When I travel abroad, I empty my wallet of all my extraneous plastic – there’s my Boots Advantage card, Tesco Club card, Waitrose, Shell and Nectar ‘you deserve it’ loyalty cards, my Starbucks, Costa Coffee, and Caffe Nero cards, my Halifax Ultimate Reward Card, my RAC members card and of course, my Wentworth Club card. Into my wallet goes my British Airways Executive Club card and my Passport. I would be very surprised if you are not and never have been a member of various ‘clubs’ at some time in your life. It may be a trade union, professional association, community group, society or charity. Membership is universal. Some are more exclusive, and more expensive than others. But what may surprise you is that ‘Membership’ is actually a Christian word.
In the letter to the Romans it is written, “in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:5). That means ‘the Church’ is the oldest and largest club in the world. What makes membership of the Church unique however, is this – it is granted freely because Jesus has paid the price.
On Easter Sunday when we celebrated the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, we invited you to renew your commitment to Jesus and membership of his church. More than 50 years ago, the Church of England issued a Short Guide to the Duties of Church Membership. Written by the two Archbishops of Canterbury and York and accepted by the Church of England Assembly, they define the core essentials of what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
- To follow the example of Christ
- To be regular in prayer
- To read the Bible carefully
- To come to church every Sunday
- To take communion faithfully
- To give personal service through the Church
- To give to the Lord’s work at home and abroad
- To uphold the standard of marriage
- To care that children are brought up to love the Lord
This is our church membership scheme. Although not very well known, we are being faithful to the historic teaching of the Church of England as well as to the Scriptures.
Specifically, we commit ourselves to protect the unity of our church; take responsibility for our church; serve the ministry of our church; share the testimony of our church; and cooperate with the leaders in fulfilling the vision of our church. You could think of them as Nine Habits of Fully Devoted Followers of Jesus. Today we come to the fifth – receiving communion regularly and faithfully.
There have probably been more disagreements in Church history over the Lord’s Supper than any other doctrine. In some denominations the congregation share the bread but not the wine. In others, like ours, you get to receive both. In some traditions fortified wine is used, in others, you are offered grape juice. In most traditions the bread and wine can only be consecrated by an ordained minister. In some traditions people hold out their hands. In other’s they stick out their tongues. Some stand to receive, others kneel. Some dip the bread in the wine. In some the wine is already impregnated in the wafer. In some they each receive an individual cup but most drink from a common cup. Some use glass, some use disposable plastic. Some use packets of bread and wine individually sealed. Some use wafers, some use bread. In some traditions, children share in the meal if they have been baptised and in others they must wait for confirmation. In some traditions, the clergy are expected to take communion daily and congregation weekly. In some the meal is eaten monthly. In others only seasonally and in the Salvation Army, never. In some churches it is eaten around a stone altar and in others around a wooden table. Some believe the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus – the Real Presence –Transubstantiation. Others teach that it is a memorial – a meal of remembrance.
It is called the Mass, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, a Love Feast, Holy Communion and the Agape meal. With so many variations, they nevertheless all have one thing in common. They all trace their roots back to the Last Supper Jesus ate with his disciples. And they all think that their tradition is more faithful to Scripture and everyone else has got it wrong. So, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 11 and let us consider why it is important to receive Holy Communion regularly and faithfully. But first note the context:
The Context of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth
“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it…So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!” (1 Corinthians 11:17-22)
The early church had developed a very lovely tradition in connection with the observance of the Lord’s Supper. They ate a meal together that became known as a Love Feast. Each member brought what they had to share. The resources were pooled. The whole church sat down to a common meal. A beautiful way to express their Christian fellowship. This incidentally is the basis for our monthly breakfast on the first Sunday of the month and church family lunch on the fourth Sunday of each month. Please stay for breakfast today! In Corinth, they celebrated the Lord’s Supper as part of this meal. But there were several things that undermined their noble aim. Paul found it necessary to rebuke them strongly. When they met, instead of being one, they separated along social lines – the wealthy separated from the poor and the slaves. Some were also drinking too much and things got out of hand. So Pauls writes, “Your meetings do more harm than good” (1 Corinthians 11:17). They had forgotten the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. Their celebrations had become:
- Divisive (11: 18, 22)
- Exclusive (11:21)
- Excessive (11:21)
So Paul responds, “What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter.” (1 Corinthians 11:22).
