A merciful Heavenly Father

A Reflection upon this Sunday's Collect
The 21st Sunday afterTrinity, November 13, 2011

Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-20
The Gospel: St. John 4:46-54

(I)  An Historical Note.  This is the final collect is a series of fourteen collects taken from Gelasius (the series began on Trinity 6 and includes each Sunday except for Trinity 17).  Like other Gelasian collects (such as the second collects at Morning and Evening Prayer), this prayer is concerned with Peace. As commentator Stephens-Hodge wrote: “No doubt in each of these three collects Gelasius was thinking primarily of peace on earth.  The pax Romana which had held the old world together for so long was in process of being shattered, and men were looking around for some new basis of security.”[1] As is evident from his collects, Gelasius understood that true peace comes only through the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Lasting and real outward peace is the fruit of the inward peace (“the peace of God which passeth all understanding”) which abides in the hearts and minds of those who know and love the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

(II) Comments on the Collect.

Grant, we beseech thee . . . pardon and peace (so) that they may be cleansed from all their sins.  Let us begin with the Petition – that for which we are asking. The conviction of having sinned against God is a terrible weight and burden – but as St. John reminds us: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the Propitiation for our sins.”  In this Collect we are beseeching God the Father to remember the atoning death of the Son upon the Cross, in order that we might be both declared forgiven (pardoned) and also restored to peace.

Grant us pardon.  The English pardon is a translation of the Latin indulgentia. There are some nuances in the Latin that we lose in English.  It is as though we are praying: “O God, be indulgent towards your people – overlook our faults and our defects of character as a father would do for his children.”[2]  Let us not lose sight of the fact that we are praying for the Church – for God’s faithful people, his children through adoption. This is not a prayer for the “absolution which God gives, when first a sinner sincerely turns to Him, but the outflowing of fatherly compassion towards His children or believing servants, whereby their constantly recurring failures are put away.”[3]  And so, in the spirit of such promises from God as Malachi 3:17 – “I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son who serveth him” – we come as sons and daughters to the Father and beg his merciful indulgence of our misdoings.   

Grant us peace.  We ask not only for God to pardon us, but also for the further gift of freedom from the torment of sin, anxiety and worry.  We are praying that we might know (or sense) our pardon and thus enjoy inner peace, because of the mercy of our Father towards us.

that they may be cleansed from all their sins.  Believing that God’s promise to pardon his people when they sin applies to us when we sin and then enjoying that forgiveness is described here as being cleansed from all (our) sins.

Having considered the Petition, let us now go back and reflect upon the two conditions upon which this pardon, peace and cleansing rests: (1) the mercy of God to accept the substitutionary death of Christ on behalf of sinners and (2) the faithfulness of the people.

merciful Lord.  In this Collect we call upon a God whom we confess as merciful.  In the original Latin, the word translated here as “merciful” is placitus which means “appeased.”  The wrath of God against sin has been appeased (satisfied, propitiated) by means of Christ’s atonement upon the Cross, therefore we may come to the Father through the Son and beseech him for pardon (the compassionate overlooking of our sins because of the Cross) and peace (freedom from the torment of sin and from anxiety and worry). [4]

. . . to thy faithful people. The second condition of forgiveness is faith.  God’s faithful people are those who in the faith of Christ believe that he is willing and able to accomplish that which he has promised.  As we read in the book of Hebrews: “. . . without faith it is impossible to please him (God), for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

(so that they may) serve thee with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. The blessed state of serving God with a quiet mind comes as the result of a previous action of the merciful Lord our God, in and upon the souls of those who seek to be his faithful servants.  Oftentimes, however, instead of that ability to spend long, fruitful times in meditation on God’s Word written, and contemplation of God’s Incarnate Word, our minds easily wander off into exercitations concerning problems, fears and anxieties.  It is only as we confess our sins, humble ourselves before God, and seek his pardon, cleansing and peace that shall we be able to serve our Father with a quiet mind. “If therefore we would serve God with a quiet mind we must not only not live in sin, but we must not carry about with us the burden of unforgiven sin.”[5]  Such devoted and attentive commitment to the Lord in service free from anxiety and distraction is what God deserves, requires and asks for; and it is our high privilege, responsibility and opportunity to offer the service of a quiet mind, even when we are going through a crisis.[6]

The late Dr. Peter Toon paraphrased the message of this collect as: “Merciful Father, we implore You to give to your faithful people, who freely confess their sins to You, the blessings of pardon and inward peace, together with the cleansing of their hearts, that they may serve You with undivided and consecrated attention; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”[7]

Fr. J. S. Patterson




[1] Stephens-Hodge, 146.

[2] See Goulburn, 330.

[3] Goulburn, 330.

[4] Shepherd, 218.

[5] Daniel, 306.

[6] This paragraph is a modified (edited) version of an unpublished essay by Peter Toon (written in 2006).

[7] Peter Toon (from an unpublished essay).


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