A little girl asked her mother, “Mommy, why do you cut the ends off the meat before you cook it?” The girl’s mother told her that she thought it added to the flavor by allowing the meat to better absorb the spices, but perhaps she should ask her grandmother since she always did it that way. So the little girl found her grandmother and asked, “Grandma, why do you and Mommy cut the ends of the meat off before you cook it?” Her grandmother thought a moment and answered, “I think it allows the meat to stay tender because it soaks up the juices better, but why don’t you ask your Nana? After all, I learned from her, and she always did it that way.” The little girl was getting a little frustrated, but climbed up in her great-grandmother’s lap and asked, “Nana, why do you cut the ends off the meat before you cook it?” Nana answered, “I had to; my roaster wasn’t big enough.”
We do a lot of things in life, and seldom stop to ask why. We develop habits and traditions, and if we’re not careful, we can forget why we do certain things…Today I want to discuss what it means to share communion as a part of a worship experience. On the Fairall Charge, we make communion available every month—this habit of sharing bread and grape juice together as part of our Sunday morning celebration. I don’t know how that tradition was established in our church—you were doing it before I came here as your pastor. Some churches have communion once a month, others once every three months, and still others every week.
What’s even more interesting for me is that our heritage as Methodists would imply that we should have communion several times a week. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement in England in the 18th Century encouraged his Methodist groups to go to communion as often as they could at the local Anglican church. In his sermon, “The Duty of Constant Communion,” Wesley said “I am to show that it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can. “
Jesus asked all his followers to participate in this meal in remembrance of him. I’m sure these words sounded as foreign to the Corinthians as they do to us. How could they remember someone they’d never seen? How could they remember someone they’d never talked with? How could they remember someone they’d never listened to? Jesus never made it to Corinth. The Christians there had only heard of him. What did Jesus mean by in remembrance of me?
The Christians at Corinth had a lot of problems. They were divided in their loyalty. Some of them liked Apollos better than Paul. A few of them favored Peter over Paul or Apollos. They weren’t sure what to do with food that had been offered to idols. Was it safe to eat or not? They even had problems with their fellowship meals! Some people got there early and ate all the food. Others drank too much wine and staggered home.
In chapter 11 Paul is addressing this problem and he helps them remember Jesus. How do you remember someone you’ve never seen, talked with, or listened to?
The best way to discover the answer to this question is to take a look at the symbols that Jesus used: body & bread, blood & wine.
Before we delve into these symbols, the first thing we must remember is the context in which Jesus first used these words – Passover. Jesus was celebrating the Passover Feast with his disciples. In a nutshell, Passover was meal, which commemorated the deliverance of God’s people out of Egypt. Every type of food on the table had symbolic meaning, especially the roasted lamb. It reminded them of the lambs’ blood that was smeared on the doorposts of the homes of the Hebrews so that the death angel would pass over them and enter only the homes of the Egyptians.
The Passover meal was a ritual. The children would ask the father certain questions and he would answer their questions by telling them about how God delivered them from Egypt and lead them to the Promised Land. The meal reminded them of God’s salvation.
When Jesus began talking about the bread being his body and the wine being his blood, the disciples knew Jesus was giving new meaning to the Passover Meal. Let’s look at what Jesus was asking them and us to remember.
Bread – basic nourishment for life; food in general. Just before Moses’ death, he delivered a series of messages that we have recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy. He was preparing the Israelites to enter Canaan, the Promised Land. In 8:3 he told them this…
Deuteronomy 8:3 – Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people need more than bread for their life; real life comes by feeding on every word of the LORD.
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he quoted the last phrase of this verse to resist the devil. Jesus hadn’t eaten in 40 days and he was hungry. Yet, he knew what we either don’t know or fail to remember – that God will supply all our needs, including food. So one thing we remember is God’s provision. More importantly, we remember that God’s Word is more important than bread. So, every time you eat bread, you are to remember to feed your soul on God’s Word, the Bible.
Jesus did a startling thing during the Passover Meal when he equated the bread with his body. First of all, eating someone’s flesh is a repulsive thought to anyone, even if you consider it symbolically. So what was Jesus saying to them?
John’s Gospel begins with these words: “In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God…14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among humans.” The Word of God, Jesus Christ, became flesh and blood so that we could know him and experience him. The Word of God became human so that God could give himself for us.
When I eat the bread, I remember Jesus. There was another important symbol in the Passover Meal – the cup of wine. The wine reminded the Israelites of two things: the blood that was shed every year to atone for their sins and the blood of the lamb that saved them from death in Egypt.
Once again, Jesus made a startling statement. He equated the wine with his blood. He told them that his blood would seal a new covenant between God and his people. Then he told them to drink it. Jesus promised us forgiveness for our sin through his blood. When we trust in his work of salvation instead of ours, we are cleansed from the guilt and power of sin.
When I drink this juice, I remember that Jesus has already paid a debt that I could never pay. I remember that God loved me so much that he allowed his Son to die in my place. When I drink this juice, I remember that Jesus literally shed his blood so that I could live.