We ran across this series of articles written for his parish by BJS member Pastor Mark Hein and got his permission to publish them here. He is Pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL. You can access previous parts of this article, as well as his other posts on this site, at http://steadfastlutherans.org/pastorhein.
Part 4 – Prepared to Receive, Prepared to be Blessed”
In discussing etiquette in our worship services, some may be surprised to learn that our starting point is not at the actual beginning of the service itself, but rather BEFORE the service even gets underway. It is all about being properly prepared for divine worship… being properly prepared to enter into worship… properly prepared to hear the very Word of God breathed upon us and to receive into our mouths the very body and blood of our Savior in, with and under the bread and wine in Holy Communion.
Too often our minds are on “auto-pilot, our lives on “automatic,” where we end up going through the motions… where we just show up for worship in much the same way we may just show up for other events and activities in our lives. It is a constant struggle to be prepared and ready, to keep alert and stay awake… to remain vigilant. How many times does God’s Word exhort us to do just that!
One of the joys of having your own copy of our church’s hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book, or The Lutheran Study Bible that just came out, is that both provide you with the lectionaries of our church – both the three-year and one-year cycle. This is a great quick reference to the appointed readings for a given Sunday or festival in the Church Year. As part of your preparation for divine worship, read through the Old Testament, the Epistle (or Second Reading) and the Gospel Lesson for the upcoming service. This gives you the opportunity to ponder these texts ahead of time. And then you have the joy of hearing them read in divine worship and expounded upon in the sermon that is delivered by your pastor. By repetition and constant exposure to God’s Word, we learn the same. We reach a deeper appreciation and understanding of the same.
As important as it is to prepare for the Word which graciously and richly comes to us in the divine service, it is also important that we, the saints, prepare for the reception of the Lord’s Supper. The reason for this is the sobering fact that a person can receive this Sacrament unworthily to the great detriment of their soul. If you have not done so lately, please be sure to read the section in Luther’s Small Catechism on “How to Receive This Sacrament Worthily.” In God’s Holy Word, it states:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29 ESV)
Luther’s Catechism explains that to properly examine one’s self before receiving the Sacrament means that: (A) We take the time and give proper consideration to see if we are truly sorry (contrite) for our sins – what we have done in thought, word and deed and what we have left undone; (B) That we whole-heartedly believe and have no doubt in our Savior, Christ Jesus, and His words in the Sacrament; and (C) That we plan, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to change (amend) our sinful lives.
As one pastor and shepherd, I must share with you that I am more than just a little concerned over how some of the members of my flock may be receiving the Sacrament and their understanding of the same. That is why I am constantly trying to convey, share, teach, warn and admonish people regarding Holy Communion out of true love and concern for them. Again, get out your catechisms and review what God’s Word says and what we as Lutheran’s believe, teach and confess. Don’t hesitate to see your pastor and ask any questions that you may have about the Lord’s Supper. Sit in on your church’s adult information classes or adult confirmation classes wherein the Sacrament of the Altar is discussed along with all the chief parts of our faith.
While you have your catechism open, you will find in it a section entitled “Christian Questions with Their Answers.” Here the blessed Dr. Luther has prepared for us twenty questions which we can ask ourselves before going to the chancel rail and receive Christ’s body and blood. I would encourage you to use these questions faithfully and regularly. They help us put everything into proper perspective. They help prepare our hearts to receive the greatest treasure of all. They help to insure that we receive that treasure to our soul’s health. At the end of the “Christian Questions,” the Catechism rightly notes, “These questions and answers are no child’s play, but are drawn up with great earnestness of purpose… Let each one pay attention and consider it a serious matter.”
Years ago, it was only proper that those who intended on coming to the Lord’s Table in the upcoming divine service, that they “announce” the same… that they come and meet with the shepherd and overseer of their soul to talk about their life in Christ. For the most part, we have lost this precious connection, but the opportunity still exists. You as a communicant member can ask to meet with your pastor so that he may guide and counsel you, so that he may help prepare you for the Sacrament. I guarantee, making this request of your pastor will make his day! If it doesn’t, something is seriously wrong.
Along the same line as going and talking with your pastor prior to the reception of the Holy Supper, is the blessing of private confession. That is, having the opportunity to confess one’s sins to his or her pastor and to personally receive the gracious words of forgiveness. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, private confession in the Lutheran Church is OFFERED. It is not mandated. It is not an “obligation.” Rather, it is a joy to those who avail themselves of it. And then, in short order to be able to go to the communion rail and receive the very body and blood of our Lord. Wow! Private confession is another wonderful offering and benefit which the Lord gives to us in preparation for divine worship and the reception of the Sacrament of the Altar.
Finally, please remember that on the first page of our Lutheran Service Book, there are prayers that you can lift up before and after receiving the Sacrament. You can find additional ones on page 308 in our hymnal. Indeed, when we look around at all that is offered and available to us… all that is conveyed to us… we realize how blessed we are in the Lutheran faith… in the Lutheran Church!
Let us pray: O Lord, by the power of Your Holy Spirit working mightily in our hearts and minds, may we never enter into Your holy sanctuary, into the divine service unprepared. Rather, through daily devotion, proper contemplation and examination, may we fully receive all the blessings which come to us in Word and Sacrament including forgiveness, life, peace, guidance and the strength to carry on… continue on… in the one true faith unto life everlasting. All this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.