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.]]>
For now I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the Lord; and they shall come and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.
- Jeremiah 1:15-16 (excerpt)
My college theology professor, David Cain, once relayed a story about Karl Barth referring to his nearly 10,000-page Church Dogmatics as “chaff on the floor of heaven.” One morning, Dr. Cain carried in a single trip all 14 volumes of Barth’s magnum opus to our Introduction to Theology class to relatively dramatic effect. The worn, hardbound tomes landed on the desk with a thud, stacked and teetering three or four feet in the air. Dr. Cain was visibly winded – and I’m pretty sure he had used the elevator.
Whatever Barth’s reputation may have been among his peers, if you believe this story, then you see a scholar who had cultivated a deep humility and spiritual maturity with respect to his own life’s work. On the one hand, it’s impressive, but how easily we forget that it is simply a matter of faithfulness that we do not “worship the work of [our] own hands” (v. 16) – lest we face God’s judgment.
I think we often misunderstand what God’s judgment means, what is going on in the heart of God when we are judged. When we do worship the work of our own hands – and let’s be real about how this is basically at the marrow of our society – it is as though we are standing in our own grave with a shovel in hand, too preoccupied with securing our own worth to see the dark future we have prepared for ourselves.
As judge, God is not simply a greater version of us, jealous that we have chosen to give ourselves the glory instead. God utters judgment in that God utters the truth about who we are, not what God will do to us because ____. And that truth is uttered fundamentally in love, but by virtue of how deeply we have marred our own beauty, the truth must hurt and necessarily comes from God’s lips as a fierce crack of thunder and a call to repentance before the restoring rains fall.
Gracious God, in our brokenness, help us to understand the nature of your anger and disappointment with us and to know Your love that works tirelessly to recover your lost people. It is in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Geoff Ashmun is Director of Public Relations for McCormick Theological Seminary and a writer as much by necessity as by trade.]]>