Back in the summer of 1997 one of the country churches that I served had their Centennial celebration. We had a big celebration in August. There were so many people that they couldn't all fit in the beautiful little white church. We had a great time that day.
But earlier that summer, we decided that we would have an "old-time" service. We found some of the very old hymnals, and put together an old communion liturgy. We chose old favorites for hymns. Some of the people even wore old-time clothing that morning, trying to reproduce what worship would have been like about 100 years ago.
(Aside: one woman said we should do it again sometime, and get a "real old-time preacher this time." "What do you mean?" I asked. "A man," she replied.)
The communion liturgy about 100 years ago was a little different than it is now. The order was a little different, for one thing. First there was the Preface and then the Sanctus. Then there was an exhortation before communion. We said the Lord's prayer before the Word of Institution.
The exhortation was something most curious for me. I was curious about what the exhortation before communion would say. I knew that it would exhort us to be worthy of the sacrament. Here's what I read:
"Dear Friends in Christ! In order that you may receive this holy Sacrament worthily it becomes you diligently to consider what you must now believe and do. From the words of Christ: "This is my Body, which is given for you"; "This is my Blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins"; you should believe that Jesus Christ is Himself present with His Body and Blood, as the words declare. From Christ's words, "For the remission of sins", you should, in the next place, believe that Jesus Christ bestows upon you His Body and Blood to confirm unto you the remission of all your sins. And finally, you should do as Christ commands you when He says: "Take, eat"; "Drink ye all of it"; and, "This do in remembrance of me". If you believe these words of Christ, and do as He therein has commanded, then have you rightly examined yourselves and ay worthily eat Christ's Body and drink His Blood for the remission of sins. You should, also, unite in giving thanks to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for so great a gift, and should love one another with a pure heart, and thus, with the whole Christian Church, have comfort and joy in Christ our Lord. To this end may God the Father grant you His grace; through the same, our Lord Jesus Christ."
So there you have it: how do we receive the commandment worthily?
1. Believe that we receive Christ's Body and Blood with the Bread and the wine.
2. Believe that this is given for you, for the forgiveness of sins.
3. Eat it. Drink it.
4. And give thanks.
So on Sunday we're going to hear some similar words about eating the flesh of the Son of Man, and drinking the blood; they are scandalous words, hard to believe words. And we are simply asked to trust them. Trust the words "This is my body. This is my blood." "This is my life." It's as hard to believe now as it was then.
And yet, somehow we put out our hands
"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."