Gleanings from the Collects: 4 Epiphany

O God, you know that we are set in the midst of many grave dangers, and because of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant that your strength and protection may support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

This collect is found in the 1662 and 1928 Book of Common Prayer. It was replaced in the 1979 BCP with a rather innocuous prayer and then restored in the 2019 BCP to the fourth Sunday after Epiphany.

The collect is particularly pertinent in our time, in light of the triumphalism that permeates not just American Christianity but is infecting the Church around the world. This triumphalism has many permutations but in essence proclaims that if you have enough faith and/or make the right confession then you will be healthy and prosperous and have “Your Best Life Now.”[1]Meanwhile Holy Scripture teaches that we are not exempt from suffering and that our best life will be in the world to come.

This collect reminds us of that which is ignored by the health and wealth “gospel,” namely that we live in a fallen world. It reminds us “we are set in the midst of many grave dangers” and positive thinking or the right confession cannot change that. And if that were not enough the prayer also remind us of the “frailty of our nature.” So in light of a fallen world and our frail nature we look not within but to God and ask for His grace and seek His “strength and protection.”

A very comforting thought is contained in this collect. God knows that we are in peril and that “because of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright.” The Psalmist says it so perfectly, “He is mindful that we are but dust.”[2]This means that God is not surprised when in our human nature we fall and He does not love us any less. Brennan Manning says it this way. “He loves you as you are, and not as you should be, because no one is as they should be.”[3]We fall because we are frail, we fall because we are dust. This is not an excuse rather it is an explanation. 

But God also loves us too much to leave us where we are and so we can appeal to His strength and protection to “carry us through every temptation.”  God answers this prayer by hiding us[4]in Christ, “who was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin.”[5]He is our shield and our buckler[6]against the fiery darts of the enemy. 

[1]Joel Osteen, Faith Works, 2004.

[2]Psalm 103:14

[3]All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir

[4]Colossians 3:3

[5]Hebrews 4:15

[6]Psalm 91:4

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