When I was at high school I had a science teacher called Dr Kent. When he marked my book he would communicate in pictures. For one piece of homework I had to write up an experiment. He marked my homework and at the bottom if it I found something that looked like a picture frame with the numer 1000 underneath it. So I asked him, what does this mean. He simply said a picture equals a thousand words. He was saying as well as describing the experiment I should draw a picture of it too.
Pictures go hand in hand with words. Jesus often used word pictures and parables to communicate his teaching. In the Lord's Supper, also known as communion, Jesus gives us an acted parable that pictures the cross of Christ. It's a meal that pictures the gospel for us. This morning as we continue our series in the 39 Articles, the key teachings of the Anglican church, we're going to see that communion commemorates the cross of Christ. Let's pray that as we come to God's word, and share in communion we would grasp Jesus' work more clearly.
We're going to look at 1 Corinthians to see how communion commemorates the cross of Christ. The church in Corinth was struggling with several issues, and so Paul was writing to correct them. One of the issues they had was social divisions. It was the custom of early Christians to eat a meal when they met together, and, in that context, to share bread and wine in the remembrance of Christ. The trouble is when the Corinthians met they caused more harm than good according to Paul. In fact he says to them in verse 20:
"When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat."
So what's gone wrong? We can't be sure exactly was going on, but it seems that when they meet some are remaining hungry and others and getting drunk. It seems likely the rich were eating the best food and wine, perhaps in the best rooms, and leaving the scraps to the poor who arrived to the church meeting after work.
A meal that should have demonstrated the unity of believers was demonstrating division – even humiliating the poorer members of the church. And so Paul in effect says let me tell you about the Lord's Supper! In Paul's following teaching we see that communion commemorates the cross of Christ. Not just the facts of Christ's death, but its effects. It's a window into the gospel that helps us look backwards to the cross and look forwards to his return, but also to see its impact in our fellowship with Christ and his people. If this sermon whets your appetite for more let me commend Vaughan Robert's True Worship where he has an excellent chapter on the Lord's Supper, and it's from his book I've borrowed my four points this morning.
Firstly Paul tells them to look backwards to the cross as they take communion. That's my first point: Look backwards. Come with me to verse 23:
"For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: 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."
Paul goes to Jesus' instruction to the disciples to take bread and wine in remembrance of him. All the gospels stress the Lord's Supper was a Passover meal. At the Passover Jews remembered how the Passover lambs died instead of the Israelite firstborn sons so that they could escape God's judgment. Jesus reinterprets the Passover to show its fulfillment is in him.
Jesus is the sacrificial lamb. He is at the centre of the table, yet he takes objects on the table, the bread and the wine, to represent his sacrifice on the cross. Why the bread broken and the wine poured out?
Because at the cross Jesus' body was broken instead of ours; his blood was poured out instead of ours. Jesus dies in our place so we could be rescued from God's judgment if we trust in him. Communion looks back to Jesus' sacrificial death.
The first thing we need to see is the sacrifice is in the past. The bread and wine represent Jesus' body and blood. At communion there is no new sacrifice taking place: Jesus is not present in the bread and wine. Think about how a football coach might explain a tactical move to his players over a meal by picking up a tea mug, and saying this is the goalkeeper. He is not speaking literally; the mug only represents the goalkeeper. In the same way, the bread and wine only represent Jesus.
This is really important. When you take communion we've got to look past the bread and wine to what they represent; we've got to look back the cross. Just as when we see sign a sign for Gateshead we don't stop there, it's pointing us to our hometown beyond! So when you come to the bread and the wine consider the cost of the saving a rebel from judgment. It cost the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.
Communion tells us we are far more rebellious than we know, but we are far more loved than we know. God thinks we're worth the cost of his Son's body and blood. So on a practical note, try reflecting on a passage on the cross as you take communion. As you reflect on the cross let it kindle your gratitude.
Sometimes we forget how Christ's cross changes the believer's standing with God forever. In the 1800s there was a Scottish Presbyterian Pastor called John Duncan. In his church was a woman who did not want to take communion because of a sin she had struggled with, even though she had turned from it. She felt unworthy of taking communion. So as he served communion Duncan simply said to her, "Take it, woman, it's for sinners."
Communion reminds us it's not about our performance; it's about Jesus' performance. As the liturgy says, none of us can presume to come the supper, "confident in our own righteousness." No, we come trusting that Jesus' death on the cross means our sin has been punished, and God has forgiven us. Jesus makes us right with God when we trust in him. It's all about Jesus.
