Ash Wednesday, bedridden, Collect, comfort, compassion, Daily Office, encouragement, face to the wall, grace, king hezekiah, Lent, Matins, mercy, prayer, prayer god, prophet isaiah, sick, trials, Vespers, welcome reminder
One of the unique things about Vespers I’ve noticed is the fact that I can bring an entire day’s struggles, tiredness, sorrow, regret, or frustrations — whatever I went through that day — and lay it down as I set everything else aside and focus on the Word and the simple chants that carry it. Tonight was a good example of that. Several things stood out for me and encouraged my heart.
I don’t know if many people know this (I didn’t, until just recently) but each day in Lent has its own sets of readings and prayers. It’s my intention to blog each of these prayers on the day it’s appointed for in Lent, so you can see them and maybe make use of them yourself if you want to. I also hope to use the appointed daily readings during Matins or Vespers (or both!), but if that actually happens or not, we’ll see. Tonight’s readings were from Isaiah 38:1-6 and Matthew 8:5-13.
In Isaiah 38, the Lord tells King Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah that Hezekiah will die. Then Hezekiah turns his face to the wall and prays. Nobody is looking at him, nobody else is listening to him, it’s just him and God. What he says seems to focus on good works, but what he means is: Lord, I’m one of Your people. I trust in You. Don’t let this happen to me, not just yet. Please.
And the Lord hears his prayer. God has mercy on him and delays his death another fifteen years, and promises on top of that to deliver Jerusalem; “and I will defend this city.” It was a welcome reminder that even when our prayers don’t seem to “get it right,” to be phrased just so or to hit just the right notes, God still hears them and He knows our hearts. He shows His love and compassion on all He has made, as the collect for Ash Wednesday reminds us — and that includes me too. When you too turn your face to the wall and pray to Him, He will also hear from heaven — and forgive.
The other reading for today comes from Matthew 8:5-13. This is a reading from Epiphany, but it’s reused here, and its combination with Isaiah 38 highlights different aspects of it. Both readings have someone sick in bed; both involve a prayer of faith that’s about more than just healing for the body; both are granted by the Lord — one through His prophet, one in person by Jesus Christ.
The centurion confesses his manifest unworthiness to have Jesus help — that’s not the way we usually start our requests for help! We usually emphasize how worthy we are when dealing with other people we need something from, e.g. faceless tech support people, bankers, or in more personal settings, as between friends or a husband and a wife.
Here, the centurion admits his essential unworthiness, just as we are enjoined to do during Lent — and Jesus responds! He doesn’t agree and tell the man to shove off; He listens and grants his prayer, because Jesus sees that it comes from a simple trust in Him. This centurion reasons that Jesus can do anything, and that’s why he prays. The centurion’s words have traditionally been used before the Holy Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and Thy servant shall be healed” (with a slight change in pronoun to make it more personal.) This usage is a fitting recognition of how we come to be at the Lord’s Table, among other reasons: it’s because we’re sinners.
Jesus’ reply to the centurion seemed written expressly for me today. That’s the wonderful thing about reading and praying Scripture regularly — your soul gets exactly what it needs on the down days (and the up days, too, but you realize it more on the down days.) Jesus says, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” As thou hast believed, so be it done to thee. Too often we believe, we strain ourselves to hang on to His promises, and then we feel like they never quite connect. We feel like all we did was try really hard to believe, and God never answered. Jesus’ words here promise that’s not true.As thou hast believed, so be it done to thee. You believed that I can heal your servant; your servant is healed. You believe that I forgive your sins, and give you My righteousness, and obtain for you God’s grace from on high — it is done for you. You have exactly what you’d hoped would be true from Me. That’s the message I needed to hear today, and we all need to hear more often. The centurion believed Jesus could heal his servant before He did, and his faith was rewarded when Jesus brought it to pass. That means all of Jesus’ promises to me are true too, and come true when I believe they’re true. There’s no greater comfort than that.
Here’s the prayer for today in Lent, in case you want to pray it too:
O God, who are wroth with them that sin against Thee, and sparest them that are penitent: we beseech Thee to hear the prayers of Thy people that call upon Thee; that we, which have most justly deserved the scourges of Thine anger, may by Thy great mercy be delivered from the same; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost: ever one God, world without end. Amen.
— DDSB, p.103