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Lord's Supper

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 Lord’s Supper Pastor Pat Damiani July 30, 2017 This summer I was reminded just how easy it is for us to get so comfortable with something that we do all the time that we just do it without thinking about how or why we do it. For me that realization came when I had to drive three different rental cars on our vacation. One of the reasons that Mary and I have vehicles that are almost exactly the same is that I don’t really have to think a whole lot when I drive. I just put the key in the ignition, start it up and go. I don’t have to think about where any of the controls are – I just use them instinctively. One of our rental cars didn’t even have a key, but what did I do every time I got in the car? I tried to put the non- existent key into the ignition. And not only that, the controls for the lights, windshield wipers and radio and the trunk release buttons were all in completely different locations on each car and in totally different places than in either of our cars. So I had to consciously think about what I was doing a whole lot more than I usually do when I drive. I think worship can be a lot like that. Although we vary the format of our services from time to time, all of us pretty much know what to expect and it’s easy to just kind of go through the motions without really thinking about what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. And that can be especially true of the Lord’s Supper. So this morning before we observe the Lord’s Supper we’re going to take a few minutes to go “back to the basics” and be reminded from the Scriptures about what we’re doing and why we do it. We’ll be looking at two different passages from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. So go ahead and turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 10. You’ll find the book of 1 Corinthians after the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the books of Acts and Romans. It’s a rather long letter so you shouldn’t have too much problem locating it. There is much more that we could possibly cover in 1 Corinthians chapters 10 and 11 this morning, so I’m going to limit my comments to just a couple of the most important things we can learn there. Let’s begin near the end of chapter 10: [Read 1 Corinthians 10:16-18] In this section, Pau is addressing those who misunderstood the purpose and the power of the Lord’s Supper. On one hand, they overestimated its power because they thought if they just ate the bread and drank the cup, God would be pleased with them and they would be safe from His judgment, even if they kept going to the idol feasts of their unbelieving friends. That is actually how a lot of people still view the Lord’s Supper today. A while back I had a lady come to the church one day while I was here and ask when we were having the Lord’s Supper because she hadn’t taken part in it for a while and she needed to get right with God. And I’ve also seen those who approach the Lord’s Supper with the idea that as long as they participate in the ordinance, they can go ahead and live their lives however they want afterwards. But Paul makes it clear here that the Lord’s Supper itself, like any other religious ritual, does not have the power to make us right with God. But Paul also addresses those who underestimate the power of the Lord’s Supper. He makes it clear here that this is more than just some religious ritual. And the key word that helps us to understand that is the word “participation” in verse 16 and the related word “participants” in verse 18. That is the same Greek word that is normally translated “fellowship” in the New Testament. It comes from a root word that means “common” and refers to something that people share in common. So it might be best to think of this word in terms of “joint participation”. This idea is furthered in this passage by Paul’s use of the pronoun “we” throughout the passage. Whatever is going on here is something that is done by the entire body, not just individuals. Paul first mentions the “cup of blessing”. During the Passover meal, this would have been the third cup, which would have been taken after the meal itself. It is also known as the cup of redemption. And Paul writes something very interesting here. It is the cup “we bless”. In other words, in some respect, every person present participates in the blessing of the cup, not just the person leading the observance. So although it might very well be appropriate for one person to pray a prayer of thanks for the cup, the cup is actually to be blessed by each and every one of us by the act of taking that cup with a heart of thanksgiving for what Jesus has done for us. Something similar is true of the bread, which “we break”. Again the idea that the breaking of the bread is not just a religious ritual done by the leader on behalf of the gathered worshipers. Each of us bless that bread as we break and eat it with hearts of thanksgiving. In a moment, I’ll talk more about the importance of remembrance in the Lord’s Supper, but here in this chapter, we see that the Lord’s Supper has a far deeper significance than just remembering the death of Jesus. And the key to understanding that is found in verse 18. When the people of Israel ate of the meat and grain which had been offered on the altar, they became participants in the altar in the sense that they shared in the benefits of what happened on the altar. On the altar, God forgave sin, removed guilt and made peace with His people. So to be a participant in the altar meant that the people shared in all those blessings. Something similar happens as we take the bread and the cup. When we do that, we are sharing in the blessings that come to us through the body and blood of Jesus which He willingly sacrificed for us. We are not merely remembering Jesus, as important as that is. We are coming to the table to eat with Him, to be nourished spiritually by Him in way that is similar to the way we are nourished physically when we eat and drink. We don’t physically eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, but we do partake of Him spiritually and are nourished spiritually. By faith, we take into our lives all the blessings that Jesus purchased for us through His body and blood – the forgiveness of sins, the removal of our guilt, the peace with God that makes it possible to have an intimate relationship with Him. It is not in any way, merely a religious ritual that “fixes” us with God so that we can leave and just live life as we want. Rather, when we take the bread and cup with the right heart, it becomes a participation in the body and blood of Jesus that develops a deep desire to live for Him and not settle for idols. There’s a lot more we could mins out of this passage, but we’ll leave that to a future time. [Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-26] Here Paul continues with the theme we saw earlier in chapter 10. The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to unite all of us, to put us all on equal footing before God regardless of our social status, race, gender, or anything else that might tend to divide us. In verses 17, 18 and 20, Paul focuses on the fact that the Lord’s Supper is to take place when the people “come together”. While there may be some cases when it would be appropriate to observe the Lord’s Supper with an individual in a nursing home or someone who is physically unable to join their brothers and sisters, the Lord’s Supper was always intended to be observed as a community and not as a solo observance. But in the Corinthian church, it had devolved into a meaningless gathering in which every person was only looking out for his or her best interests. Keep in mind that in the early church, they didn’t just share some crackers and thimble sized cups of juice. The Lord’s Supper was part of a larger meal. So some of the wealthy business owners showed up early and they went ahead and ate without waiting for anyone else. And then their employees and other poor people would show up later with nothing to eat. So rather than being a testimony to what they had in common, the Lord’s Supper was actually highlighting their differences and causing division. So much of what Paul shares in this section addresses those problems. Today, since the Lord’s Supper has become a more limited observance most of the time, we don’t generally have those same problems. But we still need to remember that the Lord’s Supper is to help us all focus on what we have in common in Jesus and not just an individual meditation on the death of Jesus. In this section, we find two important aspects of the Lord’s Supper. The first is that we are to remember the death of Jesus. We see that clearly in the words of Jesus that Paul quotes in 24 and 25. But the Hebrew concept of remembering is a bit different than how we tend to think of it in our culture. For the Hebrews, to remember meant far more than just knowing that something happened in the past. It meant to consciously call into the present the entirely of the person one was remembering. A couple years ago on Father’s Day, Pete and Amber gave me a photo collage of some pictures of my dad from when he played football in college. But that is more than just a photo to me. Every time I look at it, it brings back memories of my dad in a way that almost makes him alive to me once again. It reminds me of the kind of man my father was and of the things I learned from him. That is what it means to remember in the Lord’s Supper. The bread and the cup become much more than just symbols of what Jesus did for me on the cross. They make His death a living reality for me. The second thing we are to do in the Lord’s Supper is revealed in verse 26. We are to proclaim His death until He comes. Before I talk about exactly what it means to proclaim Jesus’ death, I want to first focus on the last phrase in that verse – until He comes. On Monday we talked about the fact that most of the focus in the Lord’s Supper seems to be on Jesus’ death and not on His resurrection. But the idea that we are to proclaim that death until Jesus comes again certainly implies the resurrection, doesn’t it? If Jesus was still in the tomb, then it wouldn’t be possible for Him to do that. So while a lot of our attention is focused on the death of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, it naturally leads us to remember and proclaim His resurrection as well. So what does it mean to “proclaim the Lord’s death” through the Lord’s Supper? When we take the bread and the cup, it is a public proclamation that Jesus died for all of us. In the early church, when they didn’t have the benefit of the New Testament, since much of it hadn’t been written yet, the Lord’s Supper was one of the primary means the church used to communicate the gospel. When we take the bread and the cup, we testify to each other and to the world around us through the symbols of the bread and cup the nature of what Jesus did for us. His body was wounded and bruised and His blood was shed so that our sins could be forgiven and our guilt removed so we can have a personal, intimate relationship with God. This morning, we’re going to remember and to proclaim through the reading of God’s Word and through song in order to prepare our hearts for the eating of the bread and drinking of the cup. But before we do that I need to share with you the same warnings that Paul shared with the members of the church in Corinth: • This is a family meal. It is a reminder that Christ has taken us all in in all our diversity. We are all one and on equal footing before Him. There is only one true bread from heaven and all who believe in Him are one body. So all who have placed their faith in Jesus are invited to participate, regardless of whether you’re a member here at TFC or not. • On the other hand, if you have not yet committed your life to Jesus as your Lord and Savior, we ask that you not eat the bread and drink the cup. It is just not possible for you to proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus unless you have first appropriated that into your life personally. We encourage you to participate in everything else we’ll be doing and we pray today that as the rest of us here proclaim what Jesus has done for us, that God would use that testimony in your life to bring you to faith in Jesus as well.
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