Monday, April 14, 2008

One of the finest prayers of The BCP (1549, 1662, USA 1928)

A meditation by Peter Toon on, The Collect for The Second Sunday after Easter:

Almighty God, who has given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an ensample of godly life: Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[Almighty God, you who have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly living: Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive this amazing sacrifice, and also attempt daily to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.]

[The Epistle is 1 Peter 2:19-25 (Christ who suffered for us.), and The Gospel is St John 10:11-16 (The good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.) ]

This Collect was written by Archbishop Cranmer for The Book of Common Prayer 1549. It has been well said that “with two masterly touches it summarizes the whole benefit of Redemption, consisting of a sin-offering and a perfect example. “ Further, that no less happily, “it summarizes the duty of a Christian as consisting, first, in reception, and, secondly, in imitation.” We may say that the richness of thought compressed into less than sixty words is really remarkable. Further, it relates well to the content of the appointed Epistle and Gospel.

The Address:

The prayer is addressed to “Almighty God,” the first Person of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Last week he was named, “Almighty Father.”)

In the Christmas Collect, we recalled that God the Father gave his Son, Christ Jesus, to us, sinful human beings, on the occasion of his Birth; and in the Easter 1 Collect, we recalled that God the Father gave the same Jesus to die for our sins and to rise from the dead (resurrection being like a second birth, but from the tomb).

And here we recall that Jesus was given by the Father as a sacrifice for our sins and also as a perfect example of a holy life, pleasing to God. These two go together in the Collect because they do so in the Epistle: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow in his steps.” The theologians of an earlier time spoke of the active and the passive obedience of Jesus: the active being his obedience to the Law of God and will of his Father throughout his whole life right up to his death on the cross, and the passive being his suffering as the slain Son of Man as Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

This double theme may also be expressed in terms of the theme of sacrifice as set forth in the Torah, the Law of Moses. There are three kinds of sacrifice: that for sin, being a propitiation and expiation of sin; that of dedication or consecration of self, or something belonging to the self, to God; and that of acknowledgement of God’s mercy or deliverance, a thank-offering. The life of Jesus and his death were sacrificial from beginning to end comprising all three senses.

The Petition:

We pray first for the grace not only to receive but to receive with thanks what God has given, and gives us, for our eternal benefit in Christ Jesus, our Sacrifice. Reception and faith are one, for “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). To believe on, and to trust in, the Name of the Lord Jesus is the same as receiving him as the Son of God incarnate, Saviour of the world. There is a sense that we are always at the foot of the Saviour’s Cross even as we are also always with Christ the Lord in the heavenly places.

Faith is only real when it is faithful; faith works by love; and so to believe on the Lord Jesus is also of necessity to follow him, in his very footsteps. The verb used by Cranmer “daily endeavour ourselves” is a reflexive verb and not in use these days. However, its meaning is clear, to make a genuine daily effort, as assisted by the grace and Spirit of the Lord, to live a godly live in imitation of the Lord Jesus himself.

Let us both trust and obey relying on what God the Father has given us in the active and passive obedience of his incarnate Son.

April 6, 2008 2nd Sunday after Easter.


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