18 April, 2014
Let us pray.
Let us bow the knee.
For the holy Church of God …
Almighty and everlasting God, who in Christ hast maintained thy glory to all nations: keep, we beseech thee, that which thine own mercy hath wrought; that thy Church, spread abroad throughout all the world, may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of thy Name. Through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
It is most appropriate that we should begin our Good Friday collects with a prayer for the Church, the continuing visible presence of Jesus Christ in our midst. In the Old Testament, the word “Zion” is often used to mean the Church, God’s people gathered together. The Prophet Isaiah makes the divine establishment of the Church clear when he says: Isaiah 14:32b That the LORD hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it. These words were spoken by the prophet at the time that Hezekiah had successfully re-established the Jewish nation, and they are spoken to make clear that it is not the work of Hezekiah, but rather the Lord God, who has re-established this nation in the face of its many enemies.
Our Savior Jesus Christ claims the Church for His own in His words spoken to St. Peter: Matthew 16:18b And upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Notice how Christ speaks of “my church,” and He claims to be its founder when He says, “I will build…” Jesus spoke these words at the very first confession of the truth of the Incarnation, St. Peter’s confession of faith. The Church is the kingdom of Jesus Christ here on earth, the kingdom of the Incarnation.
Thus, in this first Collect we pray for the continuation and strengthening of Christ’s kingdom here on earth, the kingdom won for us by Christ in His sacrificial death on the cross this day. We pray that His kingdom may grow and prosper, that it may spread throughout all the world, while faithfully carrying His message of salvation without any hint of modification or adulteration.
For our Bishops …
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose wisdom all things are established: favourably regard our prayers, and preserve our chosen Bishops by thy goodness; that the Christian folk governed by thine authority may increase in the merit of faith under such worthy rulers. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
At the time of Christ, Judaism was led by the Jewish priests, members of the tribe of Levi, and descendants of Aaron. This was a purely hereditary priesthood, and it has since disappeared from the world, leaving the Jews to be led by rabbis who are simply teachers. When Jesus Christ came into the world, He took upon Himself the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king for our salvation. In His Incarnation He became
1. Our prophet, the one who would teach man about God;
2. Our priest, the one who would reconcile man to God;
3. Our King, the one who would subdue man to God.
All of this harkens back to the mysterious Melchizedek, who was prophet, priest and king in Salem according to Genesis 14. Like Melchizedek Jesus Christ holds these offices in Himself, not as a hereditary inheritance. Today, Jesus Christ no longer exercises these offices among us directly, but has instead delegated His authority to men. The first of these representatives to whom he gave authority to act where the Apostles. This delegation of authority occurs just before His Ascension in Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Christ’s words, “even unto the end of the world,” indicate that this delegated authority was to live on beyond the mortal lives of the Apostles, and it is from this that we have the Apostolic Succession of Bishops.
The modern experience of the Church indicates two reasons why it is urgently important that we pray for our bishops:
1. The burden of the bishops is very heavy, the struggle to maintain the faith once delivered to the saints intact, without a addition or omission, in the face of an antagonistic and unbelieving world;
2. It is clear that we have not always chosen wisely those we would have as bishops, so that false teachers have been allowed to enter their ranks. We must pray for the conversion of these false teachers, that they do no harm to the Church, and that they may avoid the extreme punishment that awaits those who have misled the Church of Jesus Christ.
For all Christians in their service to God …
Almighty and Everlasting God, by whose spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before thee for all estates of men in thy holy Church, that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry, may truly and godly serve thee. Through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
There is a tendency at times to think that only the ordained clergy actually serve God, but this is clearly false. Every Christian is called to serve God in their daily life, whatever their work may be. This is true whether they work in an office, in a school, in a factory, or at home. Jesus Christ calls everyone of us in our daily lives to serve Him, reflecting His teaching and bringing others to Him. We do this by the way in which we live, the attitudes we reflect, and the self-discipline that we exercise. We do it by showing concern for others, particularly for the spiritual welfare of others, even much more so than for their physical welfare. In the summary of the law, we are told (1) that we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul with all our mind, and (2) that we must love our neighbor in exactly the same way.
