Gleanings from the Collects: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.

Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your grace that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A version of this collect can be found in the Leonine[1]and Gelasian[2]sacramentaries. The 1549 version reads, “Almighty and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do unto thee true and laudable service; grant, we beseech thee, that we may so run to thy heavenly promises, that we fail not finally to attain the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The collect has a strong beginning. It is because God is both almighty and merciful that we are benefactors of His grace. He owes us nothing and yet He has given us everything, especially through His Son. It is also true that our works not only begin but also continue by His grace. The prophet Isaiah reminds us of the reality of our good works apart from God. “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.”[3]But works done by God’s grace and in the power of the Holy Spirit become “true and laudable service.”

The collect echoes the biblical analogy of the Christian life being a race. The writer of Hebrews enjoins us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.”[4]St. Paul  wrote to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”[5]

This prayer goes on to tell us the nature of the prize for which we run. We run “to obtain your heavenly promises.” Such promises stand in stark contrast to earthly promises such as fame or riches or power. The former are eternal in nature while the latter are fleeting at best and at times more of a curse than a blessing. Thus Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[6]

The revision of the collect, that changed the final phrasing of the 1549 version, is unfortunate. While it certainly should be our goal to “run without stumbling” (2019), experience would tell us that is a futile hope. Only Jesus has accomplished that goal. 

However it is certainly valid to hope to run in such a way that “we fail not finally to attain the same” (1549). While we may not run perfectly, we can ask for grace to help us finish the race. In the meantime, if we stumble or fall? Scripture tells us, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”[7]

[1]7thcentury book of liturgy

[2]8thcentury book of liturgy

[3]Isaiah 64:6

[4]Hebrew 12:1 ESV

[5]I Corinthians 9:24 NASB

[6]Matthew 6:19-21 NIV

[7]Hebrew 4:16 ESV

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s