The Collect for Proper 21: The Sunday closest to September 28

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises,
may become partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(BCP 234)

According to Marion Hatchett, this Collect, in various forms, has been widely used since at least the early 8th century.  He states that a more literal translation would use “sparing and showing compassion” rather than “mercy and pity.”  In the 1662 version of this Collect, participation in God’s heavenly treasures appeared to be dependent upon our obedience rather than God’s mercy, generosity, and compassion.  Our present version, along with the pre-1662 BCP translations, returns the Collect to the non-meritorious, or unconditional, gift of God’s grace to those whom God loves.  Hatchett’s additional theological observation about this Collect will be included in the Acknowledgement section (Hatchett, 192-3).

The Preamble, “O God,” merely addresses God without providing any additional information.

The Acknowledgement, “you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity,” “states with striking force that the supreme demonstration of God’s power is shown not in creation or providence, but in His redemptive love and mercy” (Hatchett, 193).  Psalm 103 is a hymn to God, reflecting on God’s compassion and mercy; while a few of the verses of this Psalm, like the 1662 modification of this Collect, can be read as a dependence of God’s compassion and mercy upon human obedience, our Collects have consistently revealed that our ability to do God’s will depends upon God’s gracious mercy and empowerment of us.

The Petition, “Grant us the fullness of your grace,” has at least two related ways of being explored.  In the first, remembering that Jesus is the one who is full of grace and truth and, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”  (John 1:14-18, NRSV)—so by looking at Jesus, we can see what we are asking God the Father to do—to make us like Jesus.

In the second way of exploring what the “fullness of God’s grace” means, we can look through the Collects to see what we have been praying for God to transform us and empower us to action through God’s grace.  Since Easter Sunday, we have been praying for God’s grace to:

Ultimately, these two ways of looking at what is meant by “fullness of grace” result in the same conclusion:  the fullness of God’s grace looks like us becoming the Church, the Body of Christ, together.  The fullness of God’s grace redeems and restores us so that, together, we truly are what we are called:  Christians (followers of Jesus).

In the Aspiration, “that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure,” the term “heavenly treasure” is as mysterious as “fullness of grace.”  In the Gospels we hear of treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:1-4, Matthew 6:19-21, Matthew 19:21-22, Luke 12:33-34) without a definition.  However, returning to the introduction to the Gospel of John, “to all who received [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God … ” and to know the Father through the Son (John 1:12-18, NRSV).  Through Baptism, we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit … and marked as Christ’s own for ever,” received into the Church, and share in Christ’s eternal priesthood (BCP, 308.  See also page 298).  By Christ’s power, not only are Christ’s promises accessible to us, but we become participants in the life of the Trinity (1 Peter 3:3-11), which is another way of describing the mystery of “eternal life.”  This heavenly treasure is not only for our sake; it is the means by which we are able to “share in Christ’s eternal priesthood” for the life of the world. 

Remembering how God’s promises are described in the BCP (See The Collect for The Sixth Sunday of Easter) provides inspiration for living our Baptismal Covenant, which can also be said to be “running the race set out before us” (Hebrews 12:1-3).  While this part of the Aspiration could be read as a conditional—if one runs, then one can partake—the sense from Philippians 2:12-13 would have us read this part of the Aspiration not as God waiting on us to act, but as an invitation for us to fully participate in the transformative work that God is doing in us.

The Pleading, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen,” connects the work of Jesus Christ and our transformation through grace to become the Body of Christ to the life and work of the Holy Trinity.

Does shifting the Acknowledgement from “pity” to “compassion” affect your view of God? 

In the midst of the pandemic, it might be easy to feel depleted when we are not being able to do what we are used to doing or having to change how we do our routine activities and our worship.  How has God been filling you with grace?  How has God been filling us, as a parish, with grace?  What might running to obtain God’s promises look and feel like now?

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises,
may become partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(BCP 234)

© 2021 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick
The citations from Marion Hatchett are from his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, HarperOne, 1995
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

Scroll to Top