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(073) The Pillars of Community 19: Celebrating Communion Together

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The Pillars of Community XIX: Celebrating Communion

1 Corinthians 11:20-34

May 17, 2009


·         All passages

·         Notes, esp bread and wine, “Hard Sayings,” “Why use wine...”

·         Haggadah

Scripture reading: Luke 22:7-20 (Slide up)


·         Almost done with series – next week Cecil, then wrap-up sermon, then Micah.

Have you noticed how easy it is for something to become routine? Even something that was a really big deal at first, such as saying “I love you” or a kiss can be part of a ritual.

·         With attention, they can regain their meaning and more.

If you have been in the church for any time, communion is at risk for routine. This morning will give it the attention it deserves to become meaningful again.

Q   Why is this part of the Community series, because they rhyme?

They are deeply related and interdependent: It is only through the work that communion represents can there be true community, united by Christ. And the church community is where communion is to be shared; in fact we have no evidence of it be taken alone.

I am excited to give this sermon – I really enjoyed preparing for the sermon, gaining an understanding of it OT background, the symbolism of the bread and wine, and the role of community.

·         I found out that I have misinterpreted a passage for years.

·         Biggest thing: The joyfulness of communion.


The entire scope of history is humans being slaves to sin and you delivering us.


The backdrop of the first communion (also called Lord’s Supper or Eucharist (Gk: “Give thanks”)) is the Passover:

NIV Luke 22:7 ¶ Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”

To understand the meaning of communion, we are to start at Passover. As a quick recap: Passover celebrates the deliverance of Israel from being slaves in Egypt.

NIV Exodus 12:14 ¶ “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance.

To this day, Passover is a very important festival to Jews, and there are long standing traditions that dictate how it is celebrated, many of them from before the time of Christ.

These are laid out in the Haggadah, which was written down about 100 years after Jesus, but preserves traditions from before him:

·         Begin and end with wine

·         Dip greens into salt water

·         Breaking bread

·         Passover story (kids’ Qs)

·         Eating bitter herbs

·         Eating the meal

·         Welcome Elijah

·         Sing hymn


Passover and Communion

Passover and communion are not the same – Jesus was intentionally redefining the Passover feast around himself.

·         That’s like turning the 4th into “Josh Day.” 

That only works if you are a big deal, the turning point of history, and Passover actually foreshadowed you. Passover gives provide important symbolism for communion, here are five:

1. Deliverance

Passover was Israel’s 4th of July, commemorating their deliverance from slavery. The four cups of wine are each tied to a promise of deliverance from Exodus:

Exodus 6:6-7   6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.  7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.

In way that is even more real, we were slaves to sin. I say more real because sin is a crueler master than any human masters, enslaving them more profoundly. Speaking of life before Christ:

Romans 7:14-19 ...but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.

Think on your life, have you ever felt that bondage? Ever felt trapped by the guilt and consequences of sin? Christ delivered us from the slavery of sin:

Matthew 26:28   28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

While Jesus does not say it here, the fact that he died on Passover demonstrates that he was the Pascal lamb whose blood was shed so that death could “pass over” (as Paul calls him.)

Ä  Meaning is not only found in the overarching meaning of Passover, but also in many elements. Here are some key ones:

2. The Bread

During the Passover, the bread (matsah) is broken. Throughout the Passover, the leader would interpret the symbolism using standard interpretation (though the listeners knew it well) but Jesus reinterpreted several elements:

Luke 22:19   19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Q   Why bread?

Bread symbolizes life. It is “The staff of bread,” it sustains us. God miraculously provided (Manna). Jesus prayed for “daily bread.” He feed 5,000 but called that bread insufficient:

John 6:48-51  48 I am the bread of life.  49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.  51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

·         While it cost Jesus his life, to us the bread represents life.

3. The Wine

Next was the wine (this was probably the 3rd cup):

Luke 22:20   20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Q   Why wine?

Though condemning drunkenness, wine is a biblical symbol of joy.

Proverbs 3:9-10 (NIV) Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.

·         The ancient rabbis had a saying: Without wine there is no joy.

·         The cups are filled to the brim, almost overflowing with joy.

And by using wine, Jesus was demonstrating that that communion is a joy-filled event. This study has radically changed how I take communion – it is not a sober event, but a joyful! There’s time for somber self reflection, but communion is a party!

“shed for you”

Like the bread, this joy didn’t come cheaply. Jesus is intentionally mixing metaphors, for “the blood of the convent” was also from a sacrifice to confirm the Mosaic covenant.

·         It is a solemn joy, like a wedding, during the ceremony.

Wine or grape juice

This brings up an interesting question: Is using juice the same as wine? The elders have come to the conclusion that it is not, which is why we are now using wine for communion.

·         However, we know that wine has been a curse to some people so we will continue to offer juice.

