From the Letter to the Hebrews:
Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Hebrews 4:16 (NRSV) – May 10, 2013.)
I have an inch-long scar on the palm of my left hand; if I look closely, I can still see the pin-prick scars on either side of it which represent where the sutures that closed the wound were placed. The scar is just below my left pinky finger, which doesn’t work quite so well as my right pinky because underneath the scar the tendon was cut and had to be reconstructed. I’ve had this scar and this less-than-functional finger since I was not quite nine years old. It is a reminder of the need for boldness.
The summer of 1960 was spent like many summers of my childhood visiting my paternal grandparents (if you’ve been reading these blog posts, you know that they had disinherited my father, but even so they still entertained their grandchildren). My cousins Bob (two years older) and Randy (a year younger) were also there. Bob and I decided to go scavenging in the city dump (then within walking distance of the town). We had to climb up a large, sandy hill at the edge of the landfill and then go down its other side to get to “the good stuff.”
When we got to its summit, Bob – brasher, bolder, older, heedless of danger – ran down the sandy slope into the bowels of dump. I, more timidly, afraid I might fall, picked my way down the slope and, sure enough, my footing gave way; I fell backwards and to the side, extending my hand to brace my fall. Under the sand, I found a broken bottle. That put an end to the expedition, angered my cousin, and ruined my summer. (I took off my t-shirt, wound it around my bleeding hand, and walked back to our grandparents’ home. Bob, accepting the fact that something was seriously wrong, ran ahead and prepared our grandmother, who got in the car, met me on the road, and took me to the emergency room.)
If I had simply done as Bob had done and boldly ran down the slope, my momentum would have carried me to the bottom. It was my timidity in trying (and failing) to carefully pick my way that was my undoing. Timidity leads to failure; temerity may not always lead to success, but timidity almost never does.
I think this is what the author of Hebrews is saying, too. If we timidly approach the throne of God, we’ll never get there. There will be obstacles (sandy hillsides and broken glass, for example) that we will not be able to overcome. If we approach with boldness, our spiritual momentum will carry us past those obstacles. We may (being human, we will) make some mistakes along the way, but as Martin Luther said, “Sin boldly, but believe more boldly still.”
I love this verse, and whenever I hear it, I think of that stupid, timid boy who got hurt in the landfall; if I’d just headed down that slope boldly, how different that summer would have been! The city dump may not be an appropriate analogy for the throne of grace for some folks, but it works for me.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.