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Sacraments 2: Lord's Supper - 1 Corinthians 11

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 10th November 2019.

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The Church Christ Built

The Sacraments 2- Holy Communion

 

Let me read to you some thoughts of someone who experienced the pain of bereavement:

 

‘My deepest regret [is] that I did not hold her hand more. It’s not, of course, that I never held her hand. It is likely, however, that I didn’t as often as she would have liked. Holding her hand communicates to her in a simple yet profound way that we are connected. Taking her hand tells her, “I am grateful that we are one flesh.” Taking her hand tells me, “This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” It is a liturgy, an ordinary habit of remembrance to see more clearly the extraordinary reality of two being made one. It would have, even in the midst of a disagreement, or moments of struggle, communicated, “We’re going to go through this together. I will not let go.” . . . Holding her hand more would have communicated to us both my own calling to lead her, and our home. Hand holding is a way to say both, “You are safe with me” and “Follow me into the adventure.” It would have reminded me that there is no abdicating, no shirking, no flinching in the face of responsibility. And as I lead it would be a constant anchor, a reminder that I lead not for my sake, but for hers. Holding her hand more also would have spoken with clarity to the watching world. It would have said, “There’s a man who loves his wife.” It saddens me that so many only learn this after their wife is gone. Perhaps most of all, however, I wish I had held her hand more so that I could still feel it more clearly. I wish it had been such a constant habit that even now my hand would form into a handholding shape each time I get in the car. I wish I could fall asleep feeling her hand in mine. I know all this, happily, because I did hold her hand. I received all the blessings I describe above. I just wish I had received them more. It cost nothing, and bears dividends even to this day. If, for you, it’s not too late, make the investment. Hold her hand, every chance you get. You won’t regret it’.[1]

 

That very thoughtful and touching reflection gives us deep insight into a number of things, not least the importance of touch and actions in communicating and sustaining love- even in the very simple act of holding hands. We have a saying: ‘actions speak louder than words.’ Sometimes that is so true. Just think for a moment of the story of the Prodigal son. When the younger son returned home having messed up his life, the Father didn’t simply say, ‘Son, I love you and I forgive you.’ In fact he didn’t say anything at all to his son. But what he did, spoke more powerfully and more eloquently than words could ever have done, because he did things which were symbol laden with meaning and would have caused the boy’s heart to simply melt. He threw his arms around him and kissed him, again and again- that spoke of forgiveness as well as affection. He put a ring on his finger- a sign of sonship. He placed shoes on his feet, a sign of freedom. He placed his own robe around his bare, undernourished shoulders- a sign of protection and acceptance. Finally  he killed the fattened calf and threw a party- so overjoyed was the father to have his son home that he could not hold back his extravagant love and had to show it in the most extravagant way possible. There is no doubt, actions sometimes do speak louder than words.

 

Last week, Scott reminded us that God has very carefully chosen certain signs which are appropriate to the spiritual reality they convey, such as water signifying the washing away of our sin by Christ blood like water washes away dirt. And while it is true that signs point to a spiritual reality, these special God-given signs which are called sacraments also convey or mediate the reality. Think of it like this:  a number of years ago in the City of London, many financial deals were concluded by a simple handshake. The handshake was not just a sign of an agreement, it actually made the agreement, it sealed it. Just as an embrace or a kiss is not just a sign of love they mediate that love- as with the Father and the prodigal son, so do sacraments, and especially the sacrament of the Lord’ supper.

 

You see, in the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, through words, symbols and actions God shows his extravagant love to each one of us. By it the Lord Jesus reaches out to his bride –the church-the local gathering- like a groom reaches out to place the ring on the hand of his bride. The movement of divine love is always, always, first and foremost from God to us, as Paul tells us in v 23, ‘The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread, he gave thanks and he gave it to his disciples.’ They hadn’t earned it. They hadn’t even asked for it- he freely gave it. That is what God is like.

 

So what is happening whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper as we are doing this morning? Let me mention three things.

 

First, we need to understand that the Lord’s supper arises out of the Last Supper.

