The Failures Around Jesus’ Table

I’ve often heard Christians express doubts about their fitness to participate in the Lord’s Supper.  They say things like, “I don’t feel worthy to take it,” or “I feel like I need to get some things right before I take communion.”

This is an understandable sentiment.  We know ourselves and our failures and we fear that we don’t measure up to what God expects.  But this is a misconstrual of “worthiness” language and a failure to recognize that failures–sinners, prostitutes, tax-collectors–are the only people Jesus welcomes to his table.

Paul does indeed use “worthiness” language in reference to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.  He’s talking there about not being hypocritical when participating in the Lord’s Supper.  The meal was a ritual intended to depict the unity of God’s people.  Jesus died and was raised again to create the unified people of God—the singular body of Christ.  Paul is confronting the Corinthians’ divisive practices throughout 1 Corinthians and this is the context of his comments in chapter 11.  He warns them that if they are participating in divisive behaviors while also celebrating the meal that signifies the unity of the church, they are eating in an unworthy manner.

So the “worthy” language has to do with divisive behaviors and not with the sort of people Jesus invites to his table.

After all, who was at Jesus’ table?  Judas, who betrayed him; Peter, who denied him; Thomas, who doubted him.  Jesus calls us to share in the meal—those who betray, those who deny, those who doubt—to celebrate the unity of God’s people and to enjoy the embrace of the God who loves to fellowship with failures.

So, if you feel “unworthy,” you’re in good company at Jesus’ table.

11 thoughts on “The Failures Around Jesus’ Table

  1. athanasius96

    Good post. I’ve been tempted by this “worthiness” talk before. I have always reminded myself that the point of the exercise is that I am a sinner in need of Christ. However, I also used to take tiny portions of bread and once lost the whole piece in the cup (by intinction). It wakened me to the fact that this is supposed to be a feast for people who don’t deserve it. Since then, I take a bigger piece of bread.

  2. Joel

    This is why I like the Methodist communion because it is open to all. I’ve heard of at least one conversion because of that practice.

    1. timgombis

      An open table, just like Jesus’! No surprise that it was transformative. Doesn’t that touch something deep within us as humans that the God of the universe welcomes us to such a transformative encounter, oriented by grace? I’ve seen that same dynamic — powerful stuff. Thanks, Joel!

      1. Joel

        I don’t mean to diminish the transformative effect it, the open table, has had on my either, to which I would concur with you. Follower and hadn’t-Started-To-Follow-Just-Yet as equal before the Table, does something.

      2. timgombis

        I totally hear you, Joel. Well-said. Reminds me of Paul’s words, which I think he says sarcastically, in Rom.5: “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” indicating that if anyone in Rome doesn’t consider himself a sinner, he doesn’t get in on the benefits of Christ’s death.

      3. Jeffodist

        I too enjoy the open table of the Methodist church but have wondered about our invitation to the table;

        “Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
        who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.” –Word and Table I (United Methodist Hymnal p7)

        Are we setting the bar too high?

        Enjoy reading your blog!

  3. Craig Benno

    I like to see an open table also. I connect it to the 5 tenses of salvation…were, are being, are, are continuing, will be saved… Therefore in reality even those who are yet to convert in the future stand beside one who has converted in the past….the reality is all still stand equal before the lord.

    @Jeffodist…perhaps its better to word it in the way of describing _Christ beckons all to come and experience his love….

    1. timgombis

      Craig & Jeffodist, it seems to me that “all who know their need of Christ” are welcome.

      I hear what you’re saying Jeffodist. When we say, “all who love and seek him,” etc., we start inciting imaginations to think through how little their hearts are warmed to Christ, putting them off. It seems to me that we ought to cast the welcome as widely as possible.

  4. Pingback: An Open Conversation on the Table | Unsettled Christianity

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