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The Third Sunday after the Epiphany -- MMXII

A Collect Study

The Collect


ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand of thy Majesty to help and defend us; through ...


Latin original Collect:


Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, infirmitatem nostram propitius respice, atque ad protegendum nos dextram tuea maiestatis extende, per...

--Gelesian Sacramentary


Introit:  Worship him all ye his angles: Zion heard and was glad….

Epistle:  Romans 12-16-21  Be not wise in your own conceits…

Gradual: So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord…

Gospel:  Matthew 8: 1-13  When he was come down from the mountains…


See it all here


The above translation/paraphrasing of Cranmer from 1549 as rendered in the old Lutheran Common Service Book. Strodash renders it thus:

Almighty, Everlasting God, consider graciously our infirmity and also stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty for our protection: through the Lord.

This collect refers directly to the appointed Gospel. In 1928 the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America replaced this Gospel of Matthew with one from John on the marriage feast in Cana on this Sunday, thereby breaking with the traditional accompanying Gospel since at least the 6th century, and breaking the connection between the collect and the Gospel.  The same sort of things may occur with other churches that have adopted a common three-year lectionary of Sunday readings that presents readings that do not align with the original collect, which collect may have been retained for that Sunday.  As I have written previously, the collect was a means of bringing the lessons and prayers of the people together by the minister.  It seems rather sad that the connections are broken in some places.


The Gospel scene is one of Jesus coming down from the Sermon on the Mount where he had just preached the Beatitudes (e.g.,  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven"  etc.) [Matt 5:1-12].  A poor leper approached him, worshiped him, and said, "Lord if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean". Perhaps he had taken to heart the words he had heard when Jesus taught, "Ask and it shall be given you…for every one that asketh receiveth…" [Matt 7:7]


Now we can recall that lepers were normally to stay at a distance from any that were healthy so as not to spread the disease, yet this one came forward. Jewish law directed that no man should touch that which was unclean, and all lepers were considered most unclean [Leviticus 15:31].  Did our Lord rebuke him? Did the Great Physician send him on his way?  No, rather he made that which he had just preached practical ,by showing mercy and healing the "infirmities" of the man.  


And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, "I will, be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed."


We see that for the purpose of healing and comfort, and possibly demonstration, the law regarding touching of one considered unclean notwithstanding, Jesus made the beatitude practical. What better demonstration could there be? I wonder if it was Providence that the leper presented himself at that particular time and place. 


The reader may note two things here: Firstly, Jesus has spoken his command in saying "I will."  It is clear here that he has not asked God the Father to accomplish the healing but has done so by his own power.  Secondly, he actually touched the leper, breaking Jewish law and custom, and concomitant with that touch he accomplished that which he purposed.  He did not need to touch the leper, but he did so.  I think we can imagine why he accomplished this healing in the manner he did, as opposed to other healings which he accomplished by word alone. Immediately following this healing of the leper in today's Gospel, is the healing of the Centurion's servant in Capernaum, where our Lord healed by his word alone (at the request of the Centurion)  Following that event, he continued to heal many: Peter's mother-in-law and many others who were possessed [Matt 8:14-17]


 "stretched forth thy right hand" - So reads the collect.


Finally, we note that the collect calls for God's right hand. In scripture one finds the right hand (Hb. yamiyn) used in "righteous" work ( e.g., Psalms 17-7 for salvation).  The Gospel does not say "right hand" in this account, only hand (Gr. khire); but it was custom to offer the right hand as a sign of righteousness.  The word also has the sense of 'stretch forth thy power" and it is used in a prayer for our soldiers*.  The 'right hand' may be seen today in many instances in church tradition. I think of the ancient customs of holy communion, where the minister takes the consecrated bread in his right hand and places it in the right hand of the communicant.  Also in the practice of "Unction", prayers for the sick in accordance with James' epistle, where the ministers stretch forth their hands as a sign of the intent of the minister in calling on God to heal the supplicant's infirmities. When they stretch forth their hand and touch and anoint with oil, tradition calls for the "right" hand. Following this divine source and ecclesiastical tradition, the use of the right hand is a practice also observed in the secular world: the king's unction for coronations, knighting, military salute, presidential inaugurations, and all manner of official oaths to truth before God.


This is another place in Scripture where our Lord has fulfilled the Law in a new way formerly not understood by the people.  He demonstrated that his acts and words had the force of establishing and refining laws and customs as he came with the authority of God, and was God, and is God, indeed.

Our infirmities are not only physical. Consider the epistle appointed for the day. In Romans 12:16-21, Paul encourages his listeners to live in peace and love with their neighbors, forbearing one another.  May our Lord continue to work through the Spirit that is within his elect to lead them in their journey to become the image of himself.


"Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesees"

[Matt 8:17]

O LORD God of Hosts, stretch forth, we pray thee, thine almighty arm to strengthen and protect the soldiers of our country. Support them in the day of battle, and in the time of peace keep them safe from all evil; endue them with courage and loyalty; and grant that in all things they may serve without reproach; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 [1928 BCP]




(Portions were paraphrased and passages cited from The Collect of the Day, by Paul Zeller Strodach, 1939, The United 


Lutheran Press, Philadelphia)


The Ancient Collect: Its history and form


Released by Primus Pilus
Legio Christi-Ecclesia Militans
"Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" [St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans 14:19]


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