Blame/Guilt in the Liturgy

When I was growing up in the AME Zion church, there was a part of the liturgy called the Prayer of Humble Access, which we said every time we had communion; in our church, that was the first Sunday of the month. The prayer has long Anglican roots; the 1662 revision, which is at least a century after the original, reads: 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. I have to say that that line about the crumbs under the Table always bothered me as a child. It’s supposed to be a humble prayer, not a groveling one.

Conversely, there’s a good Lenten hymn called Ah, Holy Jesus. The second verse: Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee. Damn thing tears me up every time. EVERY TIME. I have to wonder if it’s the music that makes it more moving for me, wheras I find the prayer pendantic.

Probably. We do a lot of music in our current service, such as the psalter, and while I’m quite fond of it, at least one woman in the congregation finds it stressful because she’s trying to get it right.

0 thoughts on “Blame/Guilt in the Liturgy”

  1. The hymn I always associate with Good Friday is Go to dark Gethsemane. The last line of the third verse (“…learn of Jesus Christ to die”) always used to get me when I was a kid.

    Nowadays, though no longer religious, certain passages of the bible still get to me, even if hymns don’t. To be fair, it’s also true that TV commercials can sometimes make me tear-up, so maybe I’ve simply grown more sentimental as I’ve grown older. In any case, it’s interesting what gets to people.


  2. I have a problem with people who pray early in the morning, for forgiveness of the sins they did that day. They hardly are awake and haven’t done anything bad yet. Better to pray to be delivered from evil and not to be led into temptation.


  3. I get what you mean about the distinction between groveling and humility, and the negative response you have to this prayer. For me, this negativity is further reinforced by its associations with the passage in scripture where Jesus is talking to the Syrophoenician women who comes seeking healing from him for her daughter and he responds, “it isn’t good to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to the dogs!” to which she responds “Sir, even the dogs under the table get to eat scraps dropped by children!” which impresses him and results in him healing her daughter. When I hear that passage I often think “Ouch! Jesus!?! That is harsh!”

    About this passage, I have often wondered if Jesus was invoking some kind of idiom that had a meaning that is lost to us modern, non-Middle Easterners. And, if we knew the significance of this idiom and the tone in which Jesus spoke these words we would get that he was moving beyond the cultural prejudices of the Jews. Perhaps he was encouraging this woman to respond as she did as a kind of witty repartee. The point being, that this woman knew that Jesus’ primary mission was about Israel, but beyond that, perhaps the Spirit communicated to her that Israel was supposed to be about the world, and not just themselves, and this knowledge is what prompted her to respond as she did.

    In saying all this, I realize that I am offering pure speculation, and in the end, it still seems harsh. That said, I am a proud person, and so it bruises my ego. Of course, the negative reaction is not just about egoism, it also emerges from the sense that both the passage in Scripture and the prayer doesn’t seem to match what we know of God’s gracious attitude towards sinners. Jesus came so that we could become genuine Sons of God, and not just dogs in his household.


  4. I am Catholic, and during our Palm Sunday services we do a sort of staged reading of the Passion of Christ, The Priesst says the words of Jesus, one Lector does the naration, another does the words of Pilate, Peter, et al. The congregation does the voices of the people. The part I cannot bring myself to say out loud is in answer to Pilate’s, “What should I do with this Jesus?” I will not say, “Crucify him!” It Feels wrong.


  5. I can see the point of being grateful for one’s food, perhaps it is high time we all learned to appreciate what we eat.

    But really, is thanking the Sky God the best way to do that? Doesn’t that separate us from the food itself, from the life that is sacrificed daily so that we can live?

    By all means, give the Sky God credit for our food if you wish. But perhaps when we eat we should pray thanks to the plants and animals that died for us. Would that not be the proper way to give thanks to the Sky God for our food?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s