Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I received communion today! Granted, it was under special dispensation since I have not finished instruction, but I received it nonetheless!

Under the aegis of pastoral care, Pastor D. offered to come and query me just on the Sacrament so that I could have it before the surgery tomorrow, before being put to sleep again after that disastrous experience with my last surgery.

While I had asked him beforehand if he would also teach about confession/absolution, I did not tell him that I wanted to do that as well.

In John 20:19-23, Christ told his disciples that whoever they forgave, their sins would be forgiven, and those they do not, the sins have been retained. In the Lutheran Church, since pastors serve as undershepherds, they can stand in the office and hear confessions and offer forgiveness, just as the disciplines did in the name of Christ, because it is His Name which forgives.

After we talked about the sins with which I am struggling and that which I battle that is not sin, per se, I asked if he would forgive me. So, we went through that particular portion of the Lutheran Service Book. During one part, both the pastor and the penitent say:

In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. (Ps. 102:1-2)
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight (Ps. 51:1-4a)

Then just the penitent continues:

I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most.
My Lord's name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered.
I have not let his love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed.
There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I failed to help.
My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin.
What troubles me particularly is that....

I admit that I have not been one to confess my sins and ask forgiveness of God. I talk to Him and pray to Him and ask for help in living as He would have me to, but I do confess and I do not ask for forgiveness. I believe I have been missing something critical in my walk with Christ: a fuller understanding that not only were my sins forgiven on the cross, but they are forgiven now. Today. Just as J said so blithely when I bemoaned how much I struggle with honoring my are forgiven even if you do!

As I have been plowing through Luther's teaching on the ten commandments, I have been increasingly convicted about my poor understanding of the fullness of what God desires of us. For example, take the eighth commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

According to Luther, this means that we are not to harm our neighbor. Not just with lies. Nay, not only are we also supposed to not harm him with our tongue, we are also to:

Let no one do any harm to his neighbor with the tongue, whether friend or foe. Do not speak evil of him, no matter whether it is true or false, unless it is done by commandment [meaning something such as testimony] or for his reformation. Let everyone use his tongue and make it serve for the best of everyone else, to cover up his neighbor's sins and infirmities (1 Peter 4:8), excuse them, conceal and garnish them with his own reputation. The chief reason for this should be the one that Christ declares in the Gospel, where He includes all commandments about our neighbor, "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12). (LC, Part 1, 285-286).

In short, don't gossip! Don't share another's weaknesses and failings. Instead preserve his reputation. While I would not go so far as to say I gossiped, I have complained about my boss in great frustration. I have not covered her as best I can.

Lutherans believe the chief purpose of the commandments is to accuse, to show us the magnitude of our sins so that we might understand the magnitude of the cross and Christ's gift of forgiveness.

It might sound strange, but I still can feel Pastor's hands on my head as he spoke the words of forgiveness.

Among other things, we then turned to instruction and then the Lord's Supper. When he asked me what table I wanted to use, I was a bit confused. Rightly surmising that I wanted to stay sitting on the couch, Pastor started pushing aside all my bibles and study books. Then he laid down a cloth and pulled out this portable cup and plate. I couldn't help but laugh! I like to tease him about the "things" his church uses, candles and such. Strange Pastor that he is, he did not mind my laughter.

So, here in my home, I received communion, the blessing of the presence of the true body and the true blood and the forgiveness we have in Christ's sacrifice. I had to ask him to pause during the service because I needed a few moments. Pastor simply waited.

During communion, we actually followed some of the Divine Service. A part of me wished that we could have read slower, so that I could savor and reflect on the words. I cannot do so in church, but it was already at least two hours past his bedtime. Instead, I paused and let him read a bit before I caught up with him. After listening to that presentation on the liturgy, I certainly understood more this time.

I found it interesting that he shared in communion. I did not know he would. And then we finished with singing! He said he normally has the recipient sing a hymn, but I substituted singing Psalm 121. Of course, I forgot how to sing the last line and was a bit frustrated with my cheese hole brain at that point. Pastor sang one of his favorite hymns: "The Infant Priest Was Holy Born."

I have been nauseated for weeks now and have been gradually eating less and less. As a result, I am now 36 pounds less. I have no appetite, I cannot keep much food down, and now the sight of it turns my stomach. I had hoped with all my heart that this would not be the case with the bread and the wine. Oh, how I had hoped. Such a small bite. Such a small sip.

During his leave taking, I struggled with nausea. I thought that going ahead and taking a shower might make me feel better. But when I bent over to scrub my feet, my stomach heaved and I threw up that small meal. With tears streaming down my face, I sank to my knees and tried to focus on the words I remembered from the service, hoping that the fact that I did not keep down the Lord's Supper would not matter. I cried far too long beneath water that was far too hot for me. [I know that I am supposed to take tepid showers, but I cannot help myself at times; I love a good blanching in the shower!] When I tried to stand up, I ended up fainting, falling out of the tub and pulling down the shower curtain and rod. Kashi was frantic. Instead of waking up to him licking my face, I awoke to his whimpers...and water all over the floor.

The floor is cleaned. Kashi is calmed. And I am sitting here thinking about this evening. [I had asked for one thing else, but I think he forgot.] I wonder about not being able to keep the communion meal down. That weighs heavily on my mind. So, I reviewed both of the services we read together and found myself returning to the confession/absolution one.

After the penitent confesses his/her sins, the pastor offers admonition and comfort, before the two of them read the following:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away form your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with your free Spirit. (Ps. 51:10-12)

In the way he is oft wont to do, Pastor offered a precious tidbit on this passage. He asked me how God creates things. Of course, I had no answer, though in my mind I thought, He speaks things into existence. Pastor's teaching: He creates them from nothing! So, although we are wretched sinners, God can still create a clean heart within us (from nothing), by the power of His Word, Word made flesh in Christ.

What comfort that is!

Note: Posted well after midnight, but I changed the time so as to have the day's date.

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