Posted by: AJtheIrishLass | June 18, 2007

Sinners at the Lord’s Table?

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Scripture and Christian tradition both warn us against the spiritual consequences of eating and drinking unworthily. Those receiving communion also need to have an awareness of the sacrament’s spiritual significance. Some who feel as though they’re too unworthy to receive communion actually deny themselves a closer walk with God.

Communion has its origins in the Passover meal. Just as the Passover meal celebrates the Jewish people’s deliverance from slavery, communion celebrates Christian deliverance from the power of sin and eternal death. “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast. Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (I Corinthians 5:7-8 RSV). The Passover meal celebrates what God did for His people, as does Holy Communion. It’s not about our own “personal goodness”.

The strongest case for reception of communion being a crucial part of one’s Christian walk comes from Jesus Himself. “I tell you the truth, you must eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood. Otherwise, you won’t have real life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day. My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh, and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them.” (John 6:53-56 NCV). Regular reception of communion draws us into a closer, more fulfilling relationship with Jesus. Those who don’t receive regularly because of feelings of unworthiness are denying themselves a way for grace to work through them.

What about Scripture passages that warn against receiving unworthily? I Corinthians 11:28-31 “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgement to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged” (NASB).

The Corinthian church had a lot of problems to contend with-sexual immorality, problems with eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols and the communion service (which at the time was part of a larger meal called an agape feast) was being disrupted by overeating and drunkenness’. Paul had a job of reminding the Corinthian Christians why they were receiving communion and how they should conduct themselves. While sin plays a huge role in “receiving unworthily”, what does it mean to “judge the body rightly?”

“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of them one bread” (I Corinthians 10:16-17 NASB). Communion is not a reward for good behavior, nor is it a gathering solely for members of a denomination/local congregation. It’s for all the members of Christ’s body, yet many will not allow communion its proper place as a sacrament for all Christians.

What of those who are Christians but are aware of unconfessed sin? All of us need to examine our selves before partaking, and most churches in the liturgical tradition have some form of general confession that’s said before communion, and many find the Act of Contrition (used in the Roman Catholic Church) very helpful. Private confession to a member of the clergy or another Christian is also an option. We are only worthy to receive because of Christ’s goodness, not our own.

Prayer of Humble Access (a traditional Anglican prayer): 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 we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 1979)


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