It is never helpful to split the world into broad-brush, false dichotomies, but there seems to be two kinds of people in this world: those who can handle blood and gore, and those who cannot. I’m mostly in the latter category. I hate horror movies, not because I don’t like to be scared (though the older I get, the more I don’t like that either), but because of my weak constitution when it comes to blood and guts. Even war flicks are too much for me, and as a result, I’ve missed out on classics like Saving Private Ryan. I chose to do my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training in a tiered-care retirement facility rather than the Level 1 Trauma Centers all of my friends were flocking to. I’ve resisted the urge to volunteer as a police chaplain, because I don’t want to be the new guy in the corner, puking my guts out.
It may come as a surprise, then, that one of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer is the Prayer of Humble Access. This is an optional prayer as part of the post-fraction in Rite I. It may or may not be said, with the congregation joining in or not. We say it most Sundays here at Christ Church, even though in the wider culture, its themes would seem to by fairly unpopular. For those who maybe don’t know it, I’ve copied it form page 337:
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 we may evermore dwell in him,
and he in us. Amen.
From the uncomfortable reference to that time Jesus made a racial slur, to the idea that we might be somehow unworthy of God’s grace, a wildly unpopular concept in 21st century mainline Protestantism, to the imagery of eating flesh and drinking blood, this prayer challenges the modern American mainline Protestant at every turn. Yet, this prayer is also profoundly, if uncomfortably, biblical. Sunday’s Gospel lesson is round 3 of our five week foray into the bread of life discourse. This week, Jesus doubles down on the idea that the bread that God has given for eternal life is his very own flesh.
There is some comfort in the knowledge that this was as difficult to hear at the time as it is now. Yet, there is also the ongoing reality that we need the nourishment that can come only from Christ’s own self. For those, like me, who don’t enjoy blood and gore, this imagery can be hard to swallow, but Jesus is clear that we need to come to the Table, to eat the flesh of God and to drink the blood of Christ, in order to be continually renewed for the ministry to which we are called.