It’s been a long-standing tradition at our church that on the Sunday before (or after) your birthday, you place some change in a small bank at the front of the Sanctuary. Then the congregation sings Happy Birthday to you.
Well, on the Sunday before my birthday, I had forgotten my change. That’s OK, I thought to myself. I’ll just bring it next week. Well – that didn’t happen…as you can see in the opening to this week’s sermon.
The Lord’s Supper is something we celebrate as a congregation every Sunday. And with good reason. It’s a time to re-center our lives on the cross. It’s a time to celebrate. It’s a time to remember. In our sharing of this common meal, we remember three key things: 1) The past, 2) The invitation, and 3) What is to come.
We’re working on a new system to record the sermons. Hopefully it will be up and running before Easter. Until that time, you’re going to have to read the manuscript.
The Journey: The Bread & the Cup
March 7, 2010
It was revealed last Sunday that I celebrated a birthday this past week. When Vince was handling the opening and asked if anyone had a birthday to recognize, I didn’t move – and most of you know why. I had forgotten my money. Fortunately, Deborah bailed me out by giving me some change to put in the church bank. And thanks to her generosity, all was right with the world again. I do feel like it should have been my contribution, so…here…Deborah…I think it’s only fair that I treat it as a loan and I’m ready to pay back that loan, plus interest…
Go down and give her 50 cents
Thanks for bailing me out, Deborah!
Yes, we celebrated my birthday on Monday. And, like many people do when they celebrate a birthday, we went out to eat. We visited an Italian restaurant that has a pretty good deal on Mondays: you can order a large, family-sized portion for the price of a regular dish. We had plenty of leftovers to last us throughout the week.
One of our favorite things about visiting this restaurant is the bread. In addition to these warm loaves of bread, they bring out small plates of roasted garlic and pour a little bit of olive oil on the plate. And you’re supposed to take your bread and dip it into this olive oil/garlic mixture. And it’s quite tasty.
As we were passing around the bread, tearing off pieces and dipping it into the oil, I couldn’t help but look around me and just soak it all in – much like my bread was soaking up that garlic and olive oil. I was reminded yet again how blessed I am to have such a wonderful family.
If your family is anything like ours, much of the week is spent rushing from one thing to another. And while we try to sit down and have dinner together every night, there are many times we have to rush through our meal because we have to get to one place or another. Many times during the week, it’s rush, rush, rush…hurry, hurry, hurry! So that meal we shared together on my birthday was special because there was no rush. We were in no hurry. We could sit and enjoy the meal as long as we wanted.
There’s something special about sharing a meal together. There is a bond that is created when we sit around the same table and share the same food, isn’t there? You might not be able to explain it exactly, but you know something special is going on.
I believe Jesus knew that. He knew the power of sharing a meal with someone. And there are many examples of him doing just that in the Gospels – especially in the Gospel of Luke. It seems that everywhere you turn in Dr. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is eating with someone. One day, he’s eating with the religious elite. The next day, he’s sharing the table with tax collectors and other “sinners.” And when he’s not eating, he’s probably talking about eating. The Gospel of Luke has so many examples of Jesus eating that I had a college friend who liked to say that the account leads you to believe that Jesus might have weighed 600 pounds! Of course, Jesus is also walking throughout the countryside as he goes from village to village so he probably worked off much of the food he ate. But there are so many accounts of Jesus sharing the table and eating with all kinds of different people because there’s something special about sharing a common table and a common meal.
And everyone knew this. That’s why the Pharisees wouldn’t sit down at the dinner table with people like tax collectors and other known “sinners.” Sharing a meal with them would have validated their actions and placing them on equal footing with the religious elite who made it very clear that they followed all of the religious regulations to a “T.” And they would have none of that. They couldn’t take the chance of allowing their sinfulness to somehow rub off on them. So they kept the nonreligious sinners at arm’s distance – especially when they ate.
But not Jesus. He willingly and openly shared the dinner table with all who would come and eat with him: religious, non-religious, righteous, sinners, devoted followers and skeptics. Something special happens when you share a meal with someone. And something special happened when Jesus shared a meal with people, too.
The most well-known meal that Jesus shared is the one that we share every week. You can call it Communion or the Lord’s Supper or even use its historical name: Eucharist (which means “thankful”)…but it really comes down to a meal that is shared between us and the Lord.
If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to the 22nd chapter of the Gospel of Luke. If you don’t have your Bible, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Luke 22 is found on page 916 in those red Bibles. We’ve been taking a quick journey through the Gospel of Luke, focusing on some highlights of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ while he walked among us on earth. Last week, we took a look at the parable Jesus told about the Lost, or Prodigal Son and we might have seen ourselves in that story – either as the younger son who needs to find his way back to our Loving Father, or as the older son who might not have been as active in joining his Father’s search for his lost brother. And how, ultimately, we need to join in the celebration of the discovery of those who were once lost but are now found.
Much ground is covered in the Gospel of Luke between this parable and the event we’re looking at this morning. Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem for quite some time and everything he has done has been in preparation for the time he knew was coming: the time when he would give up his own life and take on the sin of the world to make straight the path to the Father.
A few days before this event in the Upper Room, Jesus finally arrived in the holy city of Jerusalem. And his arrival was met with much fanfare and celebration. It was time for the Passover, the annual feast where they remembered and celebrated the day when God used Moses to deliver His people from the oppressive thumb of the Egyptians. And people had poured into the city in preparation for the feast. When the crowd saw Jesus approaching the city gates on the back of a donkey, they grabbed palm leaves and welcomed the arrival of the King of Kings. They took their coats and placed them on the road, forming a path for the One who would throw off their oppressors yet again. The people praised God and Jesus was welcomed with open arms.
