Tuesday, May 10, 2016

On the subject of Holy Communion while your brother has a case against you


You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:21-24

Pollution and ‘carbon footprints’ are all the rage, but there’s a more dangerous contamination we should be concerned about, namely, the tainting of our souls, and of the Lord’s Altar, with anger aimed at our brother. We think a lot about the pollution we can see, but not so much the invisible contagion of anger. So today’s Gospel lesson reminds us not to corrupt the Altar, but rather be reconciled to our brother and our God through Christ.

Jesus lays the burden of brotherly reconciliation on us. He doesn’t say: “if you have a case against your brother,” but “if you remember that your brother has a case against you go and be reconciled.” Why does the Lord speak this way? Because we expend our anger at others, and speak to our loved ones as if they’re the greatest fools earth has ever born, but in our sinful pride we don’t think we’ve done anything wrong. We have no case against our brother, why should we? We’ve spoken our mind and exhausted our wrath, but may not stop to think about the damage we’ve left in our wake, or what case our brother might legitimately have against us.

This is why we should never come to Holy Communion without first examining ourselves according to the ten commandments with their Christian explanation. Without first confessing our wrongs, receiving absolution from the pastor, “as if from God Himself” and being reconciled to our brother through Christ. This is why Individual Confession is preferable to General Confession. In it we have the chance to properly consider our sins; and most especially the opportunity to hear the Word of the Gospel spoken to us personally, to learn once again that Jesus became liable to our judgment, was thrown into the prison of death for us, and paid the last penny of our debt.

There are other ways of polluting the Rail as well. If we don’t comprehend with our whole mind, and believe with our whole heart that we are justified before God by faith alone, then we must not come to the Altar. The Sacrament can do no good for those who think they obtain righteousness before God by any means other than faith in the sufferings, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord. Only those who believe, and are baptized into this Christian faith may come, and by God's grace we are among those people. For God’s Redeemed the Altar has always been the place where heaven and earth intersect. The place where Jesus breaks into our earthly reality in order to feed us with His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, for our Life and Salvation. That’s what happens, and what we receive in Holy Communion.

We taint the Altar, too, if we open it up to those who Confess a different faith. Holy Communion isn’t only Communion with Jesus, but also the highest expression of Unity in Faith with all the others who come to the Lord’s Altar. When a person presents himself at a church’s Altar he claims by that act that he is in full agreement and fellowship with that church, it’s people, its doctrine, its mission and its practice. People sometimes wonder if they can receive communion when visiting the church of another Denomination, as long as they hold the correct faith regarding the Suppers? The answer is: no, for the reasons just stated. It’s not the answer we want to hear, but it’s the answer that Jesus gives. The Church didn’t invent Closed Communion, it’s something we learned from Jesus. At The First Communion the Lord communed only His Disciples. The Blessed Virgin, the other Mary’s, Sts. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimithea all had greater love and allegiance than the Disciples, but only they were invited because only they had been fully taught. Later these First Communicants would give this Sacrament to all who would learn the Apostle’s Doctrine, (Acts 2:42) believe it, Confess it, and be baptized into it. And because of God’s great love, we are among those people.

In the Eucharist, Jesus is Present with His church to forgive her, lead her, guide her and impart to her all that she needs so that even the very gates of hell cannot prevail against her. The Altar is where the Promises of Matthew 18:20 (where two or three are gathered…I am with them), and Matthew 28:20 (I am with you always) are fulfilled. In the Sacrament Jesus puts our sins into remission, quells God’s wrath and averts the judgment our sins of anger have merited for us.

So Jesus tells us in this lesson: don’t pollute the Lord’s Altar with anger or disbelief, instead come to it in order to be reconciled to your God and your brother through Him. By the Spirit-born faith we received in baptism we are reconciled to God in Christ. At the Font we were Sacramentally crucified, buried and raised again with Him, as we heard in today’s epistle lesson (Romans 6:3-11). Baptism isn’t the parlor game that many theologies claim it to be, but rather a true restoration to God in Christ which never diminishes or finishes. No matter how great our loss to the forces of sin and death, in Holy Baptism our fortunes have been reversed, and like Naomi, our bitterness is turned to gladness. What begins at the Font continues at the Altar, and will be fulfilled in the Holiest Communion of all at the Messiah’s never-ending banquet. This is the glorious future which we have obtained from God, in Christ. Since we have been so reconciled to God, let us be re-united with our brothers at the Altar as well, putting aside all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander and malice, and forgiving one another even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us. (Ephesians 4:31ff)

Let the world fret over greenhouse gasses if it likes, but let God’s people in Christ rejoice because we have been cleansed from sin’s pollution, and we live in the Green Pastures of His love. Amen.

~Rev. Dean Kavouras

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