Strength and weakness
Let us pray (in silence) [that we may know God's strength to be greater than our weakness]
your Son revealed in signs and wonders
the greatness of your saving love;
renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your mighty power;
through Jesus Christ our Lord
who is alive with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
NZPB p. 564c
“Renew” and “sustain” are words that resonate in the Southern Hemisphere with this time of year as most are concluding or have recently concluded their summer holidays. Even in the Northern Hemisphere – with New Year’s resolutions still with the ink damp on the paper – these words must still be apposite.
This collect was written for the South African Modern Collects (1972) for the “seventh Sunday before Easter”:
All thanks to you Almighty God whose Son revealed in signs and miracles the wonder of your saving love: Look with mercy on our weaknesses and in all trouble and danger help and defend us by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The CofE Liturgical Commission altered this to “Renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your mighty power" and made this the collect for Epiphany 3 in ASB. NZ changed it to “signs and wonders”.
The collect challenges us to reflect on weakness. How can we celebrate weakness without glorifying it? We can so easily reinforce a culture which acclaims mediocrity, which denigrates comparison and competition, in which standards are so low that there is no striving to reach them. We can mow down “tall poppies”, put down those who excel. We can applaud those who make a show of their struggles. Just as those who are proud of their humility, or carefully guard the ownership of their poverty, there are some who abuse their weakness as a force. The quiet hard worker whose contribution is invisible because so well prepared may get less recognition. Even in the liturgical sphere some extol the spontaneous over the prepared – as if the Holy Spirit can only act through the impromptu and is absent from hours of careful, prayerful preparation.
Weakness is only positive if it drives us into the sustaining arms of God. If our focus is on our weakness rather than on God, the point of this collect is lost. Weakness is not just an individual’s issue, it is an issue for communities also. The collect is in the plural.
The collect (and the readings) retain an afterglow of Epiphany – but these are Ordinary Sundays. Some places (including our NZ lectionary, but not our formularies or our Prayer Book) see this as an Epiphany Season (colour white). For most this is a green period.