The Collect read in church on October 8
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
These days, Monday Matters offers 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.
What do you make of the following phrases in the collect we heard yesterday in church (above)? The prayer refers to those things of which our conscience is afraid, and the good things for which we are not worthy to ask.
I’m puzzling a bit about the things that our conscience is afraid. What are those things? I’m thinking it’s a reference to those inner thoughts that creep up that we hope will never ever get projected on a screen, or posted on social media, or shared with our loved ones. I won’t over-share and divulge what those might be in my own inner life, but I’m guessing we all have them. That’s why the psalmist’s prayer that the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in God’s sight is so important.
The premise and promise of our faith is that God knows those inner workings as well as we do. They represent no surprise to the Holy One, who still loves us. Which means that all we are called to do is to acknowledge them and ask for forgiveness. We join with the psalmist in asking God to create in us a clean heart and to renew a right spirit within us..
We also pray for the good things for which we are not worthy to ask. That’s a reminder that the blessings in our lives come as gift. Grace has been described as unmerited favor. While we are all tempted to think that blessings come to us the old-fashioned way, because we earn them, the truth of the matter is that we are surrounded by gifts that come not because we are spiritually remarkable but because God is abundantly generous, with a wideness of mercy wider than the sea.
Which leads to the key word in this collect: except.
We’d be a mess if we were left alone with those things of which our conscience is afraid, and if we were found unworthy of the good things we hope for. The freedom from fear and the access to goodness elude us, except for the ministry of Jesus. Except.
Our faith tells us our standing rests on the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ. That may irritate our inner toddler that says “I do it myself.” But it is ultimately life-giving and liberating news. It frees us from having to prove ourselves. And when we don’t have to prove ourselves, we’re more inclined to share God’s love with others. That freedom comes with our decision to put our trust in God’s presence with us, God’s advocacy for us, God’s forgiveness of us, all found in Jesus.
I appreciate Henri Nouwen’s vision of this decision at work in his life: “If you were to ask me point-blank: “What does it mean to you to live spiritually?” I would have to reply: “Living with Jesus at the center.” . . . When I look back over the last thirty years of my life, I can say that, for me, the person of Jesus has come to be more and more important. Specifically, this means that what matters increasingly is getting to know Jesus and living in solidarity with him.”
We have an exceptional faith, one that recognizes our fears, that recognizes how we fall short, but knows that’s all going to be okay. We pray for grace to live that faith this week.