What’s the greatest memory you have from your childhood? If you have more than one favorite, pick just one and I want you to think about it. What makes that memory so great?
One of my favorite things to do is to reminisce through pictures. I can find myself getting lost in time looking through photo albums. Hours and hours can go by. When my grandmother was still alive, on many occasions when I visited her, I would go through her photo albums. They were the same ones that I would look through over and over again. But that didn’t matter because bringing back all the childhood memories I had, brought me so much joy! It was a security, a love that I could keep experiencing over and over again.
Last week, we began a series on Holy Communion. It’s titled pretty simply, “What is Holy Communion?” Is it just eating of the bread and juice? Is it just remembering what Jesus did on the cross? Or is it so much more? I’m hopefully going to convince you that it is a whole lot more!
Remembering is a critical part of Holy Communion. Photos might aid our memories of key moments and events in our families’ histories. But more powerfully than mere pictures ever could, the bread and cup of Holy Communion aid the church’s memory of the story that defines us and makes us part of an even bigger family, God’s family. By God’s grace, the bread and cup become symbols for us that convey a living reality that Christ’s presence is with us. What Christ did on that cross is not just a thing of the past, a piece of history to remember. No, Christ’s actions on that cross made it possible for us to be a part of God’s family, and His resurrection makes it true that He is still with us, present here and now.
Ever have trouble remembering something? Uh, yeah, that’s kind of a dumb question. We all have had trouble remembering something. Sometimes we forget even the most important things like forgiveness, compassion, or reconciliation. Perhaps we can feel a little better knowing that from the earliest days of the church, Christians have not always remembered well the good news of God’s grace and acted accordingly.
An example of this is the situation that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 11. The early Christians who were his original audience had not remembered rightly what the Lords Supper was all about. Paul calls them out and says you are doing more harm than good when you meet together. He says, look, when you meet together you think you’re celebrating the Lord’s Supper, but you act like it’s really your supper rather than the Lord’s. You don’t wait for one another, you don’t share. People are remaining hungry while others eat and drink so much that they’re stuffed and even drunk.
They were doing things their own way, not God’s. They had forgotten what God expected of them. So Paul got firm with them. He probably wanted to yell and reprimand them, but instead, he reminded them of what Jesus did and said the night of His final meal.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, 24 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.” 25 In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, 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 until He comes.
Look, accurately remembering what life with God entails, and specifically about the purpose of communion, is not a new challenge for the church. It is a challenge that Christians have faced from the beginning. We all misremember occasionally, and Holy Communion is designed as a wonderful way to remind us of the Truth – Truth like the Hope of Resurrection. The Lord’s death is different than anyone else’s death.
When we go to a cemetery and look around, we see headstones. Headstones not only mark where a person is but mark and remind us of who that person was. We do that with dates, images, symbols, or even a personal message. In one cemetery, a man’s tombstone has a message inscribed with words from his wife who has outlived him. The message reads (in what seems to be unintentional humor), “My beloved husband, rest in peace…until I come.”
But Jesus’ death is different. He’s not resting because He is preparing a place for us. More so, Jesus’ death is different because, in Jesus, death is not the end. We don’t simply look back to the past events of Christ’s life and death the same way we might look back to the past events of someone else’s life and death.
Communion is not simply about remembering “poor old Jesus” who was loved by many but died so long ago, never to be heard from again. That’s not how it is! Yes, Jesus died, but he has been raised. Not even death has dominion over him. He makes that clear in John 11:25-26 when He says: “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Communion reminds us that God Saves Us from our sins and therefore, Promises us a Hopeful Future here and now on earth, and then in Heaven where we will never die. Because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, and because of what God has done in our own lives, we can trust in God, who promises that those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength and soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:13).
Another thing Communion reminds us of is Christ’s Offering for us. He offered himself to God on our behalves. It was an offering He made freely. Do you remember what He said in the garden before His death? To the disciples, He said, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Then he went a little over where He was by Himself and bowed his face to the ground, with a crushing soul and prays, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Jesus had a choice. “I want your will, not mine.” He had a choice. He could have chosen His own will. But He didn’t. He chose to be the offering for the salvation of the world! This was an offering different than any other offering that has ever been made or ever could be made. In the O.T., there is a detailed sacrificial system that explains the different offerings the priests were to make to God on behalf of the people. Not one of those offerings measures up the offering made by Christ.
