Thursday, July 25, 2013

What is in a Collect?

The Collect for the Feast of St. James the Greater
O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority among your people; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This prayer is very significant. It causes one to pause, especially if one is a leader in Christ's Church. It says, simply and without apology, that true leaders in Christ's Body demonstrate self-denying service. From this alone, we are told, comes real authority amongst Christ's people.

Yet, is this what the institutional Church actually produces, admires, or encourages? Rarely. The self, instead of being denied, is normally given great significance. Our feelings, our comfort, and our ease are carefully considered, not the enormous need of humanity or the absolute refusal of the Gospel to do a deal with evil and injustice. What to do?

Some would suggest the complete demolition of the institutional Church. However, this has never worked in the past; something much the same is instantly rebuilt afterwards, and the whole cycle starts anew.

No, the answer to this collect is for those who are part of Christ's Body--but aware of the way the Body has been imprisoned by worldliness and treachery--to live lives of authentic prayer, to rebel by living selflessly and with great determination and faith, to demand more of the institution than it is prepared to deliver and so explode its grip on the true Church

After the institution's exposure, such faithful Christians will come forth not in hostility but in loving service, willing to live out the very qualities that were dismissed as idealistic by those so compromised and cynical before. Then, the Church will shine with a light of hope, not hide in the recesses of earthly empires.

All of this can--and will--happen when the Holy Spirit calls, and people (mostly younger, in all likelihood) respond out of a deep love for the Church as the means by which the Gospel is lived and through which Christians are nourished in the Kingdom, and not as a great programmatic or ideological bastion from which to issue orders. 

In this an every age, the Spirit moves as it will, and the call to show forth the message of Christ as a means of true liberation--at the cost of everything lesser--will be answered by those for whom the message of Christ is one of freedom in God, not enslavement to the world. This is what St. James' feast day calls us to consider, and what the Church in our day is challenged to take up anew.

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