Rev. Christopher Raffa
You know it by many names-Communion, the Breaking of the Bread, the Last Supper, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar-but it has a singular gift: forgiveness of sins. And where this forgiveness of sins is eaten and swallowed so also death is buried. This life meal has sprung you unto eternity with its immortal yet visible cook, Jesus the embodied One, for broken bodies.
Without this new flesh, we are carried along by the flesh of the Old Adam. This flesh always fails to deliver the goods. This flesh may talk about grace and mercy, yet it is a tease; it fails to actually deliver the gifts of the justifying God to the poor sinner. This flesh talks a good game as it turns the table of grace for sinners into an exclusive table for the apparently already righteous. This flesh wants to build the church with moral scaffolding, with a works-based paint that tries to cover the blemishes of failure and sin, and leave it with an outward veneer that venerates those who achieve shiny, spiritual lives. But it is all so fake. It is deceptive and deceiving of oneself and one’s neighbor. And those who have lived in trench warfare with the devil, their own flesh, and the world, can spot this fake and pretentious Christianity a mile away.
The fallout of this is that often we limit in scope the recipients of the table of grace and mercy to an arbitrary age or grade. We have created and continued to foster in many respects a churchly culture that devalues the suffering of the young. We have become blind to the fact that long before high school, children experience great suffering. They are tormented as outcasts adrift in the ocean of their peers. They are bullied through wireless machines. They are afflicted with depression and self-injury, and given over to suicidal thoughts as the evil one seeks to sift them like wheat. We have lived long in this land attending to the needs of the adolescent, but we have routinely failed to understand that they, too, need their Savior’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of their sins.
The irony of the Lord’s Supper is always this: Those who think themselves worthy of this meal are not and those who think themselves unworthy are worthy of this sacred meal. The young must understand as well as adults that in order that we are to believe ourselves unworthy of the gifts that we receive in the Lord’s Supper the Scriptures say, “Let a person examine himself…” This is also something we have lost. Sadly, however, this is something we rarely, if ever, do. But this is something that must be done by both adolescents and adults. This is something that, while hard and humbling to do, is the pathway to the Lord’s Table of Grace. Why? Because if you don’t, if you deny that you are a sinner you deceive yourself and the truth comes not from your lips. You only speak the truth when you confess, “I am a liar.” No one speaks the whole truth except Yahweh, the Lord. His Word is Truth. His Son is Truth. His Spirit is Truth. If you fail to grasp the fall into sin, you also fail to grasp the truth of the blood that runs from the cross of Christ to the Table of Christ.
You come to the Lord’s Supper not because you are righteous, nor better or less bad than others, but only because you are a poor miserable sinner. The young know this just as well as the old. Again irony comes to the table: faithful communicants often believe themselves greater sinners than anyone else. It’s for this reason that the child of Bethlehem’s chalice should, under pastoral care, be given to the lips of adolescents even as they sing, “Hosanna, loud hosanna.” Jesus has blessed His children; He has folded them to His breast through Holy Baptism. And as they cry out “save us,” as they know and feel their brokenness and sin, may their lips be granted the chalice brought forth by the child of Bethlehem that shall lead them and all God’s children into the promised land of eternal rest.
Rev. Christopher Raffa is Associate Pastor of Pilgrim Evangelical Lutheran Church in West Bend, Wisconsin. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.