Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This collect first appeared in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It was drawn from a collect in the Prayer Book of the Church of South India. While it is not clear why the collect that had been prayed for over 300 years needed to be replaced, nevertheless it fits the season of Epiphany that focuses on the light of Christ.
The wording of the collect is masterfully assembled. After speaking of Jesus being “the light of the world,” we are called upon to be “illumined” and “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.”
Several truths contained in this collect are informative. First it declares Jesus to be the light of the world. This accords with John’s Gospel that reads, speaking of Jesus, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”
This simple statement is bolder than it first appears. To declare Jesus as the light of the world means that Jesus is more than my personal light, or even the light for all Christians. He is the light of the whole world, who “enlightens every man.” Thus apart from Him humanity walks in darkness. The popular notion that all roads lead to God is exposed by this proclamation to be untrue. Only Jesus is the light of the world. There is no other.
Second the collects tell us how we are to go about being enlightened. It is “by your Word and Sacraments.” Some philosophies teach that enlightenment comes by emptying oneself of personal awareness and becoming one with all things. But this collect tells us that rather than becoming emptied, we become enlightened by being filled. We are to be filled with Word and Sacrament.
Third the word “and” is important here. We are illumined by Word AND Sacraments. It is “both/and” not “either/or.” So if either Word or Sacraments are missing then illumination is incomplete. As has been pointed out, to have Word without Sacrament is like reading the menu but skipping the meal.
Fourth we are told the purpose of seeking illumination. It is neither to gain gnostic insight nor to become superior to others. Rather we are to seek to shine with Christ so that He would be “known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” Our calling is not to glorify ourselves but rather to glorify Him. We are to seek to be illumined so that we may take this light to others. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Lastly when the collect speaks of Jesus being “known,” it implies something more than mere intellectual awareness or assent. This is clear by the words that follow; “worshipped and obeyed.” To know Him is to have an intimate and very personal relationship with Him. To know Him is to love Him; it is to be united with Him. That is why we, and people everywhere, would worship and obey Him to the ends of the earth.
New American Standard Bible John1:9
KJV Matthew 5:16