The Collect for Proper 26: The Sunday closest to November 2

Almighty and merciful God,
it is only by your gift 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.
(BCP 235)

Marion Hatchett’s summary of the use of this Collect indicates that this Collect is quite ancient (from at least the late 7th century) and widely used in the season after Pentecost Sunday.  In the 1549 BCP, the meaning of the original Latin was modified by adding an emphasis on our dependence upon God for our ability to serve (“of whose gift alone”).  In 1662, the revisers of the English Book of Common Prayer changed the ending of the prayer to “that we may so faithfully serve thee in this life, that we fail not finally to attain thy heavenly promise, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Our current version of this Collect is more faithful to the older sources.  For similar imagery, see The Collect for Proper 21 (Hatchett, 194). 

The Preamble, “Almighty and merciful God,” focuses our attention on God’s ability to care for all of creation and the tender and caring way in which God exercises this power. 

The Acknowledgement, “it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service,” continues the theological principles found in The Collect for Proper 23:  through God’s grace that precedes and follows we ask to be empowered to do what God has prepared in advance for us to do.  The “good works” of the Collect for Proper 23 are described in this Collect as “true and laudable service” offered to God.  “True and laudable,” taken together as a description of actions, provides an opportunity to consider by what standard we are to assess our actions.  In the Acknowledgement of The Collect for Proper 5, we affirm that God is the one from whom all good proceeds.  For us to do good works—works which align with God’s goodness and are thus “true” and worthy of praise (“laudable”)—we need empowerment from God not only to live our lives in such a way that we are doing good works, but also to recognize that we are living out of God’s empowerment (“grace”).  Through this recognition, we offer these true and laudable services to God as our spiritual act of worship (see Romans 12:1-2).  One way of testing whether our lives are conforming to what is good, true, and laudable, is to examine our lives through the Baptismal Covenant (BCP 304-5) and how the Litany of Penitence for Ash Wednesday (BCP 267-269) invites us to explore how we have not yet lived into our Baptism.

The Petition, “Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises,” continues the theme of God’s promises (see The Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Easter), the connection of these promises with “heavenly treasures” (see The Collect for Proper 21), and our responsibility for participating in God’s grace to receive these promises (see The Collect for Proper 25).  These heavenly promises are experienced in this life as God graciously “nourish[es] us with all goodness; and bring[s] forth in us the fruit of good works” (The Collect for Proper 17).  This experience of the heavenly promises being worked into us can be described as faith, hope, and love (see The Collect for Proper 25).

In The Collect for Proper 21 we described ourselves as “running to obtain [God’s] promises.”  In this Petition we pray that in our running we won’t stumble.  As we seek to run the good race (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27) that our Baptismal Covenant details for us, the possibility of stumbling, and the fear of the pain that a tumble on the path can cause, is offered to God as a real concern.  This motif of the Christian life as a journey is old, drawing from the Jewish understanding of life being described as two paths (see Psalm 1); but even those who have been given grace to choose the path that leads to life are concerned with stumbling.  In Psalm 56, the Psalmist gives us ways of blessing God as the one who keeps us from stumbling (see also Jude 24, Psalm 116:8, Psalm 119:165, and Proverbs 4:11-12).

The Pleading, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen,” invites us to remember that the life of God is Triune—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one God.  In this unity, God keeps our stumbling to a minimum as we run together, accepts our offering of true and praiseworthy service accomplished through grace, and offers us, as Church, the hope of heavenly promises.

The pandemic has changed the way that we serve God by serving each other and the community around us.  Because of these changes, it might be easy to describe the pandemic as a source of stumbling.  Our prayers have already addressed this concern:  the Church has been praying for centuries that God will give us grace to “run without stumbling to obtain [God’s] heavenly promises.” 

What are the true and laudable services that you were able to do and offer to God prior to the pandemic?  Consider how you experienced God’s gifting you for this ministry.  How have you experienced God’s grace to serve in different ways during the pandemic?

What were we as a parish able to do as true and laudable services that we offered to God prior to the pandemic?  Consider how we experienced God’s gifting of us as a parish in these ministries.  What have we, as a parish, been able to do to live into our Baptismal Covenant during the pandemic?  How have we experienced God’s grace in these works?

Almighty and merciful God,
it is only by your gift 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.

© 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

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