Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday: The life-transforming nourishment

Opening Sentence
Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Mark 8:34

Collect of the Day
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 102

Lessons: Lamentations 2:10-18; 1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 11:27-32; Mark 14:12-25

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner," Paul writes, "will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11.27). It is unfortunate that many have cited this passage as an excuse for abstaining for receiving the sacrament of Lord's Supper. "I can't take communion," they say with a feigned piety. "I'm not worthy." Such an attitude misses the point of Paul's admonition. Paul does not say one must be "worthy" before receiving the body and blood of the Lord. If that were the case, no one would be eligible to come to the table, for no one is "worthy" of so extravagant a gift from God. The very fact that Jesus gave his body and shed his blood on the cross makes this point clear enough. If we were "worthy," there would have been no need for our Lord to sacrifice himself for our sins.

Paul's admonition is not so much about the manner in which we come to the table, but the manner in which we leave the table. None of us are worthy to come, but Jesus invites us to the feast, nonetheless. His righteousness, not ours, is sufficient to bring us into the presence of God by faith. But will we receive the gift of his body and blood in a manner which gives due reverence to the grace he imparts through them? That is Paul's concern. The bread and the cup are symbols, but they are not "bare symbols," as some have erroneously claimed. They are visible signs of the grace of God poured out most extravagantly in the broken body and shed blood of his Son. As such, they point us to the power of the cross to save us from our sins and create in us new and unending life in Jesus Christ.

It is the manner in which we respond to such an extravagant act of grace on the part of God which is judged either "worthy" or "unworthy." Will we go away from the table, having received this life-transforming nourishment, as new creatures, walking in the ways of Christ toward holiness and righteousness; or will we merely continue to follow the ways of the world, taking the grace of God for granted, and thus making a mockery of the gift he has so freely given? To partake of the Lord's Supper "in an unworthy manner" is to receive it in such a way that ignores the transforming power of God's grace. To refuse such grace in the first place is perhaps the most "unworthy manner" of all.

Jesus invites us to his table. We come as we are, unworthy and burdened with sin. We go, having been in his presence and transformed by the power of his grace.

How Beautiful