My Sin at the Altar

Several months ago, while assisting on Sunday morning at a Divine Service, I committed a sin.

Sinning at church isn’t a new thing. I’m certain all of us have done so, maybe more often than we’d like or care to admit. But the particulars of my sin on this day troubled me greatly.

Presiding at the altar, I came upon an individual whose mere sight caused me pause and sent me spiraling into a web of sinful emotions and thoughts. I know this individual and consider them and their family as friends. But this person and I have some passionately different opinions on politics. “Different” really doesn’t do justice in describing how much we disagree on some very significant political issues. Normally, such differences shouldn’t and don’t matter. However, what caused me pause that Sunday were some comments this individual made the previous day on social media. To say I was irate would be an understatement. Their comments were antithetical to everything I believe. But now, I was supposed to set aside these differences and commune them. I was to ignore my deep displeasure with their comments and place into their mouth the very Body and Blood of our Lord, carrying out one of the most important and sacred duties I have as a pastor. In every instance, this moment – handing over the goods of Christ and His Church, should cause me nothing but joy. On this day though – in this instance, I had no joy, only spite. I was livid – in the few seconds leading up to me communing them and in the remaining minutes of the service.

It’s important to note that my anger had nothing to do with this individual’s confession of faith. It had nothing to do with why they came, on bended knee, to receive the gift of the Sacrament of the Altar. My pause was not a reflection of their standing within the Church or their desire to receive Christ’s forgiveness from my hand. Rather, my anger had everything to do with how much I despise this person’s politics, causing me to lose control of my emotions and thoughts solely because I thought this person’s political opinions were absurd.

And this is wrong. Such anger, especially on issues of politics, is grossly misplaced. It is spiritually immature and, in every way, sinful.

It wasn’t until well after the service that morning that I fully grasped the magnitude of my sin. I should have gained control of my senses seconds after being overcome with emotion that day at the altar, recognizing the error of my ways, immediately repenting, and then rejoicing that I had the good pleasure to commune this child of God. But I didn’t. Even while and after communing them, my sin remained with me. For several hours it infected me. It consumed my entire being.

This is what sin does. It grabs hold of our weaknesses and refuses to let go. It seeks out where and when we are most vulnerable and strikes. This is Satan in action. This is how he seeks to disrupt and distort the faith of those who follow Christ. Even on a Sunday. Even at the altar. And if left unchecked or dismissed as insignificant, such sin can destroy our souls.

Thankfully, my sin, as troubling as it was that day, has been forgiven. As shameful as I rightfully felt, I’m certain that our Lord washed away these egregious thoughts of mine when I confessed the error of my ways. This isn’t to say I won’t find myself tempted with this exact same sin again. Nor is it to suggest that I am immune to letting my emotions get the better of me. In all likelihood, I’ll sin again at church, perhaps even at the altar. I’m certain that sinful thoughts will infect and overcome me once again. Sadly, this happens on a daily basis. But in every case, with every sin, our Lord calls us to repentance. He convicts us for our wrongs, crushing us with the guilt that sin demands and then freely and graciously lifts us up out of our sinful webs of shame and into perfect forgiveness and righteousness with Him. This is how our Lord works, each and every time.

I look forward to seeing my friend in the faith again. Their politics are still wrong (at least I think they are!), but their faith remains strong. I pray that I have the opportunity to preside at an altar where they are worshipping, and with God’s grace, will gratefully and joyfully give unto them the most perfect gift we will ever receive this side of eternity, the Body and Blood of Christ – where their sin, and mine, will be no more.