By Bryan Owen
Every now and then familiar words in the Book of Common Prayer stand out and speak to me with new force and meaning. That’s been my experience with a phrase in one of the post-Communion prayers. Here’s the prayer in its entirety:
Eternal God, heavenly Father,
you have graciously accepted us as living members
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ,
and you have fed us with spiritual food
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord. Amen. (1979 BCP, p. 365)
As with so many of the prayers in the BCP, there’s a lot to unpack here. But what stands out for me is the phrase you have graciously accepted us.
For some, the question remains open whether God really accepts them. They worry that if they’ve sinned and haven’t repented, what hope can there be? They live in anxiety and perhaps even fear of what awaits them on the other side of death. An assurance of salvation eludes them.
In stark contrast, this post-Communion prayer affirms that we aren’t merely tolerated by God, or even just accepted — Sure, okay, you can tag along. No, we are graciously accepted. We are actively embraced by the one who loved us so much that he sent his only Son to suffer and die for us.
The discrepancy between these ways of interpreting the reality of the world and religious experience speaks to a level of faith in God more basic than intellectual assent to propositions. It involves trust instead of distrust.
Christian theological ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr is worth quoting at length on this point:
When we say that the power by which we are is God, we may express our interpretation in trust, for to say “God” is to say “good” in our common speech; the word, God, means the affirmer of our being, not its denier; “God” means the concern of the ultimate for what issues from it, not its heedlessness or its animosity. Yet it is quite possible to say that the power is “God” and still express distrust, since the word, God, may mean for us a power that is jealous of its rights, that is suspicious of its creation, that is as ready to deny it, to condemn it to destruction and to damn it to everlasting grief, as to affirm, maintain, and bless it. The question of our fundamental interpretation is not to be settled therefore by asking what words we use, any more than it can be answered by asking about the theories of creation that we employ. Our primordial interpretation of the radical action by which we are made is faith as trust or distrust. Between these two there seems to be no middle term. The inscrutable power by which we are is either for us or against us. If it is neutral, heedless of the affirmations or denials of the creatures by each other, it is against us, to be distrusted as profoundly as if it were actively inimical. For then it has cast us into being as aliens, as beings that do not fit.
The phrase you have graciously accepted us in the post-Communion prayer speaks of a God who affirms, maintains, and blesses. This is a God who is for us, not against us. This phrase teaches us to trust the nature of reality as ultimately gracious and life-affirming. For it suggests that God genuinely desires us, that God wants to be in communion with us, that God is our friend, and that God is the one we can fully count on as benevolent, compassionate, and merciful. This is a God no one need fear.
Nothing we do or fail to do, and nothing that happens in our lives, can change God’s gracious acceptance of us. We don’t have to prove it. We don’t have to earn it. We don’t have to fully understand it. On the contrary, it is a gift of God’s grace. We can trust God’s gracious acceptance of us now and for eternity. And that is very good news!
 H. Richard Niebuhr, The Responsible Self: An Essay in Christian Moral Philosophy (Harper & Row, 1963), p. 119.