[This is a communion meditation I gave at the First Church of Christ, Greendale, IN, Oct. 6, 2013.]
Just so you know, I definitely AM allowed to take communion today! I say this because I am holding in my hand a genuine COMMUNION TOKEN (which was a gift to me from my friends, Bill and Donna Jo Tucker). This token is oval in shape, about the size of a semi-squashed quarter. It verifies that I have been found worthy to partake of the emblems of the Lord’s Supper!
At least that was its function when it was first issued. On one side of the token are inscribed the words, “Free Church of Scotland,” and the year 1843. So I admit that I am not exactly in the right place, and that I am about 170 years too late!
Such tokens are collectors’ items today. They were involved in a practice that developed mainly in Presbyterian churches in Great Britain from the late 16th century into the 19th century. These churches celebrated the Lord’s Supper quite infrequently, anywhere from one to four times a year. They were also very strict about who was permitted to take communion in the local church meetings. Only those who had the permission of the local leadership were allowed to attend and participate. This was called “closed communion.”
How did they decide who was permitted to partake and who was not? Every member of the local congregation had to be EXAMINED by the eldership, to make sure they believed the right doctrines and were leading a reasonably holy life. If the elders found the member to pass these tests, that member was given a TOKEN such as the one I am now holding. This signified that he or she was worthy to participate, and could do so by surrendering the token on the appointed day.
Interestingly, on the other side of this token are inscribed these words: “Let a man examine himself – I. COR. XI.28.” I find this to be extremely ironic. God’s Word says the participants should examine themselves. There is nothing in God’s Word about being examined by the elders or by any other human judges. (I used to know a Christian father who had two young teenagers who were also Christians. I recently heard that on their way to church, the father would tell his teen children whether they were allowed to take the Lord’s Supper that Sunday morning, based on their behavior that week.)
What does the passage in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 say? “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.”
As we focus just on the exhortation in verse 28, “But a man must examine himself,” I will suggest that we should practice self-examination each time we partake of the Supper by asking ourselves two basic questions. ONE: “Do I truly realize that I am a sinner who needs a Savior?” As we give the obvious answer, we can confess our sins and lay them before our gracious Lord. TWO: “Have I been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ?” In other words, have I been to Jesus for the cleansing power? Am I fully trusting in his grace this hour? Am I washed in the blood of the Lamb?
This is an examination we should give ourselves at all times, but especially during the Lord’s Supper. This helps us remember that the Biblical message is not “Worthy OF the Lamb,” but “Worthy IS the Lamb” (Rev. 5:12).