Gleanings from the Collects: Palm Sunday

Almighty and everlasting God, in your tender love for us you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon himself our nature, and to suffer death upon the Cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and come to share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect for Palm Sunday is a slightly revised version of the collect for Palm Sunday in both the 1662 and the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. These collects date back to the Gelasian sacramentaries.[1]

Archbishop Cranmer altered the earlier collect to reduce implications of works righteousness by changing “grant that we may merit both to have the teaching of his patience and a share in his resurrection” to read “grant that we both follow the example of his patience, and be made partakers of his resurrection.” By doing this he avoided any suggestion of “merit”[2]on our part.

The strength of the collect is that it combines the incarnation (“to take upon himself our nature”) with the atonement (“to suffer death upon the Cross”). As Jesus said, it was for this reason that He was born.[3]

And yet one wonders if, following Archbishop Cranmer’s example, the editors of the 2019 BCP should not have made further revisions. Its weakness is that it gives only a partial, secondary, or even tertiary reason for Jesus’ death upon the Cross. His indescribable suffering was vastly more than just “giving us an example of his great humility.” He gave us that example every hour of every day throughout His life. He suffered death because He was “the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”[4]There are countless examples of humility in both history and Holy Scripture but only one Savior of the world and so it is regrettable that the salvific reason for His death is not highlighted in this prayer.

The other weakness of this collect is that it links sharing “in his resurrection” to walking “in the ways of his sufferings.” Will only those who suffer then be raised? Even if that link was not intended, a casual reader could easily come to that conclusion. It would have been far better to make a direct connection between our resurrection and His atonement, just as we pray in the collect for the Feast of the Annunciation, “…[5]so by his cross and passion we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection…”

The beauty of this collect is Archbishop Cranmer’s addition “…in thy tender love toward man…” In this we are essentially praying John 3:16. It sets the tone for the holy week that follows. As we are confronted by His passion on Friday and comforted by His resurrection on Sunday may we keep before us that it is all because of His tender love towards us. Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”[6]It is a wonder to realize, as A.W. Tozer taught, that the One who knows the worst about us also loves us the most.[7]Blessed Holy Week.

[1]Books of Christian liturgy from the 8thcentury

[2]Other than casting ourselves on His mercy, we do nothing to “merit” God’s mercy. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

[3]John 12:27

[4]John 1:36

[5]1928 BCP p.235

[6]John 15:13 KJV

[7]And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings from the Gospel of John

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