Covenantal Gut Check
Have you ever been hit just below your chest in thatsweet spot that knocks the wind right out of you? It's scary. What has reallyhappened is that your diaphragm got its clock cleaned and is now having aspasm. Until it calms down, that tight contraction leaves you gasping for air.In that moment, you are completely vulnerable.
This just happened to my son in his last MMAclass. I grew up seeing a lot of that in the Martial Arts classes my dadtaught, so I wasn't worried to watch him struggle. It would be devastating ifyou were truly trying to defend yourself. At that moment, you are at the mercyof your opponent. But the instructor in my son's class did the same thing mydad would always do. He grabbed Haydn by the elbows and stretched his arms overhis head.
I told my dad about it on the phonethe other day and he said something about how he would never do this with achild, but he did make sure that adults training with him would get the windknocked out of them at least once. It's part of the training. You don't knowwhat it is like to be that vulnerable until it happens to you. Reality sets in.You're not invincible. Sometimes you can't even take a punch.
A similar reality check sets in everytime we gather as a covenant community for the Lord's Supper. Here we learnthat we are not all that different from one another. Some of our covenantfamily members may be stronger in the faith than others. Some gather withconfident smiles, and others appear a bit forlorn. But we all get hit in thegut when we are before the table.
I was actually reminded of this by an insightfulcommenton a blog thread discussing a one of Leon Brown's recent posts.Brown wonders if the atmosphere in our churches provides for honesty about oursinful condition. Here's an excerpt:
Asked differently, should we put a smile on our faces for a hour and ahalf on Sunday mornings when things are truly chaotic in the home? No soonerthan we depart the church building, we are met by disobedient children anddueling spouses. Our pornography addiction resurfaces; our anger meets usagain; we are back in reality.
He goes on to ask if there is place for us to show ourweaknesses and brokenness beyond the corporate confession of sin. Are we alljust faking it?
In the comment I was referring to, Zrim remindsus that God has already provided a means for honest evaluation of our spiritualcondition. In this thread he contrasts a practice that some churches have addedto worship, that may appear to be a way of genuine openness, to the table:
...what do those who don't respond to the altar-call-of-rededicationmean by staying back, that they're free of sin? I'm not sure how it can beotherwise. But in a properly fenced table, open and unrepentant sin is warnedto stay away while repentant sinfulness is welcomed, which is to say nobody canimply being free of sin. More differences between altars and tables.
It is important to acknowledge and confess ourparticular sins for the evil that they really are, knowing that they lead todeath. When we come to the table, we are bidden to do just that as we arepointed to the One who really did suffer God's wrath in our place. Andamazingly, in this sacrament, we are blessed in him! We are given Christ,spiritually nourished by his body and blood. Zipporah got it right when shetold Moses he was a bridegroom of blood (Ex. 4:26).And we see what our sin cost and what our Savior gave on the cross when we cometo the table.
Some of us may come overconfident in our owngrowth, while others come feeling as if they need to share all their failingsand injustices with the whole congregation. But there isn't much of adifference between the two. We are all exposed of our own selfishness at thetable. We get the wind knocked out of our own stories of domestic, personal,and professional failure to look to the only One who can help us. And we reallyare being changed. This holy time with God and his covenant community restoresus by freeing us from ourselves. The pastor can then send us away with abenediction to go back out to our families and community as salt and light.
Sure, there is a time for sharing our personalstruggles with a trusted believer in the covenant community, but God has setthe table for good fellowship. Fellow believers have the same thing in common:sin that we cannot overcome on our own, and a Savior who is transforming us intohis own likeness. As his Holy Spirit is working in us, he is sitting at theright hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. Before the table, wehave that covenantal gut check. Are we one of his? If so we will be ministeredto by his Spirit. If not, we are left vulnerable before our opponent. Those offaith leave the worship service knowing that we serve Jesus. And so David Wellsreminds us in his book, God in the Whirlwind, "By contrast, to be aservant of Christ is to be free for him, through the gospel, because it is tobe free from ourselves. That is the gain" (233).