Gleanings from the Collects: Last Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect first appeared in the 1928 English BCP and was repeated in the 1979 BCP of the American Church. As the number of Sundays in Epiphany varies, due to the movable dates of Easter, this collect has been appointed for whenever the last Sunday after the Epiphany occurs. Its focus is the Transfiguration of our Lord because that is the Gospel lesson appointed for that day each year. Hence the last Sunday before Lent is commonly referred to as “Transfiguration Sunday.” The actual feast day of the Transfiguration is August 6. 

The collect gives us the contextof Jesus’ Transfiguration. It was “before the passion of your only-begotten Son.” While this event revealed Jesus’ glory, that is His divinity, it was not yet time for His glorification. He had “set his face like a flint”[1]to go to Jerusalem to finish the work that His Father had given Him to do. We can presume that speaking with Moses and Elijah, and having the Father speak aloud as at His baptism, strengthened Jesus for the terrible task that was ahead. And while the disciples had not put all the pieces together at that point, they could look back later and see what the Father was preparing all of them to face.

 While the Transfiguration was a once and for all time event, we may still be a part of it. How? The collect tell us how. By “beholding by faith the light of his countenance.” This lovely expression is poignant. It reminds us that we walk by faith and not by sight[2]and Jesus says that those who believe but have never seen are especially blessed.[3]

The collect also reminds us of the focus of our faith. It is not the Bible or the Church or the Creeds, as wonderful and vital as is each of those. The focus of our faith is the Person of Jesus, to behold “the light of his countenance.” This is a refreshing reminder particularly when we get bogged down in church politics or theological debates or the failures of our leaders and we have lost our focus. This collect reminds us, as a popular expression puts it, “It’s all about Him.” One of the most well respected theologians of our generation said that the most profound thing that he had ever learned in all of theology was that “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” We need to return to that truth daily if not hourly. 

The collect goes on to tell us of the outcomeof our faith. And that is to “be strengthened to bear our cross” and to “be changed into his likeness.” 

This is a very appropriate reminder as next Wednesday we enter the season of Lent. The fasts, the additional disciplines and worship, the almsgiving, and whatever else the Lord calls each of us to do, can all be a form of a cross that we bear. And we bear the cross in this manner not to become martyrs or to gain spiritual brownie points or to be respected by others. We bear our cross to “be changed into his likeness.” We bear the cross so that we may be able to say with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”[4]

[1]Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51

[2]2 Corinthians 5:7

[3]John 20:29

[4]Galatians 2:20, The Message

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