10/07/2018 sermon at Liberty Spring Christian Church
7 Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.
8 And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it.”
9 They said to Him, “Where do You want us to prepare it?”
10 And He said to them, “When you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters.
11 “And you shall say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?” ’
12 “And he will show you a large, furnished upper room; prepare it there.”
13 And they left and found everything just as He had told them; and they prepared the Passover.
14 When the hour had come, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him.
15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer;
16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
17 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves;
18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.
We have talked a lot in recent weeks about loving one another and loving others. You should probably get used to that, because the simple fact is that there is no legitimate sense in which we can claim to love God without loving those who bear His image.
But this is Communion Sunday. Surely today of all days would be the time for us to turn our focus completely to God, to worship His Son, Jesus Christ, by remembering His sacrifice for sinners and proclaiming His victory over sin on the cross and His victory over death at the empty tomb.
Of course, it is right and proper that we worship Jesus, that we focus our attentions on God in this place. But I submit to you now that our communion today will be devoid of life and significance if we partake of it without genuinely devoting ourselves to a community formed in and through love.
Turn with me for a moment to Matthew 22:37-40, and I’ll try to begin mapping out the bright line between communion and community.
We’ve talked about this passage a couple of times in the past few weeks, so you’ll recall that the young lawyer had asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment. Jesus replied:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
One thing that’s easy to miss in this passage is the identity of Jesus’ questioner. Look back at verses 34-36 for a clue.
But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, aa lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:34-36)
Note that the lawyer was one of the Pharisees. He was a lawyer in the sense that he was a student of the law – the Mosaic Law. The New Living Translation gets closest to the sense of the Greek term “nomikos” as it is used here: “One of them, an expert in religious law…”
So this lawyer knew all about the commandments, and he, like the Sadducees that had engaged Jesus immediately prior to this exchange, was trying to trip Jesus up.
What would the God who had commanded His people to keep ALL of His commandments consider to be the greatest commandment?
In other words, from the human perspective, what commandment could I get by with keeping if I wanted to go around breaking the others?
But just as He had done with the Sadducees, Jesus made quick and easy work of dismantling this man’s trap, which he had constructed in his arrogant assumption that he knew the Law better than the Son of God.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind,” Jesus said. And then: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus presents these as two separate commandments. And sometimes I suppose we like to think that if we just love God enough, we can make up for the fact that we have held onto bitterness and conceit, that we have been unforgiving and unrepentant – that our lives and our interactions with one another so often reveal anything but love for one another.
But Jesus did not confine His answer to the single command to love God. He immediately followed that with “love your neighbor.” By doing so, he explicitly linked them. Even more explicit was His direction to His disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
You can’t miss it there: Our love for Jesus, who is the incarnation of God in human flesh, is demonstrated by our obedience to His commandments, and loving one another is right at the top of that list.
Therefore loving one another, loving our neighbors and loving our enemies is part and parcel of loving God.
As we love one another, we build community together. And our triune God — existing concurrently and in perfect harmony as Father, Son and Holy Spirit — is all about community.
As we prepare to take communion today, I’m reminded that the sharing of meals is a common thing throughout Scripture.
Throughout history and across the range of human cultures, the sharing of a meal has always been an intimate and significant act.
Recognizing that today’s cellphone-addicted culture may be the exception to the following observations, I want you to notice a few things: The dinner table is the place where families have long hashed out plans, aired grievances, pursued reconciliation, gazed into the future and remembered the past.
Shared meals can be celebrations or memorials; they can be venues for allies to plan strategies or conduct operational assessments; they can be quiet, romantic trysts or raucous, profane Bacchanalia; they can be as solemn and formal as a state dinner or as easy and carefree as a Vacation Bible School picnic.
Regardless of their character, of their content or even, to some extent, their participants, shared meals are community-building events.
In Scripture, we see Jesus sharing meals with people at a wedding, we see Him eating with tax collectors and others of ill-repute in the Jewish culture, we see Him making breakfast for His disciples on the shore after they had been fishing, and, among other instances, we see Him sharing the Passover meal just before His arrest and crucifixion.
All of these were community-building — Kingdom-building — meals.
Sharing a meal strengthens our bond of community.
That’s a big part of what was going on at that Passover meal in which Jesus introduced the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The word “sacrament” comes from the Latin word, sacramentum, which in its early usage describes an oath of fidelity and obedience that a Roman soldier swore when he enlisted in the army.
The Eucharist, or communion as most of us know it, is our opportunity to come to the table of grace. Holy Communion is the place where baptized believers come to taste and see that the Lord is good. Communion is for the community of sinners saved by grace.
It is, among other things, an opportunity for us to reconfirm our oath of fidelity and obedience to the Lord.
The independent-minded American church has been conditioned to approach this table as just another interchangeable part of our worship services. Perhaps we experience some expression of the Lord’s presence here, but the sad truth is that we have tended to experience the Eucharist as an afterthought, a monthly memorial duty that temporarily distracts us from the real meal we have been anticipating.
Today, I want us to repent of that sinful approach to this sacrament. Communion should be a solemn reminder of our Savior’s sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. But it should also be a time for joyful celebration of the community He established to proclaim that Gospel message in its words and deeds.
