Lord I am not worthy…

[ now playing? ] matt maher – the end and the beginning

Today is the:
18th/19th Sunday after Trinity Sunday/Pentecost (Anglican)
8th Sunday of Kingdomtide (Methodist)
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Roman Catholic)

It’s never really hit me like it has today about these particular words. I was looking over them again earlier on in the day. Those of you who are Roman Catholic out there should recognize them as it is said at every Mass before one comes forward to receive the Eucharist:

“Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

My fellow Protestants, you’ll find that this line is an adaptation of Holy Scripture to our viewpoint when we come to worship God and we realize that it’s not by our own doing that we are saved (and healed), but that it’s God’s. The Scripture verses that this is adapted from is found in the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 7, where the Roman centurion says to Christ:

“Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Lk 7:6-7, NIV)

We Methodists and Anglican/Episcopalians, we have a similar (but substantially longer) saying – well, it’s actually a prayer – before the distribution of the Eucharistic elements that takes its inspiration from chapter 15 of St. Matthew’s Gospel where Christ has a chat with a Canaanite woman who wants her daughter to be freed from demonic possession:

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Mat 15:26-28, NIV)

I have a feeling that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, in reforming of the Sarum rite that preceeded the Book of Common Prayer, decided to keep the best of the Roman tradition but simplify it for the English church. We all know it now simply as the prayer that starts off as “We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord…” or the “Prayer of Humble Access/Humble Before The Lord prayer”.

Both prayers though emphasize one thing. In both cases, Christ says to the Centurion and the Canaanite woman words to the effect of: “You have great faith!!! Go now and who you asked me to heal will be healed!” It reminds me of the fact that it is not because of what I do that reconciles me to God, but instead it is God Himself who heals me from my broken-ness and reconciles me to Himself.

A further thought came from this verse though as I meditated over these words on my way to and from church this morning, listening to Matt Maher’s The End and the Beginning.

The lyrics read:

Transubstantiation; Heaven kisses Earth / We become a living tabernacle

So wisdom, be attentive; steady my shaking mind / Let this be my reality; more than just bread and wine

This is the end and the beginning / This is the eighth day of creation / One with saints and angels / In our song of thanksgiving

Revelation; history shows the love / Of the ancient Father; for His one and only son

Jesus, I am not worthy; I am a broken man / But only say the word, and I will be healed again

Holy is the Lamb; Holy is the Lamb

(emphasis mine)

As an evangelical Methodist – well, I’m more like an Anglican in my thinking re: the sacraments – I do not agree and reject the Roman Catholic teaching of transubstantiation. Stating that the bread and wine (or in my church’s case, unfermented grape juice) actually turns into/becomes the body and blood of Christ is beyond reason and makes no sense to me (kudos to Matt Maher for using it in a song though, I never thought that I’d ever hear a song with the word “transubstantiation” in it.).

The teaching of Zwingli about the Eucharist being instead taken as a memorial also do not satisfy my mind (this also is known as “symbolism”). It is too simplistic and reductionist a view that does not take into account the seriousness of Christ’s words as the disciples gathered around the table in the Upper Room that fateful night.

Instead, Luther’s understanding of what happens to the Eucharistic elements after they are consecrated (consubstantiation) is more palatable to my reason. Another way of putting it is the term Real Presence). Or as John Donne put it (but which has wrongly been attributed to Queen Elizabeth I):

‘Twas the Word that spake it; He took the bread and brake it; And what the Word doth make it; That I believe and take it

This is the particular Eucharistic theology that I hold to (and one which makes sense to me and my conscience). This historically is the position held by the two Wesley brothers and the Anglican church (though the formula in Cranmer’s BCP is also akin with transignification). The funny thing is that this view isn’t really taught in my current church now where a vast majority of those there hold to a memorialist/symbolic view of the Eucharist (which is primarily an evangelical view that I don’t agree with, though I do accept it as a view that one could take).

Some people might say that I’m splitting hairs over this, but the way in which I view Holy Communion in my mind deeply affects the way I treat it. If it was purely a memorial to me, talking, etc during the time might be appropriate (heck, it’s only a meal then, why not break out a few Brewskis as well as the beer nuts). But in affirming the Real Presence of Christ at the celebration of the Eucharist, there is a certain “otherness” to it in realizing that Christ is there with us in some way that we do not know – a holy, sacred mystery indeed. For me that makes it a sacred time in a sacred space and connects me with all the faithful in the past who have also partaken of Christ’s body and blood – a communion indeed with Christ Himself and all the saints who have come before me.

For those of you who are interested in the other theologies of the Eucharistic celebration, take a look at this Wikipedia article which compares and contrasts the differing theologies of the main Christian traditions and make up your own mind.



6 thoughts on “Lord I am not worthy…”

  1. Really good post. I’m a former Southern Baptist turned Anglican and am also a Lay Cistercian of Gethsemani Abbey. As you can probably deduce, I no longer see the Eucharist as symbolic as I once did. With all that said, I don’t tend to struggle too much between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. I just know Jesus is present in the Eucharist. I definitely like this statement:
    But in affirming the Real Presence of Christ at the celebration of the Eucharist, there is a certain “otherness” to it in realizing that Christ is there with us in some way that we do not know – a holy, sacred mystery indeed. For me that makes it a sacred time in a sacred space and connects me with all the faithful in the past who have also partaken of Christ’s body and blood – a communion indeed with Christ Himself and all the saints who have come before me.

    It’s definitely a holy, sacred mystery. I am so glad that we all get to enter into that mystery.


  2. I am a former Trappist monk, now an Episcopalian contemplative, and could have sworn I saw something about an anglican or episcopalian lay cistercian association in the southern atlantic region, but now can’t find any reference to it on the web.

    Does anyone here know about them?


  3. Paul teaches us beautifully in 1Corinthians 17, where he teaches us the importance of not looking at it simply as a meal. Bringing judgement on ourselves if we receive it unworthily by not examining ourselves and discerning. It is a spiritual meal with Christ truly present, not just a symbol. The Eucharist brings us in full union with the Body of Christ, where Christ offers us his true Body, Soul and Divinity. One bread, one Body. We enter into him and he in us, through this gift. This can also bring new understanding when we hear “and the word was made flesh and dwelt among us” What a gift we have in the Eucharist, where the bread becomes his flesh and dwells within us.

    1Corinthians 17
    “In giving this instruction, I do not praise the fact that your meetings are doing more harm than good. First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it; there have to be factions among you in order that (also) those who are approved among you may become known. When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper,for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk. Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed? What can I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I do not praise you. For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgment.”

    Thank you for stirring hearts to ponder this.

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