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Communion ...

Holy Week 2017  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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What are we doing here?

I don’t mean what are we doing here on a Thursday night. Hopefully we all know that already. We’re here to celebrate Maundy Thursday, the day when we reflect on the maundatum — or command — that Jesus gave his disciples to love one another.
Other nights like this I would have offered to wash your feet. Since we adapted Holden Evening Prayer into the liturgy this year, we decided not to. The washing of the feet is meant to be a symbol of how Jesus served his disciples and how I’m to serve this congregation. When I’ve washed your feet in the past, it has been an humbling experience, one that is gentle, and to use a word — lovely.
Tonight we don’t have that ritual though. We do have another one — an important one on this night — the ritual of communion. And it is that that I’m asking about when I ask “What are we doing here?”
Communion has different meanings for different people. In some places it is referred to as “the most holy sacrifice” in some places it is just a memorial or re-enactment of what Jesus did on this night.
On communion, or the mass as Luther called it, he had this to say:
Luther’s Works, Volume 35 A Treatise on the New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass

Now the nearer our masses are to the first mass of Christ, the better they undoubtedly are; and the further from Christ’s mass, the more dangerous.

From the Book of Concord we read:
The Book of Concord Article XXIV: Concerning the Mass

Our people have been unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass. But it is obvious, without boasting, that the Mass is celebrated among us with greater devotion and earnestness than among our opponents. [7] The people are instructed more regularly and with the greatest diligence concerning the holy sacrament, to what purpose it was instituted, and how it is to be used, namely, as a comfort to terrified consciences.

The Book of Concord Article XXIV: Concerning the Mass

Our people have been unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass. But it is obvious, without boasting, that the Mass is celebrated among us with greater devotion and earnestness than among our opponents. [7] The people are instructed more regularly and with the greatest diligence concerning the holy sacrament, to what purpose it was instituted, and how it is to be used, namely, as a comfort to terrified consciences.

The Book of Concord Article XXIV: Concerning the Mass

Our people have been unjustly accused of having abolished the Mass. But it is obvious, without boasting, that the Mass is celebrated among us with greater devotion and earnestness than among our opponents. [7] The people are instructed more regularly and with the greatest diligence concerning the holy sacrament, to what purpose it was instituted, and how it is to be used, namely, as a comfort to terrified consciences.

And actually the church, and me in particular, have let you down in part of that. We, I, haven’t instructed you regularly and diligently concerning the purpose of the institution of the holy sacrament. So, I’ll try to fix that now.
Here’s what we heard read just a couple of minutes ago from Luke:
The New Revised Standard Version The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

There’s something missing from what we normally say, when we have communion. Maybe you’ll see it when we read Matthew’s version of the same story:
The New Revised Standard Version The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Did you catch it? Here’s how we say it when we normally have communion:
In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.
Did you catch it that time?
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Here’s Luke’s version again:
broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.
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The New Revised Standard Version The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Here’s what’s missing:
Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.
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for the forgiveness of sin.
Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.
It is part of our understanding that communion is one way we receive forgiveness of sin. However, that wasn’t what the Passover meal was about.
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Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Luke Institution of the Lord’s Supper (22:14–20; Matthew 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25)

The Passover meal was very forward-looking, the food to be eaten after the family had packed their belongings for the journey to the promised land. So here the words of Jesus probably point forward to the messianic banquet,

Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Luke Institution of the Lord’s Supper (22:14–20; Matthew 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25)

Luke’s account is governed by the Passover, and the Passover lamb was not a sin offering. The lamb sacrificed for sin was another ritual; the Passover lamb was the seal of a covenant, and the Passover meal commemorated that covenant offered to the faith community by a God who sets free. Jesus’ blood seals a new covenant offered to the faith community by a God who sets free.

This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.
Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Luke Institution of the Lord’s Supper (22:14–20; Matthew 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25)

Those who share in this covenant are joined to one another, life to life, as signified and sealed in the cup divided among themselves.

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Do this for the remembrance of me.
So this isn’t a meal that we partake in just to have something happen on our own — the forgiveness of sin. This is a meal that we partake in to have something happen in community, something that will happen in the future — that we are joined life to life with one another — that we are joined to live together — to love each other — and it is this meal that symbolizes and realizes that. By participating in communion we declare that we are part of that covenant — that bond that Jesus has with us, and we have with each other.
Craddock, F. B. (1990). Luke (p. 256). Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press.
Craddock, F. B. (1990). Luke (p. 256). Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press.
For bringing us together over and over again in this meal, we give thanks to God.
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