We Belong to Thee Utterly
O God! we belong to thee utterly ; we dying men are thy children, O living Father. Thou art such a Father that thou takest our sins from us and throwest them behind thy back. Thou cleansest our souls as thy Son did wash our feet. We hold our hearts up to thee, make them what they must be, O Love! O Life of men! O heart of hearts!
– George MacDonald
As I think W.H. Auden said, the climax, or pinnacle, of the Prayer Book Liturgy, as the 1662 and 1928 have it, is the Gloria. In these books, unlike both modern and medieval liturgies, it is at the end of the service. In such a framing the high point of the Sacrifice of Mass is not just Communion itself but what comes after communion: we have received and participated in Christ: him in us and we in him, and we are charged that the elements “preserve our body and soul unto everlasting life” and in taking them to “be thankful.”
It is fitting then that, after we thank god, “we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in”1
Continuing in that Holy Fellowship is the life that is participating in the ramifications of not just the crucifixion, but also the resurrection. The liturgy follows quickly with a hymn of praise:
O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesu Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. (emphasis added)2
Comments on MacDonald:
“We belong to Thee utterly” Jesus is the new Adam. The First Adam abdicated his custody of this world to Satan at the Fall, Christ, in overcoming the consequences of Original Sin, has also overcome death, and taken custody of this world. The world is Christ’s, not Man’s, not Satan’s, and we are either cooperating with Christ or resisting him. To cooperate is to recognize that we do belong to Christ. To do so formally is to be baptised, and to continue to live according to one’s baptism.
“we dying men are thy children, O living Father.” There are many points of interest in this phrase: both death and adulthood against our child-status to the living father. Recall Jesus’ parable of the vinedresser: it is only through him that we the branches are sustained by the source of life, the vine. Without our Father, we grow old. Without our Father we participate in death. But with our Father, that is, recognizing that we are his, we grow young, and participate in life.
“Thou art such a Father that thou takest our sins from us and throwest them behind thy back.” As in the Gloria, the unified one Lord, which is the Father, Christ, and the Holy Ghost, is pleased to take away the sins of the world, and have mercy on us. What I find interesting here is the potential application of “having mercy on us” and “receiving our prayer” (which is “to assist us with thy grace”) is found in the picture of the Father throwing sins—be it debts, broken toys, and so on—behind his child’s back. This too implies first a face to face connection: the Father is facing us when our sins are taken away, and discarded with such energy. MacDonald renders the Good Fatherhood of God so well!
“Thou cleansest our souls as thy Son did wash our feet.” Recall the episode just before the last supper:
Jesus answered him, “You do not know what I am doing now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:7-9 EOB)
The operation of Grace in our lives, as experienced through the Sacrament of Confession as well as the General Confession, is that we recognize our sins, sit face-to-face, repent, and let God work in us. This does not mean it is easy, but it does mean it will be thorough: not just our feet only, but hands and head.
Jesus replies to Peter:
“One who has bathed only needs to have his feet washed. Apart from that he is completely clean.” (John 13:10)
The reality is that, because of our baptism, our hands and head are already clean. To live according to our baptism is to hear the words of Christ that we only need our feet washed. These are the things that do not say who we are, but the things that we pick up along the way: the sins we pick up along the way. And Jesus washes them from us if we submit to his working in our lives.
“We hold our hearts up to thee, make them what they must be” If we surrender to God, because we are his child, because he is life, because he makes clean the dirt of our souls (or feet), and offer what is most precious to us to him, he is faithful—through our faith and through the sacraments—to work in us towards what will make us best for this life and the life that comes after: childlike, full of life, secure, and without shame.