Eyes closed and head bowed, how many can I remember before the pastor prays over the bread and juice? If no one sits in front of me, I rest my forehead against the wooden pew as if the pressure gave my pleas substance. That aching feeling may be the Holy Spirit quickening me to repentance—I shouldn’t ignore it. The ache grows louder, but no more audible. I move through the usuals rapidly, pausing only to test the memory of each sin against that nagging feeling of guilt: Lust, Greed, Selfishness, Lust, Greed, Selfishness, a stolen glance, a coveted car, a prideful boast. Nothing fits. It’s still there, but it has no shape, just the sense of dread. In resignation, I begin repeating “I’m sorry Lord for sinning against You” until the pastor calls our attention to his prayer and they begin passing the chrome trays piled with thin, white communion wafers smaller than a child’s fingernail and the larger trays of thimble-sized juice cups.
Every first Sunday of the month I repeat this ritual, wrapping my hand around the plastic cup so that it nestles carefully in my thumb’s webbing. He recites the liturgy and the rows of Christians chew their bread and swill their little cup and we are done for a month.
I didn’t look forward to communion.
Are you clean enough to take communion this month? Have you truly confessed your sins? I don’t know, that’s all I could ever answer myself, I don’t know.
When we moved to Waco, TX to attend graduate school, we joined a PCA church. The anxiety of communion and confession followed me and even increased. Some Sundays I’d spend the entire service trying to decide if something I had once done was a sin and what recompense I needed to pay. These fears would build in intensity to the Lord’s Supper, where we would each walk up to the front and receive bread and wine from an elder who would look us in the eye and pronounce Christ’s love and sacrifice for us. The physicality of this liturgy drew me into the objective reality of the Table, but I still spent most of my time dreading the bread and wine for fear of all my unconfessed sins.
After the silent confession of sins one Sunday, the minister asked the congregation,
Did you get everything? Did you identify and confess all your sins? No! You didn’t! You can’t remember all the ways you have sinned this week.
That ache in my gut telling me that there was one more sin I needed to confess, or the obsessive fear that some past action might have been a sin—these weren’t hindrances to me rightly receiving the Lord’s Supper, they are part of the economy of receiving Grace.
The meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and therefore Christ’s work on the Cross, radically changed for me. I no longer focused on preparing myself to be worthy of Communion, although I still sought to obey and repent. Instead, taking the Bread and the Wine is an enacting of the physical and spiritual reality that my righteousness is not my own, that Christ’s grace is not dependent upon my holiness. The Table forced me to acknowledge my inability to be pure on my own and Christ’s gratuitous love for me despite my sin.
And really, this is the movement of being in the world. All we can ever do is choose to delight in God’s grace for us regardless of our sins and those of others and the terror of the Fall. It is lavish and gratuitous, like the Lord’s Day itself—asserting peace and grace and rest in defiance of a world in chaos and judgment and toil. Wherever God’s blessings are, we are invited to partake and delight in them, to enjoy their goodness, irrespective of our worthiness.
That is what it means to live in God’s world, to have our being in Him, and to take of His Body and drink of His Blood.