The letter to the Hebrews tells us just how much greater Christ’s offering is.
11 Day after day every priest stands to minister and to offer again and again the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time, He waits for His enemies to be made a footstool for His feet, 14 because by a single offering He has made perfect for all time those who are being sanctified.
For this offering, God didn’t send someone else to do the dirty work; rather in Christ, the one true God came among us as fully God and fully human, and gave Himself up for us. Sacrificed Himself. Just think about that. A sacrifice is giving your best of the best. Your best calf, best grain. And what did God do? Giving the best of His best, He gave Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for you and me, for the whole world, anyone who will believe and accept.
Actively remembering these things is a very critical part of Holy Communion – but by no means is it all of it. There’s another action that is meant to take place during Holy Communion. Holy Communion is about our offering too, the Offering of Ourselves to God, imperfections and all.
We can offer ourselves to many different things. There are many gods fighting for our attention and worship. This is nothing new. In the early church, Ananias and (Sa-fy-ra) Sapphira sold a piece of property but kept back some of the proceeds for themselves while claiming to have given it all to the church. They could have done whatever they wanted to do with the money, but they said they gave it all to the church when they really kept a portion for themselves. Peter said to Ananias, “You did not lie to us but to God!” (Acts 5:4) Ananias and (Sa-fy-ra) Sapphira, both ended up dying for a lie that they had given themselves to, in the name of greed.
We have been made to worship the one true God, who offers perfect freedom. Yet we often find ourselves enslaved, and at least to some degree, held captive in service to other gods. John Calvin, a reformer during the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, described the human heart as a perpetual idol-making factory. We are constantly making other idols. But the results are detrimental on so many levels.
Nevertheless, the redemptive message of the Gospel is that Jesus came into this world – came to us – to set the captives free and proclaim God’s favor (Luke 4:18-19).
In thinking about the human tendency to worship and give ourselves to false gods, I think it’s helpful to consider how the first disciples responded to Jesus. The first followers of Jesus were a lot like you and me, in some cases positive and another case is negative.
After hearing Jesus say and do extraordinary things, during the Lord’s Supper through which mortal human beings were communing with the immortal God, the disciples completely missed the point. They did not express, right then and there, their utter amazement of God‘s mercy and grace. Instead, they began to argue among themselves as to which of them was the greatest!
They didn’t grasp at that moment that Christ was showing them a new and better way to live, which is found not in vain, not selfish pursuits, not in lording it over others and certainly not harming others, but rather in self-giving service to the Truth. The disciples were right there with Jesus, and yet they still did not get it. In many ways, we do not get it either.
We gather together in worship not because we are the righteous ones or those seen as great in the eyes of the Lord. We gather instead, on every Lord’s Day, to recognize before the Almighty God our brokenness. We gather before the Lord because we remember and give thanks to God, that in His infinite mercy, Christ was willing to be broken with us and for us. We come because in offering ourselves to God, in union with Christ offering for us, as the communion liturgy says, we can all find healing, wholeness, and renewed strength to serve God and our neighbors. That is good news for a confused and hurting world. A world so loved by God that God would give His only Son as an offering of mercy and grace for you and me.
Ephesians 5:1-2 says…
Christ’s loving gift of Himself – His teachings, suffering, death, and resurrection – demands from us a sacrifice of love in return, a sacrifice of ourselves, with nothing held back.
Holy Communion is a sacrifice in a twofold sense, expressing both Christ sacrifice of Himself to the Father, and our offering of ourselves, of all that we are, united with Christ own sacrifice to God.
When it comes to our life with the God who made the heavens and earth, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, remembering the meal, what He did on that cross, is not simply an activity we do to pass the time. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
“Do this….” That’s an action! God is calling us to an active remembrance, to remember by doing, in the name of Jesus.
What Christ has said and done for us is not simply past events that are forever behind us, but instead are completed actions with an ongoing impact. That ongoing impact brings us such joy, security, and a love that we can keep experiencing over and over again. Every time we celebrate Holy Communion, every time we worship, we are experiencing the impact of that love.