A word that makes many eighth grade confirmation class students break out in a cold sweat and lose sleep at this time of year.
Those who grew up in the Lutheran Church no doubt remember well their “confirmation examination” when they were publicly questioned on Christian doctrine as summarized in the Catechism. Oh, the racing heart,
the pale face, and the sweaty palms!
So why is it that we thus “examine” our young people before they are accepted as communicant members of the congregation?
Most pastors remind their students and the congregation that their examination is not a “pass or fail” test for church membership. Rather, they explain that it is the student’s opportunity to share with the congregation what they’ve learned as they studied the Bible and Catechism with their pastor.
Perhaps it is also explained that their examination provides opportunity to assure the congregation that the young confirmands have been taught and believe the same thing that their fellow members do.
While confirmation examination is a fine church custom, there is an examination that every Christian is obliged to make before participating in the Lord’s Supper. The Apostle Paul writes, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:38).
Each communicant member is to privately examine his/her heart in preparation for “eating of the bread and drinking of the cup” of the Lord’s Supper.
Preparation for Holy Communion
A “Christian Questions” section in the catechism offers about twenty questions a communicant member should ask himself before partaking of the Lord’s Supper—questions such as:
- Are we sinners?
- Are we sorry for our sins?
- What do we deserve for our sins?
- In whom shall we trust for forgiveness and salvation?
- What are we receiving in the Lord’s Supper?
- How do we know this?
- Why is this sacred meal so important to us?
Is such an examination terrifying? Indeed it is when we compare our thoughts, words, and actions to God’s holy Law! We find that we have failed miserably to live up to God’s standard of perfection (“You shall be holy; for I am holy” — Leviticus 11:44). It is terrifying to consider what we deserve for our unholy living (“Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them”— Galatians 3:10). And we read in the book of Hebrews, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
Yet, when we find in ourselves nothing but sin and death, God wants us also to examine our Savior, Jesus. When we do that, what do we find?
We find a perfect substitute! Jesus was our Substitute under the Law of God and obeyed it perfectly. “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” Jesus asked His unjust accusers (John 8:46). He became our Substitute for sin, for our LORD “laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). For all our unholiness the holy God took out His just wrath on His holy Son. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).
Yes, when we “examine” Jesus, we find the perfect Lamb of God who by His innocent death on the cross has taken away all our sins!
It is this Savior who invites us to “take and eat” of His body given in the bread and to “take and drink” of His blood given in the wine.
What an amazing gift—our Savior’s very body and blood given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins!
What comfort and assurance for the trembling sinner!
So then, as we see those confirmation students in our congregation squirming in their seats as they prepare to examine themselves, remember that the Apostle Paul exhorts each communicant to continue to examine him or herself at all times, and particularly in preparation for Holy Communion.
And yes, we may well squirm as we see our sin. But as penitent sinners we can relax and rejoice in the forgiving grace of our Savior who gives us His body and blood in the Sacrament!
In the refrain words of one of our Communion hymns:
Lord, may Thy body and
Thy blood Be for my soul,
the highest good!
TLH #315 •