03 July 2011

The Collect for Peace

There are a handful of collects that we Lutherans use repeatedly in the liturgy - and I find that the more I use them, the more I treasure them..  The Collect for Peace is a case in point.  We pray it near the conclusion of Vespers (or Evening Prayer).  It asks such an astonishing thing.  It begins with the gifts God gives us:

O God, from whom come all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works...

Any holy desires we have arise not from us, but from Him.  As St. Paul could say:  "I know that in me, that in my flesh, no good thing dwells."  Similarly with any good counsel we are given or any just work we are blessed to perform:  all these come from God, the giver of all good things.  Since He has given us such blessings already, we ask for some more:

Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give...

Echoes of the great Farewell Discourse in John's Gospel.  "Peace I leave you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you."  The world cannot give the sort of peace that only God can give: above all, the peace of sin forgiven, the peace of shame removed, the peace of death destroyed - transformed in Christ into a gateway to life.  And why do we long for such a gift?

That our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments...

A heart that knows the peace of forgiveness, the freedom from shame, the destruction of death, that is a heart that can truly desire a genuine obedience to God - and we know that such obedience can't arise from inside us.  Our hearts are too fickle, turning this way and that.  We ask the Lord for His peace so that our hearts may be SET, firmly fixed, toward obedience by His grace.  But the true gem is about to come:

And also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may live in peace and quietness...

Ah, did you catch that?  Not being defended FROM our enemies!  Rather, being defended from the FEAR of them.  I picture the monks praying this, not sure what would come to their door in the night - maybe a Viking invader, ready to pillage and burn.  Terrorists come in every century.  But the collect recognizes that the problem is not the terrorist - for the most he can do is destroy the body!  The problem is that we, who have been given in Christ forgiveness of all sins and a life that death simply is powerless to strip away from us, should actually be afraid of them!  With what "peace and quietness" the child of God can meet every horror that comes down the pike, when he or she remembers this.  So we ask it as a special boon from God:  preserve us from being afraid of our enemies, that we may live in peace and in quietness - not disturbed or addled in spirit, but calm, joyful, trusting the final goodness of our great God and Savior.

Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

And so the prayer ends where all prayer ends:  begged of the Father on account of His Son who is our Lord and whom with the Father and the Spirit we confess to live and reign forever.  In Jesus, we can be confident of receiving the good gifts we ask of His Father.

Is that not a splendid and joyous collect?  No wonder we delight to pray it at each evening liturgy.

1 comment:

William Weedon said...

From Joseph Herl:

I agree, it's a great collect, although I like it even better in its former form: 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 our hearts may be set to obey Thy commandments, and also that we, being defended by Thee from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness, etc.

Okay, I think "peace and quietness" is an improvement; but I do prefer "defended by Thee," which is more explicit, and "pass our time," which I simply like for its formality.

Another prayer I love is the Collect for Grace in Matins, with its line "Grant that this day we fall into no sin,... but that all our doings... may be righteous in Your sight...." Even when I was a boy, I used to hear that prayer and think, "Yeah, right! As if anyone will ever have that prayer answered--no sin for the rest of the day. It'll be a miracle if I last five minutes." But it was--and is--a great reminder of the privilege we have as Christians to live for God. And when I am about to fall into sin, the words of the prayer serve as a stern warning of how serious a matter that is.