~ Meager and Dangerous Worship ~
Most of the times I witnessed or participated in the rite of the Lord's Supper or Communion of the bread and cup, I've been impressed, sadly impressed. As I nurture and contemplate the intimacy our Lord seeks with His children, I am increasingly struck by the frequent cavalier and casualness with which many approach the Lord's table and the elements of His body and blood.
St. Paul teaches, "Whoever eats the bread or drinks from the Lord's cup in an improper way will be held responsible for the Lord's body and blood. With this in mind, individuals must determine whether what they are doing is proper when they eat the bread and drink from the cup. Anyone who eats and drinks is eating and drinking a judgment against himself when he doesn't recognize the Lord's body. This is the reason why many of you are weak and sick and quite a number of you have died." (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)
What Paul writes, although familiar, should pop wide open the eyes of all Christians! The protectiveness we feel for our children and the care we need to exert over new or less spiritually mature Christians in our assemblies should burden us with the sacred task of carefully teaching the meaning and power of this sacred practice.
Please take some time to consider what it means to be "held responsible for the Lord's body and blood;" to eat and drink "a judgment against himself;" to "recognize the Lord's body." The Scriptures declare that even our physical health and life depend upon our proper practice and understanding. Paul continues to provide understanding: "If we were judging ourselves correctly, we would not be judged. But when the Lord judges us, he disciplines us so that we won't be condemned along with the rest of the world." (verses 31-32)
Approaching the Lord's table requires a courageous self-examination and preparation so we partake of the bread and cup in accordance with His will. That Christ said, "Do this in memory of Me" does not relegate the communion service to the status of a mere memorial as though we were visiting a grave site. (And I've seen, at times, more reverent behavior and emotional and spiritual involvement at graves than at the Lord's table.) There is a profound mystery in Paul's injunction that we are held responsible for and in judgment of the Lord's body when the elements are consumed improperly, which may lead to physical illness or death. Indeed, the Lord's supper is a communion service, not a memorial service.
Communion is the highest form of worship and intimacy. David and his singers proclaimed,
"Worship the Lord in His holy splendor.
The voice of the Lord rolls over the water.
The God of glory thunders...
The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the wilderness tremble...
Everyone in His temple is saying, 'Glory!'"
--(from Psalm 29)
In the Revelation, John describes several worship scenes, one of which described "the voices of many angels, the four living creatures, and the leaders surrounding the throne. They numbered ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands times thousands. In a loud voice they were singing, 'the lamb who was slain deserves to receive power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and praise.' I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and on the sea. Every creature in those places was singing, 'To the one who sits on the throne and to the lamb be praise, honor, glory, and power forever and ever.' The four living creatures said, 'Amen!' Then the leaders bowed and worshipped." (Revelation 5:11-14)
When Jesus went into Jerusalem for the last time, His disciples "shouted joyfully, 'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.' Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, 'Teacher, tell your disciples to be quiet.' Jesus replied, 'I can guarantee that if they are quiet, the stones will cry out.'" (Luke 19:38-39)
Though they are intrinsically connected, a review of the Scriptures do indicate a difference between praise and worship. In the quote from Revelation above, note that "then the leaders bowed and worshipped." Psalm 95:6 says, "Come, let's worship and bow down. Let's kneel in front of the Lord, our maker." From the Wise Men to Mary who poured perfume on Jesus' feet and dried them with her hair, worship was associated with extreme reverence and prostration. Even Satan invited Jesus to bow to Him during the desert temptations.
Paul wrote, "The secrets in their hearts will become known, and in this way they will quickly bow with their faces touching the ground, worship God, and confess that God is truly among you." (1 Corinthians 14:25) It is with this attitude of worship that we need to approach the Lord's table of communion. As the Scriptures quoted above reflect, God deserves no less than that level of both praise and worship in our hearts. Worship is not self-conscious but is all consuming and highly emotional as we are in a love affair with our God. If you are looking at your watch or wondering if your hair is still combed just right, you are not in worship.
Whether we are in corporate or private worship, we are part of the Body of Christ. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Just as Paul instructs, there is more to the bread and cup than a memorial to Christ. Being part of the Body of Christ is more than a metaphor. Like the Lord's Supper, there is a profound reality to being in Christ that excites me, and humbles me, beyond words.
To just begin to understand a little of this mystery, we must stop imposing our concept of experience of time on God. Our Creator is the I Am and transcends time. He doesn't see our future, He is there already. David writes, "I depended on you before I was born." (Psalm 71:6a) "Every day of my life was recorded in your book before one of them had taken place." (Psalm 139:16b) "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart for my holy purpose." (Jeremiah 1:5)
Thus it follows that all of our sins, even those we have not yet committed, were being carried by our Savior. Jesus was not anguishing over the prospect of being crucified. Many others had been killed in that manner and in even more physically painful ways. Jesus was in such pain that He needed angelic help to ensure He didn't die before it was time. As David wrote, we all depended on Christ before we were born. We were there, our sins and all, in His heart. The cross He hung on wasn't His, it was ours.
Our sins were crucified with Him. Now we can enter into the Holy of Holies as the Father's adopted children. I am overwhelmed into the only proper response: worship! I also tremble at the thought that I would be held responsible in judgment for "the Lord's body and blood" should I approach His table in any state other than bowed at His feet in worship.
Oh Lord, "You are familiar with all my ways. Even before there is a single word on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord. You are all around me--in front of me and in back of me. You lay your hand on me. Such knowledge is beyond my grasp. It is so high I cannot reach it." (Psalm 139:3b-5)
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © June 16, 2001
"God's Word" is a copyrighted work of God's Word to the Nations Bible Society. Quotations are used by permission.
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