Paul writes to correct this abuse. He does so by reminding them how the Lord instituted the meal in the first place. Paul gives us four reasons to celebrate the Lord’s Supper regularly and faithfully.
1. We Remember the Lord Jesus Christ
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
Paul is recalling Jesus’ Last Supper with His disciples. Although he was not present, the Lord personally revealed to Him what happened there. “…I received from the Lord…” (11:23). Notice in these words,
1.1 Jesus was interpreting something old:
The meal they were eating looked back to the Passover meal. We read about in Exodus 12.
“Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought you out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come… And when your children ask you, “What does this ceremony mean to you?” then tell them, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.” (Exodus 12:17, 24-27)
The Passover meal included a cooked lamb representing the atonement sacrifice. They also ate unleavened bread and it came to include wine. The roots of the Last Supper therefore lie in the annual Jewish Passover meal. What Jesus was therefore interpreting something old.
1.2 Jesus was instituting something new
The meal is called the Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper. In one sense this is because it was the last time Jesus shared the Passover meal with his friends. In another sense, it was the last Passover meal that the Lord would ever accept from his people. A day later, His only begotten Son would offer himself as the Passover Lamb. There would no longer ever be any need for another.
That is why John the Baptist could say, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). From that night, his body took the place of the Passover lamb, and the Lord’s Supper took the place of the Passover. Jesus was interpreting something old and instituting something new. Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11: 25). First and foremost therefore, in the Lord’s Supper, we remember the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. We Rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ
“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)
When we share in the Lord’s Supper, we are, proclaiming the Lord’s death. To proclaim means to announce, to declare, to make known, to praise or glorify openly or publicly. What is it we proclaim? The bread and the wine represent his broken body and shed blood. So the Lord’s Supper can be evangelistic if its meaning is explained.
As we shall see, only Christians should receive the bread and wine. But all may observe and wonder. In every generation, therefore, and in every place where Christians gather, this meal is to be observed, until Jesus returns. We are telling the world that the Lord Jesus has died, was risen and will return for them too. We remember the Lord Jesus. We rejoice in the Lord Jesus.
3. We Repent Before the Lord Jesus Christ
“So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28)
As we prepare to share in the Lord’s Supper we must carefully examine ourselves. To assist us we pray the Prayer of Humble Access. It is a precious prayer to many.
We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
In the Lord’s Supper we reflect upon the reasons Jesus died – to set us free from the bondage to sin and death, to forgive our sin and to give us eternal life. That is why we must repent – that is, turn away from our sin. And we must do this before we take the bread and the wine. Because in taking the bread and the wine, we are saying we understand why Jesus died – why he died in our place. The bread and the wine are indeed for sinners. But only for repentant sinners. So in this meal, we remember the Lord Jesus. We rejoice in the Lord Jesus. And we repent before the Lord Jesus.
4. We are Reconciled Through the Lord Jesus Christ
“For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves… So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.” (1 Corinthians 11:29, 33)
As we eat and drink the bread and wine we must, ‘discern the body of Christ” What does this mean? The Lord’s Supper is not a personal experience – if it was, you could take communion alone at home. It was intended to be a shared meal in which we recognise our unity with Jesus.
In sharing this meal we recognise that in Jesus we are reconciled first to God and then to one another. We see these two dimensions beautifully brought together in the second letter to the Corinthians.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
This is why in many churches, before sharing in the bread and wine, Christians exchange the sign of the peace. Although this can descend into mere formality,
it is deeply symbolic of what is happening in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is so much more than a personal communion with God. It is an incentive to heal broken relationships and demonstrate our in Jesus Christ.
What then does it mean then to receive Holy Communion regularly and faithfully?
1. It is a time to remember. Remember the Lord Jesus. Remember what he went through for you.
2. It is a time to rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord Jesus. Rejoice that He died for you and will return for you.
3. It is a time to repent. Repent before the Lord Jesus. Repent of any sin committed this past week.
4. It is a time to reconcile. Reconciled by the Lord Jesus. Reconciled to any brother or sister with whom we have a broken relationship.
Then we can indeed receive Holy Communion faithfully tonight. Lets pray.
With grateful thanks to Todd Coget and Jason Duncan for much of the inspiration and ideas contained in this sermon. See www.sermoncentral.com