Wednesday, November 17, 2004

"Stir up" Sunday

The Sunday next before Advent (Nov 24 in 2004)

This Collect for the last Sunday in the Christian Year is a free translation by Archbishop Cranmer from the Latin original for this Sunday in the Gregorian Sacramentary & in “The Use of Sarum.”

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they,
plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously
rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Epistle: Jeremiah 23:5-8 Gospel: St John 6:5-14

As this is the last Collect of the Christian Year, we may regard it as summing up in petition a major theme of the Collects, Epistles & Gospels for the Year past. And this theme may be simply stated: in the Christian life, unless the human will is engaged then all thought and feeling may be, or even are, wasted.

One of the great spiritual diseases of the Church and of individual Christians is lethargy. We remain content with where we are on the highway of holiness and in the climbing of Mount Zion. There is always tomorrow, we say to ourselves; then we can strive the more. Today we can relax! As pilgrims heading for the celestial city we are tempted to take too many rests on the way and thus do not seek to conquer more of the terrain & path in front of us.

The call is to press on towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14). We are often deaf and stationary and do not pay heed to that call. We need to be awakened, stirred up and energized to make headway!

So the major petition of this Collect is that God the Father will cause the Holy Ghost to stir up our lazy and inactive wills and to rouse us from the slumber of complacency. Yet, as we know, a fire when stirred up does not always blaze and a sleeper, when roused, does not always get up! In the final analysis we are given a measure of freedom by our Creator so that we can respond to his call as persons with dignity and freedom and in love. This said, it is also true to say that our wills are naturally weak and need divine inspiration and assistance in order to be directed towards the glorifying of God in good works.

Thus there must be both stirring up from heaven and wholehearted cooperation by ourselves to the motions of the Spirit in our souls.

We can have the best of intentions and we can have the sweetest of feelings about those intentions but unless the will is engaged then there is no action! And action by the will is inspired and energized by the Spirit in souls that are prepared to do what is right.

In this prayer, God is thought of as the Judge who is the Lord of the harvest. Our reward (though altogether undeserved) will be apportioned to the measure of the good fruit that we produce. Obviously, we cannot bring forth plenteously such good fruit without an unfailing perseverance and unceasing exertion which only a resolved will can supply.

Let us ponder for a moment the amount of work that is necessary to produce a good harvest in the world of nature. The farmer has to accept the conditions and provisions of nature (e.g., sunshine & rain, wind and frost) and persevere week by week in his varied tasks for many months until he sees the purpose of his labour in the plenteous harvest. If he did not prune and water, feed and protect, there would be a reduced harvest or none at all. Likewise, there is no fruit of the Spirit produced in our lives if we simply sit back and do not cooperate day by day, week by week, with the Spirit of the Lord, who assists us to cultivate our souls, intellect, emotions and will, aright.

The idea of plenteous reward for good works freely and lovingly done for the glory of God is a scriptural doctrine. “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9); “Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Of course, the rewards are at the end of the age and pertain to the life of the world to come.

Then, let us be clear, we offer this prayer not on the basis of our own merits and achievements (assuming we have any!) but through the one Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, in and through whom alone there will be reward for the faithful in the age to come.

Finally, what would this Collect have been like if Cranmer had translated it fairly literally? Here it is:

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they,
more readily following after the effect of thy divine working, may obtain from
thy fatherly goodness larger assistances [of grace]. Through Jesus Christ our
Lord. Amen.”

Here the reliance of the weak human will on the divine working, the action of the Holy Ghost, is very clear. Further, it is assumed that the more we co-operate with the action of God in and upon our souls, the more we shall experience the grace of our heavenly Father and grants of his mercy in our lives in all kinds of situations and ways. Thus the meaning of the original Latin Collect and that of Cranmer’s are complementary.

It is important to notice that both Collects do not reduce Christianity merely to a religion of and for strong wills. It is a Christian Faith which requires the involvement of the whole soul, including the will, but it is not a graceless religion for a will energized by the Holy Ghost looks to please and glorify God and not exalt human achievement.

Let us end this Christian Year. and enter into the new one beginning on Advent Sunday, as those who intend to persevere in the Christian pilgrimage even as we are energized and guided by the Spirit of the Lord. The Epistle and Gospel for this last week prepare us for the great theme of Advent – the coming of the Incarnate Son of God in humility and then in glory.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)

No comments: