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.”
I think I know what they’re saying. We know ourselves and our failures and we fear that we don’t measure up to what God expects.
Such a sentiment, however, fails to grasp how “worthiness” language appears in the Bible, and it doesn’t recognize that failures–sinners, prostitutes, tax-collectors–are the only people Jesus welcomes to his table.
When Paul uses “worthiness” language of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, he’s referring to specific hypocrisies when participating in the Lord’s Supper. The meal was a ritual intended to depict the unity of God’s people. 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 “worthiness” language has to do with intentionally divisive behaviors and not with the sort of people Jesus invites to his table. It is not the case that he has high standards so that only “the worthy” can eat with him.
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.