A Meditation on the Collect for Easter Day

Almighty God,
who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death
and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection,
may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(BCP 222)

Our Book of Common Prayer provides three Collects for Easter Day.  The first Collect was the Collect we used last year (you can access this meditation, which was the inaugural meditation for our series on the Sunday Collects, here).  The second Collect seems most fitting for the Easter Vigil with its reference to “this most holy night.”  The third Collect is the one we are using this Easter Day.

According to Marion Hatchett, this Collect dates to at least the late-7th-century Gregorian sacramentary in which it was used for the first Eucharist of Easter Day.  A translation of this Collect as found in the Sarum missal (late 11th century) was used in the first English BCP of 1549, but with a very different Petition: “we humbly beseech thee, that, as by thy special grace, preventing us, thou dost put in our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect.”  For use in the 1979 BCP, this Petition has been replaced by the Aspiration of the versions of the Collect found in the Gallican rite (Missale Gallicanum vestus, late 7th or early 8th century, and the Gelasian sacramentary, early 8th century) (Hatchett, 179, see also Marshall, 2.92-3).

The Preamble, “Almighty God,” invites us to consider what mighty work we are asking the Father to do in us.

The Acknowledgement, “who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life,” is a poetic paraphrase of 2 Timothy 1:9b-10.  This pithy doctrinal statement not only restates who Jesus is—the only-begotten Son of God—but also provides the significance of Jesus’ resurrection for us (Catechism:  God the Son, BCP 850.  See also 1. A General Thanksgiving, BCP 836, and Psalm 9:13). 

The Petition, “Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit,” provides us with an implied instruction about how we are to respond to Jesus’ resurrection (with a joyful celebration!) and pleads for the Spirit’s working of Jesus’ resurrection into all of us (Romans 8:11).  Here is the mighty work of God—the request for the life-giving Holy Spirit to continue to work life into us who were dead due to sin (see Proverbs 21:16, Ezekiel 36:26-28, Ephesians 2:1-10, Colossians 2:13-15).  This Collect refers to two kinds of death:  physical death (Jesus was raised from physical death) and spiritual death (our spiritual death due to sin). 

Just as this Collect refers to both physical and spiritual death, the Creeds also refer to both kinds of death.  In both the Apostles’ Creed (used daily in Morning and Evening Prayer, BCP 53-4, 66, 96, 120; and at Holy Baptism, BCP 304; including the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, BCP 292-3, which is part of our Easter Day celebration) and the Nicene Creed (typically used on Sundays at the Eucharist, BCP 327 and 358-9), death and resurrection are found in two sections. 

In the section in which we affirm our trust in Jesus, we declare that “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”  While this phrase could refer to the judgment of those who are alive at the moment of his glorious return and those who died prior to his return, my experience of medieval English Church religious art indicates a different interpretation is also possible.  The medieval English Church depicted what is known as “the Harrowing of Hell” in which Jesus descends to the place of the dead between Good Friday and Easter morning, preaches the Gospel to those who died before his days on earth, and releases them from Hell.  Typically, Adam and Eve are depicted as the first who are sprung from captivity (for biblical passages relating to this, see 1 Peter 4:1-8 and Ephesians 4:4-10; the photograph in this meditation is of the 15th century wall painting of the Harrowing of Hell in St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, Pickering, England).  The Harrowing of Hell paints another interpretation:  this phrase in the Creeds can also refer to those who are either spiritually dead or alive, regardless of their physical state.  

The Harrowing of Hell, 15th century wall painting, St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, Pickering, England.
photo by D Hawk-Reinhard, 2018

From left to right:  Jesus, at the gate to Hell, extends his hand to Adam who is holding an apple.  Eve is behind Adam, and other OT saints are behind her.

In the section of the Creeds in which we confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit, two phrases are relevant to our exploration of this Collect. In the Nicene Creed, the Holy Spirit is called “the giver of life.”  In the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm that we believe in “the resurrection of the body.”  This Collect is a succinct statement of the work of the Holy Spirit that unpacks the even more compact Creeds.  And, like the Creeds, what we ask for in this Petition can be read as both present (that we may be raised today from all of the things that cause death to the spirit and prevent us from enjoying everlasting life now) and future (that we will be raised physically, like Jesus, on the last day).

The doctrine of the resurrection that is both present- and future-oriented as found in this Collect also provides the foundation for both our Baptismal liturgy and our Burial liturgy.  The opening of the gate of everlasting life is sacramentally experienced in Holy Baptism (see the Thanksgiving over the Water, BCP 306).  In the Burial liturgy, Rite I, we pray “Grant that all who have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection may die to sin and rise to newness of life, and that through the grave and gate of death we may pass with him to our joyful resurrection” (BCP 478, Burial I).  In the Rite II Burial liturgy, the theme is present in the Acknowledgement in the first Collect on BCP 493:  “O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light.” 

The Pleading, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen, summarizes the clearly Trinitarian content of this Collect:  the gate of everlasting life has been opened by God the Father, through the Son, and our participation in this life is worked into us by the Holy Spirit.

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ this Easter (and every Sunday!), how have you experienced the opening of the gate of everlasting life since last Easter?  How have we, as a parish, experienced this gate of everlasting life being opened over this past year?

In what ways has the life-giving Holy Spirit raised you from spiritual death this past year?  How have we, as a parish, been raised from spiritual death since last Easter? 

Happy Easter! 

Almighty God,
who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death
and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection,
may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for 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
The reference to Paul V. Marshall is to his Prayer Book Parallels, Vol 2, 1990.
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