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Passing through

Trinity 4 BCP

07 January 2007 00:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

O God the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy…increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.

This is a beautiful ancient collect, or prayer, going right back to the Gregorian Sacramentary (began in 6thC and finalised by the 8thC) when it was used for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost.  No doubt it is inspired by the passage from 2 Cor 4 (vv13-18) when St Paul writes about not losing heart, and how any slight momentary affliction is a preparation for an eternal weight of glory, because we look not to the things that are seen but to things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

 The second half of the collect underwent two slight modifications in the sixteenth century. The prayer in the Gregorian Sacramentary was ‘That we may so pass through temporal good things as not to lose eternal good things. Cranmer took the word good out, and the word finally was put in.

Thus: Grant that we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.

 After reading a collection of his sermons a few years ago, it is impossible not to be influenced by C. S. Lewis on this 4th Sunday after Trinity. A Slip of the Tongue is the title of his last Evensong meditation at Magdalene College, Cambridge in 1956. Despite the wording of todays collect, he was convinced that in our heart of hearts we are ready to reverse the words:

(Grant) that we may so pass through things eternal, that we finally lose not the things temporal.

 We avoid the risk of God, and dont venture anywhere near the eternal, until making the things temporal safe in advance. He asks Have we never risen from our knees in haste, for fear Gods will should become unmistakable if we prayed longer?

 Following St. John of the Cross who on occasions describes God as a sea, Lewis speaks of his own enduring and recurring temptation to go down to the sea…and neither dive…or swim…nor even just float…but only to dabble and splash. Of being ever so careful not to get out of his depth, and holding on to that lifeline which connects him with the things temporal. He reminds us of the temptation to look for the minimum acceptable, like honest but reluctant taxpayers…and invites us to take the plunge: swimming lessons are better than a lifeline to the shore, because, of course, that imagined lifeline is really a death-line.

 Inspired by William Law who said If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead, C. S. Lewis asks: does it matter to a man lying in the desert, by which choice of route he missed the only well?

 Paddling is of little consequence  What Heaven desires, he says, and what Hell fears is precisely that further step…to go out of our depth and out of our own control… We crave limited liabilities, and have fatal reservations which only God can redeem. We need daily, hourly, to renounce this attitude, and especially each morning…Failures will be forgiven …but it is acquiescence which is fatal  permitting a regularised presence of an area in our lives which we still claim for our own.

This battle for the soul, our own souls, Lewis regarded as a constant struggle, and so the need to begin each day with the intention of making what he calls an unflawed beginning. We must be in the Resistance he insists, not the Vichy government.

 The collect exhorts us to pass through, not collaborate with things temporal…and if we can make a daily intention to look for the things eternal, we have a remedy for our tendency to hypocrisy.

 In todays gospel, Jesus instructs us to cultivate goodness, mercy, and forgiveness, not to be quick to judge, and to aim for an honest integrity between what we are and what we say. Taking the plank out of our own eye, before helping with (notice we are not told to ignore!) the splinters we observe in one another. Inevitably, each one of us might make as many mistakes as there are days in our lives, but what matters is the desire to find God alive in our hearts, and the courage to both discern and embrace the will of God. We may be fallen and broken, but we are certainly not lost. And following the advice of C. S. Lewis to be in the Resistance, and not the Vichy government, we can make his prayer our own as we begin each new day:

 Da hodie perfecte incipere  grant me to make an unflawed beginning today, for I have done nothing yet.

 Fr. Roderick Leece

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