Humility Before God
Updated: Aug 26, 2019
Trinity VI 2019
The Reverend Beau McLaurin Davis, Sr.
“If you die before you die, you will not die when you die.”
I read somewhere that that is a quote written above a door in one of the monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece; and whether or not that is true, I see it as a great and simple example of what process we undergo in the Justification and Sanctification through Christ. Contemporary Christianity seems to focus on the glory of Resurrection and eternal life without contemplating the debasement of death which we all have to suffer beforehand. As Saint Paul said in his Letter to the Romans:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Without death there cannot be life; and without life through Christ, our prayers and petitions fall on the ears of God which cannot hear us through our own rebelliousness.
This process of debasement, glory, and then petition is how we should function in all prayer. A convenient memory device is that prayer should follow the ACTS Method: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, then supplication. All good begging sessions with children and teens follow this same format. There is adoration (“Mom, you are the best mom out there: better than any of my friends’ moms.”), followed by confession (“I know that I haven’t kept my room clean like you want me to, and I am sorry for that.), then thanksgiving (“Thank you for not grounding me…”), and finally supplication (“...but could I possibly use the car Friday night?”). With all the buttering up, the blow of the request is lessened. Think of the demanding or unappreciative child: “give me that!” or “Please, please PLEASE!!!” Not only does it make you disinclined to grant their requests; but after a while, it feels like they have no appreciation for the good things they have.
Our liturgy for Holy Communion functions the same way. We don’t just jump into asking for God’s favor and then partaking in the salvation which Christ sacrificed himself to give us in his Body and Blood. After we approach Christ at the altar with reverence with the procession and hymns, ask for God to guide us through our worship of him in the Collect for Purity, and then set our intensions for the Mass through the Introit (all of which would be considered “adoration.” We then transition into confession.
Confession begins with culpability. If you do not know what it is that you have done wrong, then saying that you are sorry means nothing. This is the purpose of reciting the Decalogue and Summary of the Law. In doing so, we acknowledge those of God’s Commandments which we have violated, and then beg forgiveness for our transgressions. Strictly speaking, in the 1928 BCP the Decalogue is the standard, with the Summary said in addition. The Decalogue alternates declaration of God’s law and our admission of our violation of it, while the Summary actually encompasses all sins (both to God and all of his creation). We finalize our confession in begging for God’s forgiveness with the Kyrie.
The last vestige of Greek in the Western Church, the Kyrie is one of the most ancient portions of the liturgy. The original Greek (the language of the early Church, which is still recited in the most formal ceremonies) is “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy).” In the alternation of Lord, Christ, and Lord, we are addressing the three persons of the Trinity individually: Lord God the Father, Christ God the Son, and Lord God the Holy Ghost are all begged for forgiveness. Thus our confession of fault and plea for mercy from our sins is all of God, acknowledging all three persons’ participation in our salvation.
Our final portion of introductory confession also transitions us into prayers of thanksgiving. The Gloria in Excelsis is an early church Psalm which contains both confession and thanksgiving, which is why it works both after the Kyrie and after Communion (something peculiar to Anglican Prayer Books post-1552). You see a difference in posture here. We stand to sing, sit to learn, and kneel to pray. Up until this point, we are knelt in prayer (and even bowed deeper during the Kyrie). The priest begins thanksgiving for the congregation (“Glory be to God on High…”) and signals the end of our lamentation by lifting his head and hands toward heaven, at which point we begin our song of joyful praise (and it is traditionally a song). Only at this point are we in the right frame of mind, body, and spirit to ask for God’s graces (prayers of supplication).
We are too often unappreciative of the gifts which we are given in life. Like spoiled children, we only ask God for more and more, without reflecting on the sacrifices that God has made for us, the gifts which we already have been given, and our own undeservedness to receive any of it. Much of popular Christianity would have you lazy in your faith: convincing you that all you have to do is believe in the truth of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, without having to sacrifice anything yourself to be resurrected with him. In truth, our sacrifices are to be great! Our sacrifice is the debasement of who we are in order to be then sanctified into a new creature. Our sacrifice can be no less than death: the killing of ourselves and putting on Christ.