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Self-examination at the Table of Grace

June 1, 2008

I Corinthians 11:23-29

Our Scripture today, which is Paul’s great treatise on the Lord’s Supper, comes from I Corinthians 11. I will begin reading at Verse 23. Hear now the Word of God.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man (I would add a woman) ought to examine himself (or herself) before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.

I have officiated at a number of weddings during the month of May; and when I attended a rehearsal dinner recently, I remembered another rehearsal dinner from last year. I must hasten to say it was not one connected with Morningside. Name cards had been placed at all plates on the tables, showing everyone where to sit. As Clare often does, she pointed out the places where we were to sit. It is her prerogative, her right, as the wife of the officiating minister, to rearrange those place cards if we are not seated next to each other. I wish I could tell you that she really wants to sit next to me for reasons of affection. It may be somewhat true, but it is really so that she is close enough to kick me under the table in case I do something I should not do. She needs to straighten me out from time to time at such gatherings. On this particular occasion, she decided to arrange the cards so that I sat next to a woman whom I did not know, a woman I had never seen before in my life. Of course, the woman knew that I was the officiating minister for the wedding.

The woman was a chronic complainer who took great delight in telling the details of her physical ailments, one malady after another. She had a checklist of all her surgeries and went into detail about each one, explaining how many had not helped her very much. Clare and I enjoyed our salad while this woman delivered an extended description – as I said to Clare later, an organ recital – about her surgeries. You will understand the play on words there.

Just beyond this woman to her left was a man I know quite well. He is a physician, but he certainly did not want her to know that bit of information. He was very quiet so that he would not have to reveal that fact. Later on he told me, “She really needed your help more than mine. This was basically a head case. She needed pastoral care.”

In this very nice setting, the woman went on and on and on in a sort of never-ending recitation about her ailments, beginning with her salad and continuing through her meal of grilled chicken covered with asparagus. The physician and I were eating beef as she expounded on all of her surgeries. For some people, eating a piece of beef while listening to these explicit details would have been difficult. I do not think we missed a lick though.

When it was time for dessert, I passed and just drank coffee. She and the physician had dessert. Finally, she turned to him and asked, “What line of work are you in?” After a long pause, the physician came out of hiding and revealed, “I am a medical doctor.”

With that, she delivered another long monologue to him, mostly focusing on her current problems. Throughout dessert, she asked many questions, “What medicine do you think I ought to take for this?” “What do you think I should do about that?” She was bootlegging medical advice.

Finally, this physician, as cool as a cucumber, said to the woman, “I’ll tell you what. Let me finish my cheesecake and coffee, and we will call the wait staff to clear the table. You can take off all of your clothes and get up on the table. I will examine you.”

There was dead silence. Not another mumbling word about physical problems came from this woman. His response might have been one of the cleverest retorts I have ever heard. I can tell you that this woman did not want to hear that. It was one thing to complain about her problems during the meal, but she did not want to think of that dining table becoming an examining table.

This Lord’s Supper table before us today is an examination table. That is one of its functions. During the reading of the Scripture for today, the apostle Paul said, “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks a cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” People should examine themselves before eating the bread and drinking the cup. This table, of course, is not an examination table in the physical sense. It is a table for self-examination in the spiritual sense.

Paul wants us to examine our own lives and think just for a minute about the sin found there. Think about sins that have been with you for a long, long time, the ones you keep trying to push aside, the ones from years ago you wish you could forget. They still bother you. Think about recent sins, the ones still fresh in your mind. In just the last week or month, you did something you should not have done. Think about sins that are the result of what you have not done but should have done. We call those sins of omission. Consider sins that are familiar, sins that so easily beset you. It is as if your conscience has been sealed. You are so familiar with these sins that they just do not bother you anymore.

When we come to this table, we come to complete a self-examination. We come to think about our heart, our mind, our life. We come to consider the sins old or new, sins of omission or commission, or sins that are so familiar that we are used to them. When I examine myself, I do not have a bit of trouble thinking about the sins in my life. What about you? Paul says that if we eat or drink in an unworthy manner, then we defile the body and blood of Christ. If I think about my sins, it is not very hard for me to feel like I am unworthy to eat and drink at the Lord’s Table.

The Lord’s Table is not just a table of examination; it is also a table of grace. That is exactly the point of the Supper. When we examine ourselves and become painfully aware of the sin in our lives, then we understand the words inscribed across the front of this table: “This Do in Remembrance of Me.” Those words remind us why we come here. We are to remember Christ, to remember his sacrifice on the cross. Taking these elements remind us of his body and his blood.

We come to this table to celebrate, but not because in our own right we are so worthy. We come because of the love of Christ Jesus. He has given to us the gift of forgiveness, the love of God revealed in Christ. We must understand that we are recipients of the grace of God and that this grace saves us from every single sin. He invites us to come to this table to be examined, for sure; but he also invites us to receive his grace. All who have accepted him as Lord Jesus Christ and Savior have been saved by the grace of the Lord. It is at this table that all hearts are opened. It is here that all desires are known. It is here we are reminded that all have sinned. It is here that no secrets are hidden. It is here that all sins can be forgiven.

We need to remember that this table of examination and grace is not Morningside’s table. This is not a Baptist table. This is the Lord’s Table. When we receive the bread and the cup, we receive gifts of grace from the Lord. All who proclaim and profess Jesus Christ as Lord and all sinners saved by grace are invited to take this meal with us. We now celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. He blessed it, and he broke it. He said, “This is my body, broken for you.” Let us have a prayer of blessing now for the bread.

Father, we come humbly before You, thanking You for Your goodness and grace as we are reminded of the sacrifice given on our behalf. We bow before You and pray now that as we receive this bread, that we will be reminded that it is Your goodness and Your grace that bring salvation for all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The psalmist wrote, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way within me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). “Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.”

Jesus said, “This bread is my body given for you.” Eat this as often as ye eat it in remembrance of him. Eat ye all of it.

We will have a prayer of blessing now for the cup.

Our Father, we thank You for the power of the blood of Jesus Christ. We thank You that the blood is an acceptable offering for our rebellion against You. We pray we will able to share the power of the blood with those who are not believers. May they also experience the salvation and the saving power that the blood gives to each of us. Thank You for Your Son Jesus and all he does for us each day. We look forward to the day when we get to heaven and sit around the table with You, sharing again the power of the blood and the Your body. Amen.

It was after David’s sin with Bathsheba that David wrote Psalm 51:10,12: “Create within me a clean heart, O God, and renew within me a right spirit: Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with your holy spirit.” “Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.”

Jesus said, “This cup is a new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink ye all of it.

This kind of service, is for me, a very special occasion. I always enjoy our times together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and sing “The Lord’s Prayer.” You do that so beautifully. I enjoy looking into your faces. I know of the hurt and sorrow in this congregation. I know, too, that some here today are right at the point of making a decision, perhaps to accept Christ as Savior. You know that God is leading you. What better day than this to accept Jesus as your Savior? Some here today have been visiting for a while and considering church membership. Today is the day. We will gladly receive you. Other decisions must be made. Just last Sunday, a young couple came forward and committed themselves to fulltime Christian ministry. You know what God has placed in your heart. We invite you to respond to these invitations from God as we sing “Just As I Am.”

© 2008 Kirk H. Neely

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