Merciful promise beyond all measure

genuflectOne of the niceties of the Daily Office during Lent is that Canticle 14: A Song of Penitence is appointed to be read on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings and on Monday evenings.

See the canticle itself on BCP 90, the table of when canticles are to be read on BCP 144, and handy versions of the tables to place in your prayer book on the Resources page of this blog.

Canticle 14 comes from the Prayer of Manasseh, one of the books in the Apocrypha. These are books which were in the Hebrew Scriptures around the time of Christ and used by Christians from the beginning.

The apocryphal books still commonly appear interleaved among the Old Testament books in Roman Catholic Bibles. In some Protestant Bibles, they are separated into a section called the Apocrypha and located between the Old and New Testaments. In most Protestant Bibles today, however, they are omitted entirely.

But I digress.

The reason I like this canticle so much is what it teaches us about penitence during this season of Lent.

All things quake with fear at your presence;
they tremble because of your power.
But your merciful promise is beyond all measure;
it surpasses all that our minds can fathom.

The God who “made the heavens and the earth, with all their vast array” is the “same Lord whose property is always to have mercy” (BCP 337). The character of God is goodness toward God’s creation.

The loveliest line in the canticle comes next:

And now, O Lord, I bend the knee of my heart,
and make my appeal, sure of your gracious goodness.
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned,
and I know my wickedness only too well.

Consciousness of God’s grace comes with a consciousness of our own sinfulness. It is entirely appropriate for us to “bend the knee of our heart.” However, our sin is not the point, and dwelling on (or wallowing in) our sin is not what God desires.

For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,
and in me you will show forth your goodness.
Unworthy as I am, you will save me,
in accordance with your great mercy,
and I will praise you without ceasing all the days of my life.

What a wonderful prayer to make four times a week during Lent! What a wonderful witness to the world, our repentance and our praise of God’s goodness.

The prayer book rubrics drily note that the Canticle is suitable for “other penitential occasions,” too. I invite you to spend some time reflecting on the Canticle or reading the Prayer of Manasseh, bending the knee of your heart, and then praising God for “merciful promise beyond all measure.”

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