GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
This is the collect for Ascension Day (this coming Thursday). The day on which the tide turns and we start looking towards Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and beyond to a period of ‘ordinary Sundays’. The Book of Common Prayer (finalised in 1662, but the language in it is as much as 100 years older) contains a prayer for every week that was meant to sum up (collect up) the prayers at every particular service during that week. These ‘collects’ are largely the work of Cranmer, and these prayers alone have given our Anglican church a very strong branding. There is no Christian church in the whole wide world that has such beautifully worded short and to the point prayers as our collects. Over the years they have been modified and modernised, but the original ones remain available to us in the Book of Common Prayer. One difference between the old and the modern versions is that Cranmer knew life to be much more fragile than we experience it today. Many of his prayers remind us that life on earth can be short or full of struggles. For him this meant that we need to live our lives with one eye at least firmly fixed on our destiny in heaven. One of the reformation insights was that it was the work of Christ that would get us there, and this also is reflected in many of his collects. In the Ascension Day collect it is the unusual word ‘thither’ (now largely out of use!) which pithily raises our eyes above the earthly parapet, and helps us to reflect on our destiny.