Are there any sins unconquerable by Christ? Is there any illness that the Great Physician cannot heal? Can death overcome the fountain of immortality?
When we consider with whom Jesus chooses to dine (as recorded in the Gospels), we can learn a great deal about the infinite love and mercy of God; that is, so far as we can understand an infinite Creator as finite creatures. This has significant meaning not only for those who are on the outside of the Church looking in, but also for those within the Church who are gripped by doubt, guilt, and even an excessive fear of Christ.
In our worship, our prayer, and in every facet of our lives, we are wise to approach the Lord with a tempered and reverent fear, but this fear should not be perverted into a pietistic fear that is less about reverence and more about both guilt and an unhealthy isolation from the assembled body of Christ. We assemble and gather together as the Church not only to celebrate the mysteries of Christ, but also to constitute His body and join together as one; to effectively become the body of Christ, and to receive his (true) life thereby.
In Luke’s Gospel, there are stories recounted where Christ is dining with various people. He has welcomed people to share the table of fellowship, and they must only say “yes” and act in faith towards him. When Jesus approaches a tax collector (famous for their tyranny and corruption against the people of God), he tells him to leave everything behind, and this “sinner” in turn prepares a great feast for our Lord. Not only does Jesus call this “sinner” to follow him as a disciple, but he sits down over dinner with this man and his tax-collecting cohorts.
What scandal! And yet, this is the same thing we see in the Church: Christ has called sinners from every walk of life to “drop everything” and follow him. Should we be surprised, then, that the Church is overflowing with sinners? Only the sick are in need of a physician; the Church has little room or purpose for the already righteous.
Besides this, there are stories in the Gospels where Christ is having dinner with other “sinners” or “hypocrites,” such as the Pharisees. This should be, if nothing else, a great comfort for all of us, knowing that there is no one so “beneath” Christ that he would not call them home and break bread with them. If our “theology” of the Eucharist does not take this into account, then something is disastrously wrong. There is no one so vile, wretched or sinful that Christ cannot heal them, call upon them, or share in the communion of his own body and blood with them.
Within the Church, then, none of us are by ourselves qualified to “excuse” ourselves from the Eucharist because we are unworthy, or because of our numerous sins. All are sinners, and the Church is the place for the healing of sinners. There are sufficient mysteries within the body of Christ to address any such concerns, whether it be the tears of Confession or the pastoral guidance of our local presbyter or bishop; and it is the latter alone who should bar us from the table of Christ — not ourselves, for any number of menial reasons. There are always exceptions of course, but, ordinarily speaking, we are to approach the chalice “with the fear of God, and faith and love.” In this faithful approaching, we are reconciled to one another in the Eucharist, whereby we both constitute and consume the very body and blood of Christ.
From the outside looking in, there are none who are so scandalous that they cannot be called by Christ; that they cannot be called home to the family of God; that they cannot be called, as the sick, to the hospital of the Great Physician. If the tax collectors and Pharisees could be called to both follow and share a meal with the Son of God, then so, too, can we (sinners though we are). I should not be preoccupied with the sins of others who are approaching the chalice every week, but must rather be focused on my own.
If we all individually look at our own hearts and sins, rather than at those of others, we will be in amazement at the mercy of Christ that is continually offered. In spite of our great multitude of sins, the Church will be transformed, through Christ, from a hospital of sinners into a New Jerusalem of the righteous.