We cannot honor that sacrifice — we cannot genuinely pledge our fidelity and obedience to Christ — by approaching this table of grace as a body divided.
In fact, Paul warns in 1 Corinthians that partaking of the elements on this table of grace in an unworthy manner — with unrepentant and unforgiving hearts, for instance — is dangerous and can result in weakness, sickness and even death.
But when we come together in unity and with repentance and forgiveness — when we come together with love for one another, for our neighbors and even for our enemies — then something truly incredible can happen.
You have surely heard it said that Christ is present in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. But what does that mean?
What it does not mean is that He is physically present in the bread or the juice of the grape. Instead, I want you to think about this as we prepare to partake of the Eucharist:
The unity and purity that result from our self-examination, from our proclamation of Christ and from our participation in this sacrament are part of the sanctification of the church.
Jesus is not physically present in the elements of this table. He is present in the sanctifying work that is done when we partake of those elements in spirit and in truth.
Because Jesus commissioned the church and because His Word calls the church His body, there is a very real and physical sense of His physical presence when the church joins together in unity and submission to Him and to one another.
And the proper observance of communion gives us an opportunity to experience His presence that is unparalleled in other corporate or individual worship settings.
With all this in mind, I want us to be very intentional about how we approach this table of grace today.
I want each of us to ask God to search our hearts and reveal to us any sins for which we must repent, and I especially want us to ask Him to reveal any unforgiveness we continue to harbor.
I want us to experience Jesus in this Holy Communion in a way we have never experienced Him before.
And one other thing before we sing. As I have suggested, communion is a holy observance of the church — the baptized congregation of sinners saved by grace. If that does not describe you, please do not partake of the elements. To do so would be a mockery of it and would not benefit you in the least.
Do not misunderstand me. I want nothing more than every person here to be part of the community that is being built here. But entrance into this community — and participation at the table of grace — is only by submission to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, by the saving work He did on the cross, where His body was broken and His blood was spilled.
If you do not have that relationship with Christ, I will be happy at the end of this service to talk to you about how you can find it and how you can be a part of the community — the eternal Kingdom of God.
Just as we build community by sharing meals over the family table, we will do so today over this table, sharing first the bread that represents the body of Christ.
As bread consists of many grains of wheat combined in union together, the church also consists of many believers combined in unity.
Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life, and He told His disciples that the bread they broke together at the Last Supper was His body. The church is also called the body of Christ throughout the New Testament.
So there is a real sense in which the church brings life to the community around it, not by our being in this building, but by being the body of Christ and doing the work of Christ in the community.
Jesus did the works of His Father. We who are His body must do the same. We build the community of Christ — we bring life — by being the hands and feet of Jesus in a lost world.
In taking this bread today, we are pledging our fidelity and obedience to the commands of our Savior — to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
This is the significance of what we are about to do here today.
Please grab your bulletin inserts and join me in singing “Power of the Cross.” Go ahead and stay seated. When we finish, Lauren will continue playing, and I want us all to spend a few minutes in solemn prayer and meditation about the things we’ve talked about this morning.
The deacons will join me here in a few minutes and share the bread with you, and then we will recall the sacrifice of the body of Christ as we proclaim His death, his resurrection and his future return.
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19)
Just as the bread gives us a picture of many parts coming together in a whole, so does the wine, or the juice in our case. Many grapes and clusters of grapes are collected together and pressed to make it. Again, we can see how we are mingled together into one unified church as we share in this drink.
Jesus told His disciples that the wine was His blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
We who have believed in Christ have been washed clean of our sins by His blood.
When God gave the people of Israel His Law, they affirmed their covenant with Him to obey and to worship Him only. That covenant was sealed with the blood of young bulls, which was sprinkled on an altar and then on the people.
There could be no remission of their sins without the shedding of blood.
But under the new covenant in Jesus Christ, it was His blood that was sacrificed for our sins. The blood of the perfect Lamb of God was spilled in a sacrifice once for all.
Because of Jesus, it is no longer necessary for us to sacrifice goats and lambs and bulls whenever we sin. His blood is sufficient to cover all our sins. The forgiveness we have in Christ is sufficient and complete.
The blood of the sacrifices called for under the Mosaic covenant stained the people, it stained the altar and it stained the tabernacle. But the blood of Christ washes us white as snow. There is truly power in the blood of Christ.
Now, please join me in praising our beautiful Savior in song. You’ll find the lyrics to “O Lord, You’re Beautiful” on your bulletin inserts. Please remain seated, and when we’re done singing, Lauren will continue playing quietly while we pray and while the deacons share the cup.
Then we will recall the blood that was spilled at the cross as we proclaim the victory Jesus won there for us.
And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. (Mark 14:23-24)
We share this meal in part as a community-building exercise. Through it, Jesus Christ is building the community of faith, the church. But this community, this church that is the body of Christ, is built on the cornerstone of Jesus Himself. He is our redeemer, the perfect lamb sacrificed on a cross for the forgiveness of sin.
What can we offer Him in return? Simply this: Obedience and praise. Join me now as we sing of our redeemer, Hymn number 517.