from a sermon delivered Sunday 26th April at St John's, Arrowtown. Read 1 Corinthians 11:1, 17-34
If you have been part of this church, or for that matter, almost any church, for more than a month or two you will be familiar with the words, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In virtually all congregations these words are said each time communion is shared.
As well as being quoted these six words are incorporated into various songs and are so well known it’s possible they have lost all meaning.
In the passage from 1st Corinthians Paul is reminding the Christians of Corinth of the importance of right worship: a central element of which is the Communion, or the Lord’s Supper.
Sadly our practices, even right practice, can so easily squeeze the life out of worship –and this is true even of, maybe especially of communion. With the Corinthians they took it so lightly that they rushed in, pushing each other out of the way – very Christ-like (NOT), to get the sweetest, the freshest, the largest portion for themselves. See for them the communion meal was more than plain bread and grape juice – it was a full meal. Partly in response to this tendency towards greed our forebears began to simplify and to standardise the practise thus reducing the competitive element.
The downside however is that our practise becomes routine, and we who receive find ourselves coming to communion and taking part with little thought, excessive solemnity, simply something we tack on to the end of worship.
So it’s important that we pause before communion today and ask ourselves ‘just what is it that Jesus wants us to remember?’
This phrase: ‘this do in remembrance of me’ does not stand in isolation. Rather it’s in the context of Paul reminding us of the priority and significance, and example of the Last Supper.
Paul quotes Jesus when he writes:
“This is my body, broken for you
– do this in remembrance of me.”
“This is my blood that is shed for you
– do this in remembrance of me”
Clearly this will be a short sermon = the answer is obvious, isn’t it?
Jesus is wanting us to remember his broken body and spilt blood – in other words his death. Really what else is there to remember?
There is one thing at least – and it’s important. For while we can remember and discuss the process of his dying: I believe Jesus is far more concerned that we remember the purpose of his dying, why he died.
In practice there are two paths that we take when approaching communion.
One track is fear filled, sometimes rather morbid, also legalistic. It was seen in the solemn way Presbyterians, amongst others, celebrated communion. You remember the sombre faced elders, arrayed in greyscale, who would preside at communion – just like when you have your passport photo taken there was obviously a rule against smiling, and the congregation would sit, unmoving, unsmiling, fearful that in some way they would be seen to be unworthy of receiving the sacrament.
To be fair there was sincerity in this, for people had been taught to examine themselves in case they were unworthy.
note verse 27 & 28
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. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.
It’s like they were sitting a test and only a few were going to pass. However I don’t believe that we have understood the question.
The question is not: “Am I good enough”; “Am I worthy”
We already know the answer to that question. The answer is NO. If this was the question then no one would ever be found worthy to receive communion – the church would be empty, the bread and cup untouched.
But there’s another way of looking at this – the other path that we can take when approaching communion.
We see hints of it in the Corinthian approach – for at heart they followed what Paul had taught them, and that was that Communion is a time of thanksgiving, of rejoicing, of triumph.
We see this today in the name that some use to describe this event: the Eucharist, a name which simply means thanksgiving.
In Corinth they had gone overboard, and totally forgotten the communal the oneness of their fellowship.
Many of us have fallen into a different error, one of excessive introspection and fear.
So what is the question before us when we’re told to examine ourselves and to receive in a worthy manner?
I believe the real question is: do we understand the significance of what this table stands for.
We come to the table for exactly the same reasons we need to receive Jesus – ‘healing’.
The healing of our relationship with God and ultimately the healing of all that is wrong in this world and our lives.
- It is the weak who need to come to receive strength.
- It is the wavering and doubter who needs to come for assurance.
- It is the lost who need to be found.
- It is the sinner who needs forgiveness.
- It is each and every one of us who needs the embrace of our creator.
It is these things that Jesus died for; these that we are to remember in the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup.
Therefore it’s not in my strength that I come to the table; it is not because I am worthy that I come.
Revelation reminds us ‘Worthy is the Lamb!’
So I come to the table, we come to the table in the name and power of Jesus, by putting our trust and faith in him who takes away the sin of the world.
As Jack Hayford says: Partaking in a worthy manner is to ascribe full worth to what Christ has done to welcome us into the presence of the Father. He has made us worthy through his blood and his cross. We come remembering the worth of his works, not to earn worthiness.
Jesus said to come and partake. When we come to partake of his table, what is it he wants us to remember?
I have suggested two possibilities:
One would focus on the actual event and method of his death – it would lead us to solemnity, and a sense of unworthiness and guilt.
And while there is a place for this it should not be the focus.
For the focus should be upon the worth of all Jesus achieved:
We are to remember that he is a wonderful saviour who has forgiven our sin and longs to be our strength for every day.
We remember that at the cross he broke the power of sin and temptation – and his victory is absolute.
We remember that salvation can be received but never earned, likewise we can never earn acceptance at the table.
We remember the worth of his works.
We remember that this is a time of rejoicing, praise, and thanksgiving.
For this is a table of Thanksgiving – a Table of Triumph, where we are welcomed and embraced.
Arohanui – Ian