The Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent

Almighty God,
you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves:
Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls,
that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body,
and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Marion Hatchett states that the late-7th-century Collect was said on the Second Sunday in Lent and was listed in the Collects for daily prayer use.  Our 1979 BCP has shifted the use of this Collect to the Third Sunday in Lent (Hatchett, 175).

The Preamble, “Almighty God,” focuses on God’s power on behalf of God’s people.

The Acknowledgement, “you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves,” contrasts our helpless condition with God’s power to protect, defend, and save that is declared in the Preamble.  Psalm 103, especially verse 14, describes God’s knowledge of our weakness.  The phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is not biblical—rather, in scripture we are called to rely upon God and to trust in God’s timing and ways of helping us.

The Petition is “Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.”  The poetic expression of this Petition is found in Psalm 17:8-9, the first verse of which is used as Compline’s second set of Versicle and Response (BCP 132).  Psalm 121, used in An Order of Service for Noonday (BCP 104-5), as well as Psalm 31:1-5 and Psalm 91 of Compline (BCP 129-131), provide longer but in some ways less direct and focused expressions of God’s keeping of us.  Physical safety is not necessarily in view; rather we ask for God to keep us within God’s loving embrace—both our souls and our bodies—to preserve us as whole persons in the midst of physical, emotional, and mental adversities.

In the Pleading, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen, we ask that this Petition be fulfilled through the Son whose humanity was kept, body and soul, through death.  We ask for this to be fulfilled through the same Holy Spirit who did this keeping of Jesus’s whole person, body and soul (Romans 8:11).  And we ask this trusting that our petition will be fulfilled through the unity of the Father with the Son and the Spirit.

While we confess that we know that God knows that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves, the world expects us to think that we do have power within ourselves to help ourselves.  When have you rushed ahead of God’s timing to try to help yourself or someone else?  How did you come to know that you had rushed ahead?

When have we as a parish attempted to help ourselves rather than to trust in God’s keeping of us, body and soul?

How have we, as a parish, trusted God to defend us from adversities (like the pandemic) and to defend us from all evil thoughts?  How has the Petition of this Collect been answered so far?  What do we need to remember about God’s keeping of us, body and soul, through the pandemic to strengthen us through the next adversities that may threaten our physical and spiritual health?

Almighty God,
you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves:
Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls,
that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body,
and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul;
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 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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