Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Marvelous Old Collect for the Transfiguration

Without even looking at Lutheran Service Book, the new LCMS hymnal, I'm willing to bet that their version of the collect for Transfiguration Sunday is not as good as the traditional one in The Lutheran Hymnal. It couldn't be, because as a rule they have a tendency to remove 'heavy' subordinate clauses, to make things simpler, to sacrifice poetry for clarity, etc. And in so doing, in my opinion, they lose something really fine. Granted, the collect for the Transfiguration is a really complicated one. I think it's the longest; it certainly has the longest subordinate clause preceding its petition. But for all that, it's not only great poetry, but it tells volumes about the meaning of the Transfiguration, and about the whole Bible. You can structure an entire sermon around its parts. In fact, this morning, I did. Here's the collect:

O God, who in the glorious transfiguration of Thine only-begotten Son didst confirm the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the fathers, and who in the voice that came from the bright cloud didst in a wonderful manner foreshow the adoption of sons, mercifully vouchsafe to make us coheirs with the King of His glory, and bring us to the enjoyment of the same; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Unpacking that, we find that the subordinate clause which describes God is itself in two parts. The first (“who in the glorious transfiguration of Thine only-begotten Son didst confirm the mysteries of the faith by the testimony of the fathers”) is a reference to fathers Moses and Elijah who are talking to Jesus on the mount. St. Luke’s account (chapter 9) gives us these details, and tells of how they spoke of His “decease,” actually a weak translation of exhodon, which more literally means “exodus” (here's a nice subtle reference to the Lukan account in the traditional series, which always has the Matthean Transfiguration Gospel). That is, they were speaking about the greater Exodus through death to resurrection through Christ who is the greater Moses. “The mysteries of the faith” are the words of the entire Old Testament, as signified by Moses and Elijah. Most prominently, the Exodus through the Red Sea is a mystery foretelling Christ. This and all the mysteries are “confirmed” by the testimony of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. See, Moses and the prophets have always been talking about Jesus; now they are doing it face to face with Him. This confirms what they have always been saying. “Search the Scriptures,” He says; “They testify of Me.”

The second clause (“who in the voice that came from the bright cloud didst in a wonderful manner foreshow the adoption of sons”) refers to the fact that the voice of the Father calling Jesus His Son is an echo of His voice at Jesus’ Baptism, and in one fell swoop makes the connection between our Baptism and the adoption we receive as “sons” of God in the Son of God.

Next comes the petition itself “mercifully vouchsafe”—that wonderful old-world word “vouchsafe” means to grant or give, as by favor, graciousness, or condescension; the word is a summary of the whole Gospel, really; pity it was lost to our tongues—“to make us coheirs with the King of His glory,” which is to say, make us heirs of the glory of the King together with Him, “and bring us to the enjoyment of the same,” which is a cry for the return of Christ in glory.

This collect is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Count it one of many reasons the old way is better . . .

2 comments:

Lawrence said...

...because as a rule they have a tendency to remove 'heavy' subordinate clauses, to make things simpler, to sacrifice poetry for clarity, etc.

Because we humans have that terrible tendency to try and fix things that just aren't broken.

jwf said...

Wonderfully said!