Weird Things Christians Do Part 2
Understanding the Lord's Supper
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 17, 2005

 

Main Passage: Mark 14:12-26 (NLT)

 

This is the second week of our two-week series on Weird Things Christians Do. Truth be known, we could probably use a lot more than two weeks, and we may continue this at another time. But for the purpose of this series, we wanted to focus in on the two sacraments we practice: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Last time we focused in on Baptism, and we saw that it is a single initiation rite for the believer to publicly proclaim his or her faith in Jesus Christ. That’s what Baptism is.

The Lord’s Supper, on the other hand, is an ongoing celebration. While Baptism is basically a one-time event for a believer, the Lord’s Supper is a continuous action that occurs throughout the life of a Christian. And it has a community aspect to it. We’re supposed to do this together in the church family. It involves a time of reflection as we recall the kind of death Jesus died for you and me on the cross. And it involves a celebration of the new life that we are offered because of His sacrifice.

Now, let me insert right here at the beginning that we use several different terms to refer to the same thing. Most commonly, at least in Protestant churches, we call it the Lord’s Supper or Communion. But it also goes by the Eucharist, the Table, and the Breaking of Bread. So when you hear these different terms being used, understand that they are all referring to the same sacrament. The terms are interchangeable.

Okay, so let’s talk about the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, or whatever you want to call it. And to do that, we’re going to look at some more frequently asked questions, this time about the Lord’s Supper.

 

FAQs about the Lord's Supper:

1. What Is The Lord’s Supper?

Well, let’s first of all look at the Apostle Paul’s description of it…

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NLT)
On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and you, sealed by the shedding of my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.

Okay, so let’s break it down. What is the Lord’s Supper? First of all…

  • It is a SIMPLE ACT.

    There’s nothing complicated about it. There’s nothing you have to study for. It simply involves eating and drinking. It’s simple, and it’s an action. It’s something you do, not something you just talk about. Jesus said…

    1 Corinthians 11:25 (NLT)
    Do this in remembrance of me…”

    But when you think about it, communion is so simple. The elements of bread and juice are easily available to every class of people. The symbolism is vividly clear… the bread represents the sinless body of Jesus and the wine or grape juice is blood-coloured and is obtained only by the crushing of the grape. It is easily portable. You don’t have to travel to Jerusalem or some Cathedral to observe the Lord’s Supper; you can do it anywhere. Did you know that Communion was taken on the moon? After Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down in the moon, Buzz Aldrin put the communion elements and a Bible on a table in front of the computer and he called back to base and he said, “Houston, this is Eagle… I would like to request a few moments of silence.” And in the silence of the radio blackout the first communion was served on the moon. Aldrin would later write…

    “Eagle’s metal body creaked. I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the Intelligence and Spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”
    ~ Astronaut Buzz Aldrin

    It’s simple, and it’s interactive. It’s not just something we look at, it’s something we do.

    1 Corinthians 10:16 (NIV)
    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?

    Plus, in communion, the Lord ingeniously involves all five of our senses: We see it, we touch it, we taste it, we smell it… we even hear it when we crunch it between our teeth. It is a simple act that we can participate in whole-heartedly that has significant meaning.
     

  • It is a REMINDER.

    This here is what I believe to be the most important aspect of the Lord’s Supper—its ability to remind us about Jesus and what He did on the cross. In fact, if I were to summarize the whole purpose of the Lord’s Supper in one word, it would be this: Remember.

    One word summary of the Lord’s Supper: Remember

    Picture yourself as one of the disciples, sitting around eating supper the night before Jesus was arrested and subsequently crucified. You’re not really aware of everything that’s going to transpire over the next few hours, so you’re just sitting around having a normal meal when Jesus reaches out and takes a piece of bread. And He waits for everyone to notice Him holding it. Everything gets quiet around the table, He shows the bread to you, and then goes ahead and breaks it in front of you and the others. Then He passed the pieces around. He says to you, “My body is about to be broken for you.” Then he takes a cup and passes it around and He says, “My blood is going to be spilled for the forgiveness of your sins and the sins of the world.” Can you imagine sitting around the table and hearing that?

    Then Jesus says, “After I’m gone, I want you to do this to remember Me and what I’ve done.” How would you respond? You might think, “What a ridiculous request. How could anyone ever forget Jesus? This is a totally unnecessary sacrament, because who could ever forget someone whose body is broken and blood is shed for the forgiveness of sins and to make eternity available to you?”

    But Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. And He knows the human tendency to forget. He knows all about the pace of life… the challenges… the heartbreaks… and how they converge and slowly cause our recollection to fade with regard to the importance of what Christ has done for us. He knows that over time, our hearts grow cold and our souls dry up, and before you know it, we’ve forgotten Him and we’re out on our own going our own way. And Jesus said, “I don’t want that to happen to you. So do this and remember.”

