Monday, March 09, 2015

Enemies and the Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent

The traditional Anglican Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent reads as follows:

We beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Now, asking God to defend us “against all our enemies” may be off-putting to modern ears.  Some may write that clause off as backward and medieval.

They would be mistaken.  The medieval Sarum rite (i. e. the rite dominant in England just before Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer) contains no explicit mention of enemies here.  The Sarum collect simply asks God to “stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence [period].”

So Thomas Cranmer added “against all our enemies” - understandable given all the enemies he had!  His BCP also has us asking for God to “defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies” every Morning Prayer.

Again, in this post-modern age of moral equivalence, it may grate to hear prayers for God to deal with enemies.  But Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and to pray for them.  He did not ask us to pretend they do not exist.  And such an exercise would be pseudo-enlightened foolishness indeed.

One need only glance at the news to know Christians have plenty of enemies today, many of them deadly.  ISIS and Boko Harem are only the more notorious of them.  And although there have been times in the West when Christians could deceive themselves that their enemies were few and far between, that is certainly less and less the case today when, say, running one’s business in line with one’s faith can bring punitive fines, or when even running a charity in line with Christian principles can get it on the wrong side of the law.

Now, of course, the Bible reminds us, including in the Lent 3 Gospel from Luke 11:14 ff., that the chief enemies of Christians are spiritual, not “flesh and blood.” (Ephesians 6:12) 

Nonetheless, it is meet and right during such a time as this to keep on praying for God to defend us against enemies both spiritual and earthly.  For both are most certainly out there.

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