[Some excerpts from a sermon preached last Sunday at my home church, Syndal Baptist (Melbourne)]
Bible Reading: Matthew 26:17-30.
At a basic level art and symbol and story are much more powerful than words and concepts to transform us, as Jung said. When Jesus wanted his followers to recall, remember, the event which was to be the climax of his life and mission, he gave them this memorial. It's a very powerful symbol.
Edwin Buzz Aldrin, one of the first two men on the moon, helped make that a giant step for humankind by opening two little plastic packages shortly after touchdown - one containing bread, the other wine. 'I poured the wine into the chalice which our home church had given me,' Aldrin later radioed to Houston. 'In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup. The first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements. And just before I partook I read the words of John 15:5: "I am the vine, you are the branches."'
In the N. T. there are five major names for this feast: it's a 'breaking of bread' (eg. Acts. 2:42), eucharist (Matthew 26:27), the table of the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:21), communion (1 Corinthians 10:16) and the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:20). So there are several images in the NT, and a fascinating study is to study the texts and contrast the two major traditions - that in Mark/Matthew, the other in Luke/Acts and 1 Corinthians.
Scholars have written millions of pages, billions of words, trying to explain what we're about to do this morning. 'This is my body' are probably the most debated words in the history of Christian theology. In 1983 Christian scholars and leaders from around the world met in Lima Peru in a conference which produced the 'Lima Document: Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry.' For those of you privileged to study theology at a college or seminary, you'll learn about the traditional Roman Catholic view known as 'transubstantiation': the bread and the wine become the actual flesh and blood of Christ. Among the Reformers, Luther also argued for a 'real presence' of Christ in the sacraments. Calvin preferred to talk about a 'spiritual presence' of Christ in the elements; whereas Zwingli was 'memorialist': these are merely symbols, he said. The most important thing we do here is 'remember'.
1. First, the Lord's Supper is about REMEMBERING.
'This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this as a way of remembering me' (Luke 22:19)
This year the Irish remember the terrible 'potato famine' that wiped out a million people 150 years ago: you can read the graphic story in Leon Uris' blockbuster novel, Trinity. Many hundreds of thousands left for the New World, or Australia or New Zealand searching for a new life.
One of these was a penniless boy who hid as a stowaway on an immigrant ship bound for America. In the mid-Atlantic the ship hit an iceberg and began to sink, but there was time enough to get everybody into life-boats. Deep down in the bowels of the ship, the boy wondered why the motors had stopped, and as he emerged from his hiding-place there was no-one around. He came up on deck just as the captain was about to step into the last seat of the last life-boat. In the highest tradition of the sea, the captain stepped back and put the boy in his place, and as the life-boat was pushed off, he said to the lad: 'Never forget what has been done for you.'
As the life-boat pulled away, the lad could see the captain standing on the deck, and that vision never left him. He became a successful businessman in the New World, and when people asked him about the secret of his motivation, he always told the story of the captain giving his life for him: 'Whenever I get discouraged and feel negatively about myself, I recall the vision of what has been done for me, and it gives me new courage to "keep on keeping on" to be worthy of such a price.'
2. The Communion is about RECONCILIATION -
with God and with each other.
The Lord's Supper is not only a memorial, it's also 'communion'. It's a celebration of the fact that we are reconciled to God, we now have communion with God, through the death of Christ. And more than that: it's 'sharing' with each other. Jesus took the cup of wine at the Passover meal and said to his disciples: 'Take this, and share it with each other' (Luke 22:17). The early disciples 'continued in the teaching of the apostles, and in fellowship/communion, in the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42). So the communion of Christ with us is to be a model and an encouragement of our communion with one another. ..
So we come together this morning not simply as worshipping functionaries but as sisters and brothers. The Latin word 'communis' means having something in common. What we have in common is that we belong to the same family. This is a communion: we have fellowship with one another. But then we look within - and out to the world.
3. The Eucharist demands a RESPONSE.
The Lord's Supper is an event of Judgment. Simply participating in the Lord's Supper, says Paul (1 Corinthians 10:3-4) - or even of baptism (10:1-2) - doesn't mean you can do what you like. One of our Baptist missionaries to the Dani people in Irian Jaya, told a group I was in of a Christian of a Dani man who was not allowed to take communion, because he'd just had a row with his wife. He was told to step back. Then the pastor asked if he'd be willing to be reconciled to his wife, and they both said 'yes' - so then they stepped forward and took communion.
Sin is treated very seriously, but so is grace.
Did you notice Jesus shared the Last Supper with Judas? He offered the dish to Judas, even though Judas was determined to betray him. That same one now sets before us the bread and the cup. He knows all about you just as he did about Judas, yet he still loves you. To refuse to receive it because you are unworthy misses the point about his grace. Of course we are unworthy: that's why it's being offered to us.
I like the story of the Scottish girl who came in from the highlands to the city of Edinburgh and there fell into wrong company and was soon engaged in a sinful life. Such a way was against all she had learned in Sunday School and church, and one Sunday she slipped into a church covered with shame and need. They were having communion that day, and when the kindly old deacon passed the plate, she shook her head sadly and said: 'I can't take it. I'm too unclean. I am unworthy.' The old deacon, well versed in the essence of the Gospel, whispered: 'All the more reason to take it lassie. It's not meant for saints. It's for sinners. Not worthiness but willingness, that's the issue.'
Almost every time Holy Communion is mentioned in the New Testament it is in
the context of
thanksgiving. Jesus took the bread and 'gave thanks'; the first Christians in
the breaking of bread 'with gladness'. It's the word 'eucharist'
COME TO THIS SACRED TABLE, NOT BECAUSE YOU MUST BUT BECAUSE YOU MAY; COME NOT TO TESTIFY THAT YOU ARE RIGHTEOUS, BUT THAT YOU SINCERELY LOVE OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AND DESIRE TO BE HIS TRUE DISCIPLE: COME NOT BECAUSE YOU ARE STRONG BUT BECAUSE YOU ARE WEAK; NOT BECAUSE YOU HAVE ANY CLAIM ON HEAVEN'S REWARDS BUT BECAUSE IN YOUR FRAILTY AND SIN YOU STAND IN CONSTANT NEED OF HEAVEN'S MERCY AND HELP: COME NOT TO EXPRESS AN OPINION BUT TO SEEK A PRESENCE - THE PRESENCE OF THE LIVING CHRIST. COME. COME.
(The full text is available on the JMM Home Page)
Shalom! Rowland Croucher
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