The Collect for The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Almighty and everliving God,
in your tender love for the human race
you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him 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 also 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.
(BCP 219)

According to Marion Hatchett, this Collect used in both the Gallican and Roman traditions from at least the 7th century, was inspired by the traditional use of Philippians 2:5-11 for Palm Sunday.  Hatchett reports that this Collect was modified by Thomas Cranmer in two ways.  Cranmer added “in your tender love toward man.”  The second change deals with translation and theological concerns.  Hatchett notes that Cranmer translated what could have been “grant that we merit both to have the teaching of his patience and a share in the resurrection” in the English translation from the original Latin to “grant that we both follow the example of his patience, and be made partakers of his resurrection” (Hatchett, 176).  According to the Right Rev. Dr. Paul V. Marshall, a liturgics scholar for the Episcopal Church, the shift from the ancient Collect’s “follow the example of his patience” to “walk in the way of his suffering” was made for our 1979 BCP (Marshall, 89).

Cranmer’s revision to remove the term “merit” reflects the theological issues of his time period.  That he changed the Petition from “merit both” to requests for empowerment to actively follow Christ’s example of patience and to be given a share in Christ’s resurrection (which is strictly a gift), provides an example of the tension that we experience in the Christian life.  Some things we need grace to do and some things we need grace to receive and trust.

Hatchett also provides a quotation from the Rev. Dr. Massey H. Shepherd, Jr., a key figure in the 1979 revision of our BCP, that is worth reprinting in full:  “This Collect is the nearest thing to a statement of the doctrine of the Atonement to be found in the Prayer Book, and it is significant that it associates [atonement] with Christ’s Incarnation no less than his Passion.  Also, the stress upon the ‘humility’ of Christ in coming into the world for our redemption is noteworthy” (Hatchett, 176, quoting Shepherd).  That our view of the atonement centers on the entirety of the Incarnation, not merely the Passion, is an important liturgical emphasis that connects us to the great tradition of the Church handed down through the centuries.

The Preamble, “Almighty and everliving God,” combines a typical attribution of God, almighty, with one that is used only once in the Collects for the Church Year, everliving.  With the description of God as “almighty,” we have seen in other Collects that we should expect the Petition to ask God to do a mighty work on our behalf. 

The description of God as everliving is found in the ancient hymn “O Gracious Light” (Phos hilaron) that we pray as part of our evening prayers (see The Order for Worship for the Evening (BCP 112), Evening Prayer (BCP 64, 118), and Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families:  In the Early Evening (BCP 139)).  It the nearly 20 additional uses, God is described as everliving in prayers used in Confirmation (BCP 310), Holy Eucharist (BCP 329, 339, 366), Marriage (BCP 425), Ordination (BCP 560), New Ministry (BCP 560), the Consecration of a Church (BCP 568), and in Collects for the Mission of the Church (816) and for the Parish (BCP 817).  The use in “O Gracious Light” provides us with a means of daily participation in the application of the doctrine found in these other instances of “everliving God.” 

In “O Gracious Light,” we are participating in the ancient and ongoing worship of God.  While each of the other uses has a different specific request, the theme is the same:  we ask God to do for us what God has done for the members of the church throughout the ages so that we are one church throughout time.

The Acknowledgement, “in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility,” as Marion Hatchett notes, takes Philippians 2:5-11 as its biblical foundation.  This is love worked out in full humility:  to take on all that it means to be finite and able to die as one of those who has rejected you in order to love (see John 1:1-18).  Our atonement (redemption; being reconciled to God) is through Jesus’ solidarity with us – he became what we are so that we might become like him.

Cranmer advanced our doctrinal statement about God by clarifying the motive for the Incarnation of the Son with his inclusion of the allusion to Luke 1:78-9 (part of The Song of Zechariah, Benedictus Dominus Deus, from Morning Prayer, BCP 123, translated as “tender compassion” in Rite II, BCP 93.  See the note below for additional references). 

The Petition, “Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection,” combines three theological ideas in a compact statement.  We begin with a statement of who God is (merciful and mighty).  We continue with describing what it means to follow Jesus; to follow Jesus means giving up our lives as the world would offer us so that we live according to God’s way, which is life, Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:25.  Finally, we add our understanding of what salvation entails:  sharing in Christ’s suffering is how we share in his resurrection, i.e., share in eternal life and peace (2 Timothy 2:11, see also Romans 8:18-25 and A Collect for Fridays in Morning Prayer, BCP 99). 

Asking to be granted grace to walk in the way of Jesus’ suffering is a hard prayer—but it is not prayed in isolation.  We pray this prayer as we enter Holy Week, in which we liturgically walk with Jesus through his passion.  But Holy Saturday, as we wait and watch over the tomb, is not the end of Jesus’ life story—just as Jesus told his disciples that he would suffer and die, he also told them that he would rise on the third day (Matthew 20:18-19).  So too, when we ask to be granted grace to walk in the way of suffering as those who follow Jesus, we trust that we are also walking in the way of life and will share in Jesus’ resurrection—Easter follows Holy Saturday!

The Pleading, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen, recalls for us and for God that we ask to be made like Jesus who became what we are (he shared in all that it means to be human).  The One who suffered on our behalf knows what human suffering is from first-hand experience and he has taken this knowledge with him into the Holy Trinity.  We make our pleading to our compassionate God who, through the person of Jesus, knows what human suffering entails and, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, suffers with us while working eternal life and peace into us.

How does the phrase “in your tender love for the human race” affect how you pray for us, as the Church, to be given grace to walk in the way of Jesus’ suffering?

What has suffering through humbling yourself to walk with those who are suffering looked like in your life?  What did you set aside in order to be compassionate?  How did you experience God’s compassion?

What has suffering through humbling ourselves to walk with those who are suffering looked like in our life as a parish?  What did we set aside in order to be compassionate?  How have we experienced God’s compassion and life as a result of this suffering?

What do you think walking in the way of Jesus’ suffering might look like for us in the coming year?  How might we remind each other that Jesus’ resurrection is being applied to us so that we are able to be compassionate?

Note:  This theme of God’s tender mercy or compassion is also found in Noonday Prayer (BCP 107), A Collect for Fridays in Evening Prayer, Rite I (BCP 69), Holy Eucharist Rite I (BCP 334, 341), The Burial of the Dead: Rite Two (BCP 504), and the Consecration of a Church (BCP 572).

Almighty and everliving God,
in your tender love for the human race
you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him 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 also 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.

© 2022 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick
The citations from Marion Hatchett are from his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, HarperOne, 1995.  Hatchett quotes Massey H. Shepherd, Jr., The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1950), 134-5.
The reference to Paul V. Marshall is to his Prayer Book Parallels, Vol 2, 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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