Sermon: “A Spiritual Meal

Delivered July 4, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Sermon Text:
I Corinthians 11:23-26

It’s 4th of July and people are celebrating all kinds of different ways. Judging from the first service, in the first service I asked some of the kids how they were celebrating and judging from the fact that it seemed like half of them talked about fireworks, I think one of the things that we should be praying today for is safety for our families here. There has been parades and most of us would try to find some time to get together with friends or family and share a meal together, a picnic or some other kind of meal and enjoy fellowship even as we celebrate an amazing moment in our history. We have holidays like the 4th of July because we need to remember. We need to remember how something amazing happened in the vision of some people that formed this country and that even though it’s clearly an imperfect country, there are rights and privileges and a way of life that we share that’s probably in most ways better than any other country at any other time in history. And we remember that, and we remember the sacrifices that went in to winning this for us and the sacrifices that had been made across our history to keep this and to extend the privileges that at one time went to just a few to try to push those privileges and rights out to all of the people who live in our country. And so it’s great to celebrate a day like today because it’s important to remember things like this.

This table is a table of remembrance. Jesus gave us this table saying “do this and remember me.” Now how can we forget a person like Jesus? Here was a person who actually healed people with visible deadly illnesses, and he spoke and he prayed for them and they were healed. Here’s a person who actually prayed for people who were dead and they came back to life. How do you forget somebody like that? Jesus is someone who out of love was willing for his body to be broken and for his blood to be shed for us, people like us. How do you forget love like that? How do forget somebody who has been raised from the dead? And yet we do. Or if we don’t forget entirely, we start remembering in different ways. We need help to continue to rehearse in our minds the things that are really important because the way our minds work is that things, no matter how important, when new things happen it’s almost sort of like the disc drive on your computer. It overwrites some of the old memory. And so teachers who were important to us, family members who were important, we remember some things but there are other important things we have forgotten.

I was just talking to a few people on the associate pastor nominating committee and we were talking and for those of us who had been converted as adults it was surprising how many of us forgot the actual date that we became Christians, even if it wasn’t just a few years ago. And so even something important like that we forget and I thought about my own conversion and the things that I really remember are the things that I rehearsed in my mind since then and that I have shared with other people. There are all kinds of other details that have faded in to the past. We do forget, even important things. And so Jesus has given us this table to say there are some things that we need to rehearse again and again and remember again and again, because this is the core: the body and blood of Jesus Christ given for us. This we must remember.

Let me go now the book of 1st Corinthians, the 11th chapter and I am going to begin on the 23rd verse and give you these words from Paul. 1st Corinthians, 11:23.

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way after supper he took the cup saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lords death until he comes.”

Let’s pray. Lord we thank you for your Word. We thank you for this time and we pray that you open our eyes, open our hearts to whatever you need to say to us. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Paul begins here by saying “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you.” I received this from the Lord. This table goes back all the way to Jesus himself. Jesus is the one who decided that it was going to be bread and it was going to be wine that helps us remember him. It was Jesus who first said the words that tell us that this is his body given for us.

Now there are other holidays that we celebrate, that celebrate things that go all the way back in to the life of Jesus, but the actual celebration has come about much later. Christmas is like that. In Christmas, the date for it was probably decided some time in the Middle Ages. And the way we celebrate it with trees and lights and gifts, those things weren’t really strong until the 19th Century and so that holiday, even though it points back to Jesus is fairly recent, but this particular celebration comes from the Lord himself. And that’s what Paul says here, is “I passed on to you something that I received from the Lord.”

Now when Jesus gave this to us he knew what kind of people would be coming in to celebrate this sort of worship. We are people who are dominated by the concerns of our daily lives and these concerns fill our minds even as we come in to worship on a day like today. Think about it, those of you whether you are going back to work tomorrow or on Tuesday, right now your inbox is filling up with email. And you are going to go back and there is going to be all these things that you have to answer almost immediately. They are important decisions that you are going to have to make quickly and they are important because they involve money, they involve the time and lives of other people, and involve your own success or failure and these put pressure on us and we carry these thoughts around us even when we come in to worship God. We also have problems and issues that dominate our lives in our own families. There are relational issues, issues between people in our families, illness, psychological struggles, concerns that we have for people in our family that we carry around with us, the peer group of our children, the health problems of our parents, our siblings. All kinds of things we carry around. This dominates our thinking. We carry it around in our minds, we come in to worship and we are filled with all of this. And so it’s Jesus, who says to us, the Lord Jesus, this table will help. The word ‘Lord’ that Paul uses three times in this passage, and is used again and again in his writings, is the word ‘dominus’ and that’s where we get our English word ‘dominate.’ And so here when we come in where our lives are dominated by so many other things, the one who truly and rightly should dominate our lives, the one whom our lives should center on comes to us and says, “focus here. This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you. Come to me.”

When we come to this table, we come as a community. We call this the Lord’s Supper because it is the Lord, the one who rightly dominates life and should be the one who our lives center upon. He is the one who started this table, so we call this table the Lord’s Supper, but since we come together as a community to this table, we call it Communion, because we celebrate our relationship with one another and with saints in ages past and we also celebrate the fact that in this sacrifice, God has invited us into his family and we now have a relationship with God.

