The Church Around the Table The Life of the Church Series: Sermon Eight
Read 1 Corinthians 10:16-22 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
Perhaps some of you when you were younger exasperated your mother, as I suspect I rather too often did, by asking her the question: “Is there something special for supper today?” I suppose that was the product of a child who had been brought up in Scotland, vaguely remembering days when there was food rationing and the diet seemed to be the same. Every Monday was the same as every other Monday, and every Wednesday was as predictable as the previous Wednesday. And it must have been difficult under those circumstances for my mother to hear the words of her much-beloved son saying, “Is there anything special for supper today?” That question haunts me in many ways. Not because I realize now how irritating it must have been, but because every time we have the Lord’s Supper I find myself asking the same question: “Is there something special for Supper today?”
There is something about this day in our tradition – a Communion Sunday, the table spread before us, the tablecloth covering the elements, oftentimes the sense of solemnity that there is at these occasions. And yet we ask the question, “What is it that is so special, if anything, about this occasion? What do we mean when we come to the Lord’s Table? What should be in my mind as I take the bread and as I take the wine?” Well, it is this very theme that the apostle Paul is addressing to this congregation in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. And he gives us many important clues as to what it means for us to come to take the Lord’s Supper. We cannot, obviously, today focus attention on all of these clues. But there are three words that I want to focus down upon briefly today that, if they are fixed in our minds and in our hearts, help us so much to benefit from what it means to come to the Lord’s Table.
The first of the words is the word "proclamation." Says Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:26, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.” There is in the Lord’s Supper a proclamation that Jesus Christ has died for our sins, that His body has been broken and His blood has been shed for us. But the wonderful thing about the Lord’s Supper, of course, is that this message comes to us now not in the form of a sermon that we hear, but in the form of a sermon, a little drama, that we see. As though God in His grace, Christ in His love for us, is saying to us as His little children, “I want you to understand what I am saying, and so I am going to have it acted out before you every time you meet in this particularly way. There will be a visible proclamation before your eyes in the breaking of bread and the giving of wine of what I have done for you on the cross of Calvary.” And so as our eyes are fixed upon the table and the bread and the wine, we understand that this is a message, a drama, from Christ reminding us of all that He has done for us in His passion and in His death.
I have often wondered if perhaps it is in part to this that the apostle Paul is referring when he says to the Galatians, who were drifting away from true faith in Christ, “How can you be so foolish, you before whose eyes Jesus Christ was placarded as crucified?” And this is the great message of the Lord’s Table. One of the great Scottish theologians of the early 20th century, James Denney, used to say that there was only one way in which he ever envied a Roman Catholic priest, and that was in the opportunity it would have given him to hold up a crucifix before the congregation and say, “God loves you like that.” But you see, Christ has already given us, in a sense, a crucifix. As the bread is broken, the wine is shared, Jesus is saying to us, “I love you like this.” And so as we share it together, we have proclaimed before our eyes the dying love of our Lord Jesus Christ for us as sinners. This is a drama to tell us about Jesus. It is a proclamation.
But you notice that the apostle says something else about it. It is not only proclamation; he says it is participation. 1 Corinthians 10:16 (in our older versions we are much more accustomed to the word "communion" being used there): “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not participation,” or a communion, “in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ?” Earlier on in 1 Corinthians Paul had said, “Christ our Passover lamb is sacrificed for us. Let us keep the feast.” And he is thinking about the way in which the Passover lamb was sacrificed for the salvation of the children of Israel. And then that Passover lamb, having saved the children of Israel, the children of Israel would participate in the nourishment and the strength they would receive for their journey as they sat down and they ate the Passover lamb together. The very thing that Jesus reminds us of when He says in John’s Gospel, “Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, there is no life in you.” What was He talking about? He was talking about Himself as being the Passover lamb. Not that we are saved by eating and drinking, but that we are saved by participation, by communion, through faith in all that Jesus Christ has done for us.
But in what special way is this a communion? In the preaching of the Word the Lord Jesus communes with us. He speaks to us. And we respond to His Word. We dialogue with Him. But the Lord’s Supper it is a different kind of sign. It is a sign, in many ways, more like the signs we use when we express our love for each other and our devotion to one another. We shake hands with one another. Or more intimately, we may hug each other. Or yet more intimately, we may kiss each other. What are we doing when we do these things? We are using signs that can actually communicate the love, the trust, that the signs signify. If people say, “I can live the Christian life without signs,” I sometimes say to them (if they are married), “Try living your married life without ever embracing your wife or kissing your wife. Try that for a year or two!” And she will say to you, “Don’t you love me anymore?” Because she understands that love naturally wants to find ways of communicating itself, expressing itself. Here, as we sit at the Lord’s Table, we have these signs. Bread and wine brought to us, and we pass them to one another. What are we doing? We are receiving from the hands of the Lord Jesus the signs that communicate His love to us, and we are proclaiming this to one another: “You, my friend in the pew beside me, you receive the signs of Jesus’ dying love for you, and respond to Him in the love of faith as He has given Himself for you. Reach out and take His embrace of grace today, and know that He has died for you and that He loves you!”
And so this Lord’s Supper is a proclamation. This Lord’s Supper is a means of communion. And yes, says the apostle Paul, the Lord’s Supper is also a moment of anticipation. 1 Corinthians 11:26: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” There is this consciousness that we share at the Lord’s Table that this is not everything. This can be for us a most glorious, intimate, sweet, comforting, joyful communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is not yet everything. And so as we sit at the Lord’s Table, we have an eye, as it were, toward what He has done for us in the past. We have our hearts reaching out to Him because He is present and showing His love to us in the present. But we also have an eye to the future, when He will come again in majesty and glory and reunite His people together for what the Bible calls the marriage supper of the Lamb. Here we see Him in the fragments of bread and the sips of wine, and it is a reminder to us that we do not yet see Him or know Him as we one day by grace and faith undoubtedly shall. And it fixes our minds on the glory that is yet to be.
One of the traditions of life in the United States (I don’t know if it exists anywhere else, but because it is a tradition you may imagine it exists in every part of the world), one of these American traditions that I have observed and rather like is the evening before a wedding – the rehearsal dinner. The rehearsal dinner when the family gathers, when the family shares its memories, when the love of the family is expressed, sometimes in a way it has never been expressed before. Those occasions when we celebrate the goodness and blessing of God, if we are Christian families. But we understand it is only an anticipation of the great day that is soon to come. And that is what the Lord’s Supper is, my friends. It is a wedding rehearsal dinner. And in anticipation of the great day that is yet to come, when the people of Christ who trust in Him will sit together at the marriage feast of the Lamb and see Him face-to-face and be like Him for evermore. And that is why the operative words at the Lord’s Supper are these: take, take. Take not merely the bread, take not merely the wine, but take Christ by faith and find the assurance of the forgiveness of sins flooding through your heart. Find the joy of knowing His presence captivating your life. Find the anticipation of an indescribable glory yet to be, as it were, flooding over your life from heaven’s future. And rejoice in the privilege of knowing Jesus Christ. I wonder if you have taken Him. And if you haven’t, if you would take Him today.