 

The Last Supper- the meal Jesus had with his disciples the night he was betrayed-v23, stands mid-way between the Passover meal celebrated by the Jews and Holy Communion celebrated by Christians. And as those disciples were gathered around the table on that fateful night and Jesus acted as the host and they were his guests, they would have been quite bewildered as Jesus spoke giving out the bread and wine. This is the way one writer puts it: ‘We can imagine them questioning in their minds, ‘Your body? Your blood? Eat it? Drink it?’ What was Jesus doing? Not simply giving them theological information but rather giving them a theological experience. In the Last Supper they experienced for themselves what the cross was all about- about the body and blood of Jesus being given up, broken, poured out for them, and about the need to take that death to themselves (eat, drink).’ (David Wenham). You see, what Jesus was doing on that night was dramatically enacting through symbols what was literally going to take place the following day- the fulfilment of the true Passover. The Passover was the great festival meal of God’s people in the Old Testament. The Lord’s Supper is the great celebratory meal of God’s people in the New Testament. The Jews remembered the great rescue from slavery in Egypt involving the sacrifice of a Passover lamb marking the beginning of the covenant people. Christians remember the great rescue from slavery to sin involving the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and the beginning of the new covenant people. By participating in the Passover meal, the Jews identified themselves with that salvation and covenant, and by joining in the Lord’s Supper Christians identify themselves with Christ’s salvation and his new covenant. The Jews looked back to the Exodus as the great turning point in their lives; Christians look back to the cross as the great turning point in their lives. Do you see how they parallel each other? The Lord’s Supper comes out of the Last supper.

 

Secondly, in the Lord’s supper the Lord gives himself to the Lord’s people.

 

Think of a wedding service. When the husband places the ring on the finger of his bride he says these words, ‘I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage, with my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, all that I have I share with you.’ What is happening? Well, the groom is not describing something – the state of his glands, he is doing something- committing himself in covenantal love. In short, by those words and actions he is giving himself wholeheartedly and unreservedly to his bride. All that he has and is- is now for her. And you know what? The Lord Jesus is doing something like that, and more, in the Lord’s Supper.

 

Let me ask: What is knowing Christ like? It is like tasting red wine- sweet and invigorating. What difference does Christ make? It is like eating bread- nourishing and sustaining. In short it is life giving and life transforming- which, of course is what the Gospel is.  The Lord’s Supper is the physical expression of the Gospel, our covenant relationship with Christ. It is something we touch and taste. What is more in the words and prayers that surround it, it is something we hear. We hear Christ’s word to us in the promises of the gospel- ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood’ (v25), and we receive those promises in bread and wine. As someone has said, ‘Think of the bread and wine as a lover’s touch. It is as much a physical sign of Christ’s love to you as holding his hand. Communion is the embrace of Christ.’ Isn’t that a wonderful thought?

 

But how is the receiving of the bread and the wine by the empty hands of faith a means of God, in Jesus, by his Spirit, communing with us (which is why it is called Holy Communion)? This brings us to the third aspect of the service:

 

The Lord’s people remembering the Lord’s promise- ‘Taking the bread and the wine, says Jesus is to be done, ‘in remembrance of me’-vv 24 and 25.

 

The word used here for remembrance (anamnesis) isn’t simply a drawing upon our memory- as when we might say, ‘I remember where I was when the Twin Towers in New York were attacked’. It is recalling something and pondering something which has happened in the past but in such a way that its effect in the present is appreciated and felt. Let me use an illustration again from marriage. A husband, or wife, could, over say, doing the washing up think back for a brief moment to their wedding day- they have ‘remembered’. But that is all. But supposing it is the couple’s wedding anniversary, then what do they do? Well, first they may sit together on the couch and take out the wedding album and look at the photographs, recalling the great day, and as they do so they relive the day in their minds. Perhaps some things that had happened but which they hadn’t thought of for years start flooding back. They smile, maybe shed a tear or two; and the love in their hearts is stirred. But that’s not all, they have a meal together- a special meal- and the love just flows between them. Do you see how what happened maybe 10, 20, 30 years ago profoundly impacts their lives and love for each other now? Friends, that is ‘remembering’ 1 Corinthians 11:24 style and should be happening whenever we take communion. And just as the husband and wife are together for that special anniversary occasion, Jesus and his wife- the church- are together as they celebrate this anniversary of Christ’s death at this meal. Jesus is right here by his Spirit, and so we feed upon him in our hearts by faith.

