As a boy and young man I had a recurring dream. I was giving a hopeful speech, sometimes to large groups, sometimes to small. That’s what it seemed the President was always doing, so from the time I was about four I pursued that dream, eventually moving 1000 miles away from home to the nation’s capital, taking the next pursuant step at The American University. Quickly, my dream was shattered. I was not the person I thought I was, and the presidency, I discovered, is not in essence about giving hopeful speeches but about governance, rule, law, power. Confused on just about every level, I returned to my home state, attending a small liberal arts school, Kalamazoo College. Fortunately, K’s academic plan gave me opportunity to explore the world, but that liberality was a double-edged sword. I learned valuable lessons and made great friends, but at the heart of my journey was a rejection of God and the accountability that such devotion affords. Unaccountable and free from constraint, I became all that I swore I would never become. It grieves me to this day the train-wreck of hurt that I left behind.
Eventually the train wreck slid to a stop. I deserved to be dead, spiritually and otherwise, but I wasn’t. I stumbled away from the train and saw the wreckage, able to see what I had done… to myself and others. It was time to start over. At the deepest human level that’s what I needed, but truly starting over–I discovered–meant that I needed forgiveness and accountability… Forgiveness–that somehow the past could be forgotten and truly put behind–and accountability–some one, some thing, some community that cared enough for me to tell me if I was going astray.
Against my will and to my delighted surprise and joy, after a few months I found that both of these things were possible and accessible… in Christ and His church.
Grace upon grace, about two years after my train wreck came to a stop I met Carrie Allen, a talented former aide to Michigan’s governor and, at that time, the chief legislative and political aide to the Speaker Pro Tem of the Michigan House of Representatives. Carrie and I met as friends, but of her essential qualities the greatest is that she gets forgiveness. She knew that Christ had forgiven her–and that means forgetting–and she was willing to know the man I was becoming and leave behind the man I was. To this day that gift that she was given–the eternal forgiveness of her sins by Christ–is the gift she continues to give to me and to our children.
The cross of Christ is where the final punishment for sins took place. The empty tomb we celebrate is the sign of that final sacrifice’s acceptance by God the Father. Holy Baptism (Romans 6) is the mystery that unites us in faith to the death and resurrection of The Eternal One. The Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11) is where the gift of forgiveness continues to be mediated to all the Baptized who stumble. People like me.
This is a big deal. The gift of God’s forgiveness, which is literally embodied in The Lord’s Supper, is the gift of God releasing, casting away, forgetting our sins. We approach the altar like the woman caught in adultery in John 8. At the altar we hear the eternal words of Christ, “This is my body…This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Leaving the altar we should hear the call to begin anew: “I do not condemn you. Go now, and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)
The Sacrament of the Altar is for sinners. It is true forgiveness and a new beginning. It is to be received with faith, with the hope and plan to live anew. In faith we depart, “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” (Phil 3.13) To receive the Supper in any other way is to mock God, and that’s a train wreck you don’t want to be a part of. Believe me.