Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
O God, you know that we are set in the midst of so many and grave dangers that in the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
“The Christian is not promised temporal security or complete freedom from trial. But he is promised such strength and protection as will enable him to carry on unafraid and surmount each temptation as it comes.” – the Rev. L.E.H. Stephens-Hodge, The Collects: An Introduction and Exposition.
This collect goes back to the 6th century in the days of Pope Gregory and was revised in the 1662 prayer book. Every generation has its blind spots, and every generation has its areas of brilliant light. Using prayers from the past helps us because it shines light from a past generation that may illumine some of our blind spots.
O God, you know that we are set in the midst of so many and grave dangers that in the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright
This particular collect would likely not have been written this way in today’s world because we don’t like the idea that our nature is frail, that we need to be supported, and that we will always have dangers and temptations around us no matter what we do.
We like to be strong, powerful, in charge and making choices. Even when we believe in grace, we often picture grace as the foundation from which we exercise our wills and make good choices. Or we like to think that grace has already perfected our nature so that it is no longer frail. We also like to blame ourselves and – especially – blame other is we are tempted or if we encounter dangers. Someone has to be at fault.
We have a hard time seeing that danger and temptation are part of our human life, no matter what we do. The truth hurts, so we avoid it.
St. Paul taught us that until the Resurrection our natures remain frail and that we are always set about by temptations and trials. The 6th and 17th century Christians could see that better than we do today.
Yet the knowledge of our frailty should not paralyze us, though we are surrounded by so many serious dangers. We may face the dangers of violence or disease or poverty. And these are grave.
More grave is the danger of a soul that is drawn away from Christ. The most serious danger is the temptation to bring harm to another person, which also harms our own soul. The gravity of our sin against ourselves and others pulls us down, and in our frailty we cannot stand.
Grant us your strength and protection to support us in all dangers and carry us through every temptation; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
But we do stand upright. We are supported in the middle of all of these dangers. He sets a table before us in the presence of our enemies. He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, not around it. His strength holds us up and keeps us going.
Jesus Christ is our life, our strength, and our light. The truth of our frailty is not meant to shame us or discourage us, it is meant to comfort us. But it is also meant to humble us.
This humility makes us pause. It makes us pause and give thanks for God’s support and protection. But it also inspires us to keep going. Why keep going? Because Jesus Christ is our Lord. He lives and reigns.
This collect is not calling us to sit down. It is a call to boldness, the boldness of faith. We are carried along right in the middle of dangers, and yet we stand in his strength. We are no longer afraid.
So, God knows everything about the serious dangers and temptations that surround us, and he carries along right through the middle of them, strengthening us. World without end!