“Unruly wills and affections”

The Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent is one of my favorites, full of rich imagery and language.

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

It has an interesting history. It derives from early sources (the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries), where it was used in the Easter season. Cranmer’s appointed it for the Fourth Sunday after Easter. His translation was altered in 1662, introducing the phrase “bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners.” The 1979 Book of Common Prayer moved it to its current location.

I’m taken by the understanding of human nature expressed in the prayer: “our unruly wills and affections,” which certainly implies sin, but doesn’t dwell on human sinfulness. But there is also an appeal to God working in us to effect our salvation, the request to God to give God’s people grace “to love what you command and desire what you promise.”

It then moves out to put us in our context–amid the swift and varied changes of the world and expresses the hope that we might focus our attention not on the constantly changing scenery around us, but on our true hope.

I followed the last days of the debate over healthcare in the House fairly closely, and when I read this prayer, especially “the unruly wills and affections” I found it rather appropriate to what went on in Washington.

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