    Remembering is a vital human exercise. We build monuments, like the Cenotaph downtown, to help us remember the horror and the carnage of war and the heroes who gave their lives in battle. We take pictures of loved ones in order to remember the important part they play in our lives. Last week Shera showed us some pictures she took on her mission trip to Jamaica. She took those pictures so she could remember the experiences and the people she shared those experiences with, and so that she could somehow relay a bit of that experience to us, too. And that’s what Jesus is saying about communion. He’s saying, “I just want you to remember Me.”

    1 Corinthians 11:25 (NLT)
    “Do this in remembrance of me…”
     

  • It is a SYMBOL.

    It is a symbol of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin and yours. Specifically, the bread is a symbol of His body and the wine or juice is a symbol of His blood.

    Matthew 26:26-28 (NLT)
    Jesus took a loaf of bread… and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it and eat it, for this is My body.” And He took a cup of wine… He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is My blood…”

    Now, some claim that when you participate in the Lord’s Supper the bread literally becomes the body of Jesus and the wine or juice literally becomes the blood of Jesus. That’s called the doctrine of transubstantiation, and it wasn’t formulated as a doctrine some 1200 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    That’s not what I understand Jesus to be saying. From what I can see, Jesus was using the bread and wine as metaphors… as symbols of His body and blood. That’s how the early church understood it. And using metaphors was normal for Jesus. For example, when He said, “I am the door,” and “I am the vine.” Did He mean He was literally a door or a vine? No, it was symbolic. Just like the bread and the cup are symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus.

    (The term "transubstantiation" was adopted into the phraseology of the church in 1215 when it was employed by the Fourth Lateran Council. The doctrine was reconfirmed in 1551 by the Council of Trent.)
     

  • It is a STATEMENT OF FAITH.

    When you participate in the Lord’s Supper, you are not just taking part in a ritual, you are announcing that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin. You are stating your faith.

    1 Corinthians 11:26 (NIV)
    “For whenever you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes back.”

 

2. Why is The Lord’s Supper Important?

Other than the fact that Jesus instructed us to do it, let me give you five of the benefits we experience…

  • It stimulates our worship.

    When you take communion you can’t help but worship Jesus and thank Him for His incredible love.
     

  • It deepens our wonder.

    It always leaves me with a deep sense of awe and wonder about what Jesus… God… was willing to do for me, a spiritually bankrupt failure.
     

  • It triggers our memory.

    We’ve already talked about how the Lord’s Supper helps us remember.
     

  • It brings us back to the basics of our faith.

    When the stresses of life press in all around us, this simple act of taking part in the Lord’s Supper can help put things in perspective and pull us back to reality.
     

  • It forces us to recognize our sin.

    Let me tell you, for me… I can’t ever take the Lord’s Supper without recognizing my own weaknesses and shortcomings and sinfulness. When I think about what a Holy God did for me, I can’t help but be incredibly humbled and regretful for all the times and all the ways in which I’ve failed Him. And I use it as an opportunity to apologize to Him and ask for His forgiveness.

 

3. How Do I Prepare Myself for The Lord’s Supper?

To truly celebrate the Lord’s Supper and to maximize the experience, you should follow these four Rs.

  • Remember what Jesus did for you on the cross

  • Reflect on your own life and see where you have failed Him

  • Repent of your failures and ask for forgiveness

  • Rejoice that you have been offered new life because of the sacrifice of Jesus
     

Typically, it takes a few minutes for us to distribute the communion elements to everyone. And that’s by design. Because it provides you with a few minutes to pray silently to yourself and work your way through these 4 Rs.

Now, often when I’m home or in the car or out for a walk and I’m praying, I like to pray out loud. But if I’m in a communion service and I’m supposed to be praying silently, my mind can wander. I may start out okay… “Thank you, Lord, that your body was broken for me. Thank you, Lord, that your blood was shed for me. And I sure need to ask for your forgiveness. I remember one night this week I was flipping through the channels and I stopped to watch something I shouldn’t watch… forgive me for doing that. Help me to go to bed when I should go to bed. Now, tonight I may not be able to go to bed as early because we’re going out to eat with some friends and… I wonder where we should go to eat? I don’t want to go to that restaurant where you’ve got to stand and wait…” I can go from the Lord’s Supper to my supper in about 30 seconds in my mind! Anybody else have that trouble, or is it just me?

Let me give you some simple suggestions to keep yourself focused. These aren’t in your notes, but let me just give them to you.

  • Come to church ready to worship. Don’t show up exhausted, because that’s not going to help. Maybe listen to some Christian worship music when you get up or on the way here in the car.

