1 Corinthians 10: 16 – 17; 11; 23-26
(Maundy Thursday 2018)
“The Miraculous Sacrament”
There are times in life when Christians on this side of heaven part ways. People’s lives change. Our children grow up, get married, move away. Vocations take close friends to other places of the world. We are ultimately parted from those who leave this earth and enter heaven. What impressions do we hope to leave on the people meet in this world? What marks do we leave behind? If we could say one final, most important thing, what would it be?
Our Savior knew that he was going to be parting from his friends. His tomb would be opened, and its deadly contends be raised to life. But forty days later he was physically going to leave this world. His offering of Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday has been labeled as his “Last Will and Testament” to his believers, the Church. What all important thing(s) should his followers know and remember. If Christ could constantly remind us of one all important truth, what would it be? On Maundy Thursday, he invites us “whenever” we eat and drink this meal to remember his death and its eternal importance.
Our Savior knows what our lives are like. He knows how strong temptation is. He knows how readily we fall into Satan’s traps and lies. He knows how discouraged we become, carrying the heaven burdens of guilt, fear, and sadness. Living as we do - sinful people wrestling with a sinful world - results in some very rough days. When wrestling with guilt David himself confessed “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32: 3-4). We too, find that it does us no good to cover up our own guilt. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We are deceitful sinners and our sinful actions lead to eternal death in hell.
But David goes on to say, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32: 5). John tells “The blood of Jesus his Son, purifies us from all sin. God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:7, 9). Christ’s Holy Meal takes the message of forgiveness through Jesus and stamps it so plainly on our sin troubled hearts, “as often as we drink it, in remembrance of him!” It is a close participation with him … and a close participation with each other.
- 1. A Miraculous Union with Christ
That is final word from our Savior: a Miraculous Sacrament; a Miraculous Union. What grace and compassion our Savior has! His all eternal testament to his Church is a regular invitation to be fed the forgiveness of sins through his body and blood. What better way to begin a week or to end a day, than to be brought to his Holy Table! There he assures us of his unlimited peace each time. Remembering his one-time death for sin, God designed this Sacramental Meal to impress that image in our hearts and minds. We hear it. We touch it. We taste it. We even smell it on each others’ breath.
“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” Paul is not asking a question he does not know the answer to. He is stating a fact. The answer to both questions is “Yes!” Christ himself teaches, “Take and eat this is my body … Take and drinks this cup is the new covenant in my blood.” (Matthew 26: 26 – 27; Mark 14: 22-24; Luke 21: 17-19). Paul renews that teaching to the congregation in Corinth in the very next chapter of this letter. That congregation had begun to take this sacrament lightly and eventually abuse their use of it. He rebuked them for making a mockery of it. He then took the opportunity intensify their understanding of it by going back to the clear teachings of Christ:
“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 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.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11: 23 -26).
- 2. A Miraculous Union with Each Other
Because Christ unites us with himself in Communion, he also unites us with all who believe in him. “Because there is one loaf, we who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” One day, in heaven, for eternity, the Invisible Church, the Communion of Saints will be perfectly revealed to all of us. For now that Holy Christian Church is not visible. It is true. It is real. It exists as certainly as the Word of God that proclaims it. But it is a mysterious, miraculous, invisible fellowship.
That perfect, invisible fellowship becomes visible in a special way at the Lord’s Supper. We who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. Because the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the Lord’s death, Jesus invites us to come publicly to make that proclamation to each other. Because our Lord’s warns us against judging hearts, something only he can do, he invites us to prepare one another for a unified confession of faith before joining at the Lord’s Supper, so that when we join at the table, those who are there are prepared to sound a clear confession together, as if a choir sang like one voice, as if a band of brass horns sounded like one beautiful trumpet.
Paul writes: “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. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.
Those who would come unprepared, or in verbal disunity, or not repentant, would only do so to their own condemnation (1 Corinthians 11: 28). If the visible church overlooks the differing tones, we allow confusion of faiths at the table, and the proclamation will be tainted by that confusion. Like the annoying soloist who thinks that the band is only about him and touts his own voice or instrument, people who bring divisions to doctrine cannot help the communion of saints sound a clear tone for Christ.
In contrast, those who come in public unity, in agreement of teachings and practice; prepared through confession and absolution; have been taught the wonderful truths of the sacrament; they enjoy not only the message of forgiveness and peace, but also a very special unity of confession and faith. In a very real way, our close practice of communion prevents the judging of hearts and encourages a sincere public confession of truths and the messages of Jesus to those who are witnessing that supper.
Today we celebrate this miraculous union of truth. “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup. You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11: 26). Tonight we celebrate the fact the Christ’s holy meal unites us with him and with each other in a mysterious, divine, but true participation. We are given the gift of participation in his body and blood; in his reliable promises; in his eternal presence; in public confession of our faith; in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and the communion of saints. At one, divinely given meal, in one perfect promise, Christ brings us all together with himself for one purpose – to repeatedly tell us one important fact – I have died for you. Jesus did die. But he has no tombstone in the grounds of Palestine. He broke through death and tomb and lives to prepare a heavenly table for us with his Father. His last Word for you is forgiven!
Blest be the Tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds Is like to that above.
When here our pathways part we suffer bitter pain;
Yet one in Christ and one in heart we hope to meet again (CW 494: 1, 4).