Today we are continuing with our series on Church 101, reminding ourselves on why and how we worship. Today, we are looking at communion.
To start a conversation about the Lord’s Supper, we have to go back a bit, or a lot a bit. Way back to Moses. You may remember that Israel was enslaved by Egypt and Moses was called by God to help lead God’s people out of slavery. Well if you remember, Charlton Hesston, I mean Moses went before Pharaoh over and over again to “Let his people go.” And finally after all of the plagues, there was one last judgment or plague.
Pharaoh wasn’t going to let God’s people go, so God told Moses to tell all the people of Israel to go into their homes. And they were to make a special feast that included unleavened bread. And once they were gathered, they were to sacrifice a lamb and then they were to cover the door frame with the blood of the lamb.
That evening the first born son of every household would die. Except for those who were covered with the blood of the lamb. The angel of death would Passover the blood of the lamb. It was after this that Pharaoh let God’s people go to the Promised Land. They were set free. They needed the blood of the lamb.
So what does this have to do with communion?
Well, when Jesus had the last supper, he was celebrating the Passover Feast. Every year, the people of Israel would gather to celebrate the miracle of the Passover, the miracle that God spared their first borns so that they could be set free. This was Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. And it was when he was celebrating the Passover that he took the bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” And then he passed the cup and said, “In this cup is the New Covenant of my blood.”
So he took this sacred meal that they ate in remembrance of the day that the angel of death passed over the first born sons of Israel, and said, now I want you to do this meal in remembrance of me… the new Passover lamb. Jesus knew, they needed the blood of the lamb.
This is the context for the scripture we read today.
It had become the practice for early Christians to gather and celebrate this new feast, the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of how God did not spare his first born son, instead he gave his son up to be the sacrificial lamb, the Passover lamb, so that whoever is protected under his blood, would be passed over by death and be welcomed into the Promised Land. They would be set free.
The first Passover meal was about the physical freedom of Israel. The second Passover meal was about the spiritual freedom of anyone who would follow God. We need the blood the Lamb. We need Jesus.
So every time that early Christians gathered they would have unleavened bread and wine as a remembrance of what Christ did, as a proclamation of faith, and really as a centering of their faith. They didn’t have tradition yet, the practice of their faith was something new. It was a way of unifying the church. It reminded them, they need Jesus.
This practice of communion or Eucharist has become one of the most contested practices in the Christian church. Form the word used to describe the practice, is it Eucharist, communion, the Lord’s Table, The Lord’s Supper, the Great Thanksgiving, Service of Word and Table to do we serve juice or wine, to who serves and how often they serve… every church, every denomination has a tradition. Oh, Lord, we need Jesus.
In many mainline traditions, Lutherans, Catholics, Methodists believe that the Eucharist is a sacrament – meaning that it is a sacred act, acknowledging the mystical nature of taking communion, both in the declaration of what it means and in the actual practice.
The Catholic tradition takes this mystery a bit further and practices Eucharist with the theology of transubstantiation. Or that there is a belief that once the bread and cup are blessed, they no longer just bread and wine, but the actual body of Christ.
The Baptists do not believe that any act is more sacred than another, so there is no sacrament per say, but it is a representation of their belief in Jesus atonement.
Some churches use grape juice and some use wine. Some church traditions practice intinction (dunking the bread in the cup,) some practice sharing in the pews, some practice at the kneel rail, some drink directly from the cup.
Every church has a tradition. So this is a problem. Communion was meant to be a tradition that unified. We need Jesus.
It was extended from a tradition that was meant to unify a nation, Israel under the Passover lamb. It was a tradition that was meant all Christians under the grace of Jesus. Communion, is meant to unify.
A few years into ministry, I was serving communion by intinction and a man was in my line who attended our church but had serious mental illness. He had terrible hygiene and seriously smelled. He came forward and took the bread and ate it, and then he took the cup from my hands and drank directly out of it.
I remember panicking for a moment. I had to decide if I give him the cup, do I speak up, do I say no… and I decided to serve him communion. Every legalistic thought came to mind. ‘You’re not supposed to do that.” I thought. But he was proclaiming his faith and experiencing Christ. I knew that anything I did to get in the way of that for him, would just be wrong. So I handed him the cup and he drank, he gulped, and he handed it back to me.
Today’s scripture starts with Paul telling the Corinthians that they have taken the Lord’s supper and turned it completely upside down. They are using it as a status symbol.
Paul is very clear. The Lord’s Supper is meant to unify. It is meant to be a practice where we remember what Christ did, a proclamation of faith and a centering of our faith. It is meant to remind us that we need Jesus.
It is meant to be a time when we put aside all of the foolish arguments. A time to gather as a community, and together, give thanks for the Passover lamb. We need Jesus.
It is a time for personal reflection on what Christ means to us. A time to search oneself and make changes and give thanks. It is a time of community gathering under a common need for a savior. We need Jesus!
Communion is when we gather at the table and remember that we need Jesus.