  • If you have trouble concentrating in silent prayer, then write out a prayer. Or another alternative might be to read the Scripture.

  • And it may be helpful for you to picture the crucifixion. Maybe even touch your wrists where the nails would have pierced Jesus or your brow where the crown of thorns would have punctured His skin.
     

And whatever you do, don’t take the Lord’s Supper in a flippant or disrespectful manner. I think the Message paraphrase of the Bible states it well…

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 (MSG)
Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.
If you give no thought (or worse, don’t care) about the broken body of the Master when you eat and drink, you’re running the risk of serious consequences.


So you need to approach the Lord’s Supper in an authentic, honest, humble way… acknowledging your failures and thankful that the sacrifice of Jesus more than makes up for them. And if you can’t approach it that way, you really should abstain. Just pass the tray by when it comes around. Because it’s worse to take communion in a disrespectful or irreverent way than it is to not take it at all.

Now, an obvious question that goes along with this is, what about children? Should they participate in the Lord’s Supper? And you’ll find conflicting answers to this question from church to church. Let me give you my own view, and you’re free to disagree with me.

I believe the Lord’s Supper can be a great tool to use to teach children the core of the Christian faith. I realize that younger children in particular aren’t capable of comprehending everything there is to the Lord’s Supper, but then neither am I. There’s always some level of mystery to it. The warnings found in Scripture tell us not to take it in an irreverent or disrespectful way. Can children be taught to participate in a proper way? I think so. But really, that’s a call that’s up to the parents. If you’re a parent and your kids are acting up and treating this sacrament in a careless manner, then feel free to withhold it from them or take them aside to talk to them about it.

 

4. How Often Should We Observe The Lord’s Supper?

Jesus never actually said when or how often believers should observe The Lord’s Supper. All He said was to do it. Some translations say that we are to do it “often”, but what does “often” mean? Is that once a year, once a month, once a week? Our own denominational guidelines require that we celebrate it at least once a quarter, or once every three months.

I know some churches insist that the Lord’s Supper should be part of every Sunday service. And I’m not opposed to that, but I’m not so sure that it’s required. Besides, for the people that are really insistent about that, I remind them that Acts chapter 2 implies that the early church was participating in the Lord’s Supper every single day. So if you’re going to be legalistic about it, once a week isn’t enough.

So what I believe is that we should do it often, yes, but not so often that it becomes a ritual and loses its significance. For us at Sunrise, or at least for me, that equates to once every 4-6 weeks on average.

Often, but not so often that it becomes stale.

Again, you can disagree with me on this, and that’s fine.

 

5. Are the Elements of the Lord’s Supper Important?

Well, let’s see. The basic elements that Jesus would have used were unleavened bread and wine. How do we know this? Because Jesus first instituted the Lord’s Supper during the feast of the Passover, which they celebrated using unleaven bread. And as for the wine, the Bible says in a variety of passages that Jesus used wine. And that’s not surprising, since wine was a customary drink for Jews to have at the end of the meal. Jesus took one cup of wine and passed it around to all of His disciples.

So how did this unleavened bread and goblet of wine evolve into the cracker and grape juice in tiny little cups we use here at Sunrise? To answer that, let me give you a bit of church history. Stick with me here.

As the early church grew and spread into new lands, some subtle differences began to emerge. In the Western church, they stuck to the tradition of using unleavened bread and one cup of wine. Gradually over time, this unleavened bread became thinner and more stylized until it assumed the form of a thin wafer.

In the east, they still used wine but began to use leaven bread, or bread with yeast, because they saw the yeast as a symbol of new life in Christ. They understood that the use of unleavened bread was part of the Old Covenant, or the Old Testament, and reasoned that leaven bread was a truer expression of the New Covenant, or the New Testament.

Sometime during the Middle Ages, the Western Church became concerned that people were taking the Lord’s Supper in a disrespectful way, so it became limited to the religious leaders. It stopped being something people did and became something that they watched. In fact, when the Protestant Reformation happened, one of the arguments was that the people be permitted to participate in the Lord’s Supper once again.

After the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s, most of the newly formed Protestant churches began following the example of the Eastern Church in using a single cup of wine and leaven bread. And that remained the case right into the 1800s.

And then a couple of things happened. First, several Protestant denominations began advocating total abstinence from alcohol, including wine… especially since many of the people they were reaching were recovering alcoholics. Of course, they ran into an obvious conflict between abstaining from alcohol and obeying Jesus by participating in the Lord’s Supper. Until, that is, Hebrew and Greek scholars began postulating that the words translated in the Bible as wine could also be words used to refer to “the unfermented fruit of the vine,” or grape juice.

