A Meditation on The Collect for The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany

O Lord,
you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing;
Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue,
without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.
Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(BCP 216)

Marion Hatchett’s pithy statement about this Collect is worth reproducing in its entirety:  “This collect was composed for the 1549 Prayer Book for use on Quinquagesima, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, where it was associated with the Epistle, 1 Corinthians 13.  In the revised lectionary it reinforces the Gospel injunction in Years A and C:  ‘Love your enemies.’” (Hatchett, 172) 

The Preamble, “O Lord,” is an invitation for us to ask whether the author of the Collect was thinking of God in terms of our Sovereign or the One who continues to reveal God’s self as the Great “I am.”

The Acknowledgement, “you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing,” is a summary of 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.  Central to our understanding of who God is and how God interacts with all that God has created is love.  As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, says, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”  And if what we do isn’t about God, then why are we doing it?

The Petition:  “Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue” combines Romans 5:1-5 (God’s love is poured into us through the Holy Spirit), 1 Corinthians 13:13 (of the three theological virtues, faith, hope, and love, the greatest virtue is love) with Ephesians 4:1-3 (bear with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace).  This Petition is also a summary of the Prayers for the Candidates for Holy Baptism (Holy Baptism, BCP 305-6), focusing our attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, individually and corporately. 

The Aspiration, “without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you,” referring to love, is a paraphrase of 1 John 3:14:  “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.”  The Acknowledgement, Petition, and Aspiration together describe the two ways that all people are called to choose between:  participation in the divine life, which is the way of love, and the way of death (for examples of the two ways, see Psalm 1, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 6:20-35).

The Pleading, “Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen,” could be read as a second Petition or a second Aspiration before the standard 1979 BCP Pleading.  As noted by Paul V. Marshall, the Pleading originally ended after “Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ”; the addition “who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever” was added in the revisions of the Collects for the 1979 BCP (Marshall, 86-7).  The original Pleading asks that Christ be glorified through our common life of mutual love (1 Peter 4:8-11).  The 1979 addition ends the Collect with a re-iteration of the work of all three persons of the Trinity:  the Father who is addressed in this Collect and who we ask to send the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit who pours the love of the Holy Trinity into us which transforms us so that our common life brings glory to Christ.

How have you experienced the gift of love creating a bond of peace with others prior to the pandemic?  Has this bond of peace changed as a result of having to find new ways of staying connected due to limitations caused by the pandemic?

What might you be doing that is not about love?  What needs to change in order for you to follow the way of love in this part of your life?

Are there things that we are doing, as a parish, that are not about love?  What do we need to do differently in order to follow the way of love more closely as a parish community?

How have we experienced the gift of love creating a bond of peace among us, as a parish, prior to the pandemic?  Has this bond of peace changed as a result of our having to find new ways of staying connected as a parish?  If so, how?

O Lord,
you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing;
Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue,
without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.
Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(BCP 216)

© 2022 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick
The citations from Marion Hatchett are from his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, HarperOne, 1995 The reference to Paul V. Marshall is to his Prayer Book Parallels:  The public services of the Church arranged for comparative study, Volume II.  Church Publishing, 1990.
Quotations and page references to The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) are from the 1979 standard edition. 
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

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