Celebrating Communion -- Unworthily?

Exodus 12:1-14

12 1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover.

12 "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord -- a lasting ordinance."

Preparing to share in the Lord's Supper

Week 40 (October)

Do you need to preach a sermon on communion? Here is help for you.

This Passover meal was what Jesus and His disciples were doing the night before His crucifixion. He gave that Passover meal new significance that evening, transforming into what we now call the Lord's Supper or Communion or Holy Eucharist. 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 . . . "

When I used to hear that passage read in a Communion service, I found myself in great turmoil. The 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. What I thought was a reference to meritorious character was 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 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 solely the result of God's power.

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 the 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 regarding 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. We no longer need to be slaves to sin!

Discussion questions

  1. How did the Passover meal in Exodus foreshadow the significance of the Last Supper of Jesus with His disciples and of today's celebration of Communion?
  2. What are some ways that we should allow our knowledge of the original Passover night to shape our participation in Christian Communion?
  3. What might be some reason for doing a self-examination before participating in Communion?
  4. How does approaching the Lord's Table in reverent remembrance of Christ's delivering work on the Cross differ from attempting to approach it with an attitude of meritorious righteousness?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It originally appeared in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.


The nuances of "unworthy manner" in 1 Corinthians 11:27 include the following:

Other English translations of that phrsae include:

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