Many years ago, when I was a young junior pastor, there was an evening service when I had the opportunity, for the first time, to go solo in leading Communion.
The one who baked the bread for that Communion had done so earlier that day. However, after doing the baking for the amount of time called for in the recipe, she thought the bread did not look done, so she put the bread back in the oven and baked it a few minutes longer.
What happened was that the bread got overdone. Unbeknownst to her, by the time the evening service rolled around, the Communion bread had turned into a rock-like consistency.
Neither did I know of the problem until I got to the part of saying, “Now let’s eat the bread.” Everyone put the bread in their mouths at the same time. Everyone took the first chew of the bread at the same time. I can still hear the loud crunch as teeth hit bread, a sound that seemed to echo throughout the sanctuary.
There was a pause for second or two before everyone tried a second chew, which produced the same result.
That struck some in the congregation as funny. For instance, we had some of our young people on the first pew. They were trying as hard as they could to not laugh, figuring if they did laugh, they would be in big trouble.
Unfortunately, I also found the noise funny. I, too, was trying not to laugh. After all, Communion is a serious thing. But when I heard the stifled snickering from the front pew, I had trouble containing myself. Pretty soon my wife said, “You might as well laugh,” which I did in wild giggling. Giggling that continued for the rest of the service and most of the way home.
I still feel fortunate that everyone else laughed as well, which meant I was allowed to lead Communion in the future.
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No part of what I will share in today’s message is new information. The passages I will review are familiar ones. However, it is important to remember what Communion is all about. That is one of the purposes of this service. It is also important to remember there are some very sober instructions about participating in Communion. That is the other purpose of this service.
There is one passage for each of the purposes. The first one is Mark 14, beginning with verse 12.
To set the stage, remember that Communion was first served by Jesus toward the end of what we know as Holy Week. A week that was very full, including Jesus making a triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus cleansing the Jewish Temple of businessmen who were interfering with worship, and Jesus doing a lot of teaching, including about how to live righteously. Those times of teaching were sometimes interrupted by religious leaders trying to get Him to say something that would get Him into trouble, but throughout the first part of Holy Week, Jesus was very busy.
Then on Friday, as the time drew near for the annual Passover Meal, Jesus began preparations for having that meal with His disciples.
As it is recorded, it was the disciples who asked Jesus about the meal. They wanted to know where He wanted them to get ready for it. However, He already had things under control.
He told two of His disciples to go into Jerusalem and find a man carrying a jar of water. Whether Jesus had earlier made arrangements with that man or He simply knew through His divine knowledge that the man would be in Jerusalem that day at that time, I do not know, but that was what Jesus told two of His disciples.
By the way, it was virtually unheard of for a man to carry water. That was woman’s work. So the disciples would have had no problem identifying who Jesus wanted them to find.
Jesus further instructed them to follow that man, to go into the house that man entered, to ask the man where his guest room was. Jesus added that the disciples would be shown an upper room, furnished and ready for an event. It was there the two disciples were to prepare the Passover Meal for Jesus and their fellow disciples.
The two disciples did as they were instructed. When it was evening, Jesus and all the disciples gathered in that room.
I picture the meal as a quiet event. A time to be away from the crowds. Maybe a time to relax. That was true for the disciples following a hectic week of watching and hearing Jesus teach and defend Himself against His enemies. I picture the group telling stories, sharing their thoughts about life, maybe singing a song or two or three.
It may have been a good time for Jesus, but He was not totally relaxed because He knew what was going to happen to Him over the next several hours.
That would include His betrayal. In fact, as Jesus and the disciples were eating, Jesus told them that one of them was going to betray Him.
Jesus also knew what was going to happen after the betrayal. He knew He would suffer greatly.
So it was that Jesus, toward the end of the meal, Jesus took some bread. He blessed it. He broke it. He passed it around to His disciples, inviting each of them to take a piece of the bread and eat it. He added that the bread they were to eat represented His body, which was about to be broken.
Again, Jesus knew what was coming He knew His skin would be broken and torn from being beaten and whipped and having a crown of thorns pushed onto His head. He knew that after that, He would be nailed to a cross, then raised up until, on the cross, He died. There would be no broken bones. That was necessary to fulfill Old Testament prophecy about the Savior, but His body was going to be broken. That is what the bread was to represent.
