The Prayer of Humble Access was beautifully written by the Anglican reformer Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer had in mind many biblical themes when he wrote this prayer.
First we see that of the Centurion’s faith in Matthew 8:5-13. The Centurion came to Jesus and asked him to heal his servant lying at home paralyzed. Jesus says he will go and heal him. The Centurion strangely enough refuses Jesus saying, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.” This Gentile Centurion understood his proper standing before God as one who is unworthy. He was not a part of God’s people. Yet he also understood Jesus’ merciful character and the authority that Jesus holds over life. From this exchange the servant was healed and Jesus calls this Centurion a faithful member of His Kingdom. The Centurion becomes a model for us for approaching God at his table.
Second is the story of The Faith of the Canaanite Woman in Matthew 15:21-28. She also is a Gentile looking for Jesus to remove demonic forces from her daughter. Jesus will not help her because she is not a Jew, saying
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “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.
Jesus takes seriously the fact that He was only sent to help His people! What he does in these two stories is redefine who His people are. His people are those who come to Him with humble hearts, understanding their need for a savior and believing that Jesus has the power and character to save them. Cranmer takes the story of this woman gathering up the crumbs and re-purposes them in understanding the Eucharist. What crumbs do we gather at the Lord’s table? It is Jesus himself and his most worthy sacrifice. This leads us into the third biblical theme.
A third theme speaks of the Eucharist more directly. In John 6:53-56 Jesus tells his disciples,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
Jesus teaches us that we must feed on Him for life. He says that He is the true food and drink. Everything else that you might eat in your life will not lead to real and eternal life. Jesus then gives us a great mystery. In feeding on our Lord in the Eucharist He abides in us and we abide in Him. The abiding of God with man is the true source of eternal life. Jesus dies and yet he lives! If we abide in Him we share in His life. This is the meaning of Cranmer's final line in our prayer for humble access. “that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.”
Prayer of Humble Access
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.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord,
so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ,
and to drink his blood,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body,
and our souls washed through his most precious blood,
and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
Holy Trinity Anglican Church
PO Box 81804, San Diego, CA 92138