Q   Why make this change?

Because as we study the Bible, we believe this is most faithful to what Jesus commanded. While the power of communion doesn’t lie in the elements, we should be as true to his command as possible, lest we miss some of his meaning.

This doesn’t mean that churches who use juice aren’t really taking communion, but they might be missing some of the intended meaning, just as baptism by immersion better represent baptism.

·         Even if you don’t use the wine, I hope that seeing it will bring to mind the symbolism.

Furthermore, by using wine, we unite ourselves with the church throughout the ages. Wine has been used exclusively since the beginning until the mid-19th century in America.

·         Juice wasn’t used until Dr. Welsh invented juice pasteurization in 1869, for communion.

Take two

As you may know, we tried to use wine before, but due to poor execution on my part, it went from being about following the Bible to about drinking. So we decided to wait, listen to concerns and bring better instruction.

·         Some are concerned having wine may be a problem for recovering alcoholics, but my research indicates that’s unfounded.

If wine doesn’t bother you, consider using it. If it does, just skip it without a second thought – no one will watch you.

·         In either case, I want you to reflect on the symbolism of the bread and the wine, eternal life and joy over our deliverance.

4. The future feast

Passover ends in anticipation of something greater. Today, Jews end Passover looking for Elijah, who is supposed to come before the Messiah, and they say “next year in Jerusalem.”

Luke 22:15-16  15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

communion is a shadow of the real party: Heaven. “The Kingdom of God is like a banquet,” he means the kingdom of God is party.

·         As parties go, a little bread and wine are kind of simple, but that is because it is looking forward to another party.

Isaiah 25:6-8   6 ¶ On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine-- the best of meats and the finest of wines.  7 On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;  8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.

·         The folklore of heaven as wings and harps is my idea of hell, this is a party I want to go to!

5. In remembrance of me

Passover was to serve as an ongoing reminder of God’s deliverance. Israel usually fell with the next generation, so God set up way to remind the children, like Passover:

·         It is filled with interactions with the children.

·         Passover uses all five senses to recall the story (sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste).

Likewise, communion serves as an ongoing reminder both of our deliverance and what Jesus did to secure it. It is also a reminder that our salvation is rooted in historical fact.

Q   Can children take communion?

Based on the use of symbols to teach, I believe so. Others disagree, saying a person must have made a confession of faith.

Ä  Communion is therefore a both teaching tool and symbolic reminder of Christ’s death which brought us deliverance, eternal life, which fills us with joy and gratitude. 

Communion in Corinth

Now we are able to look at how communion and community work together, by looking at Paul’s “problem child”:

NIV 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!

The problem in 1 Cor 11 has to do with the division between the rich and the poor: The rich got off work earlier and ate all the food, and the slaves got off late and didn’t get anything.

It was specifically the lack of community, lack of caring for your brother that really upset Paul and made mockery of communion. In Christ we are one; earlier Paul said:

NIV 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

Paul wrote this several hundred miles away, they were not literally eating one loaf, but united in essence. The loaf we eat is the same they ate, and every follower of Christ has eats.

Ä  Now we can explore a misunderstood passage.

Unworthy manner

1 Corinthians 11:27-31  27 ¶ 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.  31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.

Q   What does “unworthy manner” mean? This phrase has frightened some into avoiding communion altogether.

Most importantly, it does not mean that the person taking it is worthy: We are all unworthy! None of us deserves what Jesus has done. Grace is the whole point!

·         Paul is speaking of the way we take communion: is it being done in a way that represents and honors his death?

When communion is taken in an unfitting manner (whether a wild, irreverent, class dividing manner or a meaningless ritualistic manner), Jesus and his sacrifice is dishonored.

·         It is the former that Paul is dealing with, in fact “Recognizing the body” means the church, a unified community.

Preparing for communion

I think this passage calls for all of us to prepare for communion by asking ourselves if we are taking it is a manner that honors Christ and his sacrifice:

Q   Is this a just a ritual or a meaningful reflection?

Q   Am I in unrepentant sin or seeking him?

Q   Am I seeking the unity of the body or am I harboring bitterness?

Matthew 5:23-24  23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

·         Preparing for communion may well need to start before you walk in the doors.

All this preparation proceeds communion, but as we come to communion itself, we shift into joy and gratitude.

·         I think there should at least be a little smile on your face, even in the bad times, remembering Christ’s freedom.

We have gratitude at all Jesus has done to secure our salvation, joy for what he is doing, and hope for the wedding feast.

Q & A

As we go into worship, take time to reflect on communion. I hope you are thinking more deeply about it, and I hope you take communion with more meaning.

Communion is a teaching tool and symbolic reminder of Christ’s death which brought us deliverance, eternal life, which fills us with joy and gratitude and unites us together as a body.

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