I Corinthians 11:17-34
I want to thank you for suggesting the idea of doing a communion service here. I think it is a great idea and we are very glad to do so. Levi’s prompting, at your suggestion, got us together as pastors from the three churches and other interested individuals and we planned for it. Our intention is to have communion three times in the year - once in winter, once in spring and once in summer or fall - with each church taking one turn.
This afternoon, I would like to reflect with you on the meaning of the Lord’s supper and then we want to have a bit of a sharing time. In I Corinthians 11:17-34 we have one of the passages which talks about the Lord’s supper and teaches us how to observe it. Read passage.
One of the things that has been strongly associated with the observance of the Lord’s supper has been self examination. It comes out of this passage because I Corinthians 11:28 encourages us, “a man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” What does it mean to examine ourselves and how do we partake once we have examined ourselves?
When we go to see a doctor, we expect that the doctor will examine our physical body. When we were in school, it was the job of the teacher to examine us. The purpose of these examinations is to see how we are doing, to determine if our body is healthy and if it is not to recommend a treatment. To examine if we have learned our lessons well and to teach us what we have not learned. But how do we examine ourselves? What criteria do we use to determine if we are doing OK? What response do we have if we are not OK?
In I Corinthians 10:16,17, Paul is developing an argument about eating meat sacrificed to idols. In that context, he says, "Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." The key concept in this passage is the concept of "participation." There is a double participation for those who are believers in Christ. One is a participation in the "blood of Christ" and the other is a participation in the "body of Christ." When we observe the Lord's supper, we recognize both of these aspects. In 11:29 it says, "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." It is in this setting that the text encourages us to "examine" ourselves. What this means, in the context, is that we need to examine our lives to see if we are in a right relationship with the Lord, and also in a right relationship with the body of the Lord, the church. When we examine ourselves, we need to make sure that we are doing OK in both of these areas.
How do we examine ourselves in our relationship to the Lord? As we think about our relationship to the Lord, we know that it is based on faith and obedience. The song we often sing, “Trust and Obey” is a good song to summarize our relationship to God. To fail to trust Christ with our whole lives is to fail to live as Christians. So the first question we need to ask is, “am I living by faith?” “do I trust that God has the best in mind for me?” The second part is to ask, “as far as I know how, am I obeying the Lord?” “am I doing those things I know to be right and avoiding those things I know to be wrong?” If we open our hearts to God in this way, the Spirit of God will help us discern. If we examine ourselves and find that we are not in a right relationship to the Lord, that is, not living by faith in Him, we need to do something about it. We need to set our hope on Christ once again. We need to restore our heart or our will towards God.
When a tragedy occurs, people often come close to one another in the context of that crisis. In a dormitory at a Bible school, students are close to each other because they share a common experience. But the bond we have with each other as fellow believers is even stronger. It doesn’t just happen because of an incident or a circumstance, it is commanded, deliberate and intentional. We who are many are one body because we all partake of one loaf. That is, we share in Christ and because we have all shared in Christ, we all share with each other. As we participate in communion, we do so, not in isolation, but in community because we recognize that we are the body of Christ.
Now in I Corinthians, it was precisely the fact that they were not treating each other as brothers and sisters which caused them to abuse the meaning of the Lord's supper and as a result the Lord himself. It is like when children fight and mother steps in to stop it and they continue to fight. Not only is the relationship between the children broken, the mother is also hurt. It is like this, only stronger because Jesus died to bring us together as a family. His death was to create a restored community of his people. When that community fails to be Christ-like in its relationship to one another, then what Christ died for is cast down and Christ is abused.
If examination reveals that we are not in a right relationship with some brother or sister, we need to do everything we can to restore that relationship. Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” So if we have not forgiven, we must forgive. If we are bitter or angry towards someone, we need to overcome. If we have hurt someone, we need to ask forgiveness. Of course, we can only do what we can do. Paul’s words in Romans remind us that sometimes we cannot do anything about it. If we have done all we can, sometimes we have to leave it at that. The Bible tells us that our love for God is measured by our love for others as we read in I John 4:20, "If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen."
Upon examination, when we realize the great love of the Lord in dying on the cross for us and realize the nature of His body, the church and our relationship to it, we need to make things right as far as we know and are able. To partake of the Lord’s supper without recognizing the body of Christ, without making sure that our relationship with others in this body is OK, is to make light of the great sacrifice of Christ.
