Dear sisters and brothers,
Often these pastoral reflections that we send focus on the good news preached in the sermon from the past Sunday, but today I wanted to draw your attention to the Collect of the Day (the prayer a priest says right before we hear Scripture read).
A collect is a specific prayer form rooted in the pattern of prayer for the people of God revealed in Scripture. Collects have the following general formula:
- An address of God,
- A declaration of some attribute or action of God,
- A specific request of God,
- (Often) the reason for the request or the hoped-for result of the answered prayer, and
- A christological or trinitarian finale, along with an Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer has a wide variety of collects for all kinds of circumstances and needs, and the Collect of the Day is the assigned collect to be prayed on each Sunday of the liturgical year, as well as throughout the week at Morning and Evening Prayer.
This past Sunday was the Fifth Sunday After the Epiphany, and the Collect of the Day was:
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This collect gets right down to business. Often collects will begin by declaring some attribute or action of God before they get into the part where they petition God, but not this one. Before even naming the God we’re praying to, we blurt out “Set us free!”
And what do we need freedom from? “The bondage of our sins.” The devil’s original lie was that sin will bring freedom, and we’ve been believing it ever since. We tend to think of holiness as stifling and constricting, and we associate sin with freedom from all those stuffy rules.
But the exact opposite is true, according to Jesus. Sin signs us up for bondage, but true freedom comes when we can see the Good and choose it without encumbrance. And holiness is simply seeing clearly what will bring goodness to ourselves and others and having the power to choose it freely.
This is the “liberty of that abundant life” made known to us in Jesus. It’s an actual life that we may participate in here and now, not just the promise of “heaven when you die.” The New Testament is clear that this abundant life enables us to leave sin behind. Instead of being given over to our unchecked desires, we are given power to discern them in the light of Christ, and in freedom aim them toward their true fulfillment.
As we prepare for Lent to begin next week, let us remember that the disciplines of Lent (prayer, fasting, giving), and of the Christian life in general, are given to us as gifts that enable us to be set free from the bondage of our sins, and enjoy the freedom of that abundant life we have access to in Christ.
Yours in Christ,