Then Jesus did the unexpected. He entered the Temple and drove out those who were using the House of Prayer as a Den of Thieves. And with this, the religious elite had had enough. It was time to eliminate this Jesus of Nazareth. And they sought a way to kill him. But they couldn’t. Not yet anyway. Even though he spent every day preaching in the Temple – right in front of them – they couldn’t touch him. Yet. But Jesus knew that day was coming soon. He knew the time was almost upon him. And so he sought to share one last meal with his closest friends.
And in remembrance and celebration of what Jesus Christ did, we share this meal together every week. But, what are we remembering and celebrating when we “Do this in remembrance of Me”? In your handout, there’s a heading in the notes that says something like, “three things the Lord’s Supper does for us. What it really should say is “3 ways we remember when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper”:
1. It reminds us of the past
All of us were once sinners. All of us have fallen short of the perfection and holiness that God requires. Because of the presence of sin, we could not know and be known by our Father in Heaven. That sin separates us from the Father. If left to our own power and strength, we would be a hopeless people.
But God gives us hope. And we are reminded of that hope when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. When we hold the small piece of bread, it’s a tangible, physical reminder of the brokenness that Jesus Christ willingly experienced so that we could be forgiven. His body was broken when they nailed him to the cross through his hands and his feet. His body was broken when they lifted up the cross and he was left there to die like a piece of meat. His body was broken when his side was pierced, showing that he was dead. His body was broken for you. His body was broken for me.
When we hold the cup and drink from it, it’s a tangible, physical reminder of the blood that Jesus Christ willingly poured out for us. The punishment for sin is death. Sins cannot be forgiven without the shed of blood. That’s how serious it is when we choose to disobey God’s commands. Blood must be shed. But God loves us so much that He doesn’t want any of us to experience eternal punishment. So He sent His son to take on flesh, walk amongst us, and give up His own life in our place, taking on our own punishment of death so we can receive life. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us of this: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The Lord’s Supper – this bread and this cup – reminds us of the death sentence that we deserved. It reminds us of the death sentence that we did not receive. This broken body and this poured out blood remind us of the punishment that Jesus took upon himself so that we could experience peace with God.
2. It reminds us of the invitation
Jesus chose to eat with the “undesirables” of society and to accept them into the kingdom of God. He didn’t say the kingdom of God is made primarily of the ultra-religious and the power-brokers, but he said “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and the meek and those who mourn and those who are week. Not exactly the power-brokers. But Jesus was telling us that the kingdom of Heaven is open to all who choose to follow Him.
Because of this, the Lord’s Table is open to all who choose to follow Him, too. It’s an invitation to come to Him and be fed by the Bread of Life and to drink from the Water that will never lead to Thirst. It’s an invitation to us to find our fulfillment in God’s provision and to rely fully on Him.
But it’s also an invitation to come to Him as we are. We cannot do anything to make God love us any more than He already does. The bread and the cup remind us of that. We cannot do anything to somehow earn God’s favor or to earn salvation. The bread and the cup remind us of that, too. The broken body and shed blood are an invitation to give up trying to do life on our own. Because we cannot do it on our own. We were created to be friends with God. And these symbols serve as the invitation that He has given us – to know and be known by the Lord of all Creation – to be friends with our Father in Heaven.
There’s room at the Table for you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how far you’ve strayed from God. You’re invited to come back to Him today. The Table serves as an invitation to come before the cross and accept the grace and forgiveness that has been so willingly poured out for us because of the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ. The bread and the cup are invitations to you to come to Him and allow Him to wash you clean.
3. It reminds us of what is to come
In the book of Revelation, John is describing this beautiful scene in the 19th chapter. A great multitude in heaven is shouting praises to God, celebrating the victory of the Lamb over the Enemy. And then it goes into this description of a wedding:
6Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
8Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
9Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:6-9)
In the end of days when God makes all things right, dealing the final blow to Satan and there’s a New Heaven and a New Earth, Jesus Christ will return and bring His Bride home with him? Who is that Bride? Us. The Church. And when that happens, there will be a joyous celebration with the Bridegroom with singing and praising and eating. Yes – there is going to be a huge wedding banquet in celebration of the uniting of the Bridegroom, Christ, with His Bride, the Church.
This celebration of a small meal…this bread and this cup call our attention to the day when we will share a huge celebration dinner together. It gives us a hint of the day when there will be no more sickness and death; no more sorrow and pain; no more fears or tears or rejection or abandonment. This small meal we share in this morning and every Sunday morning reminds us of the beautiful and wonderful things to come when we finally see Jesus face to face. It’s a hint of what’s to come.
The bread and the cup, although symbols, are powerful reminders of what Jesus did, who He invites us to be, and the things that are to come. And in doing that, it unites us together as the Body of Christ here on earth today. Let us celebrate who God is and what He has done by sharing this special meal together this morning.
Because of the cross, there’s room at the Table for all of us. If you have never decided to follow Him, you’re invited to take those first steps today by acknowledging that you cannot do it on your own and that you can only find purpose and forgiveness and salvation by accepting the free gift of Jesus Christ and choosing to follow Him as your Lord and your Savior. It’s only because He loves us that we can know Him. And that was shown most fully when He sent His son for you to die on the cross for your sins. If you have never chosen to accept that free gift of forgiveness, you’re invited to do so today. You’re invited to follow His example and be baptized – symbolically putting your old self to death and coming up a new creation! There’s room at the Table for you. But you have to choose to accept the invitation.
Our hymn of invitation this morning is Oh How He Loves You and Me (#???). We will be singing both verses as we remember and celebrate the amazing love that God has for us – so much so that He was willing to give up His own life for us.
If you know you have a decision to make, whether it’s to follow Jesus for the first time or to plant down your roots here at Cowan Christian Church and publicly identify this family as your church home, you’re invited to share that decision during this hymn of invitation.