Our Rich Liturgical Heritage:
Coming to the Lord’s Table

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Our Rich Liturgical Heritage: Coming to the Lord’s Table

The Rt Revd Dr Peter Brain

There are few joys like being invited to share a meal. To come, in the words of Timothy Dudley-Smith as guests invited when Jesus bids us dine, to His Table, infuses joy with privilege.

Sacrament Sunday, William Teulon Blandford Fletcher

The open invitation to our Lord’s Table must never be taken lightly though it is easy to do. The frequency of opportunities in most Anglican parishes and the gracious invitations to come, can cause us to gloss over challenges like we do not presume to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness. Thankfully, built into our services are ways of helping us overcome this awful sin of presumption and its second cousins, familiarity, formality and forgetfulness.

Given George MacDonald’s warning, equally applicable to all regular communicants: that an occupational hazard of ministers is ‘the deadening... of the habitual dealing with the outside of things’, we are wise to come prayerfully. Once recognised as the flip-side danger of the strength of our good and helpful liturgies, we are able to come expectantly to the Table.

The benefit and blessing of the sacrament is determined by the heart we bring to worship.

This fundamental attitude is expressed in the preparation prayer: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit. The realism of our own sinfulness is magnified by the prior words from whom no secrets are hidden. Any pretence or pride as to our own worthiness is dealt a fatal blow right at the start, before we come to our Lord’s Table. This is caught up in that later prayer, sometimes called the ‘prayer of humble access’, quoted above. Its realism in terms of our inability to stand, even kneel, before God, is answered by its words: but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy...

Our liturgies invite us to preach the gospel afresh to ourselves as we come to the Table.

The Absolution follows the general confession because there can be no grace without contrition. The comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith to all that truly turn to him (from Matthew 11:28, John 3:16, 1 Timothy 1:15 and 1 John 2:1) remind us that repentant sinners can come to the Table, and only those who are relying upon Jesus ought to, since we have in him alone, an Advocate whose death atones for our sins. Sacramental participation is never a substitute for our personal relationship with God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. Put another way the meal does not create the relationship, we are invited because of our relationship. The sacramental meal is given to nourish us as His children not to make us His children. This is the point of our Lord’s teaching in John 6:35-40.

The BCP has three exhortations designed to help parishioners come to the Table with repentant and Jesus reliant hearts. The first when notice was given of the next celebration: that ye may come holy and clean to such a heavenly feast, in the marriage-garment required by God in holy Scripture, and be received as worthy partakers of that Holy Table. The second when the minister realised that parishioners were neglecting to come to the Table with the warning to consider earnestly with yourselves how little such feigned excuses will avail before God. The third was to warn against the great danger: if we receive the same unworthily.

Successive revisions have retained this latter exhortation only in the First Forms (AAPB and APBA) in helpful abridgements which expound 1 Corinthians 11:26-28 as did BCP. The 2nd Form in AAPB quotes these verses in full, as does the 3rd Form in APBA.

Such exhortations serve to remind us that we dare not come to dine with Jesus harbouring unconfessed sin, nor should we presume to dine with those whom we are not in fellowship because of undealt with sin, ours or theirs. Friends of Jesus never want to presume or doubt his gracious invitation.

Trusting him ensures that he remains central in our affections, the source of real nourishment and supreme focus of our lives.

Published in Messenger June 2022

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