Devotion Thursday May 7
In the context of the English Reformation, the Collect appointed for the Third Sunday after Easter sought a reformation not only in the hearts of the English people but also in their church’s faith and practice. Of course, the two were related. If the church taught erroneous doctrine and devotions, the people were sure to take to heart false hopes and experience much heartache as a result. The Reformers knew they needed to return the Church of England to the scriptural way of salvation in order to deliver the English people from the hamster wheel of approval-earning.
But good teaching wasn’t enough. They also knew that they had to free people from false practices like paying for a priest to pray their loved ones out of Purgatory. But even stopping misguided devotions wasn’t enough. Cranmer realized he needed to be proactive - to nurture in people’s hearts a love for those things which would truly draw them closer to God and others. Thus, Cranmer did not emphasize Bible reading only so people would know the truth. He wanted them to see as well that Bible reading was also God’s own instrument for supernaturally moving their hearts to love and obey him.
According to his ‘Homily on Scripture’, God worked supernaturally through the Bible to turn people’s hearts to himself and the doing of his will: “[The words of Holy Scripture] have the power to convert [our souls] through God’s promise, and they be effectual through God’s assistance.” Whoever “is diligent in reading [God’s Word] and in his heart to print that he readeth, the great affection to the transitory things of this world shall be diminished in him, and the great desire of heavenly things that be therein promised of God shall increase in him.” Nothing does more to turn us to “innocence and pureness of the heart” within and godly conduct without, “as continual reading and meditation of God’s Word.” For the perpetual reading and diligent study of Holy Scripture engraves its precepts so deeply on the human heart that over time these truths become almost the instinctive character of the reader. Consequently, “the hearing and keeping of it maketh us blessed, sanctifieth us and maketh us holy.” Little wonder, then Cranmer urged that “these books… ought to be much in our hands, in our eyes, in our ears, in our mouths, but most of all in our heart.”
Cranmer even went so far as to call the Bible “the most holy relic that remaineth upon the earth.” He wanted the English people to devoutly look to the Bible for the supernatural power that the medieval church had taught them to seek in the bones and belongings of dead saints. In Scripture, they would find everything they needed to learn about God and their own situation. In Scripture, they would also truly experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. In Scripture, they would meet God and become one with him in their hearts.
Today, because there can be so much disagreement about where truth is found, Christians can easily focus on the importance of the Bible as the ultimate authority for knowing God and our true selves. While that is true, it is not enough. We must remember that Holy Scripture is not merely a rule book for us to follow in our own strength. It is also the source of the supernatural power we need to “follow all such things as be agreeable to [our Christian profession].” The Holy Spirit comes into our hearts and minds through Scripture. Whether proclaimed through prayer, bible-reading, or the sacraments, the Spirit works through the Word to line up our thoughts and desires with God’s purpose and provision for our lives.
Therefore, let us ask for God to work supernaturally through Scripture to inspire us in our Christian walk by praying Cranmer’s collect.