During World War II allied armies marched into Germany on their way to Berlin. Retreating German soldiers switched road signs and destroyed landmarks in an effort to confuse their enemy. And, to an extent, it worked, for many a GI followed a false marker only to end up in the wrong place.
That just goes to show the need for landmarks, the importance of reliable signposts by which to steer.
Here locally, landmarks like the courthouse, the river or college or bridge are important in helping us find our bearings. Why, if some villain were in one night to remove our signposts, the next day would become a bewildering jumble of uncertainties, and we’d all be lost.
The text is about landmarks. It refers to the Jewish custom of setting boundary stones to mark out property. Just as we do today so our Hebrew forefathers did then. Wells, fiords, buildings, and stone centennials were their guides. Hence the strict law: “Remove not the ancient landmark which your fathers have set.”
We live in a day of rapid change. And this law is being grossly ignored. Our history is being bulldozed to clear the way for development. Some professors are twisting the guideposts in the minds and hearts of our students. Traditions are forgotten, manners ignored. Result is a kind of chaos. Social confusion and rootless individualism. We live in a society that’s lost its bearings and is adrift on a sea of change.
The Lord’s table is a landmark. For nearly 2000 years Christians have been gathering to eat this meal. And, for all, it can be means of getting one’s bearings. How do I say this? Look at our second text and see.
First, in the communion meal Jesus points us to the past. “Do this in remembrance of me,” He twice commands.
What good is memory?
In John Knowles’ novel, A Separate Peace, a middle aged war veteran returned to his New Hampshire prep school 15 years after graduation. He is drawn to that part of the campus where a huge oak tree overspreads the river. Its branches tower above and become lost in the morning fog.
It was in that tree that the man and his schoolboy rival “Finny” dared each other to climb ever higher for a dive into the river below. And it was there that “Finny” had fallen when our now aging vet either intentionally or unintentionally shook the limb on which both were perched. “Finny” had later died from his injuries. And all these years the novels main character has remembered and wrestled with the guilt of it all.
What about you? Are there fog shrouded trees growing like spikes in your conscience? Is there guilt of deeds done or left undone? Divorce? An abortion? Ugly words? A theft? Adultery?
Remembrance can be a painful thing. But it can also be a source of solace and joy.
In the Greek, the word remembrance is “anamnesis”. We derive our word “amnesia” from it. Jesus is saying, “Do this so you won’t get amnesia, so you will know who I am and who you are.”
During World War II a shell shocked soldier suffering from amnesia was paraded around boxing rings in the hope that someone would recognize him. “Won’t someone tell me who I am!” he shouted. Jesus knows the world hits us hard, and we can lapse into spiritual amnesia. We can forget home, brothers, sisters, father, even our own name. So Jesus invites us regularly to come to His house, to sit at His table, to take the Blood of His cup, the Bread of His body, and remember our sins, remember at what great a price we were bought at Calvary, and to remember whose we now are.
At communion we find our bearings by laying down all our guilty past and becoming immersed in the pleasant memories of all Jesus has done for us. Ah, sweet remembrance!
The Lord’s supper also points us to the future. In the text Paul speaks of celebrating communion as a means of proclaiming Christ’s death “until He comes.” That is a reference to the second coming of our Lord.
A few years ago my family watched the movie, The Day After, about the horrible aftermath of a nuclear war. One night soon after my eldest son came to me, “Dad,” he confided, “I just don’t know about this school work. I mean, why should I work so hard? With the way the world is going it doesn’t look like there’s any future worth studying for.” Indeed, as W. C. Fields put it, “The future isn’t what it used to be.”
Iraq is rearming itself. Our country sinks deeper into financial debt. Academic levels plummet. Homes split up, churches grow cold. Ah! But for the text we, like the world, we could only anticipate a hopeless end. Yet here in Christ, seated about His table, we know an endless hope!
Two words, “He comes.”
A young lady, desperately single, aching with unfulfilled longings, shared with me her pain. “I eat alone. I sleep alone, I vacation alone. I’m sick! Do you hear me? Sick of it! Where is my lover?”
