Graft in our hearts the love of Thy Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and keep us in the same…
(Collect Trinity VII)
You must have noticed that in addition to our Scriptural lessons appointed to be read each Sunday we read or pray something called a Collect. A Collect is a short general prayer of a particular structure used in Christian liturgy. (Wikip…) In the tradition of Common Prayer the Collect gathers or sums up into one prayer the theme of the day or the focus of any given particular Sunday’s readings. You will have noticed that our Collects are poetically worded and beautifully crafted expressions of theological truth. Yet there is always a danger in them. One might be so swept up with the form that one forgets the substance. Their melodious meter might so sweep up our aesthetical appreciation that we never end up considering the theological truths that they encourage. We might liken it to the harmony of a song that possesses us without ever eliciting our reflection on its content. Countless numbers of people have enjoyed certain songs or choruses, only to realize that, on closer examination, the ideas they encourage are positively evil. We love the music, the sound, the beat, the combination of notes, and yet, if we examine the meaning, we find that the song encourages sin.
But our Collects were formulated to do exactly the opposite. Their beautiful forms were crafted to lead a man into the truth. And from there they were meant to lift the soul up and into the powerful presence of God. Listen, again, to the opening words of this morning’s Collect: Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things…. The words flow so beautifully that they are music to our ears. And yet what are they arranged to do? They lead and guide our minds into the truth about God. He is the Creator and Provider of all good things. He is the author of all primal and original goodness and is the giver of that added and supplemental goodness that yields salvation. So He makes all things and because they are made by Him they are good. He offers to redeem certain things also, namely the hearts and souls of one part of creation that has rejected His goodness and preferred their own. The goodness He desires to effect for men is the redemption of their fallen natures. So beyond the goodness that He creates, is a goodness that will conquer, subdue, and overcome man’s rejection of it. His added goodness promises to carry us out of bondage to the elements of this world (Gal. iv. 3), which, St. Paul reminds us, has come about as the result of the Fall. His added goodness is offered to us so that we might conquer evil.
So God’s power and might were present in the creation and are present to us now in redemption. His unchanging desire and intention for us is to continue to make all things good. Having claimed and confessed that His power and might alone make all things good, right, and true, we pray that what God intends we might embrace through love or an act of responsive will. Graft in our hearts the love of Thy name. God does not force or compel us to love Him. We must desire and long that God’s power and might might create and make new and loving hearts in us. Thus we long to be infused with a love for Him that excels and surpasses all other loves –the loves that tempt and distract us from the source and origin of our true and lasting joy. We yearn for that love that opens our hearts and souls to the power and might of God’s Grace. Acknowledging that this power and might alone can generate goodness in us, we see that its first effect must be love. We know that goodness for man is salvation and reconciliation with the same God. We know too that we cannot have it unless we love and will it from the ground of our hearts.
And yet we cannot end here. We know that our love for God must never be a fly-by-night, temporary, occasional, and impermanent feeling or emotion. So we pray, Increase in us true religion. True religion is the flower and fruit of that instinct, passion, and desire for the rule and governance of God’s goodness in our own lives. Without the Spirit of Divine Love, we shall never become accustomed or habituated to the virtues of truth that are the only means to our salvation. William Law tells us that the Spirit of Love is not in you till it is the spirit of your life, till you live freely, willingly, and universally according to it. (The Spirit of Love) The Spirit of Love must be translated into the spirit of our lives with the increase of true religion. True religion is a reflection and imitation of God’s holiness and righteousness – of His goodness, truth, and beauty. St. Paul tells us in this morning’s Epistle that when [we] were the servants of sin, [we] were free from righteousness. (Romans vi. 20) What he means is that before we came to our spiritual senses, we were in bondage or slavery to the elements of this world. And because of that, we were headed for sin’s reward –spiritual death, to be ultimately bereft of God’s enduring good things. But now, he says, we are being made freed from sin, [and are becoming] the servants of God.( Ibid, 22) Our Collect for today echoes Paul’s desire and hope for his flock. Increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness…. If we are defined by true religion we must be fed and nourished with God’s goodness, [having our] fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Ibid, 22) So desire for the love of God in our hearts moves us to find that true religion that conforms to the pursuit of salvation. What we are praying for really then is love of God that leads to godly discipline. Through discipline we find liberation from bondage to all that is unclean, unholy, and unrighteous. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ibid, 23) If the love of God is to be ordered in us as true religion, God’s goodness must nourish our hearts in the victory over evil.
So, at the end of our Collect we pray that God of his great mercy might keep us in the same. But, perhaps it is here that we come finally to the hardest part of the whole Collect for this Seventh Sunday after Trinity. We pray that God’s holiness and righteousness might become permanent fixtures of our knowing and willing. And this leads us to our Gospel for today. In it we read of God’s ongoing response to man’s desire for Him. In Jesus Christ, we find the one who is with us and for us every step of the way in this difficult endeavor. Just as Jesus had compassion on the multitude then, so He continues to have compassion on us now. Then He fed a multitude of four thousand men with seven loaves and two small fishes. (St. Mark viii) We read that he had compassion upon them because they had a desire for the kind of life that our Collect encourages. He has mercy always upon those who follow Him first and foremost, for a long duration, and from afar. The multitude has now been with me three days, and if I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way; for divers of them came from afar. (St. Mark viii. 2,3) Jesus will meet the needs of those who follow Him faithfully. At that time, He took a small amount of food and multiplied it so that it could feed a multitude of people. Jesus is one with the Father. He is the Lord of all power and might and is the author and giver of all good things. Through His compassionate love, He begins to graft in [the multitude’s] heart the love of [God’s] name. They have put God’s message first. Also, they desire to increase in true religion since they have come long distances and now remain with Him for three days. Now He will nourish [them] with all goodness as a reward for their faithfulness and thus keep those who are faithful in the same.
Jesus will answer our prayers today also. What we pray for in our Collect, Jesus provides. He knows that we grow weary and faint as we journey after salvation. He knows that we struggle to leave far behind our servitude and slavery to sin and the elements of this world. He understands that our feeble powerlessness always threatens to overwhelm and possess us. He understands even that the music and beauty of our Collect might not be enough to increase in us true religion. So, He responds to us. Even today, He takes a few morsels of bread and a small portion of wine and makes them into His Body and His Blood. In receiving the miracle of Christ’s Real Presence with us and for us, we are welcomed into the summation of all good things. In and through them, because He is the author and giver of all good things, what He says they are, they must become for us.
And how is that? In the Eucharist, we must believe that Christ offers us nothing short of Himself. In it, He offers to us the substance of His sacrificial love. In our frail souls, we must understand that when we pray, Graft in our hearts the love of thy name, we are praying for the indwelling of Jesus Christ. This indwelling is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ who desires to heal us through His love. Graft, as Christ the Surgeon grafts His perfect flesh onto our frail sickly selves so that we might learn with Him to love God’s holy name once again. T. S. Eliot provides us with the image:
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart. (The Four Quartets: East Coker, IV)
Christ grafts in our hearts His love of God’s Holy Name. Such love has bled for us in His death and lifts us into the healing balm of His Resurrection. This is true religion. True religion feeds on all manner of His goodness. Christ the Surgeon enters into our sinful sickness with His Divine remedy. The sharp compassion of the healer’s art is summed up in the beautiful music of today’s Collect. Here, God’s Holy Word lovingly welcomes us into the song of salvation.