With this theory, many Protestant church-goers began to experiment with ways to produce an unfermented grape juice. And finally, in 1869, a Methodist dentist by the name of Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch was successful. Yes, you guessed it. Welch’s Grape Juice was originally developed as an unfermented alternative for Communion.

The other thing that happened about the same time was an increase in our understanding about the spread of germs. And obviously passing a single cup around a congregation of people seemed completely unsanitary. I had the flu this week… do you really want to be sharing a cup with me right now? So by the early 1900s, these tiny communion cups began to catch on and were used by most Protestant Churches. And individual cubes of bread also became common about the same time.

And then we get to where we are today. Today, at least throughout Protestant Churches, you can find the full range. Some use wine, some use grape juice. Some use unleavened bread, some use leaven bread. Some have returned to using a single cup, most are still using individual communion cups. Some do it every week, some do it once a year. And there are some that don’t even do it at all, which I do think is a mistake.

Here at Sunrise as of late, we use Matzo bread, which is unleavened bread and was most likely the kind of bread the Israelites would have made for the Passover. So it is likely the kind of bread Jesus would have used. And we use grape juice, so that all can participate without concern about their age or disposition toward alcohol.

But the real question is, does all of this matter? Well, let me give you my opinion. And understand, that’s all it is. But my opinion is that the act itself is extremely important, the exact items used are not.

The act itself is important; the exact items used are not.

The way I see it, Jesus was sitting at a meal with His disciples and used the items at hand to convey to them some spiritual truth. He had unleavened bread with Him at the table, so that’s what He used. And he had a cup of wine on hand, so that’s what He used. In our culture, he may have used Pringles and a cup of coffee. So don’t get yourself all worked up over the exact elements. Because that’s not the point. The point is that you remember and that you’re thankful to Jesus for what He did for you.

 

I’ve been a Christian now for 27 years now. And I can honestly say that at least since I was a teenager I have never been to a communion service where the remembering of what Jesus Christ did for me did not strike me in a significant way. Sometimes God just breaks me.

I’ll be reflecting while I’m holding the bread or the cup, and something will come to mind… some sinful thought pattern or something. And I’ll just go, “What am I doing? Why am I considering that? Why would I think of living that way when Christ gave his life for me so I could live a new way?”

Other times, when I’m taking the Lord’s Supper, I feel this tremendously strong affirmation coming from God saying, “Greg, I’m for you, and I’m with you, and I’m watching over you, and I’m going to use your life.”

Sometimes God inspires me. Sometimes He reminds me of the eternal reward that awaits me in Heaven. Sometimes He reminds me of friends who are still without faith, and he urges me to be bolder in my witness.

This morning, I wanted to educate you a little bit about the Lord’s Supper. I wanted you to understand it better and appreciate it more. And I also want to challenge you to commit to being here to take communion whenever it’s offered, whenever possible. I know that for some here work schedules don’t allow you to be here every time, and I also understand that vacations happen. But whenever possible, will you be here to participate in the Lord’s Supper? I challenge you to do this because I think one of the worse things a Christian can do is to get careless with communion.

I was living in Halifax when Swiss Air flight 111 crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia, by Peggy’s Cove. It was quite a tragedy, and it had a profound impact on a lot of people. Several years have passed now, and there’s a memorial that’s been erected at Peggy’s Cove to commemorate the loss.

If you were to travel to Peggy’s Cove and just sit there watching, I’m sure that over time you would observe two different types of people who approached the memorial. First of all, you’d notice the tourists. The tourists would come by and say, “Cool, I saw this on the news, I’ve seen this in magazines, and now I’m here.” They’d snap a few pictures, they’d talk loudly, and they’d be pretty irreverent about the whole thing.

But then, if you’re there at the right time, you’d notice a family member of someone who died on that flight. And they’d approach the memorial with a spirit of respect and humility… maybe even with a few tears. When a family member approaches the memorial, it’s completely different because they know someone whose life was lost.

There are those who treat the Lord’s Supper much the same way that a tourist would treat the memorial. “Maybe I’ll go, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll show, maybe I won’t. Maybe there’s something good on T.V. instead.” And then there’s the “family member” who approaches communion… they have to be there. They know a life was lost. Blood was shed. A body was broken for them… for you… for me.

So, I want to ask you to join with me in this commitment: As long as I am able, I will be at the communion table every time it’s offered from now until the day I keel over and die. It’s not a commitment to me, it’s a commitment to God to always remember what He did.

 

Now that we've talked about it, let's put it into practice...

 

[Serve the Lord's Supper]

 

(Thanks to Bob Russell, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and Keith Drury who provided resources for this message.)

 

 

 

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