"Given for You; So Receive Worthily"
1 Corinthians 11:23-32
April 13, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
What awaits us this evening is nothing new. It has been passed along to us from many generations of the Mother Church before us. What she has received from the Lord she has also delivered to us, for it is from her Bridegroom Himself: it is His Supper. This holy meal is no mere human invention, for it has come from the Lord. He took bread and wine, elements of the Passover meal, and made the new covenant with His people. For the Jews, the Passover was to them a memorial, and they were to keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout their generations; they were to keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance, as the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in our Old Testament Reading (Ex. 12:14). This meal was to be a memorial for the Jews of the Lord's delivering them from the land of Egypt and the tyranny of Pharaoh. This meal was first eaten prior to the Angel of Death passing over the houses in Egypt, and any doorposts that had the blood of the lamb on it were spared the death of the family's firstborn. Those without the blood would weep as those who had no hope, for the Angel killed their firstborn. This was the memorial meal of the old covenant. Now in the meal of the new covenant, we need not fear when we eat and drink, for the Angel of Death has already passed over; the Angel passed over Jerusalem, passing over Golgotha. The Angel of Death passed over the cross of Calvary so that He would not pass over us tonight or any night.
Yet beware, that you do not receive the body and blood of the Lord unworthily. Examine yourself, lest the pearls be thrown before the swine, who trample them underfoot. The Church Father, St. John Chrysostom, says:
Why so? It is because someone who profanes the supper is like a priest who pours the blood out, making the death appear to be a slaughter and not a sacrifice. It is like those who pierced Jesus on the cross. They did not do it in order to drink His blood but in order to shed it. The person who comes to the supper unworthily does much the same thing and gains nothing by it.
How can this be? Listen again to Chrysostom:
How can the table which is the cause of so many blessings, and which is teeming with life, become a cause of judgment? It is not from its own nature, says Paul, but because of the attitude of the one who comes to it. For just as the presence of Christ, which conveyed to us those great and unspeakable blessings, condemned those who did not receive them, so also the Holy Communion becomes a means of greater punishment on those who partake unworthily.
Unless we first examine ourselves in the light of the Ten Commandments and realize our sinfulness and our need for forgiveness, we will receive the Sacrament unworthily. This is nothing other than rejecting the gifts God gives in His Sacrament. To reject the gifts is to reject the Giver of the gifts, the Giver that is God Himself. The Passover meal was eaten in memory of God's grace, but it became rote for them, a meal of merely going through the motions. Likewise, we fall into the same trap the devil lays for us. We go through the motions, thinking the Lord's Supper is just something we have and do, not even thinking in the least about why the Lord instituted His Supper on that first Maundy Thursday evening. When we come without examination and without repentance and without discernment, we, on the basis of Scripture, are partaking of the Lord's Supper unworthily. Saint Augustine asks the question: "What does it mean to receive unworthily? To receive in mockery, to receive in contempt." And the church father Ambrosiaster says, "The person who comes to the Lord's Table irreverently is no better than an unbeliever." Paul writes in our text, "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. …For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep" (vv. 27, 29-30). Paul is saying that many have died an eternal death, partaking of the Lord's Supper unworthily, for they have eaten and drunk themselves straight into hell, as they by their participation were rejecting Christ and His saving work on the cross, which is what we also do when we come before His table unrepentant and secure in our sins and when we do not know and firmly believe everything our Lord gives in this feast of the new covenant. For this reason we continue the scriptural practice of the early Church by practicing closed communion.
This is the feast of the new covenant, for the requirements of the old have passed away. The Angel of Death has killed the ceremonial requirements of the law as the Son of Man was killed for us on the cross. Christ has ushered in the new covenant, giving us to eat His body that was nailed to the cross and to drink His blood that was poured out from the cross for us for the forgiveness of sins. Augustine says, ""Old things are passed away and are made new in Christ, so that altar leads to altar, sword to sword, fire to fire, bread to bread, victim to Victim, blood to Blood." Christ has made the Passover passé. He took the bread and the cup from the Passover meal and given us a new Paschal feast. He has given us more than a mere memorial meal; He has given us a feast for the forgiveness of our sins, His body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. The Sacrament of the Altar is a memorial meal, yes, in that we remember the once-for-all-time sacrifice our Lord made in our place to win the forgiveness of our sins. But it is also a meal for the here-and-now, for in this sacred Supper we are given the forgiveness of our sins, and this is true each time we stand here before His Table. And there is also the now-but-not-yet eschatological reality that we receive. We receive the promise of eternal life in heaven, where we will eternally partake of the marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.
We need not go into the upper room this evening, for our Lord has come down to us in Word and Sacrament. He came as one of us, found in fashion as a Man, was tempted in every way that we are, yet remains without sin. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, the Word who by His Word has given us this blessed meal: "This is My body, this is My blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." For this we give thanks, that our Lord has given us Himself in His body and blood, that we would be given His gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. In the words of Cyril of Alexandria:
Proclaiming the death according to the flesh of the only begotten Son of God, that is, of Jesus Christ, and confessing His resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven, we celebrate the unbloody sacrifice in the churches, and we thus approach the spiritual blessings and are made holy, becoming partakers of the holy flesh and of the precious blood of Christ, the Savior of us all.
What we have received from the Lord He continues to deliver to us: His body and blood, thanks be to God!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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