The following message is taken from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, and addresses the Lord’s Supper, otherwise known as communion. The Lord’s Supper is a meal, reminding us of Jesus’ sacrifice and spurring our devotion to Him. It was preached on October 6, 2013, World Communion Sunday.
A few years ago, our family and some guests traveled to the Valley Forge National Historic Park. On the memorial arch that stands approximately three stories in the air, there is the verse from Revelation 7:16 which stands as a testimony to the grave condition of the soldiers who weathered the winter of 1777-1778. It says, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more…” Battling illness, hypothermia, and a loss of morale, they stuck together, although it cost many their lives, one in ten to be exact. The arch is there as a memorial, a testimony of something we should not forget.
Today, we turn to another type of memorial, with far greater significance. According to the Protestant Reformers, there were three distinguishing marks of the church: the preaching of God’s word, the Bible; the discipline of its members and finally, the practice of its sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. On this Sunday, known as World Communion Sunday, we turn to our attention to the Lord’s Supper.
We turn to a passage within Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Corinth was a well-known, worldly city in Greece. The church there was challenged with how to live as Christians in a cosmopolitan setting. There were all sorts of problems within the congregation. For one, they were allowing public sin to carry on without Christian discipline. There were various conflicts over leadership, spiritual gifts numerous problems and misunderstandings. Part of the conflict was theological, others were emotional and relational. It is a reminder that there is no such thing as a perfect church. And so Paul writes this letter to correct many of the problems, misunderstandings and strife within this church, because it would no doubt affect their witness in the city.
One of those problems was how they conducted their worship. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is in the process of teaching on how public worship must be conducted. In verses 17 and following, we have a larger section concerning the Lord’s Supper. We see from this passage that there were divisions in verses 18-19. Different than only the bread and cup being served, the early church practiced communion as a meal. In this instance, some were receiving their fill of food and drink, while others went without. Herein lies the difference between spiritual famine and spiritual feast. You can come to the observance of this solemn meal, with food on your mind, or you can come with the Lord Jesus and all that He has done for you. Paul is essentially asking: “What type of food are you looking for?” Paul corrects their understanding the Lord’s Supper and how the Christian is to observe it. Let us ask certain questions from our passage this morning: First…
WHAT IS THE LORD’S SUPPER?
Simply put, the Lord’s Supper is one of the two sacraments or ordinances which the church practices, the other being baptism. It is practices in a continuum of the Old Testament Passover, with the fulfillment found in the death of Jesus Christ. In that account, the Jews applied the lamb’s blood upon the doorposts so they would be spared from God’s wrath, poured out on the Egyptians. In a parallel manner, the blood of Christ spares the believer from God‘s wrath that will be poured out upon the world a the end of history.
Our Lord Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples in the upper room shortly before he was taken into custody and eventually crucified. In short, the Lord’s Supper, or communion, is spoken of by the Apostle Paul in verses 23-26. Paul wrote what we call, our Words of Institution: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: 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, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
So when we gather together on Communion Sundays, we reaffirm our faith and observe this meal that honors Him. We demonstrate our appreciation for the Lord’s sacrifice; we make several statements.
One, that there is a statement of hope. The Lord’s Supper is a visual, experiential reminder that there is forgiveness; there is hope; there is restoration! It is mandated and expected that every church perform this act of worship in honor of Jesus who died for us and atoned for our sins.
It is also a statement of unity. We are united to the Lord Jesus and united to every believer who calls on Him with sincerity and truth. Today, Christians all over the world are observing the Lord’s Supper. What did Schwenckfeld say about the Lord’s Supper? Schwenk-felders are known for the Stillstand. We stopped observing the Lord’s Supper for a time because of the divisions in Europe over faith matters. But that should not mislead us into thinking that Schwenckfeld did not appreciate the Lord’s Supper. This is what he said: “I hold to the Holy Sacrament of the altar, or in other words the Supper. I adhere to it as fixed by the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe and confess that the belief of Christians is that the true life and true blood of Jesus Christ is in the Lord’s Supper. However, truly and essentially in the mystery of the sacrament, is eternal life eaten and drunk.” It is not that if you eat the piece of bread and drink the grape juice that something magical happens. No, rather it is a reminder and a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to point you to the sacrifice of Jesus and that you are lost without Him. Which ought to, in turn, well up thanksgiving and praise within you and me towards our Savior.
It is also a statement of anticipation. As Christians, we look forward to something happening in the future. It also is an anticipation of the future, when Jesus will share the cup with us in heaven, with all those who will inherit eternal life.
