In the fixed prayers (collects) near the end of both Morning and Evening Prayer in the classic Book of Common Prayer there is a collect for Peace. The two are not identical, although they do have similar themes. Each of them goes back in a Latin original to the fifth century of the Church’s history, when the Roman Empire in the West was being invaded and peace was not common inside or outside the Church.
The presence and content of these two collects underline the importance placed by Christ and Christianity upon peace—peace in the nation and between nations; peace in the universal and regional Church; peace in the congregation and family, and peace with and from God in the individual heart.
Therefore, those praying the Daily Office and saying these memorable prayer are continuing reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”
In the present crisis of the Anglican Way, where peace and concord are in short supply in churches and between churches, there is food not only for thought but for also petition in the content of these ancient collects.
Here is the Morning collect:
O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, who service is perfect freedom: Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The colon after “freedom” divides this prayer into two parts. The first is a recalling and remembering before God, our Father, both of aspects of his divine character and of our relation, as baptized believers, to him. We do not tell him about himself—as though he did not know and as if would dare to do so—but, rather, we state from memory important aspects of his identity and grace so that these can become the foundation of our petition.
Part One of the Collect
First of all, we recall that God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is “the author of peace and lover of concord.” Peace is made between avowed enemies whereas concord is made within families, and amongst friends. Thus God makes wars to cease and combatants to make peace. Through the Gospel of Jesus, he also makes peace with man, his enemy through sin, and then places in forgiven man the internal gift of peace—the peace that passes understanding. At the same time, God looks to establish Christian churches “united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10), in perfect concord.
In the second place, we affirm with the Gospel of St John and the Johannine Epistles that to know God experientially by faith and in faithfulness is to be in a profound, spiritual relation to him wherein is the gift of eternal life.
And, thirdly, we acknowledge that to be the servant of God is to live in perfect freedom; for it is service that flows from love and gratitude to the heavenly Father for the gift of forgiveness, that is free of a sense of guilt and fear of condemnation by God, and that proceeds from a will no longer in bondage to sin but delighting to submit to God’s perfect will.
Part Two of the Collect
Following the colon, there is the petition, which takes most seriously the wars between tribes and nations, the war in the soul of baptized Christians between the Spirit and sinful human nature, and the conflict in the churches between differing persons and schools of thought and practice.
A key theme in the petition is to be defended by the might of Jesus Christ against both the assaults of enemies and the power of adversaries, however numerous and malignant they are. While the latter may change in identity and strategy, the One who defends his people inwardly and outwardly by his mighty power is always the Same Mighty Lord. So as they learn to trust in his defense, they find that the fear of enemies is removed and they are enabled to do the Lord’s will joyfully.
Here is the Evening Collect
O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Once again we notice that this most memorable collect, which seeks supernatural peace for baptized Christian believers personally as the Body of Christ, is divided into two parts, with the colon as the dividing mark. In part one, we recall specific things about God the Father’s merciful provision, and in part two we make petition to God the Father for peace and wholeness on the basis of his revealed character.
Part One of the Collect
We may profitably see “holy desires” and “good counsels” and “just works” as successive stages of spiritual growth, as the bud, the blossom and the fruit of a healthy tree. Thus beginning this prayer, we recall in God’s presence that growth of his children, as fruitful plants, is supervised by the perfect Gardner, God the Father, and for our good and his glory. In fact there is no growth without his presence and activity and this thought underpins our petition.
Part Two of the Collect
The “peace which the world cannot give” is the “peace that I [Jesus] give unto you” (John 14:27). When the peace from Jesus is the possession of baptized believers, then they are not only in a right relation with God the Father but their hearts are calm and secure in the love of God. In fact, they are ready to obey the commandments of God as brought to fulfillment by Jesus in terms of loving God and man, even the enemy. Further, in possession of the peace of Jesus they are free both of the daily fear of enemies and able to live fruitfully without fret and anxiety and without undue heated activism.
This thinking recalls the collect for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity: Grant O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness…” This is not the quietness of spiritual stagnation, but a quietness in which there can be solid growth in holiness and in converts. In Acts 9:31 we read: Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and, walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied.
The peace of God is a supernatural gift from the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit. To live a fruitful and faithful Christian life; to be a genuine local church adorning the Gospel; and to be a real fellowship of local churches, the Peace of God is needed by one and all. Happily and wonderfully it is available! We need both to pray daily for it and also be open to its receipt and ready for the consequences thereof.
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