Posted on March 25th, 2016
There were three great Patriarchs of the Jews: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob had a twin brother Esau, and they had parted when Jacob by trickery got their father’s blessing instead of Esau. Esau had promised that he would one day kill Jacob. So Jacob fled, and worked for a man named Laban.
Things have gone well since then. Jacob has a family, and has become wealthy through breeding livestock. But he had to run away, because his brothers-in-law want to kill him. And now his old enemy, his brother Esau, is approaching. The scouts say Esau has with him an army of 400 men.
So this is it at last. There’s no more running, no more hiding. He has hatred from his own family, he is homeless, he has nothing other than the promise.
Separating his family members in hopes that some will survive, he kneels in the dust and, in fear and desperation, pleads with God to remember His promise:
I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. 11 Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. 12 For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ (Ge 32:10–12)
That is how we approach God. That is how we pray. And most especially on this night, that is how we come to the Sacrament of the Altar. We have two words, two sayings, two truths that always for us hang together: “I am not worthy”; and, “You said.” That’s what we find happening in the Epistle lesson tonight, St. Paul’s great teaching on how to approach Holy Communion.
We come entirely confessing our unworthiness. It is imperative that each one of us, each time we come to the Holy Supper, examine ourselves. This is the clear instruction of God’s Word to us:
28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
How do we examine ourselves? On the basis of the Ten Commandments, which are all summarized by the word Love: Have you loved God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind? Have you loved your neighbor as yourself? Our honest examination leads us to say with Jacob, “I am not worthy,” which forms the basis of tonight’s Eucharistic Prayer: “We are not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown unto us.” This confession of unworthiness drives us to look to the body and blood of Jesus, the one man who is worthy, the one man who is sinless, the one man who exchanges His strength for our weakness. That’s the “You said” of the Lord’s Supper: Jesus said, “This is My body, This is My blood,” and He said that He gives it to us “for the remission of sins.” We are not worthy, but He said that He gives us His body which takes away our unworthiness, takes away our sins. He gives us sanctity for defilement, cleanness for dirtiness, chastity for fornication, joy for despair, peace for fear, life for death.
But if you come to the supper saying, “I deserve this,” you will incur only God’s wrath:
29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
The Supper gives life, even unto the resurrection; but if we come thinking we are worthy, and not depending on what God has said about the Supper, then it will be to our death.
31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.
These are the options: judge ourselves, or be judged, by God. Accepting God’s judgment now, we accept His discipline:
32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Judged now, we come to the Supper in repentance, saying, “I am not worthy; but You promised forgiveness, You promised life, You promised Yourself, and I know You do not lie. The world lies to me. The devil lies to me, promising me what is not true. Lies rage in my own heart and soul, making me anger or despair, euphoric at my glory, melancholy at my failure. But You do not lie. You made me, and though I am fallen, You love me still. Wash me as You washed Peter. Cleanse me as You cleansed David. Drive away my demons, as You freed Mary Magdalene. I am not worthy, but You have promised, and I take You at Your Word. In You will I live, in You will I die, and Yours will I be forever.” +INJ+