There is a phrase we pray in our Anglican liturgy: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.” We say this three times as the host is elevated, just before communion. We say this because it is true. We are not worthy that the Almighty God should come under our roof, into our souls and bodies.
Today the Gospel account was the healing of the centurion’s servant, the source of this remarkable statement. The Roman soldier asks Christ to heal his servant at home, and the centurion’s faith is so great that he believes the miracle can be done from a distance. ”Speak the word only and my servant shall be healed,” he says. “I’m not worthy to have you under my roof.”
The scene has always touched me. I marvel at this man’s faith and I often wish I had that degree of faith, as I maneuver through the sometimes cloudy days and weeks of my life, not always sure of God’s will for me. Here and now, in the twenty-first century, we must believe in the unseen, know that an invisible God acts among us, be certain Christ is present in the bread and wine, because he said he would be. So we say like the centurion, we are not worthy, but even so speak the word and we will be healed of our confusion, of our foggy vision, of our lack of seeing.
It’s a cold rainy day here in the Bay Area, with the kind of damp chill that seeps through windows and doors, and the kind of rain that pours from gray skies without warning. We entered the warm church and I checked on the nursery and Sunday School. Lights on, heat on, teachers ready. Then I entered the red-carpeted nave lined with glimmering stained glass and gazed at the glowing marble and brick sanctuary.
I soon realized it was going to be a quiet, intimate Mass. There was a hush about it, a listening, for the organist had been called away, and we did not sing together as we usually do. While I missed the hymns and the exquisite Anglican settings, I did not entirely mind. Today’s Mass was one of words, the Elizabethan poetry of our Book of Common Prayer quietly bringing God among us. The words gathered us together like a close family. The words offered up our confessions, our goings astray, our unworthy moments of the week. The words through our priest absolved us, washed our souls. And the words brought Christ himself to us to complete the healing, so that we could return to the cold outside. We said the words together that we were not worthy, but please, Lord, do come under our roof.
I love the image of a roof: protection from the wet and the cold, a womb-like covering, the lap of a loving father. To come under one’s roof is to enter one’s home, to be a guest, and in our liturgy it is fitting that that home is our hearts, souls, minds, bodies. The tabernacle on the altar is like a roofed house where we invite Christ to dwell. Then we invite him into own hearts, our own homes, our own selves.
Yes, I thought, as I left the warm church for the cold and the wet,Lord, speak the word only and my soul shall be healed. And he did just that.