Near the beginning of the Episcopal worship service we sing a hymn called The Gloria. One stanza from this song has an eerie power over me. Specifically, it’s the last three words that I cannot ignore.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.
Receive our prayer. When we sing this line we stretch out the word receive in a way that I find compelling. “Receeeeeive our prayer.”
For reasons I do not understand, these three words have a direct line to an emotional center in me. I feel things again when we sing them. The cadence of my heart speeds up and I can feel it pounding behind my ribs. This happens to me even on bad Sundays. Even on Sundays when the words of the church have lost all meaning and and have turned to a babbling noise in my ears. When these words are spoken I can remember the way I used to be when I thought church words were important, and when I thought we were pleasing God by gathering on Sunday mornings to worship.
Once I was a small boy with my feet dangling from the pews while his father stood in the pulpit and proclaimed the Word of the Lord. Now I am a middle-aged man who turns his face away from the pulpit and looks to the back of the church for an exit. But then those words hit me. Receive our prayer. And I think maybe I should stay.
I think that phrase gives me a sense of the fragile reality of the Church. The Church may seem very solid to you. Very ancient and unyielding, a vast movement of human belief and thought that stretches behind us for thousands of years. But these words reveal a more fragile side of her. Here are people who ask only that their prayers be received. Not answered. Just received. The humblest of requests. Our desires offered to the intelligence behind the universe to be heard. Noted. Held in the mind of the Almighty, the Ancient of Days, the Old One.
I could die with nothing more than that. No heaven. No hell. No miracles or healings. No promises. Nothing owed to me. Just the tender hope that I was known.