Only Sinners Need Apply

And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” – Mark 14:17-25

One of the 10’s of thousands of flowers at The Flower Fields in Carlsbad, CA. March 2017

Two vivid experiences have shaped my understanding of how the Lord’s Supper is to be administered. The first took place in 1980 at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Vernal, Utah. A young man came into our worship service and registered for communion. We had a sign-up sheet outside of the sanctuary that people who wished to commune on a given Sunday would sign. This young man (perhaps 30 years of age; maybe 25) was alone. He was well dressed, neat in appearance and had taken his seat in the sanctuary ready for worship. When I was alerted to his presence, I went to him and asked if he was a Lutheran. He said he was not. So I asked him kindly to wait until we could visit about the Lord’s Supper before communing with us. He was very polite and agreed to abide by my wishes. 

I went back to the narthex and got ready for worship to begin. When, next I looked for him, however, he was gone. Vanished. Nowhere to be seen. I went outside to see if he was getting into his car, but I could not find him anywhere. I have no good feeling about that encounter; nothing about what I did that I would recommend to anyone – except perhaps that I did not simply tell him that he was not welcome there. 

The other vivid memory was with a husband and wife who were from Bosnia and Croatia. He was Lutheran (at least he claimed that he liked Martin Luther: “Martin Luther. Very good guy!” he would say.  But his wife was Muslim at least by birth. But now they were refugees – because of their mixed marriage – and as such they were our church’s wards: we sponsored them through the Lutheran Refugee and Imigration Services. We communicated fairly well: lots of smiles and head nods. 

He would come to the altar rail and receive the Sacrament. She would come too, expecting to receive the Sacrament. In stead, I would offer her a spoken blessing. This went on for some time until one Sunday, as I offered him the host, he very pointedly pointed to her and scowled at me. The implication was obvious: She was not to be denied the Lord’s Supper. I complied. Even though she was not baptized. Even though she was not confirmed. But what was I to do? Make a scene in front of the whole church? That day I made an appointment for a visit with them and we went through a Russian translation of Luther’s Small Catechism set a date for he baptism. Tamima is now a certified, baptized child of God. The only thing I might have done differently with regard to her participation in the Lord’s Supper would have been to have scheduled the visit and baptism for her sooner. 

Why these two stories? Because I am compelled to offer this gift of Jesus’ body and blood to anyone who comes to the altar having had the opportunity to hear that Jesus’ body and blood are here “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” I have no need to make anything less of the Lord’s Supper in order to approach the administration of it in this manner. Jesus’ words are clear. And although it is not totally clear, it seems that even Judas was part of this first Lord’s Supper. 

I realize that there are those who approach this meal with a much narrower understanding and practice. They have to answer to their own consciences – as do I. In the end we will all answer to the Lord who gave us his body and blood for our forgiveness and favor. The whole counsel of God, however, lays it on those who commune to examine themselves and then eat of the bread and drink of the cup (1 Corinthians 11:28). We do not wish anyone to eat or drink judgment upon himself or herself (1 Corinthians 11:29), by eating or drinking in an unworthy manner. But as Luther so aptly puts it: one is “truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

One more story illustrates this “for the forgiveness of sins” more perfectly, I believe. A young newly-confirmed girl visited a Mormon Sunday meeting at which they had the “Sacrament.” In that case it was bread and water passed down the rows of pews. She rightly did not partake. That proved to be the correct decision by what happened when she quietly – and without making a scene – simply passed the trays of bread and water (which is not what Jesus used) to the person next to her. Someone behind her in a stage whisper said, “Sinner!” 

Ugh. So right and so wrong. We’re all sinners, and in need of God’s grace and mercy. But so wrong on the part of that whisperer: the sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood is given and shed for sinners! When we come to the Lord’s table, we are saying we are sinners. We need God’s mercy, forgiveness. That’s who this meal is for: sinners. Repentant sinners to be sure. Sinners who believe Jesus’ words without a doubt. 

If you are a repentant sinner, who believes Jesus’ words, I would be happy to kneel in humble faith with you at the Lord’s table and receive this precious gift of Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. One day all who believe Jesus’ words and promises will celebrate it anew in the fullness of rule and reign of God. Oh, how I look foreword to that day and that celebration!

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