Thursday, March 27, 2008

A prayer that St Paul would approve!

Easter 1 (The First Sunday after Easter): Praying the Collect with understanding

Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may alway serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Almighty Father, You who gave your only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: Grant that we may so put away the old leaven of malice and evil, that we way always serve You in sincerity and truth; through the merits of the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

This Collect was not translated and adapted from a Latin original, but was composed by Archbishop Cranmer for The BCP of 1549, where it was appointed for the Second Communion of Easter Day. In The BCP of 1662 it became the Collect for the Sunday following Easter Day.

It is rich in doctrine, primarily that of the Apostle Paul, and thus lends itself to serious meditation.

The opening invocation of the First Person of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity as “Almighty Father” occurs only here in the Collects. Usually it is “Almighty God,” where, of course, “God” is understood as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, since Easter Eve is the great time for Baptisms in the churches, and since it is from Baptism that a believer, as an adopted child of God, can with confidence call him “Father,” it is most fitting that the Collect for the Sunday following the Easter Festival addresses God directly as “Father.” Further, “almighty” points to the working of his mighty power when he raised Jesus from the dead (as Ephesians 1:19-20 declares).

The relative clause, which follows the invocation, is based on Romans 4:24-25: “Jesus our Lord who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The death of Jesus, the Incarnate Son of the Father, was the death of the One who was a Representative and a Substitute for sinful man; he was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His glorious resurrection and exaltation to the Father’s right hand made possible the Gospel of grace and the declaring of repentant believers justified, that is, accounted righteous in God’s sight for Christ’s sake and merit.

With this solid doctrine in mind bowing before the Almighty Father, baptized believers are emboldened to make a large petition, which we know will be pleasing to our Father since it is according to his revealed will and based on his Word.

To appreciate this petition we need to have before us in memory the biblical basis for it: “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

The background of St Paul’s statement of putting away the old leaven lies in the Jewish practice in the seven days before the Feast of the Passover of searching out, removing and destroying of all traces of leavened dough and bread in the kitchen and eating areas. Then a fresh start was made from the new grain, and the first batch of dough was unleavened.

Because Christians have been forgiven, accepted and blessed by their heavenly Father, they are deliberately and constantly to put away whatever in their hearts and lives does not adorn the Gospel and belongs to the old life—and they are to do this not for seven days but always. Then following Christ and with the strength and guidance of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, they are to live in the light of the Resurrection!

The Prayer closes with a most timely recognition that the putting away of the old leaven and the receiving of the new, that is the mortification of sin and living in the power of the Resurrection, is only possible “through the merits of Jesus Christ.” Though commitment and faith(fullness) are required in human beings, they can only begin the journey of faith, hope and love because of what Christ is, has done, and will do for them! They live by grace!

--Peter Toon

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