There is much emphasis today on the matter of “loving our neighbor.” Unfortunately, it is often misunderstood, taken in strictly worldly political terms. Thus it is construed to mean having warm, fuzzy feelings toward our neighbor and to be concerned for his physical welfare. Neither of these is wrong, but it misses the point entirely. To love our neighbor means to want the highest and best spiritual good for him to bring him into a relationship with Almighty God. In some cases, this is facilitated by concern for his physical welfare, but in other cases, giving him what he wants, may do him spiritual harm (if his desires are for those things that damage his soul). Thus in our everyday lives, we are called upon to evaluate, yes, to discriminate, in what we do for and to other people, always with a view to their eternal good. This is not a popular perspective, but it is true.
For those in civil authority …
Almighty God, whose kingdom is everlasting and power infinite: have mercy upon this whole land; and so rule the hearts of thy servants, the President of the United States, the governor of this State, and all others in authority, that they, knowing whose ministers they are, may above all things seek thy honour and glory; and that we and all the People, duly considering whose authority they bear, may faithfully and obediently honour them, according to thy blessed word and ordinance. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
God, who created the world, created an orderly world, a world with structure. If we read the Genesis account, we cannot help but notice that the whole order of creation is done in a specific sequence and that everything about it is orderly, rather than chaotic. The way of God is clearly the way of order. It is God’s will that we live ordered lives in an ordered society. This He has ordained that there should be a structure to civil society, and has put particular people in authority over us. St. Paul is very clear in his instructions to us about how we are to view civil authority: Romans 13:4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Paul is telling us that civil authority is instituted by God for our good, not to oppress us, not to do us evil, but for our good. Thus he is not advocating that we accept corrupt and unjust government, but that we evaluate the government to assure that it is for the good of all. On the other side, Paul affirms the role of government in suppressing evil, in punishing those who harm others. He tells all of us to expect punishment whenever we break the civil law.
Any person in authority will soon recognize that his authority is a burden if he seeks to do his job properly. This is true whether he is the President of the United States, a state Governor, the mayor of the city, or an alderman. It is even true in business where the responsibility of a business leader, a manager, a foreman or other lead person, all have responsibilities to those whom they supervise. They have to make sure the work gets done, that the work is properly distributed among the workers, resolve disputes, and see to it that all get paid their due wages. Likewise, authority leads to temptation, the temptation to take advantage of others and to exploit them, a temptation to do evil. That is why everyone in a position of leadership is in need of our prayer support that they may do their jobs properly and well, and that they not fall prey to temptation.
For those coming to the Christian faith anew …
Almighty and everlasting God, who makest thy church, to be ever fruitful with new offspring: increase the faith and understanding of our catechumens; that being born again in the font of Baptism, they may be gathered into the number of thine adopted children. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
As we have discussed, we note that it is the will of Christ for His church to continue, even unto the end of the world, but we also know that all men are mortal. This points directly to the endless need to bring new generations into the Christian faith, to nourish them in that Apostolic faith that has come down to us from Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Not long ago, someone (was it N.T. Wright?) observed that the Christian faith is only one generation away from extinction. While we know that this will not happen because that would be contrary to the will of Christ, we also know that there is a continuing struggle (1) to bring new converts into the Christian faith, and (2) to teach them clearly and effectively so that the faith will be imprinted upon their soul in an indelible manner.
This is particularly a problem for our age when people are constantly searching for something that is “new.” It seems that many come to the Christian faith, looking for that ” new thing,” but tend to move on in search of something else when the “new” is gone. This is particularly a problem of catechesis, of sound teaching of the faith. Only when people are convinced in their minds as well as well as engaged emotionally will they become truly and permanently attached to Christ’s Church.
For an increase of faith among us …
Almighty and everlasting God, the comfort of the sorrowful and the strength of them that toil: let the prayers of all that cry unto thee by reason of any tribulation come before thee; that they may rejoice to find the relief of thy loving mercy in their several necessities. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
At first hearing, this may sound like a plea for a better world, that our lives in this world should be made easier and that God should give us more. But that is not the point at all. The point is our recognition of our total dependence upon God for both our physical needs and our emotional strength. We pray a prayer of this sort, not to remind God of His Own promises, but instead to remind ourselves of the promises of God to be our support in all things. God is faithful, not forgetful. It is we, fallible people that we are, who tend to forget that God is our only true source of strength and supply. We need to be reminded that God always hears our prayers. Sometimes we tend to forget that God hears us, because we do not immediately get the answer we seek. We need to remember that there are three possible answers to our prayers: Yes, No, and Not Yet.
