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Third Sunday after Easter MMXII

Almighty God, who showest to them that be in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness: Grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion, that they may eschew those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same; through

[Book of Common Prayer and Lutheran Service Book'

Deus errantes in via posse redire, veritatis lumen ostendis: da cunctis, qui Christiana professione censentur, et illa respuere, quae huic inimica sunt nomini, et ea quae sunt apta sectari,  Per
--Leonine Sacramentary

Introit: Make a joyful noise unto God…
Ps: Say unto God, how terrible art thou in thy works…
Epistle:  …1st Peter 2:11-20. Dearly beloved, I beseech you...
Gradual:  Hallelujah. Hallelujah the Lord hath sent redemption
Gospel:  …John 16:16-32. A little while, and ye shall see me
See it all here

This Sunday's prayer is ancient indeed. It was recorded in the sacramentary of Leo. He died in 450, and so it is one of the oldest we shall review here. The prayer tells us a lot about the season and the events that had transpired at this time in the church calendar. Let us begin:

Almighty God, who showest to them that be in error the light of thy truth

This is an intercessory prayer. The prayer is for others. Those who had walked in darkness and in error have been enlightened.  Who did this work?  Did they see the light of Christ by their own works and merit?  Shall we give credit to the preacher?  No! rather God has acted to reveal to them his truth.  I recall  the words of the Song of Simeon "Through the tender mercy of our God,  whereby the day spring from on high hath visited us; to give light to them that sit in darkness, and  in the shadow of death" [Luke 2:29-32]

 Certainly the preacher carries the word and men come to hear that word, but as Paul wrote, "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. [1 Corinthians 3:6]. Glory be to God.

Grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion

This portion of the prayer points specifically to those who had been baptized on Easter Even and had taken their first Communion Easter Morn as a member of the church-the fellowship of all those who are Christ's own. This identifies for whom the congregation prayed. Not the whole world, but exclusively for those Christ had called and enlightened through grace and who had partaken of the sacraments as an outward sign of a inward spiritual truth.  The communion was not open to the unbaptized, or those who had been excommunicated. They were dismissed before the prayer of consecration.  Only those who had made the sacred promises, were baptized, and who continued in the holy fellowship in an acceptable state of living were welcomed to the feast.

That they may eschew those things that are contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;

What is their profession? Christians!  They professed to believe in the words of the ancient baptismal creed (Forma Romana Vitus, which is the basis of the Apostles Creed which many folk say twice daily (Augustine). They also took an oath to turn from the Evil one. We know from reading Paul's epistle this Sunday that they were not always obedient to that oath. Many may have fallen away, not completely if they were Christ's own, but they may have forgotten God in their daily pursuits - or failed to be faithful in the disciplines expected by the fellowship. Now those who are Christ's own, he will chastise and send a spirit of contrition, and urge to return [Luke 22:32].  Not only Jesus and the Holy Spirit play a role here, but we too; just as our Lord charged Peter, he charges us:  pray, encourage, and to strengthen the fellowship as the whole body of Christ -- beseeching God to call back the wayward, and bidding them to follow in his way, and that God would keep them (us) and bless them (us) in his mercy that they (we) fall not.

In a way the folk not only prayed for the newly baptized, but for each and every member of  the fellowship too. We are all subject to the wiles of the devil and the temptations of this life, and there is none of us who might not slip, miss the target, and fall away.  Well you say, they should try harder and then they would be justified. Often that is the very problem, because they try too hard by their own feeble efforts. They depend on their own merit to earn their salvation rather than simply fully relying on God's Grace and the work of the Holy Spirit to bring them to perfection.   

In closing, I am reminded of one of the most famous of hymns in the English speaking realms of our Kingdom on earth, Amazing Grace. You might like to read of the amazing story behind the hymn here . The hymn not only speaks to the grace we recognized when we first believed, but the same grace that brought us through the many snares. Compare this doctrine in the hymn to the ancient writing of the Doctor of the Church - Augustine.

Listen to it here as you contemplate the articles of today's collect. In that this ancient prayer was carried over into the Book of Common Prayer for this Sunday that Newton used in his ministry.  I would not be surprised to learn that the words of Leo had some influence on Newton in its composition.

For this Sunday's devotion, you might enjoy this from Augustine on the Gospel 


(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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