Summary: How does one prepare for Holy Communion? With a humble faith. The parable of the Prodigal Son will illustrate such a faith.
The Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) held the grand opening of its hip new $88 million building in January. Were you invited to this black tie event? Neither was I. Then again I didn’t give a million dollars for the construction of the Gallery nor am I a friend of the mayor. Gallery openings are only for the rich and well connected.
You may not have been invited to the AGA’s grand opening but many of you have come here to join in a celebration of another kind, Holy Communion. While this event is not just for the rich and influential it isn’t open to everybody. Only those who are properly prepared should receive Holy Communion. What’s the proper way to prepare for this celebration? The 16th Century reformer, Martin Luther, wrote: “Fasting and other outward preparations may serve a good purpose, but he is properly prepared who believes these words: ‘Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ ...the words ‘for you’ require nothing but hearts that believe.” We’re going to learn tonight that Holy Communion is a “humble pie” not “black tie” event.
Any visitor tonight should have no difficulty seeing that we don’t enforce a dress code for Communion. Of course because of what Jesus offers here, his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, I always encourage my confirmands to dress up for the sacrament. But just as it’s more important to tune your car’s engine before a road trip than ensuring a perfect wax finish on the hood, it’s more critical to prepare our hearts rather than our hair for Communion. How does God want us to do this? Through humble faith, as Luther pointed out. The Parable of the Prodigal Son will illustrate such a faith. (Read Luke 15:11-24.)
This parable opens with a shocking demand. A young man asks his father for his share of the inheritance. This is not Junior angling for a $5 increase to his allowance; this is Junior saying, “Dad, I want right now the inheritance you intend to give me when you die.” He might as well have declared: “Dad, I’m tired of living under your roof by your rules. Why don’t you die already so I can get my hands on the inheritance to do what I want?” The young man didn’t break any rules by asking for his inheritance. He did something much worse. He broke his father’s heart.
Do you see yourself in the young man? Are you a bratty child who has said to the heavenly Father, “It’s my life. Why do you make it so difficult with your rules? Honor my parents? Why should I? They don’t deserve my respect. Spend time in your Word? To tell you the truth, I can’t wait for these midweek services to be done so I can have my Wednesday nights back again. Love those who hate me? Are you kidding? I’m not going to let others walk all over me!” We may have never verbalized the wish for God to drop dead but we have thought him a “meddlesome” presence. We have broken God’s commands and in so doing we have broken the Father’s heart.
While our heavenly Father does demand our obedience he does not force it. Likewise the father in the parable did not confine his son to his bedroom; he gave him his share of the inheritance which the young man quickly converted into cash and moved as far away from his father as he could. But the young man soon found out that life without the father wasn’t all that great. Just after he burned through the last of his money a famine hit forcing him to get a job. But the only job available was feeding pigs, animals that were unclean for Jews. But that wasn’t the most humiliating part. The pay was so poor that he was still hungry all the time. So hungry he would have eaten pig slop if his boss had let him.
But that famine was a blessing. It made the young man ask: “What am I doing here starving and wallowing in this mud when hired servants on Dad’s estate have more than enough to eat? Why don’t I go back and ask Dad to take me in as one of those hired servants?” While the son didn’t whip out his cell phone and ask Dad to wire him more money, promising to pay him back when he got back on his feet, he might as well have. By wanting to be taken back as a hired servant and not a slave, the son thought that the worse damage he had done was squander part of his father’s estate. And so by paying it back he thought he could make up for what he had done and earn his way back into his father’s good graces. But of course his father didn’t want what his son’s hands could produce, he wanted his son’s heart.