Different churches have thought through the Scriptural and Gospel logic of Holy Communion and Zoom and come to different conclusions. My church, the Church of the Messiah, decided early on that Holy Communion should be in person, not by Zoom. For some reading this, over the next few Sundays, you will partake of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) for the first time in several months. For others, it might be the first time since March of 2020. For all of us, this is a good season to reflect upon the Lord’s Supper.
Book of Common Prayer
One of the mature fruits of the English Reformation is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Its Communion service is virtually unchanged from 1552. The Communion service in its “official” form contains three different exhortations concerning the importance of partaking of the Lord’s Supper in a worthy, and regular manner. These three exhortations are not normally included in the service that people actually attend. As a result, many people are completely unaware of their existence. This is the first of three blogs where I give you the exhortation. In each case, I have gently updated the language. I will add very brief comments at the end. By the way, this is the longest of the three exhortations.
The First Exhortation
Dearly beloved, this coming Sunday I purpose, through God’s assistance, to administer to all those who be religiously and devoutly disposed the most comfortable sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, to be received by them in remembrance of His meritorious cross and passion, whereby alone we obtain remission of our sins and are made partakers of the kingdom of heaven.
Wherefore it is our duty to render most humble and hearty thanks to almighty God, our heavenly Father, because He has given His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, not only to die for us, but also to be our spiritual food and sustenance in that holy sacrament. Which, being so divine and comfortable a thing to those who receive it worthily, and so dangerous to those who will presume to receive it unworthily, my duty is to exhort you, in the meantime, to consider the dignity of that holy mystery, and the great peril of the unworthy receiving thereof, and so to search and examine your own consciences – and that not lightly, and after the manner of dissemblers with God, but so that you may come holy and clean to such a heavenly feast, in the marriage garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that holy table.
The way and means thereto is this: First, to examine your life and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, and in whoever you perceive yourself to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail your own sinfulness, and to confess yourselves to almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life. And if you shall perceive your offences to be such as are not only against God, but also against your neighbours, then you shall reconcile yourselves unto them, being ready to make restitution and satisfaction (according to the uttermost of your powers) for all injuries and wrongs done by you to any other; and being likewise ready to forgive others who have offended you, as you would have forgiveness of your offences at God’s hand. For otherwise the receiving of holy communion does nothing else but increase your condemnation. Therefore if any of you be a blasphemer of God, a hinderer or slanderer of His word, an adulterer, or be in malice, or envy, or in any other grievous crime, repent you of your sins, or else come not to that holy table – lest, after taking of that holy sacrament, the devil enter into you, as he entered into Judas, and fill you full of all iniquities, and bring you to destruction both of body and soul.
And because it is requisite that no person should come to the holy communion, but with a full trust in God’s mercy, and with a quiet conscience, therefore if there be any of you who by this means cannot quiet your own conscience, but require further comfort or counsel, let them come to me, or to some other discreet and learned minister of God’s word, and open your grief, that by the ministry of God’s holy word you may receive the benefit of absolution, together with spiritual counsel and advice, to the quieting of your own conscience and removing of all scruple and doubtfulness.
First, this is a concise biblical theology worthy of careful reading. It is so dense that you could use it as the “precis” or summary of a series of talks at a retreat, a series of sermons at church, or topics in your small group.
Older writings can challenge us to be more biblically faithful and wise.
Second, in keeping with much of the spiritual writing from centuries ago, this exhortation takes 1 Corinthians 11:27–32 very seriously, probably far more seriously than most of us do, myself included. This is one of the very big benefits of reading very old Christian writings. Older writings like this challenge us to be more biblically faithful and wise.
Third, it is clear that we receive mercy and forgiveness, and are made partakers of the kingdom of heaven, by faith in Christ alone, as taught by God’s word. Yet, it is also clear that we are to take the sin in our lives far more seriously. The grace of God enables and spurs on serious moral self-examination. If grace leads you to ignore your own sin, then you have not received God’s grace, but only embarked on a vain and doomed journey to “trick” God into eternal life. By the way, a “dissembler” is one who tries to “sweet talk,” nuance, reframe, and confuse issues so that what they did was not really sin.
Pray that the Lord will reform our churches by His holy word, and revive us by the Holy Spirit!