14 – When the hour came, Jesus and His apostles reclined at the table.
15 – And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
16 – For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
17 – After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.
18 – For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
19 – And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
20 – In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.”
Today we are coming to the end of a season of Thanksgiving. For the past month we have prepared for this past Thursday’s annual celebration but now it’s over. Even now planes, trains, and automobiles are full of family and friends returning home after gathering together to enjoy the holiday that surrounds this big meal. The leftovers are in the fridge. The cornucopias and fall-colored decorations are being put back into storage. Everyone is pretty much tired of turkey.
All around the world people are “closing the books” on Thanksgiving 2017.
But, I don’t want us to close them just yet. