Author(s)Edward Keene
Date 25 March 2023

Lord God, King of glory,

who exalted your only Son Jesus Christ

with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven;

leave us not comfortless,

but send your Holy Spirit to comfort us,

and exalt us to that place where our Saviour has gone before,

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

The sole Sunday in Ascensiontide and the conclusion of Easter’s ‘week of Sundays’ sometimes knows as Ascension Sunday, features a collect which sensibly continues the theme of the preceding Thursday. The first disciples may have felt somewhat bereft by Christ’s physical removal from among them (Acts 1:10), but this prayer vigorously celebrates the ‘triumph’ of the event.

 

The collect begins with the divine address, unique among the Prayer Book collects, to the ‘King of glory’. This messianic appellation features prominently in the 24th Psalm, the author and singers dramatically exhorting the everlasting gates of the holy city to be opened to admit the righteous prince (Psalm 24:7-10). By this title, the Ascension Day collect of the Mozarabic rite (a medieval liturgy from Iberia) addressed itself, appropriately, to the second person of the Trinity – as did a Sarum antiphon appointed for the same day. Both texts thus identify the fulfilment of the psalm in Christ’s ascension. Though Cranmer willingly addressed prayers to Christ (such as in the collect for the third Sunday in Advent) his prayer for this Sunday is addressed to the Father, despite retaining the messianic title from the Ascension Day texts.

 

The delicate balance of a liturgical year is to mark and commemorate the grand events of the gospel narrative without creating an impression of literally re-living past stages of salvation history. This collect treads through that tension carefully. This Sunday is also known as ‘Waiting Sunday’, a sense of expectation being almost as much in the liturgical air as one finds toward the end of Advent. Christ had promised that the bestowal of the Helper would follow his departure out of the world (John 16:7). As we reflect on that prayerful period which preceded Pentecost, while the faithful anticipated the giving of the Spirit, the collect requests the blessing of the same Spirit.

 

Christians in the church age are imbued from the point of their regeneration with ‘every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ (Ephesians 1:3) but may repeatedly be refreshed and strengthened in this inheritance. We may not feel the same ‘desolation’ in daily Christian life as the disciples feared at the Last Supper (John 14:18) but we do rightly seek the ongoing ministry of the Spirit in our earthly journey of sanctification. The collect employs a slant rhyme between ‘comfortless’ and ‘comfort us’ to indicate grammatically the sufficiency of the Spirit’s work in this respect.

 

Coupled with this petition for strengthening is one for exaltation to the divine presence, paralleling the recollection of Christ’s own exaltation at the start of the prayer. Whereas by the previous collect we pray for ascension ‘in heart and mind’, here we do so without such qualifying abstractions, thus interceding for our very salvation at the last day and the consummation of our faith (1 Thessalonians 4:17). May the Lord hasten that great day!

 

So pray this with me:

 

Lord God, King of glory,

who exalted your only Son Jesus Christ

with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven;

leave us not comfortless,

but send your Holy Spirit to comfort us,

and exalt us to that place where our Saviour has gone before,

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.