The Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life:
Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life,
that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

This Collect was composed for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and was formerly used for the feast of Saint Philip and Saint James which we celebrate on May 1.  The Aspiration clause was added for use in the 1662 BCP (Hatchett, 182).

The structure of this Collect is a parallelism in which the second half of the prayer amplifies the first half.  If we consider the Preamble and the Acknowledgement as the first half of this Collect’s literary structure and the Petition and Aspiration as the second half, the second half not only explains how, by grace, we are able to live into the Acknowledgement, but also the goal of doing so.

The Preamble, “Almighty God,” seems to be used in our Collects as a shorthand notation to remind us that our redemption and restoration is a mighty work, a work that begins and is completed by God’s power.

The Acknowledgement, “whom truly to know is everlasting life” invites us to consider two things:  what is meant by “truly to know” God the Father and what is meant by “everlasting life.” 

According to the Gospel of John, we come to know the Father, who is un-seeable with our physical eyes, through the Son who is made visible through the Incarnation, that is, when the fully divine Son took on human nature and lived among humanity in the first century (John 1:1-18).  The Incarnation points us to the deeper knowing of God through our growing relationship with God. 

We are invited into this relational form of knowing in our Creeds.  In our Baptismal Covenant and the Sunday eucharistic liturgy, we proclaim that we believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (BCP, 304, 358).  The original Latin and Greek words that are translated as “believe” can just as easily be translated as “trust.”  We trust the Triune God to use our baptism as the means of initiating us into eternal life and the eucharist as the means for feeding us on the way to eternal life.

In the Apostles’ Creed that we use in the Baptismal Covenant and in Morning and Evening Prayer, we proclaim that we believe in the “life everlasting” (BCP 96, 120, 304).  According to our Catechism, everlasting life is “a new existence, in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other” (“The Christian Hope,” BCP, 862). 

Baptism is “the sacrament of new birth” (BCP, 305).  In the baptismal liturgy, the celebrant prays “that all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection …” (BCP 306).  Everlasting life begins in this life and continues into eternity; baptism is our birth into eternal life.  The power required for this new birth is nothing less than the power of the resurrection.  We need God’s grace and almighty power to re-create us and lead us into eternal life.

The Petition, “Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life,” is a request for God to empower us to participate in the reality Jesus described in John 14:6, in which “Jesus said to him [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (NRSV).  This true or perfect (complete) knowing of Jesus involves not only our minds, but also

Our journey of following Jesus together calls us, as church, to love God and neighbor with our whole heart in thought, word, and deed (BCP 79, 116, 360).

The Aspiration, “that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life,” provides us with details about the journey and its destination.

In John 17:3 we hear “And this is eternal life: that they [followers of Jesus] know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (NRSV).  Eternal life is knowing God the Father through the Son.  In John 17:2 we hear that eternal life is a gift from Jesus, not something that we can achieve on our own (see also John 1:12).  In the context of the Gospel, knowing is not just thinking about or declaring, but living according to this knowledge.  The gift is relationship with God:  through this gift we are invited to be transformed in every aspect of our lives together.

The last two weeks’ Collects have been about knowing Jesus through the eyes of our faith and our ears re-tuned to hear Jesus’s voice.  In this Collect we learn why we need to follow Jesus when he calls.  We need to know Jesus and to follow him because he shows us the reliable way to the Father, and this is the way that leads to eternal life.

The Pleading, “through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever,” reminds us that we are not able to know God or live into the eternal life that begins now, without the work of all three persons of the Trinity.  Only God is eternal, without beginning or end; God alone is able to give us eternal life.

What does steadfastly following Jesus’s steps look like for you?  What does steadfastly following Jesus’s steps look like for us as a parish? 

Has your way of following Jesus been changed by the pandemic?  Has our way, as a parish, of following Jesus been changed by the pandemic?  What has the pandemic taught you and our parish about what it means to walk in the way, the truth, and the life that leads to eternal life?

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life:
Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life,
that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

© 2021 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick

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