We all know the situation — thanks to TV nannies, a child who misbehaves is now told they will have to go and sit on the ‘naughty step’.
The punishment is twofold. On the one hand, the child is taken away from doing what it wants. On the other, it knows clearly that it has actually been naughty — that’s why it’s called the ‘naughty step’, after all.
But there is another ‘naughty step’ that has a different function and a different message.
Many of us will have been to it this morning, perhaps without realizing. In fact, I wonder whether the Church of England’s liturgy, both ancient and modern, makes it clear enough.
I am referring to that step found in the chancel of most older churches, where you kneel to receive communion.
The trouble is, the Anglican heritage doesn’t quite get us in the right frame of mind. We don’t often use the Prayer Book ‘exhortation to worthy reception’ these days, but its legacy lives on. Think of these words addressed to those about to receive the Sacrament:
Judge therefore yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord; repent you truly for your sins past; have a lively and stedfast faith in Christ our Saviour; amend your lives, and be in perfect charity with all men; so shall ye be meet partakers of those holy mysteries.
And then comes the invitation to confession (which we do still use):
Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort ...
Of course, there is nothing wrong with the reminder that we are sinners, just as there is nothing wrong with confessing our sins. But there is a strong sense in the Anglican tradition that the Holy Communion is for the already-pure, if anything strengthened rather than modified in Common Worship by the inclusion of an entire, and potentially self-contained, ‘Form of preparation’. So there we read,
As we gather at the Lord’s table we must recall the promises and warnings given to us in the Scriptures and so examine ourselves and repent of our sins. We should give thanks to God for his redemption of the world through his Son Jesus Christ and, as we remember Christ’s death for us and receive the pledge of his love, resolve to serve him in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.
This, again, is followed by a lengthy form of confession and absolution. But my question is this: if we come to Communion as people who have received forgiveness, what role is there for act of reception in the Communion itself.
This is why I once wrote an experimental liturgy for Holy Communion without an absolution. The point I was making was that we receive the bread and wine not as forgiven sinners, but as sinners seeking forgiveness. Confession should be followed by reception, and in that we find our absolution.
Holy Communion is not a sending to the naughty step but an invitation. We come not as people who have first received forgiveness and made amends so that we are worthy to receive but as people knowing that our amends are never enough and needing to be forgiven. And it is the bread and wine which provide the absolution we need:
... this is my Body which is given for you ... this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins ...
We go to the rail as unworthy sinners, heads down in repentance. We return as those who, having fed on the body and blood of Christ, are now ‘very members incorporate in the mystical body’ of God’s Son, heads held high in forgiveness.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: