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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Covenant, Prayer and the 1979 BCP Collect for the Sunday after Epiphany


The 1979 Book of Common Prayer has some oddities and peculiar relishes here and there.  One of them is found in the Collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany. It goes like this:
First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. 
Hopefully the “glitch” is obvious for the thoughtful, Bible-shaped reader, whether Calvinist or Arminian; “Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made.”

The problem is (at the least) two-fold:
  1. If it’s a covenant we have made, then it is from our own manufacture, concoction and incentive. That would mean it is on our own terms, with us setting the limits.
  2. The Collect is tying the covenant with baptism. That is all fine and dandy, in and of itself, actually. But if it is a covenant that we made at our baptism, then the whole picture of grace that is written into baptism is crossed out and replaced with a picture of our own self-made righteousness or self-crafted fitness.

Biblically, the covenants made between God and humanity are unilateral: God makes them with humans without asking their permission, or seeking out their fitness. God’s covenants have to do with grace. And baptism is a picture of that grace – the baptized is passive, simply receiving the sacrament, just like we receive salvation:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2.8-10). 
If there were a revision committee formed, and they were to be truly ecumenical and ask this Presbyterian his druthers, I would “reform” this Collect more appropriately this way: 
Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus at the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into Christ may keep the covenant you have made with them, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Mike the Troublemaker

[FYI: (1) This Collect may be referring to the Baptismal Covenant in the 1979 BCP on page 304-5, which raises a whole other set of problems; (2) This Collect is also used the PC(USA)'s 1993 Book of Common Worship, p. 198-9] 

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