We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
Sometimes I feel like I am just turning into the crotchety old man who complains about everything. (At 58, I’d like to think I’m a little young for that, but still, that IS one of the benefits of aging…when I get there in two or three decades.) Whether it is my first symptom of senility or not, I find myself complaining how much i miss the 1928 Prayer Book. Not all of it mind you, but many of those prayers there are stunning, and remind me of my boyhood days as an acolyte. And, by damned, I MISS THEM!!!
The so-called “Prayer of Humble Access” (which in itself is a name so quaint it belongs in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations) is one of those prayers. In the old liturgy (and yes, it’s still a part of Eucharist One in the 1979 BCP, though hardly anyone uses it these days) it was recited just before the congregation processed to the altar, the “Lord’s table,” to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
The Gospel from this past Sunday (Matt. 15:20-28) talked a lot about gathering crumbs. A woman comes to Jesus who has a daughter “tormented by a demon.” (How many of us aren’t, at some point in our lives?) In response, Jesus — our loving, compassionate Savior — ignores her. And then, after she persists and kneels before him, imploring him and begging him, he compares her to a dog. She says though, even the dogs get the crumbs. Only then is Jesus moved.
Not a good picture.
Most Thursday mornings, I try to stumble my way to a small 7 a.m. Eucharist at my parish, followed by breakfast and scripture discussion of the lessons for the next Sunday. That group really wrestled with this Gospel last week. Some folks thought that Jesus knew all along what he was doing, and was simply putting the woman to a test. That would be something typical of the Jesus that often appears in John’s Gospel, but this was in Matthew.
Maybe Jesus was just being a jerk to this poor woman to prove a point. But tears begin to stream in my eyes not so much from a know-it-all Jesus, but rather, in those rare times of vulnerability, when I let myself believe I have a Savior fully capable of having a bad day.
We mouth the words that Jesus was “fully human and fully divine” but do we allow that he had the capacity of getting tired, and getting ticked off that even his own disciples often “didn’t get it,” and of snapping out at yet another lost soul who was coming to him to solve a problem that was not his? In that regard, this Jesus is a lot like me. But unlike me, this full human was fully divine, and was — and IS — even more capable of compassion and forgiveness and miraculous healing and being moved beyond my wildest imaginings and expectations.
Back in the day when we said the “Prayer of Humble Access” every Sunday, we honored this Gentile mother, and her persistence and “great faith” that moved Jesus so.
She moves me, too. And gives me an example that maybe, just maybe, during times of aridity and utter cold silence when I am imploring my Lord for an answer (or even just a damned clue might be nice) I am in good company.
Persistance. Patience. Faith. Trust. The Lord will move, when The Lord moves.