Receiving God Worthily
Trinity XII 2019
The Reverend Beau McLaurin Davis, Sr.
Receiving God worthily (Exhortation, Bodily Sacrifice, “Although we are unworthy…”, Paternoster, Pax, Agnes Dei, Humble Access, Centurion’s Prayer)
Whenever I was in school, I studied the History of Christianity as my major (and somehow ended up spending just as much time on World Religions, which ended up getting my foot in the door for teaching). The Protestant Reformation became my focus when I got to UGA. The Reformation had four branches in the 16th century: Reform (which were the Calvinists), Evangelical (the Lutherans), Anabaptist (Mennonites & Amish), and Anglican. Embarrassingly enough, even though you spend huge amounts of time studying the Calvinists & Lutherans, and a decent time covering at least the theology of the Anabaptists; whenever you study the Reformation, you focus on the English Reformation for about a day or two. It was the starting point for the majority of Protestant denominations (Anglicanism and its children: Wesleyan Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, Pentecostals, and many more), but the Reformation in England is boiled down to a brief explanation of the Tudor dynasty (Henry VIII through Elizabeth I). One of the reasons for this is that, while the Reformation in Continental Europe completely threw out Catholic teachings (just a couple of things for the Lutherans, but the entire Church for the Anabaptists), the purpose of the English Reformation was to fix what was broken. We barely changed anything. Minus the use of English and rejecting the authority of the Bishop of Rome, the majority of drastic differences (that is, as some are want to say, “too Catholic”) between Anglicanism and Rome come from things which they came up with after we left. What the Anglican tradition succeeded in doing was to reevaluate the reasons behind the Church’s positions. In everything, we evaluated the faith through the lenses of tradition, scripture, and reason. In respect to this, the compromise between the staunchly Catholic and increasingly Protestant bishops of the 16th century were the 39 Articles of Religion, which were meant to be worded in a manner which could be agreed to by both parties. Anything which was not found therein is determined by the theology of the Prayer Book.
Jack Chick (the fellow who wrote all those angry cartoon books which people give you on street corners, or leave in public restrooms and mechanic’s waiting rooms) in some ways seems to have influenced 21st century Anglicanism more than actual Anglican teachings. One of his comic book Chick Tracts, called Death Cookie, lays out how it is only your inner feelings toward Jesus which grant Salvation, and the partaking of the bread and wine of Holy Communion is a superstition which attempts to gain Salvation through works and idolatry. Bread cannot become the Body of Christ, and actions cannot in any way save you, therefore you are worshipping a “death cookie” idol. Any church that teaches you that Real Presence or that partaking in Holy Communion saves you is perpetuating the lies of the Catholic Church (which was started as Egyptian sun worship, btw).
“How can the actions of broken people (the priest who claims to participate in the sacrifice of Christ, and the congregants who receive it with their lips) possibly save them? Doesn’t the Bible say that we are saved by faith alone, by Grace alone?” Well, no it doesn’t; and yes it does (kind of). There are two references which Protestants use to show salvation through faith alone: Galatians 2:16, “know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ;” and Romans 3:28, “we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.” The word alone is no where in there until Martin Luther himself inserted it. Both statements are rejections of Saint Paul against the Laws of Moses; but the necessity of actions + faith are repeated continuously by Christ in the Gospels and the Apostles in the Epistles. God dispenses Grace, but it is poured out upon you by commitments which you perform because of your faith in Christ. “What does that mean? We cannot do things worthy enough to please God.” Not on our own, no. Faith guides us to believe in Christ and then do what he told us to do: repent our sins, love our neighbor, love God, convert nonbelievers, and receive salvation through baptism and His Body and Blood. Those are the things which Christ commanded us to do, the last two being physical actions absolutely necessary to be saved. The Salvation (Grace, if you will) is not anything which you produce or earn: it is something which you submit to and unworthily participate in.
Our unworthiness in the reception of salvation is the theme of the lead-up to the reception of Communion itself. You are warned of the dangers of receiving it without repentance and contemplation of the gravity of partaking of the Blessed Sacrament whenever we read the Exhortations. Taking it offhandedly, flippantly, or while being at odds with your neighbor leads to your damnation instead of its intended Salvation. We offer Christ many sacrifices in the Mass (that perpetual worship which is the Mass, our devotion, our praise, our selves [soul and body]), all which we know and fully admit to being insufficient to earn our way into God’s graces. In fact, we proclaim that the mere weighing of our offences versus merits would without a doubt earn us the condemnation we don’t otherwise think we deserve.
Being undeserved of forgiveness, we then approach Christ in humility by asking for humble things. In the Lord’s Prayer, we have a stark comparison between the greatness of God and our lowly estate; and are taught that in that light, we are to ask for the simple things we still do not deserve (daily sustenance, forgiveness, prevention). The Pax (passing the peace) is the petition for tranquility for ourselves and those around us (as opposed to material of any sort). The secret prayer of the priest once again asks forgiveness, but then asks for the prayers of all the Saints for God to keep us “safe from all disquietude.” This ends with our forgiveness of one another by wishing each other God’s peace, and then together asking for the gift of mercy and tranquility in the Agnes Dei (“O Lamb of God”).
We end our approach to God-ward with the final proclamation of our knowledge that what is about to happen to us is of no wise our work of salvation, but the desperate act of broken people submitting to their creator and redeemer. This we do in two acts: the Prayer of Humble Access and the Centurion’s Prayer. The Prayer of Humble Access, in many parishes, is said by the whole congregation (which is in a way forbidden in the 28 Prayer Book, but encouraged in the Missal as long as the people say it quietly to themselves). Together, in it we recognize that we deserve God to cast us aside, but know that through God’s mercy we discontinue to be our sinful selves, and become one him both body and soul. Our final act of self-debasement before our savior is in the Centurion’s Prayer. Taken from Matthew chapter 8 and Luke chapter 7, we echo the words of a powerful man with great faith in his submission to Christ. While disliked by many, our participation in the salvation gained in the Body and Blood of Christ is perfectly outlined by the words of this prayer. We will never be worthy for Christ to come to us, but with his will, he can and does save us.