The first time I visited the church we now attend, I heard this prayer and was struck by how beautiful it was. We pray it together before going forward for communion. No matter how many times I've prayed it over the years now, it is always powerful. While wrangling a toddler, I tend to miss portions of the service, but even if I'm picking him up from nursery or chasing him around the foyer, I lean in to the sanctuary to whisper the familiar and convicting words with the rest of the congregation. This first half is especially my favorite:
"We do not presume to come to this your table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your abundant and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up
the crumbs under your table;
but you are the same Lord
whose character is always to have mercy..."
No matter what I've done that week, how many times I've failed, or if I'm even failing in that very moment - I'm reminded of His ever abundant mercy. I don't need to muster up feelings of worthiness and righteousness to approach the throne of grace. I know what I've done, what I've left undone, and there are countless other things I don't realize (that the enemy will certainly use to accuse me at my worst). Yet - Christ is the same Lord whose character is always to have mercy. I can walk with my head high to the table where God meets my heart, in all of its disarray, with the promise that He has made me and will continue to keep me complete in Christ.
This prayer, The Prayer of Humble Access, was first published in the 1548 Book of Common Prayer. There is something beautiful about joining our voices with Christians who have prayed these same words for hundreds and hundreds of years - proclaiming His abundant and great mercy over our unworthiness.
This prayer has quite a few references to passages in scripture. This first half primarily comes from Matthew 8:8, when the Centurion says to Jesus, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof", and even more so from Matthew 15:27. This is the passage of the Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus and asks that He heal her daughter. Seemingly out of character, Jesus responds to her request, "'It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.' She said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' Then Jesus answered her, 'O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed instantly."
My husband, Jonathan, preached a sermon on this passage a couple years ago, and it makes me teary every time. I'll share a portion below, and if you'd like to listen to the full sermon, you can find it here.
"'She,' in verse 25, 'came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.' She does not stop her begging, though her outcome seems bleak. Where else will she go? To the idols of her people? They have not helped her daughter. She knows that the only one who can show her mercy is Jesus, and if he doesn’t, then she is doomed...
The Canaanite woman finds hope in Jesus’ statement. Verse 27: 'She said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' The word used for, 'yes,' here is the word used to confirm something. Another way of translating it could be, 'True, Lord.' This woman agrees with Jesus that she is a dog.
See, if she believes herself to be something greater, then she believes she can help herself. If she is the master, then she can find her own bread. But a dog, a dog begs for food. As many of the children look with skepticism at their plates of food, this dog barks and wails for just a taste.
This woman is a dog. And so are you. And so am I. In Matthew 9:13, Jesus makes it known why he came to Earth: 'I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.' If you think you are something great because of what you have accomplished, or if you think that you are good enough to be accepted by Christ then what does his death mean to you? You have no need of his death. Jesus died on the cross for sinners. He saves those who humble themselves, who fall to their knees crying, 'Yes, I am a dog - I deserve no place at the table. Have mercy on me, a sinner!'
When you come to this realization of who you truly are, any sized morsel you receive is eternal life to your soul. You will find hope in the crumbs of mercy. Oh just to have a taste of the mercy of Jesus. Oh the blessing of not being entitled to anything. A mere crumb that falls to the floor is salvation!
Ignored, rejected, and exposed, the woman still has faith in Jesus, because to have faith in anything else is foolishness. He has the word of life. Only he can heal. Only he can offer food that sustains. If he denies her, where else will she turn? No, the only answer is to continue falling to her knees before Jesus. This woman and you and I are unworthy to gather up the crumbs under his table.
But, for the one who acknowledges his sin before Jesus and cries out to him from beneath the table, his property is always to have mercy. And, in verse 28, we see the master bend over to the dog and say, 'O woman, great is your faith. Be it done for you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed instantly.' Jesus shows the disciples the extent of true faith and then feeds the woman. The Pharisees and scribes rejected the plate of Christ, but the woman feeds on him by faith with thanksgiving."
I've wanted this prayer printed and hung in my home for the longest time, and I finally have created the piece I need. Those words, printed on a flour sack kitchen towel
, hang in my kitchen as a reminder that no matter how many times I fail, striving to measure up, His promise is always to have mercy on His children. As I find myself using it to gather up the crumbs that have fallen beneath my kitchen table, I close my eyes in worship, looking forward. I've been promised a seat at the banquet of the King.
You can find the towel here.