A few years ago I was the guest speaker during a revival in the Virginia mountains. A farm family had invited me to their home for supper and about twelve of us were standing around the table preparing to eat. The head of the house asked us to bow for prayer and he gave thanks to God. After the “Amen” we were all about to sit down when the voice of their five-year old daughter rang out defiantly saying, “I didn’t join in!” She wanted it known that she had no part in praying for a meal not her favorite food. She was disassociating herself from any religious enterprises. “I didn’t join in!” Well, at least she was honest. We adults would have at least stood there and looked the part while keeping our sentiments to ourselves.
And, I wonder, if we are really honest about our participation in the Lord’s Supper would we not often have to fold our arms and say, “I didn’t join in!” Few there are who have a basic understanding of the Lord’s Supper. And there are not so many who’d say, “I believe in the importance of the communion sacrament.” But rather than be honest about it like the child, we keep quiet and go through the motions. It’s easy. Just look pious, keep your head low, and since everyone else is doing the same thing, no one will catch on that you haven’t caught on!
The texts today can perhaps change our sham into sincerity. Our Scriptures can turn our secret “I didn’t join in” into a public “I joined in!” Let’s go about seeing how that can happen now as we study the texts.
The first text is Jesus’ own words while seated in the upper room with his disciples. Breaking the bread and pouring the wine, Christ said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
What good is memory? What good is a recollection of the past? Well, you are no doubt aware of the condition we call amnesia. A person gets bumped on the head and forgets everything. He can’t remember his name, his home address, or even his wife or job. It’s an agonizing situation to be in. We can get spiritual amnesia too, can’t we? You’ve seen it happen. A devout Christian young woman goes off to college, joins the sorority, begins to date and party and study, and slowly forgets Jesus. Or an up and coming young Christian lawyer makes a pile of money, wealth goes to his head, and he forgets Christ. Or an elderly man loses his wife to cancer and in the grief forgets Jesus.
The Lord knew it would be easy to forget him. The world has a way of knocking us in the head and making us forget who our Father is, where home is, and where we work. So Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The Greek word used here for “remembrance” is “anamnesis.” We get amnesia from that. “Don’t forget me,” Christ said. “Don’t allow the world to erase your memory.”
Maybe you’ve forgotten Christ and today you’ve wandered in here out of habit. “Do this in remembrance of Him.” See the wine? Let it remind you that Christ bled for your sins, the perfect atonement. See the bread? Remember Christ’s body broken for you! See with what a great price Jesus bought your redemption. Remember!
Not only is the Lord’s Supper a table set for the past. It’s also a table of the future! In the second text Jesus sat with His disciples around the table and said, “I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” Here Christ was pointing His apostles to the future when the Kingdom of God would be consummated with a Messianic banquet.
When I was a football player in high school one of the first things we did each season was plan a victory banquet for the Spring of the year. It gave us something to look forward to. It made the blows and sweat and hard work a little easier to bear because we knew there was a coming day when we’d all sit down to a banquet. Trophies would be handed out. And hopefully we’d be champions. Christ was doing much the same thing in the text with His twelve. The arrest, the trial, and the cross and tomb lay before Him. A lot of pain and sacrifice was to take place. And Jesus was saying, “No more! No more wine until the Kingdom comes. When the victory is won and I am Lord, then we shall feast in triumph!”
Something to look forward to–that’s what these words give us. They remind us that there will come a time when Christ will cry, “Enough! Halt!” And our Lord will step into history and judge the world. Evil will be destroyed. And righteousness will flourish. And it is at this point that Christians will sit down with Christ and eat the banquet of the Messiah! You can read for yourself in Revelation 19 the details of this victory meal.
Maybe you’ve come here today without much hope. Family matters have left you in despair. The world scene with its wars and pollution have you in the grip of depression. And you feel there is nothing to look forward to. Here! Sit at this table. Let Christ gently lift your chin. Open your eyes and look to the future. Do you see what God is going to do?
