The Collect for the Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Sunday after the Ascension

O God, the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us,
and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

According to Marion Hatchett, Thomas Cranmer used the Ascension Day antiphon for Vespers (Evening Prayer) to compose this Collect for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.   An antiphon is a short verse said or sung before and after a psalm or canticle; this particular antiphon was meaningful since it was sung by the Venerable Bede, a Benedictine monk and the most well-known early medieval English church historian, on Ascension Day in 735 as he was dying (Hatchett, 183).  That this Collect is used for the Sunday after the Ascension brings the Feast of the Ascension that always occurs on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter, into our Sunday worship.  While this feast is not the focus of the reading from the Acts of the Apostles appointed for this Sunday, the Ascension is mentioned (“when he [Jesus] was taken up from us [the Apostles]”, NRSV).

The Preamble, “O God, the King of glory,” is most likely a quotation of Psalm 24:7-10.  Whether we read “glory” to refer to the honor achieved by God through God’s marvelous deeds, God’s beauty and magnificence, or both, God as the King of glory is a way of speaking of God as the supreme example of glory (Canticle 18, BCP 96-7).

The Acknowledgement, “you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph
to your kingdom in heaven,” shifts our attention from the Father to the Ascension of Jesus Christ (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9, Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed, BCP 96, 120, 358) and his place of honor in the heavenly court (Luke 22:69, Acts 2:33, Romans 8:34; 1 Peter 3:22; Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed).  This exaltation is not only the restoration of the Son’s dignity that was veiled by his humanity during his time on earth, but also completes his Easter triumph over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:55-58; BCP 278, 344, 376).  This seating of Jesus Christ at the most prestigious seat in the heavenly courts is the place of authority from which he will come to judge the living and the dead (Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed).  Psalm 24:7-10 could be read as a description of this exaltation of Christ. 

The Petition, “Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before,” has three parts.  The first two parts combined is a request for Jesus to complete the promise made in John 14:15-31.  In this passage, as well as in the original Collect, the term used to describe the disciples and we who pray this prayer is “orphans.”  Hatchett states that Cranmer used “comfortless” in the sense of “‘without strength’ as well as ‘without consolation’” in place of “orphans” (Hatchett, 183).  Being comforted and strengthened by the Holy Spirit is a common petition.

In the second part of this three-part Petition, we pray for our own experience of Pentecost—to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit.  We pray for this relationship with the Holy Spirit, of indwelling and strengthening us, to happen through Baptism (BCP 308) and Confirmation (309).  As part of the Compline prayers, we pray for comfort from the Holy Spirit, which is a way of deepening our baptismal life of grace (BCP 128).

The third part of the Petition shifts our focus from ourselves as we are in this age (feeling comfortless and in much need of divine strength) to what we will be in the next age.  How audacious a request, to ask to be exalted to be where Christ is with the Father, who is the King of glory!  And yet, in John 14:1-3, this is what Jesus promises: “‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also’” (NRSV).  We will always need the comfort and strength of the Holy Spirit, but the transformative work of the Holy Spirit will lead to glorious results in the age to come.

This Collect does not include an Aspiration.

The Pleading,“who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen,” takes on a deeper significance as we consider this movement of this Collect from Easter through Ascension:  the One to whom we pray, the King of glory, is the One with whom our Comforter also lives and reigns, and is the One who exalted Jesus in triumph.  This is the One who will also exalt us to the heavenly courts.

How might considering God as the King of glory, who is marvelous in deeds, splendor, and beauty, affect how we pray and worship together?  How might this view of God affect how we, as a parish, serve others?

Because of the pandemic, it has been easy to feel orphaned, comfortless, and powerless.  During this time of vulnerability, have you experienced God’s glory in ways that you haven’t before?  How has this time of vulnerability changed how we experience God’s glory together as a parish?

How might considering the glory of being with each other and the Triune God in the age to come provide us with hope in our service to each other and to those outside of our parish?   

O God, the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us,
and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

© 2021 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick

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