Belief transforms behavior. That is the message of Thomas Cranmer’s two Scripture readings for Easter Sunday (John 20:1-10 and Col. 3:1-7). Because we are united to the resurrected Christ in faith, the power that raised him from the dead is always at work in us, drawing us ever closer to Christ and true Christ-likeness. But we all know that growing in godliness is far easier said than done. How do we practically live out Paul’s instruction to change our old, God-denying, self-destroying habits?
Mortify therefore your earthy members: fornication, uncleanness, unnatural lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is worshipping of idols . . . among whom ye walked sometime when ye lived in them (Col. 3:5, 7).
Cranmer’s collects are designed to help us live out the life to which the Scriptures call us. So ever the consummate pastor, Cranmer’s Collect for Easter Sunday takes head on how we should seek to change. But he doesn’t start where we might expect. He doesn’t start with us—not by reminding us of our obligation before God, not by trying to stir up the intensity of our desire to be better, not even by seeking to spur our will-power to make good choices. He simply begins by relying on God’s promise in Phil. 2:13: “For it is God, which worketh in you, both the will and also the deed, even of good will.” Cranmer starts our pursuit of holiness with God’s pursuit of us.
He does so by using three key words: “thy special grace preventing us.” In the context of Cranmer’s time, “special” means “supernatural.” “Grace” means “the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us.” “Preventing” means “going beforehand.” Henry VIII’s 1543 theological textbook for the church accurately summarizes Cranmer’s point:
[After the Fall of Adam and Eve], the high power of man’s reason and freedom of will were wounded and corrupted, and all men thereby brought into such blindness and infirmity, that they cannot eschew sin, except they be illumined and made free by an especial grace, that is to say, by a supernatural help and working of the Holy Ghost.
Only the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit can show us our sin and woo us from it. Therefore, our sole hope for living out Col. 3:5 is to trust God’s promise in Phil 2:13. We begin to grow closer to God, when we ask him to go ahead of us, giving us both the desire to be different and the power to do so.
United to him by faith, let’s pray that the power of Christ’s resurrection will be active in us today.
-Revd Canon Dr Ashley Null