Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – The Passover is Also for the Unclean and the Sojourner (Numbers 9:1-14)

Even when certain Israelites became unclean by touching a dead body, God still ensured they could keep the Passover; they would simply observe it on the same day of the next month (vv. 1-11). Even foreigners were welcome to keep the Passover, “And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native” (v. 14).

Therefore, with the Lord’s Supper having been instituted on the Passover, it is the church’s duty to ensure that the Holy Supper is given to people whom we might deem “unclean” and even the foreigner/immigrant (sojourner) among us. I serve as campus pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Chapel at Central Michigan University, and we have an international ministry for foreign students who attend CMU. We don’t practice open communion, but we do commune those who share our Lutheran confession, even if they’re not perfectly legal residents, for the grace of God in Christ Jesus cannot be held back by the nation’s laws. It is not the church’s duty to ensure the nation’s laws are obeyed; that would be a confusion of the two realms. Rather, it is the church’s primary responsibility to ensure the Word and Sacraments are rightly proclaimed and administered to God’s people, even the unclean and the foreigner.

This is even true for you. If at any time you think yourself too unclean or unworthy to receive Christ’s true body and blood in the Supper, this itself is more than enough reason to approach the Table. For as the Lord Himself has said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). The point is that nobody is righteous, for everyone is sick. So, Jesus is for everybody, which means He is for you.

Christ Himself, and His Supper with His body and blood therein, are meant for sick, unworthy, and unrighteous people like you. If your sin makes you sick, then you know you are worthy of receiving the Lord’s Supper. Let not your feelings of unworthiness or uncleanness, therefore, keep you from approaching the Table. Rather, because of Christ, “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that [you] may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Just as the subjects of kings in ancient times would approach their throne as beggars to receive their king’s gracious help, so we as beggars can boldly and confidently approach Christ our King on His throne to receive mercy and find His grace in our times of need. Unworthiness does not keep us from Christ; it draws us to Christ.

Theology Terms Used

  • Two Kingdoms/Realms: God rules over all creation in “two kingdoms” or “two realms.” In the temporal realm, which is creation oriented, God ensures the world works the way He created it to work, which is done through His Law: government, law enforcement, war, the laws of physics, etc. In the spiritual realm, which is Creator oriented, God delivers His grace and redemption through the means of grace: the Word and Sacraments. The two realms are not at odds, not in competition, and one is not better than the other. They are complementary. We maintain a distinction, not a divorce—we keep a dynamic and interactive tension. One realm should support, check, and correct the other. Collapsing the two is also wrong because the Church either becomes drunk with power (e.g., the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy) or begins to look the other way (quietism, which is remaining silent and submissive when the government commits acts of evil and injustice). As Christians interact in both realms, they maintain the tension between them. As citizens in the temporal realm, Christians can vote, run for public office, protest, serve in the military, pay taxes, etc. As baptised citizens of God’s kingdom in the spiritual realm, Christians attend their local church to hear the Gospel and receive the forgiveness of sins in Word and Sacrament, and as forgiven people they forgive their neighbour. We do not bifurcate the two realms, and neither do we collapse the two. For example, the State cannot tell the Church when and how to gather for worship and the Church cannot abuse the civil/temporal realm for the sake of the spiritual realm’s virtues. It’s not that Christians shouldn’t be political, but we do need to be careful about how we are political. We don’t try to use political strength or power to accomplish our goals but simply to help keep the world what God intended it to be, which is a world premised on His justice and His definition of what’s right.

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