Gleanings from the Collects: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord, you have taught us that without love, all our deeds are worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you; grant this for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This collect first appeared in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It reflects the teaching of 1 Corinthians 13 as well as Jesus declaration of the Great Commandment.[1] It reminds us that if we do not love God and our neighbor that our religion is worthless.

But the love spoken of here is unique. It is not romantic love nor is it the self-righteous love that is so prominent in our virtue signaling culture. This love is a godly love and therefore can only become true in us by the work of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul taught that it is first among the fruits of the Spirit.[2]

The collect teaches that love is the “true bond of peace” but adds “and of all virtues.” This is important insight. If we seek to instill other virtues such as temperance, but do not have them bonded to love, then such virtues easily turn into legalism or produce pride.

The collect takes a startling turn from speaking of “the excellent gift of charity” to stating that without it we are “counted dead” before God. At first blush such a statement seems to be the opposite of charity. But upon reflection we realize that it is truth, truth spoken in love.  St. John wrote that anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.[3] He further states that the one who loves abides in God and God abides in Him.[4] Thus to not have love is to not have God and that is why we could rightly be counted as dead.

The prayer ends with the strong appeal. “Grant this for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ…” This is a shorthanded way of asking God to hear us, not because we are worthy, but because Jesus is worthy. We are asking the Father to take into account all that the Son has accomplished and promised and thereby hear our prayer.

[1] Matthew 22:36-40

[2] Galatians 5:22

[3] I John 4:7,8

[4] I John 4:16

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