There is a Roman Catholic tradition that one does not partake of The Lord’s Supper without having been to confession. The confessional booth was created for this particular purpose, and is often looked down at by non-Catholics as ‘one more thing the Roman church has added to the Christian faith.’ But while it institutionalizes something the Early Church would have seen take place more organically, it is part of the our mandate as we approach the Eucharist or Communion table.
In the instructions for instituting The Lord’s Supper, the King James version translated I Cor. 11:28 with the familiar words, “But let a man examine himself.” Here’s how The Message deals with it through to verse 34:
27-28 Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.
29-32 If you give no thought (or worse, don’t care) about the broken body of the Master when you eat and drink, you’re running the risk of serious consequences. That’s why so many of you even now are listless and sick, and others have gone to an early grave. If we get this straight now, we won’t have to be straightened out later on. Better to be confronted by the Master now than to face a fiery confrontation later.
The posture with which we come to Communion is a posture of confession.
Unfortunately, this is not always emphasized in all of our churches, and while a few do provide a time of silence for such, many places of worship do not, and many who have more recently become part of our congregations don’t know this teaching.
Having been raised with this, I have no problem remembering this. Sometimes my prayer begins, “Lord, I’m a mess.” I know my heart, and I know God knows my heart. Yes, the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9) and yes, we’re very good at rationalizing our own righteousness (Prov. 16:2) as in, ‘Hey, I’m not as bad as my friend.’ But the moments preceding the communion elements are no time for pretense, at that moment, transparency and honesty is the order of the day. My thoughts might be drawn to:
- the anger I may feel toward someone who has wronged me, even things that happened years ago;
- obsessing over regrets concerning past choices;
- lustful thoughts and more lustful thoughts;
- terrible stewardship over the use of time;
- a climate of fear and anxiety which slows lack of trust in God;
- neglecting Bible reading and study to the degree that would be expected of me;
- wishes that certain proud or arrogant people would fail, or just people with whom I don’t see eye-to-eye.
Those are just a few that I thought of immediately. I’m sure there are more. You might be reading this and identifying, or maybe you’re further along in spiritual formation and now think I’m a terrible person! Either way, I come to God with some very small inkling of what my life must appear like before a capital ‘H’ Holy God.
But today, instead of just saying, ‘I’m a mess,’ I found myself saying, ‘I am mess.’ (Take a minute to reflect on the difference.) I don’t just sin, but I am sin personified. Without God’s help, I am a picture of the human condition. I know some will read this and say, ‘Well that’s just the accuser of the brethren talking to you, don’t listen to it.’ But David said, ‘My sin is always present before me (Ps. 51:3).
Both scripture and church liturgy are full of prayers of confession.
But — and here the writers of scripture would add, ‘Thanks be to God’ — we don’t have to stay defined by and defining what it means to sinful and separated from God. We also have the assurance of pardon.
I John 1:9 reminds us:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (NASB)
From the link above, here is the assurance of pardon as found in the Book of Common Prayer:
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has no pleasure in the death of sinners,
but would rather they should turn from their wickedness and live.
He has given authority to his ministers to declare to his people when they repent
the forgiveness of their sins.
God pardons and absolves all who truly repent and believe his holy gospel.
So we ask him to grant us true repentance and his Holy Spirit,
that what we do now may please him
and that the rest of our life may be pure and holy,
so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
If your life is a mess, or if you just feel like you are mess, the Father wants us to come to him. But this is not something we do once upon a time and then write the date in the front cover of our Bible and that’s it, we’re done. No God wants us to come to Him regularly and confess that we do wander from His best, and that we are a people in need of a Savior. True repentance is a sincere acknowledgement of sin, but yes, we will mess up again. Maybe in another area. But his assurance of pardon is always there, even as we come to him over and over and over and over again.
Posted jointly with Christianity 201