Learning to Celebrate the Lord’s Supper

This sermon was preached on August 7th, 2011.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – 1Cor 11.

I took my first communion when I was 13.   I did it, not because the Holy Spirit had awakened me to the love of Jesus Christ, but because my friends were all going through confirmation class and I didn’t want to be left out.  My understanding, and I think that of my friends, was that we now got to do something that the adults got to do.   We all knew that, somehow, communion was supposed to be the body and blood of Jesus.  But everything about communion seemed to suggest to me that it was a restricted, semi-magical rite, reserved for the initiated.

Historical Context:  The confusion of my friends and me about communion wasn’t anything new.  In at least one of the NT churches that Paul wrote to (Corinth) there was a problem with communion.  The church in Corinth was divided.  Different groups of believers hated one another – and each thought that they had God’s approval while the other groups did not.  Consequently, when they came together, rather than eating together they divided off into their little groups – despising one another.   Some groups who were wealthy had lavish meals where they drank too much and ate too much – other groups had little or nothing.   The way they practiced the Lord’s Supper was a disaster because it only added to their division – it became a way to separate themselves from one another.  Paul’s point in 1 Cor.11 when he told them to examine themselves, was that he wanted them all to eat together (vs.33) – because when they used the meal to separate themselves from one another they were eating the supper in an unworthy manner – they were not practicing communion but rather division.

The issue we want to take up this morning is this:  There are ways of practicing communion that take away from what the meal is supposed to be about. There are ways of practicing communion that make the meal meaningful.  Obviously, what we want is to celebrate communion in an intentionally meaningful way that leads us into true understanding.

What is Our Celebration of Communion Telling Us?

3 Ways Our Practice Can Cause Confusion:  We do not have the particular problem with communion that the Corinthians had.  How could we?   Paul talks about people eating together  – that is the pattern.  Communion is a family meal, but the way we celebrate communion  could hardly be called that.

  • We do not despise one another and eat with our own groups who we think have God’s approval.   Instead we kneel by ourselves at the communion rail and we eat basically alone.
  • We do not claim to have God’s approval while others are shut out, in fact, many of us struggle with whether we have God’s approval at all.
  • We do not eat a meal to celebrate communion – just a small piece of bread – just a sip of wine or juice.

Think of the statement our communion could be interpreted to make if someone who did not know what we were doing  just came in and watched…

~ Our practice suggests communion is a private thing:  This is how we practice communion, as part of an alone-by-myself  spirituality.  We talk about communion – which has to do with joining and unity – but our practice suggests that it is only me and God – no one else.  There is no sense of family meal.  There is the suggestion that I am by myself working out my faith alone so that I can offer it to God.  The family meal has become isolating.

But the meal is meant to be a communion with God and with one another.  Alone-by-myself  spirituality is not Christianity.  Christianity is about becoming part of and living as the body of Christ. We are told to bear one another’s burdens, to pray for one another, to love one another.  Communion should reflect this.

~ Our practice of communion has become a test of God’s approval:  Does God want me to come forward and commune with him – we ask ourselves?  Or has my sin disqualified me this week?   And so we have come to learn that, when it really matters, when we officially draw near to God… at that point God’s approval of us depends Not  on the blood of Jesus, but on whether, by my own internal, psychological evaluation, I am good enough to draw near.  And if I determine that I am not good enough, then I am faced with the question of whether I dare come to the table , or whether I am willing to stay in my seat  and make a public declaration that I don’t think God approves of me.

And so, the grace meal… the most powerful physical symbol that the church has  of God’s approval and love for sinners, has become a condemnation meal for some, and a personal righteousness test for others.

But the meal is meant to be a powerful picture of grace – sustaining food for the sinner, the weak, those who struggle even with the willingness to repent.  The meal is a picture of God’s Approval and welcome to sinners who are not righteous enough – but who are made righteous enough through the body and blood of Jesus.  Communion should reflect this.

~ Our practice of communion has become a ritual that suggests little grace rather than a meal of abundance:   How many of you had dinner last night?  What was on the menu?  Was it more than one square inch of bread?  This is how we know communion has become a ritual and not a meal.  Rituals aren’t a bad thing – but the Lord gave us a Supper.  This supper is a picture of God’s provision of Jesus for our sins.  The supper signifies that God gave us his Son, so what kind of picture is a square inch of bread?  What does it suggest to you about God’s grace?

Suppose I said to you; “I am sending  you to work today and I have packed your lunch – all you’re going to need to get you through the strain and difficulties of the day – here is one square inch of bread and a half ounce of wine”.   Would you feel provided for?   And yet in our great picture of grace – our great supper – we suggest that Christ’s love is not lavish – the elements are minimal – the provision is insufficient.

But the meal is meant to be a picture of the lavish grace and love of God, over flowing to you and me.

We Are Changing Our Practice of Communion.

So, this morning we want to begin to change the way we think about communion.   We want to do that by actually changing our practice in the way we take the meal.  Our goal is to create a better picture of what communion means by what we do.  We want communion to be a joyful time.  We want you to have freedom to reflect on what God has done without being rushed.  We will be making the following changes…

We are Going to Celebrate Communion Around the Lunch Tables:   Rather than coming up  and kneeling and having our own private communions, we are going to stand/ sit around the tables.   We are going to have a community meal.  We do not want you to be solemn and silent – be free to talk to one another.  If you have words of encouragement or thanksgiving – say them.  If you need prayer ask those around your table to pray for you.  … be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph.18b-20)

We are Sending Bread & Wine etc., Eat it All:  You don’t have to eat more than you want to, however, I would encourage you to pass the bread and wine around until it is all gone.  Eat more than one tiny piece of bread – drink more than one sip of wine or juice.  This meal is a picture of the abundant grace of God.  Drink it all – Eat it all.  God is not stingy with his grace meal.

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