Growing up in the Episcopal Church means being wrapped in the warm blanket of Anglican liturgical tradition, all based upon not only the Word of God but also lots of…words. The Prayer Book tradition is inescapably literary, which any old-school Anglican soul knows isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It kinda makes sense that the country which produced English literary heavyweights like the anonymous Anglo-Saxon author of Beowulf, the Venerable Bede, Dame Julian of Norwich, Chaucer, Bard Shakespeare, Longfellow, Keats, Shelley, Lamb, Mrs. Shelley, Schiller, Austen, Kipling, Christie, Dickens, Eliot, Woolf, Lewis, Bronte, Wells, Tolkien, Travers, Barrie, Underhill, Churchill, and perhaps Rowling (ouch that left a mark but copies sold is a metric) would set a high bar for words in worship! In fact our Sunday worship requires a 10th grade reading level to comfortably follow and participate in contemporaneously.
But the distinctive Anglican worship treasures to my mind reside in our Canticles for Morning and Evening Prayer, basically sung scripture before anyone could afford a printed book, and in ourCollects. The four Collects of Advents, summary prayers which introduce the worship theme of that Sunday, are masterworks of piety, sublime and profound in scope of spiritual depth. We’ll explore each one in turn dear readers, and make them our Advent backdrop as we march towards the Nativity of our Lord at Christmas. When these prayers are compared against the cacophony of such shallow, culturally compromised and economically-motivated infotainment, today’s cable and social media voices simply evaporate like ephemeral mist in a gale. These prayers for me are both reliable anchors in the current cultural storms as well as invitatory gateways beckoning us to move through them to verdant, lush spiritual pasture. Here’s the Collect for the First Sunday (and Week) of Advent:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Here lies the Advent adventure! Which works of darkness must I absolutely, positively put away in order to celebrate a spiritually sober Christmas? “Works” of darkness imply effort on my part, conscious collusion with the darker angels of my nature who lurk in the places I care not to look. We are challenged to not negotiate with these works, not to parley or compromise or abide them, but rather to exterminate and prune and throw them out the spiritual window along the side of the Advent road. In their place we are led to use God’s divine light as protective armor, the veritable light shining in the basement to illuminate everything that goes bump in the night of my soul. We are also reminded that this life is time-specific, for we all have a “Use-By” date in these mortal coils. As Mother Emily is fond of reminding us in the Sunday dismissal, “Time is short, and we don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of those with whom we travel.” Indeed.
- So what must we be casting away and putting on this week so that we can rise to the life immortal?
- How can we accept God’s prevailing grace so freely and lavishly offered right here and right now?
- So this winter may be an excellent time to pick up a classic literary work and read away! Ignoring momentarily how enthusiastically the Brit authors love to scare their young children to death (truly, really), if you like, take a name you’ve never read from the short list above and read one of her or his works. We should have time to make it through at least one before Easter! And if you have any questions about any of the above works, I am sure Mother Emily would love to answer them!