And so, communion is a meaningful thing. The Lord’s Supper is a demonstration of commitment and discipleship. It is a reminder to all those who take part that your relationship with Christ is one of dependence. Just as you depend on bread and drink for sustenance, you eat of those items representing the body of Christ and are reminded that you cannot survive without Him. This thought echoes Jesus’ words found in John 15:5, when he illustrated that His followers’ lives depends upon Him in which the same way as a branch depends on life from the vine. He said: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” So if communion is this act of dependence, What are some things we should have in mind as we prepare ourselves?
IN WHAT FRAME OF MIND AND HEART SHOULD WE PARTAKE OF COMMUNION?
When we partake of these emblems, you and I proclaim His death, we renew our vows to honor and obey Him. And the Holy Spirit reminds you of His great sacrifice on your behalf. It is a reverent occasion. We find the gift of this admonition in our focal verse today, Verse 27, which states: “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. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” In order to gain a grasp on the way in which one should observe this meal, let us look at a couple of terms the apostle uses.
First, he speaks of those who partake of the Lord Supper “…in an unworthy manner.” What could this mean? The word implies carelessness or being improper. He associates it with same which he says “They shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.” In other words, we ought to play attention to the condition of our hearts and minds when receiving the bread and the cup, Justin Martyr (100-165): Christian philosopher and apologist , wrote: “And this food is called among us the Eucharist of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”
And this should be something that we who have done it many times can fall prey to doing, even unintentionally. One point of carelessness is unrepentant sin. Maybe there is something you have done that you’ve not asked God to forgive you? Maybe there is something that you are doing right now- that you love more than you love the Lord Jesus. I remember as an adolescent that I prayed, “Lord, I love you, but let me do this one more time.” And it was wrong! I loved my sin more than Jesus.
Maybe we need to forgive someone. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14:15).” We often fail to consider the gradual, cumulative effect of sin in our lives. In St. Louis in 1984, an unemployed cleaning woman noticed a few bees buzzing around the attic of her home. Since there were only a few, she made no effort to deal with them. Over the summer the bees continued to fly in and out the attic vent while the woman remained unconcerned, unaware of the growing city of bees. The whole attic became a hive, and the ceiling of the second-floor bedroom finally caved in under the weight of hundreds of pounds of honey and thousands of angry bees. While the woman escaped serious injury, she was unable to repair the damage of her accumulated neglect.
We must recover a proper theology of sin, that it is first against the Lord; other people, even ourselves are collateral damage. But when we sin we offend God. People do a lot of things because others are doing it; people do a lot of things because it feels good or because it is convenient, or because no one is looking, or because no one seems to care. But God cares. And He is calling us to a higher standard! After David sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, he prayed in confession in Psalm 51: “Against Thee and Thee only, have I sinned and done what is wrong in your sight.”
If you have done something to another individual, maybe you have hurt them or treated them unfairly, that needs to be taken care of. God is calling you to do so! Or maybe you need to forsake something.
This passage is really about body life and how we treat one another. In Corinth, selfishness had reached an all time high. There were people taking their matters into their own hands. They would show up for the Love Feast and eat and drink till they were merry. Then others, showing up later, did not receive anything. So Paul addresses the situation by simply stating: “Remember what and who this is about!”
The Lord’s Supper brings to mind what Someone did for us. It was the supreme display of love, where Jesus exchanged our sin for His grace. He put our sin on Himself, and gave us us righteousness. Booker T. Washington was born a slave. Later freed, he headed the Tuskegee Institute and became a leader in education. In his autobiography, he writes: “The most trying ordeal that I was forced to endure as a slave boy…was the wearing of a flax shirt. In that portion of Virginia where I lived, it was common to use flax as part of the clothing for the slaves. That part of the flax from which our clothing was made was largely the refuse, which of course was the cheapest and roughest part.
I can scarcely imagine any torture, except, perhaps, the pulling of a tooth, that is equal to that caused by putting on a new flax shirt for the first time. It is almost equal to the feeling that one would experience if he had a dozen or more chestnut burrs, or a hundred small pin-points, in contact with his flesh… But I had no choice; I had to wear the flax shirt or none. My brother John, who is several years older than I am, performed one of the most generous acts that I have ever heard of one slave relative doing for another. On several occasions when I was being forced to wear a new flax shirt, he generously agreed to put it on in my stead and wear it for several days, till it was “broken in.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”