Updated: Nov 3, 2019
Communion: Closed to Be Open; Come Dressed for the Feast - [Read Matthew 22:1-14]
‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.’ What a serious feast that man was invited to. The King’s feast.
The King wanted His banquet hall full – the wedding banquet of His Son. It was a banquet given at no cost and without price [Isaiah 55:1-2]. Many neglected the invitation. The King had others gathered in from the highways, from the outskirts of town, both good and bad. A gracious King who wants His banquet filled. Yet He does come and examine His guests – “the King came in to look at the guests”, and that man was cast out.
The banquet feast of the King’s Son was open, yet closed. For all, yet exclusive. The Feast was for all – but all must be dressed, and stay dressed. The man who approached the meal without wearing his wedding garment was not winked at, but was bound and cast into outer darkness – which is hell.
The meal at our altar – the Lord’s Supper – is the earth-side of that heavenly banquet of God’s beloved Son. Heaven is the wedding feast which God throws for His Son, Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is that heavenly feast having come down to us, hidden under bread and wine.
Does God want all people to come to this feast? Yes – God is the gracious King. But does God want anyone to come to this feast undressed? What I mean is this – does God want anyone to come to this Lord’s Supper unprepared?
In the parable, the meal to which so many were freely invited was a meal of grace. But for the undressed man, it became a meal of condemnation. So also, the Lord’s Supper is not a mere meal of this world – it’s the meal of heaven, a meal of grace – yet, a meal that we sinners of earthly flesh must approach with fear and trembling. It is a meal that is first closed so that it can then be opened to you in a way that benefits you instead of leading to your harm. It is a meal closed so as to be opened to the dressed and prepared for their benefit.
What do I mean? Brothers and sisters, take a moment to be reminded of the strict warning in the Scriptures about approaching this meal. And, remember, this is God’s Word. Please hear this: [1 Corinthians 11:27] “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” Guilty of the body and blood of the Lord! It ought to make us pause.
Is everyone welcome at this meal? The answer is yes. I often am asked the question, “Can I receive the Lord’s Supper in this church?” Or, “Can so-and-so receive the Lord’s Supper here?” In truth, the answer is always, “Yes!” But how does a person properly make their way to this Supper? That’s’ the question. All are welcome – the King wants all – so, therefore, what is the proper pathway through which a person rightly gets to this meal?
If someone asks, “Can I come over for supper tomorrow?” It’s not enough for me to say, “Yes.” I most of all must give them directions for how to get to my house. And what happens to you if you receive an invitation to a reception, but there’s no indication of how you’re expected to dress – is it formal, semi-formal, casual, a bbq? You risk embarrassment! You would ask before you would assume. At this meal, we risk salvation. So the question for us is this: What direction must we give to others to ensure that they are able to come to this meal rightly dressed in soul? Through what avenue do we get people to this table so that it is received to their benefit and not their harm?
For our own born-and-bred members we understand this message quite easily, and we believe it. Think of this: No member raised in this congregation ever received the Lord’s Supper without first being prepared. How? Confirmation instruction – a lot of it for most of you. If someone asked, “Why make them go through that?”, you would all answer in a snap, “Because they need to be prepared!” Yet, with visitors, with friends, with family, with married-in family, we lose our minds and we suddenly have no idea about any of this. “Why can’t they come up?” “I have no idea!” “I’ve never heard of this before!” “I thought anybody could come up!”
Did you forget why your sons and daughters went through two years of confirmation, and why we never gave them communion before that? No, you didn’t forget. But I think sometimes we lack in courage. Or maybe some of you didn’t know why you went through confirmation.
The King saw a man there wearing no wedding garment…. ‘Friend, how did you get in here without it?’ The man was speechless. ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him out.’
So here’s the final question: What is the proper dress? What is the wedding garment? What does that garment entail? What is the right dress for the soul and how is it received?
The wedding garment which you must wear to this feast is Jesus Himself. You must be dressed in Jesus. You must be clothed with Jesus. His righteousness must be your coat and your dress. “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress” [TLH 371, stanza 1].
Jesus became your clothing when you were baptized. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” [Galatians 3:27]. He is your robe of righteousness which covers all your unrighteousness [Romans 4:5-8].
So why not just give people communion right after they're baptized? This garment is a garment over-sized – one we are called to grow up into as disciples. “Make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them all that I have commanded” [Matthew 28:19-20].
There is a lot that a man or woman must learn about this garment which has been put on them. Many, many men and women, without even knowing it, end up taking this garment off. They don’t learn, so they don’t recognize their own clothing, so they remove it, not liking some things they see. “For many are called, but few are chosen”, Jesus said today [Matt. 22:14].
The garment is Jesus, so what all does the garment entail? A man must learn that his garment is a garment of repentance from sin. And repentance isn’t just, “I feel sorry”. Repentance says, “I am sorry, and I’m seeking not to do that anymore” – “I’m seeking aid from my Lord to sin no more.” This garment renounces the sin under it and sincerely seeks to put the sin away.
This garment is a garment of self-denial. Not my will be done anymore. Just like Jesus. This garment is a garment of obedience. Obedience and submission to all that God commands – Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” [Philippians 2:8]. The wedding garment is this obedience of Jesus clothed on you.
The garment is a garment of believing that this Supper is what Jesus said it is – His true body, His true blood, given and shed on the cross to forgive your sins. The garment is one that says, “I’m not a good person.” “I need forgiveness.” A person wearing this garment of Jesus never feels entitled to this meal. If a man or woman feels entitled to this meal, that’s a sign they are not fit to receive it.
The garment is a garment of dependence, not independence. It’s a garment of renouncing my self-dependence and of depending on God alone. It’s a garment of giving up on myself. Of not believing in myself. Of abandoning self-esteem and of esteeming Christ alone.
How many are still wearing this garment? How many are prepared? How can a man or woman know they wear this garment if they have not learned the faith? The road to receiving is learning. And in this ever-darkening world, can we be certain of what anyone has been taught.
What we call “closed communion” is our response of love to people whom we desire to bring to this meal. Brothers and sisters, we are called to love friends and strangers just as much as we’ve loved our children. We love people enough to prepare them. Not to just give them a meal, which may be to their harm, just to make our life easier.
You are your brother’s keeper - that's what closed communion means. Loving people means doing the hard work of guiding them into a right and beneficial receiving of this meal. That takes time, and it takes patience on their part. Your job is to encourage them on the right but harder path.
Listen to a few more words of Scripture: [1 Corinthians 11:28] “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” I am my brother’s keeper. I must teach a person how to rightly examine himself or herself before I give them this meal.
[1 Corinthians 11:29] “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” A person must discern and conclude that this bread is the real body of Jesus. Other Protestant churches teach that this bread is not His body. I am my brother’s keeper. I must guide into right belief before giving the meal.
This meal today is the meal Isaiah told us about: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” [Isaiah 55:1]. It’s free. God desires all to come. Closed communion means, “Put on your garment – and work to clothe others as well.” It’s first closed so it can be opened for the other person’s beneficial reception. Let’s love others and do the tough work. Let’s be our brother’s, and our sister’s, keeper. Amen.