As we celebrate communion together, I want to share a story with you about the power of repentance and forgiveness. Pastor Pat Novak was serving as a hospital chaplain intern when he was called to visit a patient in his sixties with an undiagnosed illness. John had not responded to any treatment; medical tests showed nothing; psychological tests were inconclusive. Yet he was wasting away; he had not even been able to swallow for two weeks. The nurses tried everything. Finally, they called the chaplain’s office.
When Pat walked into the room, John was sitting limply in his bed, strung with IV tubes, staring listlessly at the wall. He was a tall, grandfatherly man, balding a little, but his sallow skin hung loosely on his face, neck, and arms where the weight had dropped from his frame. His eyes were hollow. Pat was terrified; he had no idea what to do. But John seemed to brighten a bit as soon as he saw Pat’s chaplain badge.
As they talked, Pat sensed God urging him to ask John if he wanted to take Communion. At that John broke down. “I can’t!” he cried. “I’ve sinned and can’t be forgiven.” Pat paused a moment, then he told John about 1 Corinthians 11 and Paul’s admonition that whoever takes Communion in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself. He asked John if he wanted to confess his sin. John nodded gratefully. To this day Pat can’t remember the particular sin John confessed, but it did not seem particularly egregious. Yet it had been draining the life from this man. John wept as he confessed, and Pat laid hands on him, hugged him, and told John his sins were forgiven.
Then Pat got the second urging from the Holy Spirit: Ask him if he wants to take Communion. He did. Pat gave John a Bible and told him he would be back later. Already John was sitting up straighter, with a flicker of light in his eyes. Pat visited a few more patients and then ate some lunch in the hospital cafeteria.
When he left, he wrapped an extra piece of bread in a napkin and borrowed a coffee cup from the cafeteria. He ran out to a shop a few blocks away and bought a container of grape juice. Then he returned to John’s room with the elements and celebrated Communion with him, again reciting 1 Corinthians 11. John took the bread and chewed it slowly. It was the first time in weeks he had been able to take solid food in his mouth. He took the cup and swallowed. He had been set free. Within three days John walked out of that hospital.
God is anxious to forgive our sin, no matter what it may be. This Sabbath, or even today, let us repent, receive that full and free forgiveness, and taste the freedom and life Jesus brings us.