The Lord’s Supper always frightened me.
My childhood Lord’s Supper memories remained deeply ingrained. We had fancy metal serving trays with real glass cups. C.B. Klinner led the church through several mournful hymns, highlighted by “There Is a Fountain” sung at a quarter of its intended pace. We never slumbered, though, out of fear of “…partaking in the cup in a manner unworthy…”
No other admonition prompted such soul-searching. I could lie to my parents, cheat on my homework, and battle my teachers, but before the Lord’s Supper I repented gladly and tearfully. I locked Bob Walker in the AC access closet, snuck an open can of beer onto the preacher’s desk, and stole the youth director’s boom box, but the sight of a white shrouded altar knocked me to my knees faster than being tangled in a leash attached to Bilbeaux the Aggressively Obese, our energetic Golden Retriever. Despite the boldness of my youthful indiscretions, I wouldn’t even look in the closet that held those sacred serving trays.
Paul’s 1 Corinthians 11 lecture somehow became a warning about participating in the Table while having the blemish of sin – any sin – on our lives. The standard was so high, so impossible, that I learned to dread those solemn moments.
I still believe in the sacredness of the moment, but I wonder if we’ve under-examined the passage.
Placed in context, Paul’s lecture highlighted the issue of Christians approaching the Lord’s Supper in a way that caused strife and disunity. Some ate too much, while others had too little. Drunkenness made an appearance at some point, and the body suffered for it. Essentially, a lack of proper reverence for the purpose of the Lord’s Supper damaged the individuals and therefore the congregation.
Paul hammered his readers in verses 26-27: “Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are telling others about the Lord’s death until he comes. So a person who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in a way that is not worthy of it will be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord.”
Paul partially defines partaking in the commemorative feast as a form of proclamation, telling others in the congregation about the Lord’s death. Let us then use Paul to interpret Paul, and rephrase this slightly:
“Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are telling others about the Lord’s death until he comes. So a person who tells others about the Lord’s death in a way that is not worthy of it will be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord.”
Any time we proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ in a way that is not worthy of it, we will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Any time. Not just Lord’s Supper time, but any time.
Here is the juncture at which holy lives meet evangelistic intentions. Every time we share our faith, we proclaim the death of Christ. Each time we serve others in love, we declare His resurrection. Every Sunday School lesson, airplane conversation, Facebook post that declares our faith in the atoning work of the cross must be done in a way that is worthy of it.
I freely admit my proclamations of His death have not always passed this test. I’ve taught angrily, evangelized negatively, and prayed with a shrug and a sigh. I wonder now how much more effective I might have been had I participated in announcing His death in a manner worth of the message.
Woven through our lives should be a call to holiness that, when combined with unceasing prayer, guides us towards a consistent expression of His death in a way that gives honor to it. The Lord’s Supper formed our starting point, but we now see how our very lives proclaim His work; an unworthy life is nothing less than a failure to rightly proclaim His sacrifice.
Witness. Share. Pray. Worship. Evangelize. Serve. Eat and drink. It is all proclamation, no? Then let us approach in a way that is worth of it.