Maundy Thursday, April 21, 2011
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:27-32
Pay attention to Paul’s ambiguity – both for what it means and for what it doesn’t mean. This admonition to self-examine is the “requirement,” rather than a dirty laundry list of ethical mandates. It is a slippery passage resisting the grip of those who would hijack God’s hospitality and assign their own terms.
But there is one condition – and it is more exacting than anything we could devise, because it accomplishes the one thing at which we, left to our own devices, are most inclined to fail: self-examination (from which no one is exempt). “But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged,” Paul writes with the wisdom of one who has stood face to face with his own brokenness.
Whether you are guilty of much or guilty of little is not the question. Whatever you have done, whatever it is in the eyes of all or in the eyes of none but God, the requirement is the same: to examine oneself.
Let us admit our frustration and let us think about the nature of it. What are we to discern in this inward time? What, concretely, are our consciences to offer up to God before proceeding to our Lord’s Table? Is this not a kind of theological loophole through which we might escape? Why isn’t Paul specific?
In these questions lurks desire for a kind of security we are not intended to carry with us to the feast of bread and wine. We are not meant to peer over at our neighbor and see what it is that she has discovered in her heart. For in that moment, we forsake the solemn task of exploring our own.
God of these simple elements, bread and wine, train our eyes on our own hearts and lives so that you deem worthy the manner in which we partake of your gifts of grace. It is in Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.
Geoff Ashmun is Director of Public Relations at McCormick Theological Seminary.