In every church I attended up until the last two years, we held Communion* quarterly. (*I will use Communion, the Lord’s Supper, and/or the Eucharist interchangeably.)
When it eventually came around, I was always scared, or perhaps, worried. Why? Essentially I was told to reflect on the last three months of my life and confess every sin that came to mind–if any did. I was given 15 seconds to “get right with God.”
By the time the plate with juice and little crackers came by, I’d better be spiritually clean enough or I’d be…punished? (I’m really not sure what the consequences were, but they were portrayed as severe and harsh. Maybe even “lose your salvation” harsh.)
Now, I’m sure I misunderstood someone or something someone said at some point. A lot of my early theological understandings were half-baked–and my ingredients were one part Scripture, two parts whatever I was taught explicitly, and four parts who-knows-what. For example, it took me until 4th grade to finally ask who the Jews were. I seriously had no idea.
But back to my understanding of coming to the Lord’s Table in a “worthy manner” as based in what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11. I used to think it was all about confessing my sins so I could clean myself up for Jesus. I was more concerned with getting things right with me and Jesus so Jesus could say, “Take and eat, you deserve me.”
I have never and will never deserve Jesus.
I’m a sinful, selfish, greedy man. My heart without Jesus is wicked and cruel and dead. My flesh is weak and desires money, comfort, sex, and happiness above Jesus.
But Jesus saved me.
So I don’t come to the Table by any means of my own. I come to the Table because of the love of the Father, the death and life of the Son, and the power of the Spirit.
Now, if you’ve ever eaten a meal with your family, you might notice something peculiar: You’re eating with other people. The same goes for when you eat the bread and drink the wine of the Eucharist. You’re communing with other people. And that it actually way more terrifying a reality than missing one sin and forgetting to confess it before coming to the table. Why? Because the Bible has some serious commands about coming to God without making things right with other people.
Let’s consider what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 about Communion. (It’s slightly long, so take your time and read it slowly and attentively.)
Now in giving this instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For to begin with, I hear that when you come together as a church there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. Indeed, it is necessary that there be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you. When you come together, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For at the meal, each one eats his own supper. So one person is hungry while another gets drunk! Don’t you have homes in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you in this matter!
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself; in this way let him eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined, so that we may not be condemned with the world.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, welcome one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you gather together you will not come under judgment. I will give instructions about the other matters whenever I come. – 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 (CSB)
There’s a lot in there to unpack. But I want you to notice one big idea. In verses 20-22, we see people are eating and drinking separately from one another. Division runs so deep, Paul calls it out and rebukes them. He even says they act like they, “despise the church of God!” And later, in verses 27-30, we see the divisive way they are eating and drinking “together” is a sin (!) and they are actually eating and drinking judgment (!) on themselves.
So what should they do instead?
Paul tells them in verses 33-34, and Jesus also gives a similar answer in Matthew 5:23-24. Paul simply tells them to “welcome one another.” How exactly?
Jesus says this:
So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24
I know the language is a little different. But both are acts of worship–and that’s what I want to focus on. Both Paul and Jesus are condemning something interesting: Failing to love others. Paul says this is a sin that caused the Corinthian church to have people fall sick and even die! Jesus says this is a sin that he would rather you take care of by reconciliation before coming to worship God!
In case you missed it:
Jesus most deserves our worship, but he most desires our reconciliation with others.
God desires mercy, not sacrifice.
If you know someone has something against you, or you have something against someone, pray–and act. Give someone a call. Meet up with them. Make wrongs right.
Roll up your sleeves, our rest in Jesus means we have work to do.
– Matthew Welborn