The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Worthy eating?

Is confession of sins the first course of the eucharist?

Our pastor required us to come to a Wednesday service of confession and forgiveness before taking communion on Sundays. Have we reinterpreted the scriptural warning about unworthy eating and drinking? Can the entire congregation now be ready to eat and drink at the Lord's Table?

Holding a separate service just for confession and absolution before a service of communion is an old practice for Lutherans. It was used particularly when communion was celebrated more infrequently than now. The liturgy for Corprorate Confession and Forgiveness (Lutheran Book of Worship, page 193) may be used for such a service.

The passage in question is: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgment against themselves" (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

I, too, grew up learning that we need to understand the real presence of the body and blood of Christ and practice intense introspection concerning our sins. True, but the context of this passage indicates that Paul was concerned with serious disorders in the corporate life of the church. Some members had ignored and offended others who, because of less desirable life circumstances, weren't present at the beginning of the communal meal that culminated in what we now call the eucharist. Apparently these more affluent members had eaten their own food without waiting or sharing with their poorer brothers and sisters.

Because the gift of the sacrament is unity in Christ, any breach based on insensitive self-preoccupation is a serious sin against the body of Christ. Proper reception of the sacrament requires a commitment to the needs of the whole body of Christ.

Part four of Martin Luther's Small Catechism (Lord's Supper) addresses who's worthy and properly prepared to receive communion: "Fasting and other outward preparations serve a good purpose, however that person is well-prepared and worthy who believes the words, 'given and shed for you for the remission of sins.' But whoever does not believe these words or doubts them is neither prepared nor worthy, for the words, 'for you' require simply a believing heart."


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