We serve and worship a merciful God. One of the central lessons to learn as we approach this Table is that God loves us and wants us here.
This is a hard lesson to learn—sinful men know how to flatter themselves, and they can readily believe (in their own conceits) that God loves them just the way they are, with maybe some touch-up paint here and there, which is of course the work of grace. Such men do not understand God at all.
And other men know the depth of their own sinfulness, and they have come to understand something of the holiness of God, and so they shrink back in dread, and are reluctant to come to this Table.
Those who do not know God approach Him jauntily, hands in pockets, whistling. “Of course God loves me. I love me—why wouldn’t He?” Those who do know (something of) God are terrified of this kind of impiety, and they dread the possibility of ever falling into it.
This second group knows more of God than the first, but they do not yet know as they ought to know. Not only is the wrath of God visited upon the arrogant sons of men, but also we learn in the gospel that the wrath of God was visited upon the Son of Man, nailed to the cross. And this was simultaneously the greatest act of God’s wrath in human history and the greatest act of love in human history. Simultaneously.
This act of wrath/love, this pouring out of justice/mercy, this indescribable gift can only be understood by the grace of God. And that grace is what we are proclaiming here, now. That grace is what we are eating and drinking. That grace is near you—it is in your mouth and in your heart.
Grace is the only thing that knows how to weave together the words salvation and fear and trembling. Grace alone can combine forgiveness and fear. Only grace embraces justice and mercy in one embrace. Only grace enables us, forgiven sinners, to sit down at a Table like this one, and rejoice, giving thanks.