It’s November now, and as leaves fall from the trees, so the days begin to pass by more quickly and we enter a season of busyness. It is a sad truth that what ought to be a season of rising anticipation often becomes for us a season of dread. We worry about travel, we worry about our schedules, we worry about difficult relationships with family members. And then, of course, we sense Black Friday looming for us at the end of the month.
Black Friday really does show us a perfect contrast, falling as it does so close to Christ the King Sunday and the end of the Christian year. While the Church proclaims the supremacy of Christ, our world holds up its own savior-king—the mega sale.
It is into this moment that our collect for the week speaks:
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The first phrase comes to us from Matthew 6, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus calls our attention to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. He compares their peacefulness to our fretfulness: “What shall we eat?…What shall we wear?” The call for us “to love things heavenly” is a call to seek first the kingdom of God, knowing that is our only hope for rest and comfort.
But I love that little phrase “even now.” It urges us not to simply abandon the present and wish for pie-in-the-sky. Instead, we ask that God would help us even now as we live and work in this world to hold fast, to take hold of the eternal life God has made possible for us in Christ. The way to attend fully to the present moment isn’t by just ignoring the future, but by looking beyond it to eternity.
You can hear in this something of Paul’s analogy from 1 Corinthians 9, that athletes are self-controlled and deny themselves because they have a vision of a victory to come. They don’t sit at home eating cheesecake, presuming an easy win in the big game. But they also don’t hit the gym because they are so scared the competition will be too tough. They train because they have set in their hearts the image of the glory that comes after. We seek our “imperishable crown” not by lazily waiting around for it to fall on our heads or by working feverishly out of a fear we won’t measure up, but by straining toward it, in spite of all temptations and distractions, with great joy and hope.
Ultimately though we should be reminded that this collect isn’t a demand being placed on us—after all, what anxious person has ever been helped by being told: Just stop feeling so anxious! It isn’t even just a statement of our desires—Man, I really wish I could hold fast to God. Remember the first three words: “Grant us, Lord.”
This is our request for God’s help. Left to our own devices, the demands of tomorrow will consume us. On our own, we will put all our chips down on “things that are passing away.” We’d soon lose our grip on the eternal, lost in the sweeping momentum of the season. Thanks be to God that Jesus Christ is our Lord and he reigns with his Spirit, who is present and active and able to grant us the strength to live faithfully that we might be at peace.