Friday, October 27, 2006

An Ancient Collect and also a Contemporary Prayer: A most appropriate petition for American Anglicans in 2006

A collect/prayer composed in the fifth century, and rendered into English by Archbishop Cranmer (1549), and then slightly edited by Bishop Cosin (1662), offers in a few words a prayer which all American Anglicans can profitably use as they come before God the Father. Here it is in traditional English in the classic BCP for Trinity XX:

O Almighty and most merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us, that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And here it is in a related form for those who wish to address GOD as “You”:

All powerful and most merciful Father, keep us, we implore You, by your generous goodness, from all things that may hurt us, so that, being prepared in body and soul, we may cheerfully accomplish all those things that You would have us do; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Before we take it phrase by phrase, let us note in brief its basic relevance as a prayer for Anglicans in their present crisis of identity. Whatever their churchmanship and party allegiances, Anglicans have been seriously hurt by a variety of serious things—e.g., heretical doctrine, false morality, basic dishonesty, schisms and divisions—and they need desperately, but also by God’s grace cheerfully, to be prepared to do what the Lord requires in the healing and renewing of the Anglican Way.

How God is addressed The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is omnipotent (as the original Latin has it); but he is all-powerful and almighty most wonderfully when he is the Father of mercy, the merciful and generous God. At the Cross of Jesus he was almighty to save! We address him as “Father” without hesitation even though some around us tell us that to do so is to be sexist and patriarchalist! He has adopted us in Christ as his children and he is “Our Father in heaven.”

Thy bountiful goodness God the Father, Creator of all things visible and invisible, and the Savior and Redeemer of the world, is not only wholly and superlatively good in himself, but he is good towards his creatures—in fact his goodness to them in creation and redemption overflows.

Keep us, we beseech thee. Though God is most merciful and bountiful in his goodness towards us, we have no rights to claim before him. We come before his Majesty, making request of him, according to our relation to him, as his unworthy creatures, deserving nothing but his judgment on our sin. We do not presume upon his mercy and goodness (even though it is said we have rights and dignity because of our humanity); but we beg for his favor.

From all things that may hurt us. “All things” covers anything and everything that may serve, or be used by ourselves or others, to injure us in soul or body, and especially harm us in our relation with our Father in heaven and with fellow believers in the Body of Christ. In The Episcopal Church there has been, and there remains much, to hurt us and thus we need to watch and pray and put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6).

That we, being ready both in body and soul. As God’s creatures we are unified beings but with two aspects, body and soul; and, as we know from modern psychology, there is an intimate relation between our minds/hearts and our physical bodies. In order to be truly useful in God’s mission in his world and on his terms, we need to be available to him as unified and whole beings, in whom there is harmony and sanctification of body and soul.

May cheerfully accomplish. The Lord our God wants his committed and consecrated people, the disciples of Jesus Christ, to be cheerful as they do his will. He wants them to rejoice as they work with and for their Lord to accomplish those purposes which he has ordained. And as they accomplish them he wants them to rejoice with exceeding great joy!

Those things thou wouldest have done. How easy it is, as we all know from experience and observation, to make into God’s will what we ourselves as sinful creatures would have done, that is, what is pleasing to us, rather than what God has said gives him pleasure and satisfaction in his creatures. The only way to edity the Church, to grow in maturity, and to please God and glorify his Name is to make sure that we only aim to do what he would have done, what is his will and what are his purposes. To aim for this will be a wholly new way for Episcopalians!

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. We offer this short but comprehensive prayer to God solely and only in the Name of the One Mediator between God and man, the Incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let is be clear that these words are not a kind of mantra, but they are necessary for unworthy creatures appearing before the heavenly Majesty and asking for favors. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through, in and with him.

In conclusion:

The problems and difficulties, the trials and tribulation, the schisms and divisions, which have become part of the Anglican Way in North America are our fault, our own most grievous fault. We are responsible not the culture and not the enemy, the devil, and not even the economy! There is only one way to a right relation with God, to unity in truth and truth in unity, and it is to think and pray, to live and to behave, in the terms which this model prayer puts before us. Let us pray it.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon, October 27, 2006

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