First Sunday in Lent

Author: The Revd Dr Peter Toon


O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Collect Commentary

This is one of three Collects in the BCP of 1662 addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ instead of to his Father. The others are for Advent III and St. Stephen's Day. The reason why this Collect is addressed to Jesus is because of the desire at the beginning of Lent to identify with him in his forty days & nights fast and by the Father's grace to reap the spiritual benefits of union with him.

It was composed for the first Book of the Common Prayer of 1549 and replaced one, addressed to the Father, that had been used in the medieval Church. This Latin prayer in the judgment of Archbishop Cranmer put too much emphasis upon the value before God as a good work of fasting. As translated it is: "O God, who purifiest thy Church by the yearly observance of the Lenten fast: Grant unto thy household, that it may follow out in good works those holy inspirations which it endeavours to obtain from thee by abstinence. Through Jesus Christ our Lord."

So the new prayer does not lessen the obligation to fasting but identifies fasting with the Lord Jesus (the Gospel for the Day describes his fasting) who as the New Man, the Second Adam, fasted in body by abstinence from food and drink, and in soul, by his bearing our sins. In our Lord there was no sin and since fasting is the expression of penitence, humiliation and mourning, his fasting was not for himself. He fasted for us both in his identification with man as a sinner before God, his Father, and also as providing an example of godliness to man.

Perhaps the petition in this Collect is inspired by Romans 8:13. "If ye live after the flesh [as your natural bodily desires and affections propose] ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit (by his presence, power and guidance) do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." By the discipline of fasting in Lent, which is offered in love to the Lord Jesus as a service unto him, we place ourselves in the position where the Holy Spirit is able to help us mortify, or put to death, the worldly, fleshly desires of our human nature and body, and in their place follow the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost, thereby enabling us to obey Christ's teaching. In all this Christ is our Strength and our Example.

The Collect ends with an ascription of praise and glory to the Holy Trinity for the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Incarnate Son, is the Second Person thereof.

On this Sunday and during the week the Church continues to pray the Collect for Ash Wednesday.


Epistle 2 Corinthians 6. 1-10

WE then, as workers together with him, beseech you also, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain; (for he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation;) giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed; but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God; by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left; by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.


Gospel St Matthew 4.1-11

THEN was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an-hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down; for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan; for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.