Week 40 (October)
In the ritual of almost every Communion service the minister, as a part of the scripture reading, will include that phrase from I Corinthians 11:27: "Whosoever [partakes of the Lord's Supper] unworthily, shall be guilty . . . "
Because of that reading, Communion services used to case me great turmoil. That word unworthily would ring in my ears like a Chinese gong. Like the magic chant of a Halloween witch calling up ghosts out of a boiling cauldron, "unworthily" would call up before me all my latest failings and inadequacies as a young Christian. I was indeed unworthy. No doubt about that.
Of course, what Paul was trying to say in that letter to Corinth is something altogether different. Satan had blinded me into lifting it out of context and twisting its meaning. While I thought it was a reference to meritorious character, it is really a reference to motivation.
What is the Holy Spirit trying to say to us through this passage? First of all, remember that earlier in this same letter, Paul has proclaimed the crucified Christ as our Passover Lamb. That's an unmistakable reference to the historical events of Exodus 12.
Therefore, to fully understand the spirit of these instructions for celebrating the Lord's Supper, we must go back to Exodus, and to the night before God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
The first Passover was the final act of God which brought the release of the Hebrew people from their Egyptian oppressors. It was not the result of any military heroics by the Jews, but was the result of God's power alone.
Each year thereafter, in an annual celebration commanded by God, the story of the Exodus was re-lived in every Jewish family circle. The ceremony included a special meal in which the ritual symbols of bitter herb and matzo (unleavened bread) were eaten in remembrance of the Jews' divine redemption.
That festival of freedom is prototype for our celebration of the Lord's Supper. As Paul reminds us, the events of the Passover night are the Old Testament foreshadowing of the salvation bought for us with Christ's blood.
What does all this say to me about my youthful problem about unworthiness? To begin with, if I'm thinking in terms of meritorious righteousness, then I'm approaching the Communion service like it's some kind of Independence Day freedom festival where I have delivered myself from sin.
My self-examination prior to participating is not to judge my own worthiness, but rather to make certain that I am approaching the Lord's Table in remembrance of his delivering work on Calvary.
If I see in the Communion service the opportunity to re-live my own personal deliverance from the tyranny of sin, then my partaking is not in any sense unworthy. In fact, it is only when I see the Lord's Supper as an anniversary celebration of my own personal Exodus from slavery to freedom, that it is truly a worthy celebration.
For the Jews, the Passover was a commemoration of their journey as a people from bondage to redemption. In His death on the Cross, Jesus became our Passover Lamb. He thereby infused that Jewish festival with significant meaning for us.
Is that the spirit with which we approach the Communion services? Let's try each time to recapture, in an attitude of thanksgiving, the miraculous deliverance Christ has provided us.
I wrote these devotional thoughts while a missionary in Italy. They originally appeared in the October 5, 1980 edition of Standard to correlate with the Enduring Word Bible studies series.
Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132
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