Almighty God, you alone can bring order to the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Today is the feast day of Thomas Cranmer, the great architect of the Prayer Book, and even though it is Wednesday I am still struck by the beauty of the collect attributed to him from last Sunday. These beautiful words, which Cranmer adapted and translated from an 8th century liturgical text, ask God’s grace to direct our hearts in a Godward direction, from chaos to serenity, from the superficial and fleeting to the real and lasting love to which God calls us. The hope is that eventually, the habits of real loving-kindness will grow within us, leading us from dutiful obedience to joyful embrace of God’s commandments.
Even though I have spent years immersed in the study of more modern translations of the Bible, there are times when the phrasing of the King James Version comes reverberating back in my memory, and this collect brought to mind the echo of a passage in Psalms 57 and 108: “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed… I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people; I will sing unto thee among the nations. For thy mercy is great unto the heavens; and thy truth unto the clouds.” Cranmer’s words echo that same desire for redirection toward joy, praise, and abundant love.
In times of trial or in times of exultation, the psalmist fixes his course upon God’s mercy and guidance.
We certainly could use them. It is too easy for us to fall into disunity, suspicion, and discord. We have grown inured to tragedy, willfully blind to injustice, accustomed to acrimony, and callous in our dealings with each other—all in a vain attempt, ultimately, to protect our wounded hearts and give our short-sighted and unruly wills sway.
There are times when the veil of the heart needs to be pulled back, so that the heartbreak, fears, and resentments that have piled up within it can be poured out to make room for the steadfast faith and love commended to us in Cranmer’s prayer. Our hearts are too often wayward and prone to direct our desires away from what is truly good, resistant to God’s call to love, as the English poet William Cowper bemoaned:
How eager are my thoughts to roam,
In quest of what they love!
But ah! When duty calls them home,
How heavily they move!
As the last of winter’s chill lies over the land, Lent calls us to this holy work of self-examination and repentance—individually and corporately. Yet, even during Lent the true message of the scriptures we have pondered has been one, ultimately, of hope, even as Calvary’s shadow looms closer in the coming days. Week after week we have been reminded that Christ in his incarnation embodies God’s amazing love for us as one of us, and bids us do the same.
Remembering all that God continues to do for us, we ask to be made steadfast in striving toward loving for love’s sake—this is the heart of the gospel: the hallowing of the fragile, fallible dust of which we are made, that Christ makes common cause with us, for us, that we make way to make ourselves a fit habitation for him, within those same hearts we too often misuse. God’s constancy in grace and mercy bids us turn and reset our priorities toward those of eternal life in the here and now. And it starts with anchoring ourselves in our prayer life together.
Like incense rising on the morning breeze, may our prayers ascend to You, O Creator and Redeemer. Let us breathe deep the goodness and mercy of God, rejoicing for the generous love of the One Who Made Us. May we welcome Christ into our hearts, so that we may act in wisdom and compassion for all living things. May we place our arms around all who mourn, and offer care and relief for those who weep. May we seek reconciliation from one another, and forgive those who have wronged us, not only for their sakes but for ours. May the power of the Holy Spirit fill us with the firm assurance of the steadfast love of God, and knit us together, heart and soul.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is former teacher and newly ordained priest in the Diocese of Missouri, currently hanging her vestments at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis when she isn’t serving as a supply priest. Her blog is Abiding In Hope.
Image: Stone Heart at Point Lobos by Leslie Scoopmire