May 3, 2016

Communion Homily - April 17, 2016

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.

The second blessing from the Lord that fits the description of a Sacrament is what we call the Lord’s Supper or Communion. The Lord’s Supper was originally given by Christ to His disciples, the record of which is provided in the Gospel accounts. Here, in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul recounts that exact discourse as a reminder to those Christians of what the Lord’s Supper was all about.

Obviously, as a Sacrament, the Lord’s Supper is very important in the life of the believer. Although, it doesn’t function exactly the same as Baptism, it is intended to provide the same gift, namely a tangible reception of Christ’s grace and forgiveness. But Paul’s words also show us another indication of its importance for our lives. He begins by saying, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…” Paul assures the Corinthians that they can trust what He is about to teach them because it was exactly what He received from the Lord. Paul’s discourse on the Lord’s Supper is not merely a matter of subjective opinion. He speaks with the authority given to Him as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

There’s another topic in Scripture that Paul introduced in the same way. In 1 Corinthians 15 he begins by saying, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received…” The word order is different but the thought remains the same. Paul is saying, “Pay attention to what I am about to tell you because this comes from God and this is important for you.” What he goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 15 is about death and resurrection of Jesus and how that is the guarantee of eternal life for the believer.

It’s pretty neat that the Holy Spirit would guide Paul to introduce these important areas of our faith with clues that alert us to listen. Jesus also employed a similar device in His ministry. When He was about to speak on something that was very important, He would preface the phrase by saying, “Truly, Truly, I say to you.” This was the peoples’ cue to pay critical attention to what was about to follow.

As Paul continues in his recounting of the Lord’s Supper, we see why he instructs the hearer to listen up. This is no ordinary supper. The precise problem that the Corinthians was that they were treating it normal, however. In fact, they were making a mockery of it. Just prior Paul explains his frustration. Instead of celebrating the Lord’s Supper as a Sacrament, in respect and devotion to God, they were treating it like any other meal. Some were hoarding the bread for themselves, using it to satisfy their hunger. Others were getting drunk on the wine. What was meant to be a gift from God was quickly mirroring a pagan festival.
And so, how does Paul bring them back to the truth? He simply reminds them of it! When Jesus first gave this holy supper He was clear on a number of things. First, this was truly His body and His blood with the bread and the wine. There’s no reason to believe that Jesus was speaking figuratively; He certainly could have used different words if He wanted to express that. Likewise, He never indicates that the bread and wine are changed into His body and blood. He still speaks of the elements being present. But He also goes on with things even greater.

This body and blood was given for the disciples. Here, we see the concept of a gift. Christians do not need to fully rationalize this Supper in their minds. It is not up to them to mine out the treasures within, through piety or reason. They simply receive the gift, it is given for them.

Jesus also states that it is done in His remembrance. We do not practice the Lord’s Supper because as an actual sacrifice for sins. The time of offering atonement sacrifices before God is over. Why? Because the one and only true sacrifice has been given. There’s a reason that Jesus chose to give this Sacrament when He did. It was not mere coincidence that He did it on the eve of the Passover, and more importantly the eve of His crucifixion. This was a sign to the disciples, and all Christians since, that there was one moment in history where sin was paid for. Therefore, when we celebrate this Supper, we look back to what was accomplished, just as the Israelites looked forward through their own offerings. We are not re-crucifying Christ’s body and blood because we need further atonement for our sins. We are connecting our faith to the “once for all” sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and thereby receiving the direct Gospel from our Lord and Savior.

This meal is certainly a remembrance, but by God’s Word and blessing it is even more. This leads us to third unique thing that Jesus says, that we receive His blood of the new covenant. When you hear that phrase think of one word: forgiveness. We make this connection by understanding what the “new covenant” is. There’s no better place to learn this than Jeremiah 31, where God allowed His prophet to foretell of this promise:  

"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- 32 "not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 "No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying,`Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

The Lord’s Supper is special not only because it reminds us of Christ crucified for our sins, but it literally connects with Him. We share in His body and blood today. God gives us evidence that we can touch and taste as an assurance of His promise of forgiveness fulfilled. There simply is nothing else like this in the entire world.

It’s interesting that early opponents of the Christian Church condemned the Lord’s Supper as cannibalism. This is interesting first of all because it shows us that the early Church recognized and taught that Christ’s body and blood were present. This was their belief and confession, so much so that their enemies tried to use it against them. Early Christians never viewed the Lord’s Supper as simply a memorial meal with symbolic descriptions to Christ’s body and blood. They believed they were uniting with their Savior, just as the words of that Savior describe.

This criticism of the early Church is also interesting, though, because it reminds us of the importance of the new covenant. If the only things Christ said about this meal were that is was done in remembrance and it contained His body and blood, one might naturally be inclined to view it as cannibalism. But understanding the new covenant changes everything. Once the forgiveness of sins enters the scene, once you connect this act to the timeless promise of God to redeem His people, any crass way of thinking about it simply is not tenable.

The Lord’s Supper is not ordinary. It is a meal with great spiritual significance. We are not just partaking of our Savior’s body and blood; we are united with Him by faith. We do not merely share bread and wine good intentions and hopes. We receive verification that God has kept His promise to us, not only in time past when Jesus died on the cross, but in the present, each time we hear and believe those words of life: Given and shed for you, to forgive your sins; to make you a member of the new covenant.   

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