises, whiche excede all that we canne desyre; Through Jesus Christe our Lorde… you get the meaning, I am sure.
Thomas Cranmer composed/constructed many of the Prayer Book Collects and they are distinguished by their theology, their succinct and literary use of words and simply… by their beauty. Cranmer was happy to create from “old wineskins” and so a similar prayer is found in the Gelasian Sacramentary, the earliest record of which is 8th Century AD!
I am so glad, so profoundly grateful, so happy to have begun my Christian journey in an Anglican church that both nurtured impromptu, ad hoc prayers but also cherished the spiritual power of our Anglican Prayer Book. One commentator, Paul Zahl, writes of the “The pummeling charity of Prayer Book religion.”
Today’s Gospel (John 14:15-21) speaks of the love relationship that eternally exists within the Godhead, one into which we are constantly and winsomely invited. This is the Christian precis above all else, to which our words and actions, laws and desire must be subject for (I John 4:8) “God is love”. But beware this LOVE can be devalued, dissolved, dissipated, dispelled as it becomes merely “a Trojan Horse for any number of forced constructions” to suit the whims and conveniences of women and men.
The Collect starkly reminds us that in this dynamic, this arena, of love we can never pre-empt God, He/She is always on hand to take the pre-emptive grace for this is surely the meaning, the efficacy of grace. “The Collect is unconditional. It leaves no room for human bargaining, exceptions or intellectual escape clauses.” When our love falters, when even our yearning to love is weak… then we see prevenient grace and work and God does what is God’s raison d’etre… He loves!
Cranmer persuades us to love God in all things – the bad (as it seems to us) as well as the good; and to know that we also are loved in all circumstances.
In today’s passage from Acts 17:22-31 Paul speaks to the a-religious Athenians; these are they who most well represent the current phenomenon of “Spiritual But Not Religious”. Paul words to the Athenians are shaped by two dominant principles… that they are loved by God and that God can be found in a kaleidoscopic number of ways. He quotes with approval a pagan poet “In God we live and move and have our being; he is not far from each of us” and “we too are His offspring”.
O Christian Soul, O Christian church, how often must we be chastened and challenged to love all as they are loved by God, and to respect all as each carries the image of God?
This stunningly, movingly prayer exhibits the same construction as most of Cranmer’s prayers addressing God, asking of God, responding to God and praising God. It such wise spiritual wisdom to note that often the petition arises out of the named characteristic of God as the prayer opens.
But anyway… may this prayer take deep root in our hearts, influence our minds and shape and empower our wills that we may ever learn to revel in the lavish love with which God ravishes the soul and leads to love ever more. Thanks be to God! Amen