I told her of Jesus, the most eligible bachelor in the universe. I explained how we are His Bride. And even now Christ is preparing a place for us in heaven. And soon, oh so very soon, the shout will go up. “The Bridegroom Cometh!” And we’ll each go to live forever in a loving relationship like we’ve been longing for.”
“In this hope we were saved,” the Bible says. Such hope makes the Lord’s Supper an appetizer. It is but a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 19.
Robert Frost’s poem, “The Death of the Hired Man,” has a Vermont farmer who discovers the town drunk sleeping in his barn. The farmer has tried to help the old man out so many times over the years. But the drunk proved worthless. Why, last time he was there he walked off the farm in harvest time leaving the farmer short‑handed.
“Never again,” the farmer vowed.
So now he finds the old drunk asleep in his hayloft. And angrily he tells his wife he’s going to run him off.
Yet his wife realized the old man is near death and she pleads with her husband to show mercy. “He’s come home to die, Pa. He has no place to go but here. He has no one but you. With nothing to look back on in pride and nothing to look forward to in hope… he’s come home to die.”
Perhaps there’s one of you here today whose past is nothing more than a guilty spasm of pain, and whose future seems but a hopeless end. Come! For such a one as you this church is built, this table is spread. Here at communion Jesus takes your face in His gentle hands and points you to your past–all cleansed, forgiven and enabled in His grace. Then He turns your gaze to the future as His bride in a paradise so wonderful no tongue can describe it.
Yes, this wonder filled table is spread for the past and the future. But what of the here and now? We Christians have our theology of the past well‑founded in the cross, all our guilty sins washed away. And our theology of the future in secure in the second coming. But our faith is often like an antique brass bed–rock sturdy at both ends but soft and saggy in the middle. So, what does our theology offer for the here and now?
In the text, Jesus said, “This is my Body, this is my Blood.” Not was. Not shall be. But is. Now!
John Calvin used to remind the saints that there is no miracle in the bread and wine. The miracle is in us! When we commune with repentant and faithful hearts the Holy Spirit moves among us and in us bringing life, growth, bonding, reassurance, comfort, insight, love, strength and whatever else is necessary to keep us on our feet.
Why, after the resurrection, Jesus showed up at every mealtime. When Peter denied the Lord, it was at breakfast the Lord met him and Peter re-devoted himself to the Savior. It was on Emmaus Road that two discouraged disciples were drawn into a meal and the reality of the risen Lord. It was while behind locked doors for fear of the Jews that Jesus materialized, eating, and rejuvenating the apostles at the table. And it is in churches like this, at tables like this, in servants like you and me, that the real presence of the Holy Spirit makes Himself known.
In the play, Fiddler On The Roof, Tevye, the Russian Jew, speaks of the landmarks of tradition in his life….
“Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything–how to eat, how to sleep, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you–I don’t know! But it’s a tradition! Because of our traditions everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” So it is that the Lord’s Supper is a tradition, a landmark in our lives. Jesus wills us to remember Him, to come often, to sit and look to our past, future, and present.
It’s been my experience that persons coming to the church have a problem in one of three areas. They’ve a struggle with the past and guilt, or a struggle with the future and fear, or a problem with the present and strength.
The Gospel touches us in all three areas. Driving over here this morning, didn’t you look into your rearview mirror? But did you not as well glance through the forward windshield? And I do so hope you enjoyed the view out the side windows. A safe driver looks all three ways.
And a healthy Christian also has a past secured from guilt–“remembrance,” a future secure in hope–“He comes,” and a present enabled by the Spirit’s strength for now.
Today is fitting we celebrate communion as a landmark in our lives. Forgetting the sins of the past, absorbed in His wonderful grace, remembering the cross and our glorious heritage, let us find nourishment in God’s Spirit in this bread and wine, that we might press on into future fruitful ministry until He comes.
Lord, be made known to me in the breaking of the bread. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.