Get this. According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus added, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Since Jesus had not yet given up His body, I think those words mean the disciples were to celebrate Communion, not just that evening, but in the future as well. That evening they celebrated what Jesus was going to do. After that they were to celebrate what He did do. They did and would do that by eating the bread.
He then took a cup. He gave thanks for the wine in it. He passed the cup around, inviting each of His disciples to drink from it, explaining that the wine represented His blood. Blood that would be sacrificed. Blood that would soon be poured out for many.
That, too, happened. Blood was spilled as Jesus was beaten and whipped and had the crown of thorns pushed onto His head and was nailed to the cross.
Again, the disciples were to celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice not just that evening, but in the future as well.
The disciples were instructed to remember, that evening and beyond, that the bread represents His body that was broken and that the juice represents His blood that was poured out. That is what was taught at a quiet meal Jesus had with His disciples shortly before He suffered. Suffering that led to Him becoming the perfect sacrifice for sin.
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In his first letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth - in chapter 11 - Paul gave some instructions about how to take Communion. Not the style of eating the bread and drinking the juice, but the attitude we are to have when taking the two Communion elements.
The instructions are recorded in verses 27 through 29 of I Corinthians 11, a passage that is preceded by some criticism of the Christians in Corinth. The criticism centered on divisions within the congregation.
The divisiveness in the Corinthian church was evident in their lack of fellowship. Some who had plenty refused to share with those who had little food at church dinners. Sometimes those with a lot ate their food before others arrived so they would not have to share.
The divisiveness apparently had crept into that congregation’s observance of Communion.
Paul was bothered by the lack of love among the Corinthian Christians. He knew the divisiveness was keeping them from concentrating on Jesus dieing for all people, whether they have a lot of food or just a little food.
So Paul gave a warning. “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner…” That means eating and drinking without thinking of what Jesus did, as in letting our minds wander or not understanding the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice. Or not accepting Jesus as the Savior. It means eating and drinking without recognizing that all people are loved by the Lord. That all people need to be encouraged.
“Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning [disrespecting and insulting] the body and blood of the Lord.”
when I was younger - that young junior pastor guy I referred to at the start of this message - I used to say that for a non-Christian to take Communion was nothing more than eating bread and drinking juice. Now I am older and wiser. Now I realize taking the Communion elements in an unworthy manner is much, much, much more serious than that. It is blasphemous to celebrate Jesus’ sacrifice if you are not a Christian. It is blasphemous to take Communion if you are not thinking about the significance of what you are doing or if you are not showing your acceptance of Him by the love you show to other Christians.
How serious is that? “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body [without accepting Jesus, without living out the Christian faith, without taking the time to think about and understand what Communion means] eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”
Therefore Paul added, “Let a man [and a woman] examine himself [or herself]” to make sure the eating of the bread and the drinking of the juice is being done in a worthy manner.
May all of us who are Christians take a moment, before celebrating Communion, to remember all Jesus did, including sacrificing His body and blood. May all of us who are Christians be thankful for what Jesus did.
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A while back, I occasionally traveled to Adams, Nebraska, to speak at Sunday afternoon chapel services at Gold Crest Nursing Home. Gold Crest is now a whole community of independent living, assisted living, and nursing home care. Back then it was just a nursing home.
One Sunday afternoon, Communion was celebrated. I still remember the compassion of the Gold Crest staff as Communion was served that day to one of the residents at the service, who was wheel chair bound. There was not much mobility of any part of her body, including her arms, yet when it came time for the Communion elements to be taken, three nurses were around the woman.
Together, they gently held her head back, gently helped her open her mouth, gently put a crumb of bread and then the equivalent of a few drops of juice on her tongue, then patiently waited until she swallowed the bread and then the juice, making sure she did not choke.
What compassion was shown that day to that woman, and whether they knew it or not, those nurses helped convey a very important point. Communion is not for only the healthy and the mobile. It is not only for the independent. It is for all God’s people. For all who know and accept and live by the teachings of Jesus.
Lord, thank You for all You did for us - coming to us, teaching us, doing miracles to help many and prove to all of us Your power, then dying as the perfect sacrifice for sins. Including our sins.
Help us remember You. Help the remembering to include profound thankfulness for how You continue to offer salvation and blessings, which are wonders that will, for those who accept You, continue for all eternity in Heaven. Amen.