Sunday, July 18, 2021

Preparation. . .

At the end of the Prayer of the Church, which ever of us is presiding reminds the congregation that as the Lord's altar is being prepared, during the offertory they are to prepare themselves to receive the Lord's body and blood.  It is not something perfunctory.  In the chancel, the pastors uncover the elements, and arrange them in preparation for when the Word of Christ will set them apart to be what that Word says:  His body and blood.  We look at the numbers and see if the number of hosts is appropriate to the number present and whether the cruet needs more or perhaps less wine.  We wash our hands in preparation for this holy work of distributing the body and blood of Christ to His people.  Lately this has come also to include using hand sanitizer as a comforting gesture to a people bombarded with warnings and fears over the past year or more.  Only then do we intone the Preface and begin the Service of the Sacrament.

Just as important is the preparation that happens in the pews.  We suggest that they review the communion statement as a reminder of what it is that they receive and how we receive this gift to our blessing and not to our harm.  We encourage them to pray the prayers in the front of the hymnal (conveniently some are printed on the inside cover for quick and easy access).  We also encourage them to take a moment to review Luther's Christian Questions and Answers (p. 329 in the Hymnal).  Receiving the Lord's very body and precious blood is not something perfunctory but something we do only with serious thought and preparation.  This is not something that makes us worthy but something that helps ensure our worthy reception of this gift.

In the old days this would have routinely been accompanied with fasting and even perhaps a special service of corporate confession and absolution.  Both of these are still salutary and beneficial.  Even if they are less common we should not discourage these disciplines but encourage them as beneficial, wholesome, and good.  At the very least, we ought to take enough time to examine ourselves and so discern the Lord's body and our need as well as the blessing received in this communion.  In the past, we might have skipped over this preparation and gotten down to the business of taking the offering and preparing the Table.  Since the passing of the plate is probably still not happening among us, COVID has offered us the opportunity to remember and give pause to the moment as we do something deliberate and not routine.  It is a lesson I hope that we continue to honor as the pandemic goes further and further behind us.

In an age of instant food, instant shopping, and instant pleasure, it may seem old fashioned to plod along at this point in the Divine Service.  But it is a helpful and beneficial warning against rushing where we need to go rather slowly and deliberately.  At least that is how I hope this now routine script is received.  Pastors are not primarily gate keepers of the Table but voices through which the faithful are reminded of what they are to receive and how to receive it well and to their benefit and blessing.  At the same time, we are warned that what God means for our good can be harmful to us if we lack the faith or the repentance to receive it with joy, thanksgiving, and the amen of faith.

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