Also, let communion pose the question, "Are you trusting in the cross?" The Israelites at the Passover only benefitted from the Passover lamb is they put its blood on their door frame. In effect, showing they trusted in its death. Jesus, calls for us to trust in his death, and the response he calls for is faith in him. That trust is pictured by taking the bread and wine. So if you're not trusting Jesus' death this morning please don't take communion. Instead, why not spend the time reflecting on God's costly love in Christ, and consider what's stopping you from trusting in Jesus?
Secondly we see we're to look upwards in fellowship with Christ. Look upwards. In verse 25 Paul reminds us of the new relationship we have with God, he says God has made a covenant with us:
"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."
A covenant is a formal binding agreement, in this case between God and his people. In the Old Testament, covenants were marked by the shedding of sacrificial blood. The covenant between God and Israel did not last because Israel failed to keep it. But God promised a new covenant; one which would last forever. In the new covenant, the blood that marks it is not that of animals but that of Christ. Through Christ's blood we have forgiveness forever; we have been brought into relationship with God.
So In 1 Corinthians 10v16 Paul says we're not just remembering Christ at communion but we are "participating" in his body and blood. What does that mean? The bread and wine remain bread and wine, but they do represent his body and blood. So as we take eat and drink as the liturgy says, we are "feeding on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving." The presence of Christ is located not in the bread or wine, but in the heart of the believer by faith. Or as article 28 puts it:
"The means by which the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is by faith."
By faith in Christ's work on the cross we have fellowship with him. So look up to him in faith at communion.
Thirdly, we're to look forwards. Look forwards. Paul tells us that communion involves looking forwards to Jesus' return in verse 26:
"For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
The Old Testament often pictured heaven as a banquet. Every time we take communion we experience a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. When I was young, at Christmas, I used to go into the kitchen and sneak away with a small piece of Turkey. It was a foretaste of the Christmas lunch to come. In a similar way when we gather together to remember the cross, enjoying the relationship with God and each other it brings we enjoy a foretaste of heaven.
In heaven we'll praise God for the cross, and we'll enjoy perfect relationship with him and each other forever. So as you take your small piece of Warburton's white bread and take a sip of QC Port let communion grow your longing for the day when Jesus returns, when we will enjoy a heavenly banquet!
Fourthly, at communion we look around. Look around at the fellowship we have in Christ. Back in 1 Corinthians 10v17, Paul says communion is a sign of fellowship, not just with God but with each other:
"Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf."
We express fellowship by sharing the Lord's Supper together. So it's no surprise that within chapter 11 when teaching on the Lord's Supper Paul uses the words "come together" five times. When we trust in Jesus, not only are we united to him but also to his people. In Christ, God is gathering himself a people. So at communion we express fellowship with Jesus, the unseen head of the table, but also each other.
Remember that the Corinthians were better at expressing division over unity. So Paul warns to them in verse 27:
"So then, 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. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. "
Paul's words here are a warning to those who denied the reality of being one body. The actions of the rich Corinthians dividing themselves from the poor was a denial of their fellowship. It appears, some members of the church have been disciplined by God with ill health so that they may repent.
What does it mean for us? Firstly, as we come to take communion we need to turn from any actions that undermine our unity as Christ's people. In some churches they do communion once a year and the preparation time is marked by a period of getting right with each other before expressing unity in communion. Let me encourage you to prepare for communion by getting right with brothers and sisters you've fallen out with. Pursue forgiveness.
Sometimes, the fellowship element is sometimes lost in the way we serve the bread and wine: we make a line and we don't make eye contact. We pay lip service to this fellowship element when we say the peace but it's often rushed. In the early church it seems communion was taken in the context of a fellowship meal. So to try and factor some of the sense of fellowship back into communion we've held bring and share lunches after communion, and the evening service social also happens after communion services.
Lastly, when Paul uses the words Lord's Supper, the word he used refers to a leisurely evening meal. It suggests that communion was a meal to be enjoyed and not rushed. It's not the Lord's Snack, but the Lord's Supper! For that reason, I really want us to have time to enjoy communion this morning. So let's close with this. Communion is a commemoration of the cross of Christ. It's a drama that shows us the facts and effects of the cross. It's a window into the gospel. So as we take communion this morning let's look back to the cross in thanks; let's look up to Jesus in faith; let's look forward with hope, and around us in fellowship.