TEXT: Luke 22:14-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
SERVICE VIDEO: youtu.be/8qHk08VSw9o
We are continuing today in our summer series called “Building Blocks of Worship.” We are looking in-depth at the different elements of our worship service, their basis in scripture, and how we might not only engage them more fully on Sunday mornings, but also throughout the week.
Today we are looking at (and celebrating!) the Lord’s Supper. Depending on your background you may have also heard it called communion, the Eucharist, or something similar. Some Christians celebrate it weekly, some monthly (as we do), or on some other time-table. And there are some differences in understanding between the various branches of the Christian Church, but all agree that at this Table we recognize and celebrate the body and blood of Christ, his life given for us.
Throughout the service I am doing a little extra “explaining” of the components of the Lord’s Supper liturgy. But for the sermon I want to focus in on two key scripture passages to talk about the meaning and purpose of the Lord’s Supper.
The text from Luke 22 parallels similar accounts in the other Gospels in describing the Last Supper and the basis for our own celebration of this meal as a sacrament. There are very lengthy and technical definitions of what makes a sacrament, but I might most simply say that a sacrament is a sign of God’s grace through Jesus Christ that Jesus commanded his followers to do. Protestant churches recognize two sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There are other actions Jesus commanded (like foot-washing), but it doesn’t function as a sign of grace as baptism and communion do. Many Protestants (including Presbyterians) further find an historical basis for baptism and communion in the Old Testament rituals of circumcision and Passover as well. I’d love to talk about any of that! But it is all beyond the scope of a sermon, even one focused on the one sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
So let’s focus in on our biblical text, first on the Last Supper, then in 1 Corinthians on the practice and teaching about the Lord’s Supper in the early church setting.
In Luke 22 Jesus is with the disciples the night of his arrest and crucifixion the next morning. It is Passover week and he makes a connection between the Passover meal, what he is about to suffer, and what God has in store in the future (v.16). Twice in the passage he makes reference to something coming: “I shall never again eat it (Passover) until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God” (v.16) and “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the Kingdom of God comes” (v.18). There is clearly anticipation and hope in what he is doing.
Then he breaks the bread and takes the cup and says words that are familiar to us: “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me… This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (v.19-20)
In these words he commands that his followers “do this in remembrance of me” (v.19). This is the basis for our re-enacting the meal. Notice these same words on the front of our communion Table (In Remembrance of Me). Each time we celebrate this sacrament we remember Jesus and what the meal signifies.
He explains what the elements signify: the bread is his body, broken and given; the cup is his life poured out. And it is a “new covenant” – not replacing the old covenant(s) with Abraham and David, but fulfilling them. He is the promised one, the blessing of God’s people, the light of the world, the hope of the nations.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul delivers on to his readers what he had heard of this night from others who were there. Likely written before the Gospels, Paul’s words are almost exact duplicates, indicating that already in the first generation of followers the words and actions of the Last Supper were being repeated and re-enacted regularly among believers. To the remembrance of Christ’s suffering and the anticipation of the Kingdom, Paul adds that each celebration of the Lord’s Supper (“as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup”) PROCLAIMS the Lord’s death until he comes. It is not just a time for reflection or private engagement with God, but a public act that sends us out with the Good News of Christ.
Paul’s words here also come in the midst of a church mess: people being people. The rich are hoarding food and not caring for the poor. Some are crowding out others to get to the Table. And so just after this recap of what the sacrament is about Paul has to exhort those in the church to examine themselves and repent of un-Christlike behavior. Some Christian churches have taken this to extremes of having each person ‘examined’ before receiving communion, but I believe those words simply require basic faith in Christ and remind us that it’s not about us, but about him. That’s all another thing I’d love to talk more about if you have questions!
What’s Going on Here?
So let’s dig in for a few minutes about what’s going on at this Table. Much of this is how I’ve explained it over the years, so hopefully it will sound familiar to you. I hope it will help make the sacrament more understandable, more accessible, and more meaningful.
I’ve already mentioned this, but one of the wonderful (and amazing!) things about the Lord’s Supper is that it has a past, present, and future component. We look back to the past “in remembrance of” Jesus suffering, sacrifice, and saving death. We experience here and now – this morning – the grace of God signified here. And we look ahead to the coming Kingdom of God, just as Jesus did with his disciples that night.
