The Collect for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In coming days, Monday Matters will offer reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.
O Lord our governor, how exalted is your name in all the world. Psalm 8:1
People have a variety of daily spiritual practices. For me, the day begins with my own version of Morning Prayer. I start with reflection on opening sentences that fit the season. I then move to the Confession. After that, the psalms and readings for the day, followed by prayers for people on my heart, prayers for our broken world.
But back to the confession. Of late, I’ve found myself pausing on the first three words: Most merciful God. I take those words as, first of all, a bold statement of faith. They indicate that on some level, I believe there is someone out there to whom I am appealing.
Those words provide a much-needed reminder that my day is going to unfold in the presence of that someone. I ask God to help me remember that. Truth be told, I can live out my day, I can complete my tasks, I can tick things off the to-do list, I can even do a lot of church work without really thinking that what I do (in thought, word, and deed) unfolds in some way under the governance of God. At times, I describe this dynamic as being a functional atheist. That may sound severe, but apparently, this boy needs a daily reminder that my life unfolds in the presence of the Holy One, in relationship to the God of creation, known in Jesus, present in the Spirit. How easily I forget.
It can call for a leap of faith. I’m thinking of a good friend, a faithful woman, a spiritual teacher, who was not always a church person. She was a successful and driven lawyer, working on big cases, whose personal life seemed to be falling apart. A husband suddenly stricken with illness, a child in the grips of addiction. At that point in her life, she would not, nor could not believe in God. She thought: Even I could do a better job running the universe. Have you ever read the newspaper and thought the same thing? Like, really. Who’s in charge here?
Her life changed when in the grips of several crises, a church community surrounded her in the thick of the adversity she faced and showed her grace, lifting her up. It was through that experience that she actually came to believe in the reality of a God who governs heaven and earth.
Readers of this weekly post may note that I’ve been reading works by a theologian named Andrew Root. He writes about the current state of the church and especially its decline. I’m sure I miss a lot of what he’s presenting. (I find that’s my experience when reading theology.) But what I take away is that the church these days is too often in the grip of what he calls an immanent frame. We have lost confidence in the reality of God’s transcendence. We only think of what we can know or understand or explain or contain. We so want God in a box. We have little appreciation for the mystery of God’s transcendent rule. We have decided that the church is the star of the story, or perhaps that we are the star of the story, when the truth is, God is the star of the story.
The collect we heard in church yesterday (above) is based on the premise that God governs in heaven and earth. That can be hard to believe when we check out the news. But in our prayers, indeed in the very act of praying, in the great faith statement that comes with the address in those few words, most merciful God, we affirm that God is in control. We may not see that fully right now, but it is the foundation of our faith. How will your life unfold this week, mindful of the one who governs heaven and earth and extends mercy to each one of us?