This is communion. Jesus says, “This is my body, which is for you.” The ‘you’ there is plural. It’s all of his people, but it’s not the whole world. Jesus said this to his disciples and then Paul is saying this to the church. And so these are words to God’s family. And so the first question that you have to ask yourself at a time like this is, “are you a member of God’s family?” At this table we celebrate something in part that will happen in its fullness when Jesus Christ comes again. We sang about that. That we are going to make this kind of noise in the future. “Holy Holy You are worthy.” That day is coming when there is going to be this big celebration. They call it the marriage supper of the lamb. It’s the time that God himself hosts the table and wipes tears from everybody’s eye. That day is coming and we celebrate that in part right now, but are you a member of that family that’s invited? Because if not, we face a future where we are eternally separated from God.

Now to celebrate the 4th of July, you’ve got be a member of our society. In Japan, 4th of the July is not a big holiday. And we become Americans either because we are born there or because we go through this long involved bureaucratic process to become an American. But if you are not a member of God’s family, but first of all you are never born to be a member of God’s family. It always has to happen as we give our faith to Jesus Christ. But if you do then make a decision to follow Jesus, it’s not a big bureaucratic process. Praise God. It’s a decision you make in your heart. So right now if you are not ready for this table as a family member you can deal with that by saying, “God I realize I am selfish. I realize I am godless. I realize I do hurtful things to myself, to others and most of all to you and I need forgiveness and I believe that Jesus Christ is the one whom you gave body and blood broken for me and so I now accept that gift and I want to follow him.” If you can pray that sort of prayer in your heart, then you are family and you are welcome to this table.

But even those of us who know Jesus Christ sometimes have to ask, are we ready for this table? The first question is, are you a member of the family, but the other question is, how you treat the family? Sometimes we feel like we can’t come to this table because there is something between us and somebody else and we’ve got to deal with that first. Nobody can ever come to this table as a perfect person. But there are some times that a breach is so deep and something so important that we need to do that we feel like we have to wait before we participate, and if you are in that position, its okay if you too don’t come up when we celebrate. Maybe there is somebody in this room and you can deal with it before it all happens, but if not, that’s okay because the scripture here, not in the verses we read, but two verses later says that a person ought to examine themselves before they eat and drink at this table. Then we can come and celebrate.

The first word we use about this is that it’s the Lord’s Supper because it came from Jesus Christ and talks about him and he is the host. We call it Communion because it celebrates the fact that we come forward as a family that has had their whole future remade. Our whole future is different because of what Jesus did here. We will see God not because of what we’ve done, but because of the incredible grace of what God has given. And that’s why the third word we use for this table is the Eucharist. That comes from the Greek word that means a good gift. Here is the table that talks about the best gift that can ever be given. The gift that has fully and finally dealt with the breach between our creator and us.

And so there is always in Communion a great thanksgiving for this gift. The longest prayers in the history of the church that focus on our weekly worship are the prayers that focus on the table, the great thanksgiving, the longest prayers of thanksgiving. It’s because this is that important. This is that wonderful what God has offered here. Now it’s easy to live life and not be thankful. But I want you to look in this passage where it says in verse 24, or go back to 23 for a moment.

“The Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said…”

And when he had given thanks. Now think about that sort of thanks. Was it that Jesus just kind of had the bread in front of him and kind of did a quick grace before meal, “Oh God thank you for this bread. Amen.” Was it something that perfunctory? Or was Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed, when he is facing the cross itself, was Jesus able to say “God here right now, I am still able to give you thanks. I know I am betrayed and I still give you glory. I know that I am facing the cross, but I still give you thanksgiving because you are my God and you have brought me to this place and there is a future, there is a joy set out before me that makes this worth it and I give you thanks for that and I give you thanks for these people who are with me in this room and I thank you for this bread and this cup.”

Jesus could thank God at that very moment. But sometimes we can’t give thanks because our problems seem so large, we say “how can I possibly give you thanks God in a situation like this?” This table reminds us that we can. We can give thanks because Jesus has given us his life. God is that concerned, that involved with our lives, that even in the worse times we are assured of the love and presence of God.

There are other times we don’t give thanks that well because we feel competent and in control. And this table reminds us again that there are some things that are totally out of our control. The issue of sin, that our rebellion is so deep that God had to do something for us and so remembering that, we have again a cause for thanksgiving.

So we are going to share in this table together today. A table that comes from Jesus Christ himself, bread and wine that focus upon him, upon what he faced for us. We remember how costly it is, it was for God to make us his people and we come together with our brothers and sisters, as one community, seeking unity in and outside of this congregation, coming together, members of a family looking forward to God’s full consummation in the future. And right now, as God’s people in an imperfect world, imperfect people we come forward giving thanks. Celebrating that here is our assurance that it is all going to work out. We can’t do it, but God has done it.

Let’s pray. God, we thank you for this table. We thank you for the reality that stands behind it. As we celebrate this today, please speak to us, touch us, open our eyes, touch our hearts in new ways, for we believe you can do that through your Holy Spirit, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.