Then follows the Summary of the Law, or The Decalogue.
Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ says:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
The Summary of the Law was first used in the Prayer Book by English Non-Jurors in 1718 as a substitute for the Decalogue. The first American Prayer Book of 1789 adopted the Summary of the Law as either an addition to the Decalogue or as a substitution for the Decalogue. All modern revisions of the Prayer Book in the various provinces of the Anglican Communion have followed the American example by including the Summary of the Law. Ironically the American 1979 Book of Common Prayer removed the Summary of the Law and the Decalogue from most of its Eucharistic Liturgies.
I am thankful that every liturgy in the 2019 BCP includes the Summary of the Law. The 2019 BCP includes a reference to the book, chapter and verse of the Summary (Matthew 22:37-40). This is a welcomed addition and helps to accomplish Thomas Cranmer's vision of praying the scriptures.
Why do we say the Summary of the Law?
The Decalogue or 10 commandments was given to the people of God after the Exodus. These commandments are what formed them into God’s people. Jesus sums up the rules for God’s people through his words in Matthew. When Jesus was confronted by a Pharisee who asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus responded with the Great Commandment or the Summary of the Law.
These words of Jesus are meant to remind us of what God requires of his people. If we are to be people who presently live in God’s kingdom we need to know what that means. As kingdom people our devotion to God is our first priority. Saint Paul tells us that “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) God is never far from us and is always pouring his own creative power into us. Our loving worship is a response to his grace to us. Our heart, our soul and our mind are all gifts that He has given us. We are told to use those gifts to love the one who gives.
The second commandment of loving our neighbor is inseparable from the first and greatest commandment. Saint John makes this clear when we says, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) Some of our greatest acts of devotion to our Lord come when we love our neighbors. In fact, it is when we are totally devoted to God that we are able to truly love our neighbors. The same total commitment that is required to love God is required also to love those whom He created in His own image.
This week as we reflect on the summary of the law ask yourself what is it that you love? Has God captured your heart, soul and mind? How can you love your neighbor this week?