And so we need to examine ourselves, but what do we do when we examine ourselves? Do we refrain from the table? Do we beat ourselves up over all our sins? Do we shy away from Jesus? The wonderful thing about communion is that it is a table of grace. When we have examined ourselves, communion gives us an opportunity to come to God and lay all of our sin and guilt and failure at the feet of Jesus. It is in the remembrance of the Lord’s supper that we are able to come to the table of grace to be reminded of where we stand with God. Here, by faith, one may once again receive the assurance that "Christ receives sinners."
Our remembrance at the table reminds us of what has happened in order to give us the hope of forgiveness. As we partake of the bread we are reminded of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus said, "This is my body, which is for you..." As we partake, we remember that Jesus gave up his physical life and suffered the humiliation of death on a cross as a sinner even though he had never sinned. We remember that he did it for you and for me.
As we observe communion, we remember that Jesus died. I often try to visualise Jesus hanging on the cross. I have no idea of all that is involved in this. I know that the physical pain must have been immense. The ability to move in order to find a comfortable position was severely hampered by the fact that nails pierced his hands and his feet. As the weight of his own body pulled against the arms and hands, the pain must have been horrible. But on top of that, there was the spiritual pain as he hung there with the sin of the whole world on his shoulders, to the point that he experienced his father’s face turned away from him in rejection. This was more than a relational pain, it brought a deep loneliness and utter sense of abandonment.
What is so amazing is that this horror was not suffered because he was forced into it or because of a terrible thing that he had done. He went to the cross willingly for us. Isaiah says it so well in 53:4, "...he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows...", in 53:5, ...he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." Again in Isaiah 53:12 we read, "...he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
As we see in this passage, this great sacrifice came in order to give us life. Jesus died for our sins. By partaking of the bread we remember that Jesus died in our place so that our sins could be forgiven and we could be cleansed. If you take a piece of clean white paper and make a mark on it, it is almost impossible to get that paper clean again. Even if the mark you made was in pencil, it is not possible to remove the mark without leaving indication that you erased it. If you use "white-out" there is a large white blob. The stain is hard to remove and it is difficult to restore the paper to its original whiteness. We are like the white piece of paper that has been marked up - our lives are stained with sin. No matter how we try to erase the sin in our life, it can not be done. Jesus has come and made us into a clean white piece of paper again.
Examination will probably reveal that we do have sin. When we observe the Lord's supper, we remember that he died on the cross to cover our sins and we rejoice.
As we partake of the cup, we encounter another wonderful idea. It is that on the cross, a new covenant has been established. The concept of establishing a covenant or relationship between God and man is not new, nor is the idea of establishing that relationship with blood. In Hebrews 9:22 it says, "...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." That truth was demonstrated in Leviticus in the giving of all the laws regarding the various sacrifices that had to be made. The word "blood" occurs about 48 times in Leviticus mostly related to sacrifices. The purpose of this was to indicate the serious and costly nature of our rebellion and what was required to restore us to relationship again.
The covenant established was a new covenant. Formerly God had established relationships with his people. Exodus 24:8 speaks of the Mosaic covenant, "Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."
But that old covenant failed and in Jeremiah 31:31 God spoke of a new covenant that he would make with his people. There it says, "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah." That covenant was made by Jesus when his blood was shed on the cross.
A covenant describes and defines a relationship between two people. When two people get married, they make a covenant with each other promising to be faithful to each other and to stay with each other.
Now Jesus tells his disciples that he has brought a new covenant. Because Jesus came and died, we have a new way of relating to God. There is no more need for the temple, for the sacrifices or for the law. Now we are forgiven and we have free access to God through Jesus. We have the Spirit of God in us and we are new creatures.
When we examine ourselves, we might think that our relationship is broken, but by observing the Lord's supper, we remember that we now relate to God through grace.
And so we come to the table. Yes, it is important to take the words of scripture seriously. The warning against eating in an unworthy manner is a serious warning. By eating in an unworthy manner, we contradict the purpose of Christ's death for us. If we eat unworthily, we are responsible for his death and so place ourselves under his judgement.
But examination should never prevent us from coming to the table. It should always be a time to set things right, but even more, a time to celebrate grace and forgiveness. Am I sinless? No, but I am forgiven! Am I perfect? No, but God accepts me anyway. That is what the table of the Lord teaches us, and so I invite you to the table of the Lord.
Before we partake, I thought it would be good to share a little.
Sharing - George Toews
Share what God has done,
Communion - George Toews
“This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Levi distributes the cup.
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Song - Judy Schellenberg
Prayer - Levi Dueck