Sacrament as Sign
I want to say a word about sacraments as signs. That is to say that this sacrament POINTS to Jesus and what he has done (and is doing!). It’s regular bread and juice. But every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper I ask the Lord to consecrate it – to make it holy or set it aside from it’s regular use for this special purpose. And that special purpose is to so represent, symbolize, and point to Jesus that I can then say to you “Take and eat; this IS the body of Christ; this IS the blood of Christ.” If you are like me you might really want to pin that down a little more. We don’t believe it is literally the body and blood of Christ. But we also believe it’s more than a symbol. I could show you a small plastic replica of the city of Charlotte. That would be a symbol. Or I could take you into the city and that would be Charlotte. A sacrament is like the sign that says “Welcome to Charlotte” – you are here! The bread and cup say “Christ is here! Christ has done this! Receive the Lord!” It’s not the Lord himself, but neither is it a symbol of something happening in a distant time and place. And at the end of the day it’s mystery and more than any pastor can fully explain. But hopefully that’s helpful in some way!
I also sometimes talk about how this sacrament engages the senses. So much of what we do is words. Sermons, scripture, prayer, songs (words set to music). But this… we touch this, smell this, we actually EAT this! I break the bread, we pass the elements, often the juice tweaks my taste buds and makes my mouth water. It’s all so engaging. It makes me remember how many times Jesus sat down to a meal and taught or engaged people at the Table: Zacchaeus, the other tax collectors, the friends walking to Emmaus after the crucifixion, the disciples, and more. This Table is one of the places where the abstractness of Jesus dying on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins can become tangible and real. It’s like a miniature play set before us month after month: here’s his body being broken; here’s his blood being poured out. Believe it; receive it; ingest it; take it with you as part of who you are. Wow!
Who’s It For
When I give an invitation to the Table you may hear me say that “all who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior or would even now.” That is because it is entirely about Jesus. It is non-sensical to participate in communion if you don’t believe in Christ. But I also believe it is an evangelistic sacrament. I will say (and I mean it!) that if you have come to faith in Jesus, even if just the beginning steps of faith, and even in the course of this very service, then I can think of no better first step than to participate… because of everything I have already said. It is like the opportunity for Jesus to sit down with you and share a meal, to be in his very presence. It’s not to try it and see if something magical happens. It’s not magic. But it is deeply significant. So like I say, you don’t have to be a member of Good Shepherd, or Presbyterian, to receive this sacrament. Just Jesus. And you don’t have to believe and trust him perfectly or deeply, but to resonate with HIS invitation: “Come, follow me. Come, and I will give you rest. Come, receive my grace.” If that is you and you do, tell me; I’d love to follow up with you and explore Jesus with you!
Like all of worship, this sacrament is not just a church thing for church people inside church walls. It is spiritual food for a spiritual mission and calling out into the world. It feeds us with Christ as we obey and follow Christ to go out and love and serve our neighbors and the world in his name. And while every meal is not communion (nor every bath baptism), the use of common elements in these sacraments provides touch points for us in daily life so that when we eat our daily meals we might be reminded of this sacramental meal. When we wash ourselves we might be reminded of our own baptism.
I invite you to focus deeply on the meaning and purpose of the Lord’s Supper as we celebrate it today. Consider Christ’s body, broken for you. Consider his blood, poured out as a new covenant and for the forgiveness of your sin. Consider the drama and all the meaning of touching, tasting, seeing, ingesting, and carrying it with you as you leave today.
What does it mean that Christ suffered and died for your sin? What does it mean that Christ goes with you?
In participating in this sacrament, we remember, we experience, we hope, and we proclaim the Good News of God’s grace through Jesus Christ! Amen.
Some Music Used
- Jesus, Messiah (Chris Tomlin)
- We Will Feast in the House of Zion (Sandra McCracken)
- Jesus, Name Above All Names
- What a Beautiful Name
- Come, Ye Sinners (Indelible Grace)
- All Who are Thirsty
- Eat This Bread (Taize)
- Bless the Lord/10,000 Reasons