Greetings in the name of the Lord!
I don’t think any of you will be really surprised when I tell you that we will be receiving Holy Communion today.
It is pretty obvious that the table is set. The gifts of bread and New wine (grape Juice) are present on the center of the altar table this morning.
Let me get something out of the way right up front. Holy Communion, the Eucharist, The Lord ’s Supper is a very special service to me. I know that may not be true for all of you and oddly enough for probably the exact same reason.
Holy Communion is a service that draws our attention to several mysteries related to God and our Relationship to the holy and divine that no one seems able to explain. We don’t normally like mysteries that go unresolved.
I have a recollection that comes from my childhood. I remember being called to the supper table in that small kitchen. My Mom would call everyone to the table and as we were getting into our chairs. The question rang out.
Did you wash your face and hands?
I don’t remember ever really remembering to wash my hands and face before I ran to the table for supper. I do remember having to show my hands and sometime a closer inspection of my face and behind my ears. I seem to recall being sent back to wash more than once before I passed inspection.
The supper table was a place where we caught up on what had been going on that day and week. It was a place of planning and sometimes correction.
The supper table in my childhood home was a place of communion. The Dictionary defines communion as an act of sharing, intimate fellowship.
The Lord’s Supper is in a simple definition an invitation to re-enact and to be a part of a family meal that was hosted by Jesus in an upper room. It was a meal that had been celebrated since the Jews were freed from being slaves in Egypt. When the Holy Spirit passed over the homes with blood marking the door post saving them from God’s judgment.
Our scripture this morning comes from a section in 1st Corinthians where Paul had been giving instructions about worship to the church at Corinth. He speaks of head coverings and hair length for men and women that spoke in worship. Ultimately he explains the relationship between men and women and God.
Just before the section I read this morning Paul specifically says that he has no praise for his readers. He claims that their meetings do more harm than good, because divisions in the church. He is specifically speaking of the practice of the Lord’s Supper.
He is disappointed in how the church is carrying out the remembrance ceremony that Jesus held in the upper room. Paul speaks of some in the church that were left hungry and some that got drunk.
It sounds like he is describing a multiple choice dinner. Perhaps you would say a pot luck dinner.
However, the situation he describes is different. He indicates that the people that brought a meal for themselves. They were not sharing as a group. It appears that some with no means came to the event with no food and were hungry while others pigged out on deviled eggs, fried chicken livers and homemade cakes and pies. He says that he had even heard of some people getting drunk.
His anger is not related to having a gathering. It is that the way the Corinthians are celebrating, makes difference in status, wealth very obvious. Some seem too blatantly over do. So Paul condemns how some of the people act.
Then we pick up with our reading this morning. He reminds his readers about the core elements of the story, the basis of the celebration.
He says, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you:” Paul tells us that he is about to teach his readers what the Lord taught him.
He is not claiming personal knowledge, because he was not in the room on that Passover night. It seems that he is explaining that he has received a specific revelation from the Lord about that night in the upper room.
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
I will guess that most of you recognize that we use these or similar words whenever we prepare to approach the Lord’s Table. Paul is offering his readers a RE-Presentation of the events of that night in the upper room.
Paul reminds us about how Jesus defines the symbols, the elements, that were already a part of the Passover meal….in fact they were even more common than that.
They were the basic parts of the common everyday meal.
The bread is his body. His body was for the disciples benefit. It was broken that all may share , communion and be a part of the meal. This sharing of the bread, of a basic food needed for life, should be remembered. Whenever we eat bread we should remember His actions.
He took the cup and he speaks of a new covenant in His blood. The old covenant allowed for the blood of animals to be offered to cover personal and corporate Sins. But Jesus tells them that when ever they drink wine to remember the new covenant.
It seems that the people in Corinth lost the simple elements, the focused meaning and the basic request to remember…remember What God, Jesus had done.
How God came to the supper table. He came to share and the be in interment fellowship with His Creation.
Paul does on, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
From Paul’s description I am not sure if there was a special bread and cup. It very well could have been. However, it might be that Jesus is calling for remembrance at every meal. Unfortunately, it seems that the frequency of communion is a mystery but the length of time that the even is pretty clear.
Believers are to celebrate communion remember Jesus sacrifice, death for us, until the Lord comes back.
Different Denominations view the Lord’s Supper in different ways. Some say that we participate in the re-enactment as a response to a commandment. The technical word is ordinance. It is sort of like building code ordinances. Jesus says do this in remembrance of me, they believe that they must do it as a part of their obedience to Jesus.
Other denominations including Methodism hold to a different understanding.
Communion is called a sacrament. The definition of a sacrament would be a visible sign of an invisible reality.
That is a little hard to picture.
A sacrament is a right or and act which is said to be instituted\demonstrated by Jesus Christ. Which some how benefits the recipient in a supernatural way.
Supernatural part being that it is by the work of the Holy Spirit.
I know that explanation is not much better, so let me simplify this mysterious event into something that is easier to remember.
A sacrament is a sacred moment. A holy moment.
Most protestant churches recognize Baptism and Holy Communion as events instituted by Jesus which we participate in all these years after Jesus demonstrated and invited participation.