It is the last answer, Not Yet, that most often tends to make us think God didn’t hear us. When our prayers are directly answer in the affirmative, we know that God has heard us. Similarly, when the entry is negative, when God closes off all possibility of what we have asked, then we know likewise that God has heard us and said No. But it is when He says Not Yet, that we do not see any direct answer and think he has not heard us. This is when we tend to neglect to pray.
For those who follow false religions …
Almighty and everlasting God, who savest all, and wouldest not that any should perish: look upon the souls that are deceived by the craft of the devil; that laying aside all malice and heresy, the hearts of the erring may recover wisdom, and return to the unity of thy truth. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
There can be little doubt among Christians that there are many false religions in the world today. It is easy to name many of the formal false religions, beginning most prominently with Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, animism, and so on. But there are also others which we may not think of so readily. Atheism is a religion, despite all its claims to the contrary. Socialism and communism are also religions, again while they claim not to be. Each of these would like to claim the ultimate allegiance of the human heart, an allegiance that should belong only to God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Some are violent and spread their belief system by murder, such as Islam and communism. Others are nonviolent, such as Buddhism, or socialism, they do not threaten their neighbors. But whether violent or nonviolent, they are all false, leading people away from the true faith in Jesus Christ, the only Savior of mankind.
Those who follow these false religions are ultimately condemned to eternal death. It is not considered politically correct to say such things, but it is the truth. We have these words from Christ himself: John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. It makes no difference which of these false religions a person follows; they all lead directly to hell.
It is the will of God that all men should be saved. This was His reason for sending His Son, Jesus Christ into the world to save all men from sin. He has opened the door wide to the whole world, but be not deceived: God is holy and just and will judge righteously at the final judgement. Those who have chosen to follow any faith other than that of Jesus Christ are truly damned.
For the Jews …
Almighty and everlasting God, who deniest not thy mercy to the unbelieving Jews: hear our prayers which we offer unto thee for the blindness of thine own People; that acknowledging the light of thy truth, which is Christ, they may be brought out of their darkness. Through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
The Jews are the Chosen People of God, our elder brothers in the faith of God, our Father. The entire Old Testament is about God’s working with and through his Chosen People, the Jews. Their special status as the Chosen People of God is reflected in the words of Christ, Matthew 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And yet, in spite of all of this, we know that the Jewish nation rejected the Messiah, the Christ of God, sent to them.
When we look at Judaism today, the sight is not encouraging for the most part. Almost all that survives is derived from the Pharisaic Judaism at the time of Christ. The party of the Sadducees was wiped out with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Pharisees were sufficiently dispersed to survive that catastrophe, but now they exist as a diaspora spread over the entire world. This may well be a punishment for their rejection of the Messiah. There is, of course, a small messianic group within Judaism that appears to accept Jesus, but it is hard to be certain what to make of this. Much of modern Judaism in the Western world appears almost atheistic, entirely focused on this life with no knowledge or interest in God and life eternal.
We may be certain that God is not through with the Jewish nation. He has bound to them through a covenant, and God is faithful to His covenant. So the ultimate destiny of the Jews is not clear to us, and fortunately not up to us to determine. We know without a doubt that the Jews can be saved if they will accept Jesus Christ, so this must be our prayer for them.
For the heathen …
Almighty and everlasting God, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live: mercifully accept our prayers, and deliver the heathen from the worship of idols; and for the praise and glory of thy Name, admit them into thy holy Church. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.
When we think of the heathen, at least two types come to mind. On the one hand there is the bushman in Borneo or the African tribesman who has never heard of the true God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so usually worships idols made of wood, stone and metal. There is also a second type much closer at hand. These live among us, and they worship power, success, athletic fitness, personal physical beauty and appearance, and money. The pursuit of all these goals often overshadows any interest at all in Jesus Christ and eternal life. They live for now, for the present moment, and struggle in vain to achieve these transient objectives.
Jesus Christ died for ALL men, and in the Great Commission has sent His Church to convert them all, the primitive savage and the modern materialist man. It is the will of the Father, that ALL men should be saved, and it was for this reason that He sent His only Son to be our Savior. We must pray for the conversion of all those who do not know Christ and are drawn away by their various idols.
Here end the Solemn Collects of Good Friday and these meditations upon them. May you each reflect upon them profitably as you prepare to celebrate the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Day, the day when everything is changed for all eternity. May the blessings of Easter remain with you day by day throughout the year.