Love Covering Shame

May 19, 2013

I’ve honestly never been much for poetry (probably primarily because I’m not smart enough to understand it), but I was unpacking all my books and came across a little compilation of poems that a good friend (who is much more literarily inclined than myself) gave to me at his Wedding. One in particular struck me and nearly brought me to tears just now. So I wanted to share it:

Love (III) 

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

– George Herbert
I don’t want to ruin this poem with my rude analysis – so feel free to stop reading at this point and just re-read the poem – seriously. I think the beauty of this poem is that it captures so much reality and emotion in so few words. Here is the emotion and reality it brings up in me:
This poem describes a perennial struggle in my heart, where I can too easily shrink back from God because of guilt and shame. I am ever eager to remind myself of why I am not worthy to enter into the presence of God because of my sin – but God is ever “quick” to see my hesitation and invite me in. Yet I continue to focus on my guilt, sin, and shame – instead of “looking” to the one who made my eyes. How often I have “marr’d” my eyes, and convinced myself that I deserve to go elsewhere than to dine with my Lord. That line always gets me. I always have reasons why I am unworthy. And even after being eventually willing to come to dinner, I am still stuck in my stubbornness to serve. I convince myself that I am unworthy to just sit with Him – if I come I must at least serve, rather than eat. I have to bring something to the table. 
But the beauty of the poem (and the beauty of God’s grace!) is that he never denies the guilt, shame, or sin. He never says “You are worthy!” He doesn’t say I’m clean, or that I deserve to come to the banquet. He recognizes that I have absolutely nothing to bring to the table. But he doesn’t remain there. Instead, he lifts my eyes to the One “who bore the blame.” He constantly points to his grace and his mercy that covers my sin and shame. And I think at the end he does this by pointing to the Lord’s Supper – the broken body of Christ that draws us unworthy, unkind, and ungrateful sinners to the table to dine – to “sit and eat.”
This is the gospel – and it truly is beautiful. Love covers our shame. Love bids us come in spite of our guilt and shame. In fact, Love bids us come because of our sin and shame. Our very unworthiness is what drives us to see the One who bore our sin and shame. Love draws near when we are prone to draw back in guilt. This is the beauty of the Lord’s Supper – which pictures the gospel to us as we hold the elements in our hands, reminded of the broken body and shed blood of our loving Savior.
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

(From the order for Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer, 1662)

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