John Wesley described communion and baptism as the main events the calls Means of Grace. Basically, the ways that God applies grace to our lives. Events where we notice God’s presence and work in our lives.
Let’s be very clear on something.
– The communion service if separated from the spirit of God is nothing. It is useless. The action of sharing bread and juice even with the reading of a liturgy and scripture is useless if the Holy Spirit is not allowed to act and work in the event.
An amazing thing about God and the holy spirit, the never need a special even or worship or words to move in some one’s life.
A service of Holy Communion is something that we do to hope us to connect to God’s grace. It is like preparing for thanks giving dinner. There are traditions that we keep year to year, special family recipes. It is a time when the family gets together for fellowship.
The lords Supper can be a channel that God uses to communicate things to us that are beyond you normal understanding and reason.
That said there is a lot that we do not understand about the Lord’s Supper. Christians agree that it is a holy moment. It is something that no one can really explain. The event has been a special moment in more than a few Christians’ lives.
– Some people cry uncontrollably and don’t feel embarrassed.
– Some feel the weight of the world lifted off of their shoulders.
– Some experience unexplainable Joy.
– A few suddenly recognize the presence of God in the moment and often feel the love of God and the feeling of receiving forgiveness, real forgiveness.
Unfortunately, many people don’t seem to feel much if anything.
I am not suggesting that anyone claim something that is not real to them.
I am not even suggesting that it is any kind of failure on their part.
However, it might suggest a personal discomfort and resistance when the Holy Spirit nudges our soul. When we allow our ability to reason and understand limit our openness to the work of the spirit.
Paul continues his comments by saying, Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
I have heard this one scripture used by several people as a reason that he or she avoids coming to the communion table. Remember, and perhaps plan to read starting at 11:17 your self about the way that some of the church members came to an event they called the Lord’s Supper.
They came with the idea of a big meal, not shared with everyone present.
Some drank too much wine and perhaps got rowdy.
Theses examples did not see anything wrong with their actions and selfish points of view.
— This is a key point. It is unlikely that Paul had any intention to limiting access to the Lord’s Table to people that were not perfect.
I believe that he would be the first to tell us that he himself was not perfect. He was still a sinner. He had anger issues.
Whenever anyone said, “I should not receive communion because I am unworthy,” Wesley responded by saying the matter of unworthiness was not related to the person directly, but rather to the manner of reception.
Basically, if anyone thinks themselves worthy to approach God’s table….they probably are incorrect. If they receive the elements self-righteously or pride-fully then they are sinning.
I want to share the story I found of a couple. The husband and his wife read their Bible every day. The has been married for nearly 60 years when I first met them. They were one of the most godly couples I have even known. They were humble to a fault and wise about the ways of God and human nature.
The husband did not come forward to receive communion. Each opportunity that came his wife would come up and return to his side. I was told that as far as any could remember he had never participated. The only time they ever talked about the subject was when his sister was in the hospital, she was terminal. He asked if anyone noticed that he did not come forward. He mentioned this receiving unworthily. He had read it for himself. He knew that he was unworthy.
Years went by and the husband had his own health issues. It became a struggle to come to church. He found that he could make it more often if he brought an oxygen cylinder.
On one particular first Sunday, the husband was suddenly in line to receive communion. His wife was holding the oxygen; he had his hands on his walker. He knew that we would serve him in his seat. He felt that it was important that he come forward.
The Pastor could feel the smile on his face and the tears rolling down his cheeks. His left hand trembled probably from the exertion, perhaps from the emotion as he reached for the bread and dipped it into the cup. It seems that his allergies were acting up because his eyes were red and tears ran down his face too.
He told the Pastor he felt something that day. He heard the invitation to come to supper. He realized that he was welcome to respond…it was his choice.
Paul says, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.
When we examine ourselves, our words and action and repent. Ask for forgiveness and help then we are free to approach the table.
Anyone that sees their flaws and needs and wants help from God is not coming forward on their own. If we act as our own judge and repent Jesus is walking to the table with us. Jesus is the one that is saying that we are worthy because of his actions, His sacrifice.
Paul is teaching that when we are invited to the Lord’s Table, we don’t have to be perfect.
We just need to be honest with ourselves. We are guided the Holy Spirit to help us to identify and correct our lives. To recognize that Christ actions make grace possible and not any works and abilities we attempt.
Grace and the change that comes from its application to our lives is a life-long process.
It is an act that we know from scripture, is a repeatable opportunity. It is an event the Jesus says we do to help us to remember His body and blood and how His action benefits us today.
Holy Communion is a common practice that Jesus encourages to give us sacred moments of repentance and the renewing of the understanding of God’s grace in spite of our failures.
So where does that put us this morning?
Today is World communion Sunday. It is a day when many Christian churches around the world will participate in a service of the Lord’s Supper. It was started by the Presbyterian Church to encourage unity within the body of Christ. Not just a Presbyterian but Methodist and Roman Catholic, and Baptist it is a call for a shared remembrance by body but the complete body of Christ.
It is a day where individuals and churches are called to examine our actions and words and to seek forgiveness and guidance from God through the gift and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen