“The life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” said Thomas Hobbes. “Life is an indefinite waiting for an explanation that never comes.” (Samuel Becket). Do these statements ring a bell deep in your memories? Have you ever found such words rather involuntarily prodding your mind? Has black despair never given you that “sinking” feeling? Has the self-destructive temptation to shake your fist bitterly at heaven never flickered across your mind? Has suicide never been more than something which afflicts the disturbed minds of other people? Have you suffered? Perhaps it is an illness which seems to sentence to death. Perhaps it is an anxiety your closest friend cannot imagine. Perhaps it is irrational and you know it – but its real. Perhaps it’s a memory. Perhaps it is someone – someone who hates – someone who’s gone.
What can you do? ‘Snap out of it,’ ‘Keep your chin up’, ‘Trust in God’? The glibness of such advice often drains it of any usefulness. A few hundred words cannot give you the answer but here are a few thoughts on the Prayer Book Communion Service. I believe that the healing power of this Sacrament is immense.
The opening collect acknowledges that our hearts, desires, and secrets are open to God.
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
You’re not alone in your darkness. He knows. He shares. He knows the worst. But it will help to acknowledge it. You’re not alone in your guilt for we all plead mercy in the Confession for breaking God’s law.
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
maker of all things, judge of all people,
we acknowledge and lament our many sins
and the wickedness we have committed time after time,
by thought, word and deed against your divine majesty.
We have provoked your righteous anger
and your indignation against us.
We earnestly repent,
and are deeply sorry for these our wrongdoings;
the memory of them weighs us down,
the burden of them is too great for us to bear.
Have mercy upon us,
have mercy upon us, most merciful Father.
For your Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
forgive us all that is past;
and grant that from this time forward
we may always serve and please you in newness of life,
to the honour and glory of your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Perhaps this Confession is the most helpful for you because its words are so intense. One cannot say them sincerely without feeling a certain release and cleansing which is underlined by the Absolution (declaration of forgiveness afetr the Confession). Notice also that it is not we who cleanse our hearts but the Holy Spirit. (See the opening collect). If, in spite of this, you have difficulty over guilt then the old prayerbook suggests you ‘open (your) grief’ to some ‘discreet. . . Minister of God’s Word’ who is bound to respect what you make clear to him is in confidence.
What comfort there is in the Comfortable Words! Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. That’s a promise. You can cling to it and boldly claim it. Jesus came for sinners. Hecame for you.
But what relevance has the “Lift up your hearts” and the praise to the Lord of Heaven? Great relevance. See 1 Thess 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Look at the testimony of Habakkuk (3:17-18), “Though the fig tree do not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Praise and thanksgiving turn your attention away from yourself and open your soul to receive the healing grace of God. It is not nearly so difficult as it sounds. Try it and see.
Then there is the Prayer of Consecration over the bread and wine speaking of God’s ‘tender mercy’ and Christ’s full answer to all sin. The Bread and Wine speak of that dark night of the soul which alone Christ experienced on the Cross – God forsaken. The dread, the black despair, the agonising loneliness He must have felt then. Here is God’s love. Here is the sympathetic, ever-present, ever-involved High Priest. He’s there with you. — sharing your suffering. No matter what you can’t understand, here is Love.
And so the Words of Administration say the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . “preserve your body and soul to everlasting life.” Through the Healing Sacrament the Lord can bring peace, cleansing and deliverance to your whole being.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction