Friday, December 26, 2008

The Collect Challenge


The Collect Challenge
(While this "challenge" is specifically for the members of Trinity Church, we invite all our friends to join us. If you choose to, please email from time to time to describe your experience with the Collect Challenge.)

The Service of the Word during each celebration of Holy Eucharist commences with this exhortation:

Let us now read from the Holy Scriptures
given to us under direction of the Holy Spirit,
that we might know God and his will for us
and that we might love him more.
Thanks be to God.

Then before the first lesson is read the service continues with this prayer:

Almighty God,
open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit,
that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed,
we may hear with joy what you say to us today, and, having heard, we may fully obey him who came and is to come,
even Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

And so we are reminded that our reading is more than mere custom, more than something we do because the order of service directs us. We read primarily that we might know God – not in the academic sense of an object of study, something to be “figured out” – but know in the biblical sense of establishing an intimate relationship with another: we read to know God that we might love him more. This type of reading requires a listening heart, a heart that grasps with joy the knowledge that God is speaking to us today in the words we read, a listening heart that finds joy even in those words of God that wound and convict, that finds joy in those words of God precisely because they are the words of God. We read to learn God’s will for us that we may fully obey him who came and is to come, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

This reading is intimate communication of the Beloved One with his beloved ones, an intimate dialog if we take our part. Our part is prayer – prayer based upon a contemplation of God’s holy words and response to those words. This prayer may take many forms: praise, wonder, confession, intercession, tears, silence. It may be spontaneous or structured.

One structured form of scriptural prayer is the collect, a form often associated with the Anglican Communion and the Book of Common Prayer. The collect consists of five parts: an invocation or address to God, a scriptural or theological basis for the prayer, a petition, a reason for the prayer, and an ascription linking the prayer with the life and work of Jesus.

Take, as an example, the collect for the second Sunday after Epiphany (BCP).

Invocation: Almighty God,

Scriptural Basis: whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world:

Petition: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and
Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory,

Result: that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends
of the earth;

Ascription: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the
Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A reading of the collects in the Book of Common Prayer reveals a great flexibility in this form: sometimes the result is omitted; sometimes the invocation and scriptural basis are blended together. The form is, of course, less important than the purpose of the prayer: to engage us in intimate dialog with God who has spoken to us in his word that we might know him, love him, and obey him.

And now comes the collect challenge for this year. Each week our service sheet will include a listing of the lectionary readings for the following Sunday. Starting on Monday, prayerfully read the lessons – not once but several times. Meditate on them often during the following week. And then, when and as the Holy Spirit moves, respond to God in prayer by writing a collect. Include this collect in your daily prayers for the remainder of the week. Offer it, should you feel it appropriate – it might be too personal for corporate use – during the Prayers of the People on Sunday. Record these collects in a “prayer journal,” a record of the year’s conversations with God through these scriptural prayers.

What results should you expect? In one sense the question is not quite appropriate. The goal of praying is simply to spend time worshipping in God’s presence, to open ourselves to him in intimate relationship – and that happens not as the result of prayer but simply in the act of prayer. But, I would also expect that the scriptures will take on deeper meaning as they become the source and impetus for dialog with God and that your relationship with God will deepen as you fill yourself with his word. Let us pray.

Almighty God,
you spoke the word into the darkness and worlds were created;
in the fullness of time you spoke the Word into a darkened world, a Word in flesh and blood, Jesus Christ our Lord – a Word of new creation and eternal life:
open our hearts and minds to the word spoken, the word written, and the Word made flesh who lived among us manifesting your glory, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1 comment:

Father Robert Lyons said...

John+,

This is an outstanding challenge! The collect-form of prayer is one of the great gifts of the Latin liturgical tradition, one that the Anglicans have, in many ways, perfected for english-speakers. I hope and pray that those at Trinity Church will find this as meaningful as those of us who have studied the collects over the years.

I can't tell you how often the Collect has, in turn, served to inspire sermons - either independently, or as a guide to the Scriptures of the day.

Rob+