O Lord God, grant your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Seeking the Way of Repentance in All Seasons
If the Season after Pentecost (or Ordinary Time) were compressed into a single day, these September days would fall in the heat of the afternoon.
In the afternoon hours, especially in summer months, extreme temperatures and arid conditions make one vulnerable to exhaustion. In these seasons of the soul (spiritual dog days, if you will), arid times make one vulnerable to the attacks of our ancient Enemy.
Both in Scripture and the writings of the Desert Fathers, the afternoon hours have symbolized the hours of spiritual temptation. The Desert Fathers even nicknamed the sin of acedia (listlessness, apathy) as “the noonday demon.”
So in the middle of this ordinary season, we pray a collect for grace against the threefold sources of temptation: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Yet this collect sounds like we’ve returned to the beginning of Lent. Compare this Sunday’s collect with the First Sunday of Lent:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
In Anglican worship, we can make the mistake of consigning spiritual disciplines of repentance to penitential seasons only. But we need collects for grace against temptation in all seasons, not just penitential seasons like Lent and Advent. Helpful as the penitential seasons are for our spiritual growth, we can make the mistake of focusing on repentance only in Lent or Advent, neglecting penitential disciplines in ordinary seasons.
The Daily Office trains us in repentance in all seasons, particularly the daily prayer for confession. This Sunday’s collect reinforces our need to seek the grace of God against temptation in the middle of the Season after Pentecost.
Renewing the Renunciations in Ordinary Days
A closer look at this Sunday’s collect shows a relationship to another sacramental service: the Service of Baptism.
The Service of Baptism follows the ancient pattern of renouncing the world, the flesh, and the devil before we confess Christ as Lord and make baptismal vows to God.
Question: Do you renounce the Devil and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer: I renounce them.
Question: Do you renounce the empty promises and deadly deceits of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer: I renounce them.
Question: Do you renounce the sinful desires of the flesh that draw you from the love of God?
Answer: I renounce them.
After the threefold renunciations, we make three vows of faith and obedience to God and his kingdom. Then follows all the sacramental actions of baptism with water, oil, and the sign of the cross, signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the newborn Christian.
Later in life, the sacramental action of confirmation deepens the work of the Holy Spirit, defending the Christian from the attacks of the Enemy.
Expect Temptation after Baptism
When temptation comes to the door of our minds and hearts, it helps to remember that we are being tempted because we belong to Christ by baptism. We are beloved children of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit. While the Enemy may flee from us for a time, he will return “for a more opportune time” (Luke 4.13). He will watch for a time when we are vulnerable, bored, exhausted, or discouraged. He will entice us with the things of this world and the desires of the flesh.
The renunciations we speak at baptism are not spoken on a singular occasion, nor are they reserved for formal renewal of baptismal of vows. They are liturgical vows to memorize for ordinary days. The vows become a prayer in the hour of temptation. Just as water and oil are signs of the Spirit’s grace and help at baptism, so too the Spirit helps us with grace in the hour of temptation to renounce the claims of the Enemy again and again (1 Corinthians 10.13).
Keeping Watch Together
One of the most beautiful signs of grace in our collects is their communal nature. These prayers become personal, but they are never private. These are public prayers, shared petitions asking that grace would not only descend upon me, but my sisters and brothers in Christ. As we pray “grant your people grace to withstand temptation” we ought to be mindful that we are praying for God’s grace and defense upon all his Church.
When we pray for one another regarding temptations, it also provides a safe place to be authentic about our struggles. This collect creates a space to share these temptations in community, not in isolation. We keep watch over the doorways of mind and heart together. This is God’s wisdom way. Even if three Christians pray this prayer together, they can be confident that Christ prays alongside them and that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4.12).
A Mini-Renewal of Baptism Every Sunday
While the formal renewal of baptismal vows is reserved for Easter services and services of baptism, there is a sense that we renew our baptismal vows and renounce the claims of the Enemy every Sunday.
The Lord’s Prayer leads us to renounce the Enemy: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Anglicans have also understood that confessing the Nicene Creed on Sunday functions as a renewal of baptism (Leonel Mitchell, Praying Shapes Believing, 137). Even as we renew our faith and baptism in the Nicene Creed, it is the Eucharist where we “taste and see” that God gives us the grace of his presence to abide in Him.
The Grace of Eucharist and Purity of Heart
This collect asks that God’s grace would give us “pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God.”
Our triune Lord is the only God. Just as Jesus refused to bend the knee in the wilderness to our ancient Enemy, we, too, can resist the Enemy and feed on the presence of God in days of weakness. That is why we receive the bread of life, the body of Christ, each Sunday, “food that endures to eternal life.” (John 6.27).
The only God who gave his life so that we might live is the only One worthy of our praise and devotion. Only the living bread of his body satisfies the hungry heart.