So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. [1 Corinthians 11:28 (NLT)]
Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. [United Methodist Book of Worship]
In the denominational church we attend Saturday nights, we celebrate Communion every week. As part of the liturgy, the congregation is invited to join in a corporate general confession. The pastor then tells the congregation that, in the name of Jesus Christ, they are forgiven. The congregation responds with the words, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!” New to this denomination, at first I wondered, “Does the pastor need the entire congregation’s forgiveness?”
With just a little thought I realized we weren’t forgiving the pastor (unless, of course, she’s harmed us in some way); we were forgiving all who have wronged us. Sinning and being sinned against are part of the human condition. If we need God’s forgiveness (and we always do), it’s a sure thing that someone out there needs our forgiveness as much as we need theirs.
Our Lord’s words were “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us,” [Matthew 6:12] which seems to mean that the way we give forgiveness is the way we’ll receive it. But does that mean we’ll not be forgiven if we don’t forgive? That seems to run contrary to the concept of God’s grace. I’ve read assorted and contradictory commentaries on this and still don’t know the answer to that one. What I do know is that the power to forgive doesn’t come from me; it comes from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps our inability to forgive others has more to do with our relationship with God than with anyone else.
The Apostle Paul tells us to examine ourselves before partaking of the bread and wine which would seem to mean that we should examine our relationship with Christ to determine whether it is sincere and genuine. Harboring condemnation, ire, bitterness, or resentment indicates there’s a problem in our relationship with Jesus as well as with someone else. The message of the gospel, however, is one of reconciliation and forgiveness.
When I say those words of forgiveness during Saturday worship, I am reminded that Jesus placed the burden of forgiveness and reconciliation on me. It doesn’t matter who is at fault, who should be the one to apologize, or whether the person who offended us is repentant or not. We can’t ask for the blessings found in the Lord’s Supper if we’re unwilling to share those blessings with friend and enemy alike. There is no room for anger and unforgiveness at the Lord’s table; His table is one of love and forgiveness.
‘Forgive our sins as we forgive,’ you taught us, Lord, to pray,
but you alone can grant us grace to live the words we say…
In blazing light your cross reveals the truth we dimly knew:
what trivial debts are owed to us, how great our debt to you!
[“Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive” by Rosamond E. Herklots]