 

We must understand that when Jesus speaks of the meal as a ‘remembering’, a memorial, it is not a memorial for God, as if he needs to be reminded of the Gospel. No. It is given for our sake so we are reminded that God does not and can never forget. He can never forget what his Son has done for us- after all he was the one who gave his one and only Son so that we would not perish but have everlasting life. God in his kindness, knowing how frail we are, knowing how battered by life we can be, has put in place memorials — including water in baptism, bread, and wine in communion— so we never need feel forgotten by him. We are reminded that he remembers. We are never out of his mind for a single moment.

 

We have union with Christ a once and for all event- which is what baptism pictures, and now we have communion with Christ which is to be repeated until Christ returns and as we do so we bear testimony to the Gospel of God’s saving love.

 

Now do you see how God so cares about us, how he so wants to meet with us, to give himself to us? Some of you may be familiar with the notion of the 5 love languages, the idea being that different people have different ways of expressing their love such as with words of affirmation; acts of service, giving gifts, spending quality time or through physical touch. Do you realise that God draws upon every kind of love language in Holy Communion to share his love with us? Just think about it:  We hear his words of affirmation, ‘This is my body which is given for you’. There is quality time as we draw away from a hectic world and meet the risen Lord Jesus at his table- like an anniversary meal. There is the Lord serving us, providing bread and wine pointing to the greater service of his sacrifice on the cross. The bread and wine are gifts- as is God’s one and only Son. Then there is touch, as we take the bread into our hands and taste the wine on our lips- it reminds us that Jesus death was a real, historical death, and that our salvation is a total salvation which will involve our bodies being resurrected one day as well as our spirits. Do you see how in this simple act of the Lord’s supper, God is eager to embrace us as the Father was eager to embrace the son in the Lord’s parable- with actions speaking as loud as words? And as through the sacrament we experience his love- as those forgiven and accepted, so we should share with each other the same love, which is why we do this together. This is what Holy Communion is all about- the church family meal, gathering together around a table until that day in glory when we shall share in the great heavenly meal- ‘we remember the Lord’s death until he comes’. In the Lord’s Supper God is not simply saying ‘I love you’, he is loving us.

 

We began with that reflection on the importance of holding of hands in marriage; let’s end with a reflection on the importance of communion for the church by changing some of the words:

 

‘My deepest regret is that I have not partaken of Communion more— or, rather, that I have not given it the significance it deserves. It’s not, of course, that I never take Communion. It is likely, however, that I don’t as often as Christ would like me to. Communion communicates in a simple yet profound way that we are connected. In Communion, Christ tells me, “I am glad that we are one flesh.” In Communion, Christ says to me, “You are bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” It is a liturgy, an ordinary habit of remembrance, by which I see more clearly the extraordinary reality of two being made one. It is a means by which, even in the midst of a disagreement, or moments of struggle, Christ communicates to me: “We’re going to go through this together. I will not let go.” It also communicates to me his calling to lead me. Communion is a way for him to say both “You are safe with me” and “Follow me into the adventure.” It reminds me that he will not abdicate, shirk, or flinch in the face of responsibility. And as he leads me, Communion is a constant anchor, a reminder that he leads not for his benefit but for mine. Taking Communion more would also speak with clarity to the watching world. It would say, “There’s a person who loves the Saviour.” Perhaps most of all, however, I wish I had taken Communion more so that I would feel the gospel more clearly. I wish it had been such a constant habit that even now my life would form into a gospel shape throughout the day. I wish I could fall asleep feeling my life in his life. I know all this, happily, because I have taken Communion. I have received all the blessings I describe above. I just wish I had received them more. It costs nothing, and bears dividends even to this day. If, for you, it’s not too late, make the investment. Take Communion, receive it with meaning, every chance you get. You won’t regret it.’[2]

 

 

 

 

 

[1]  R. C. Sproul Jr., “Husbands, Hold Your Wife’s Hand,” Ligonier Ministries (website), October 4. 2014, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/husbands-hold-your-wifes-hand.

[2] Tim Chester, Truth We can Touch.

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