You fathers know what it’s like to travel on business and leave your family behind. Your wife and children gather at the table each night and the little one inquires, “Will Daddy be home today?” “Not tonight, dear. In three days. In three days,” the mother says. Thus throughout the week each meal is eaten with expectancy. “Is today the day?” The children ask. When we sit at this table we are like children with expectancy. “Is it today? Will our God come for us today?”
This makes this small sip of wine and scrap of bread like an appetizer, doesn’t it? It’s the little meal before the main course. It’s like an Italian antipasto. There is more to follow. It’s like a French hors d’oeuvre. It only whets our appetite! And there will come a time when we are satisfied in full at the great Messianic banquet. So this meal simply excites our taste for one to follow!
So, the Lord’s Supper is a table for all times. It points us to the past reminding us what God has done. It points us to the future giving us hope for what God will do. And now in our third text it draws us to the here and now, the present. And it tells us what God sees.
Some Christians have believed the consecrated bread and wine actually become Christ’s flesh and blood as we re-sacrifice Jesus in Communion Mass. This is known as transubstantiation. Others believe the bread and wine become Him as we swallow it–consubstantiation. Still others believe it is nothing more than a memorial meal, a ceremonial remembrance of God’s mighty deed.
We Presbyterians are in-between. John Calvin said that when the sun is shining one feels warmth on his face. That warmth is not the sun, but a product of the sunshine. The bread and wine are not Jesus, but in them we experience God’s grace anew for the real presence of the Holy Spirit moves among us ministering.
Luke 24:30-31 is the story of one of Christ’s resurrection appearances, a twosome of leg-weary, despairing disciples were walking to the village of Emmaus. They were discussing the inadequacy of their faith when Jesus fell into step with them. Christ taught them the Scriptures, broke bread with them, “and their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.”
This is just one incident among many. It seems as if after the resurrection every time the disciples sat down to eat Jesus showed up. Christ was there at the fish fry when Peter became a disciple again (John 21). He was there eating when the disciples were hid behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. And His marvelous Holy Spirit is still with us at all our tables today. He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20)
What Christ did then He does now. As He came to supper so He comes today. And He still ministers! Perhaps like the disciples you are full of fear or faithlessness. Maybe you are sick and weak. You despair or are full of secret longing. A lady once told me she didn’t receive communion one Sunday because of sin in her life. But these things should not keep you from the Lord’s Supper. They should drive you to it for mercy!
Before Thomas A’Kempis received communion he prayed, “O Lord, I draw near as one sick to the healer, as one hungry and thirsty to the fountain of life, needy to the Kingdom of heaven, a servant unto my Lord, a creature to my creator, a desolate soul to my merciful comforter… Behold, thou comest unto me; it is Thy will to be with me; Thou invitest me to Thy banquet.” Isn’t that the way you come to this meal today? Isn’t it the way we all come? Here! Sit and eat. Mingle your body with this bread and wine. Be open as the Spirit moves and ministers within you. This meal is not leftovers. The bread is not stale. The wine is not flat. This is a fresh supper! And the Holy Spirit is here! And He will minister to you right now.
Past, Present, Future
Many of the great events of history have taken place at tables. The Magna Carta was signed upon a table in Britain. The peace treaty ending World War II was signed on a table in France. There former enemies were reconciled. And they sat and ate a meal together around a table. Many eloquent poets and memorable hymn writers have fervently scribbled some classic line upon the back of a table. Yet the greatest table of all times is the table at which Jesus ate, eats, and will eat with His followers–the Lord’s table. Why do I say this? Because it is at this table that we are reminded of what God did on Calvary, of what He will do in the future at His return, and of what He does right now by the Holy Spirit.
What about you? The Lord’s table is a real banquet of the past, present, and future. And yet many of us aren’t joining in and are starving to death! What about it? Will you cross your arms and like the wee girl say, “I didn’t join in!?” Or will you be hungry for Jesus, eat this meal, and leave saying joyously to all, “I joined in!?”
Yes, Lord, I’ll join in. Let me remember what you’ve done. Let me have hope for what you will do. And let me be open to what you’ll do now. In Jesus’ name. Amen.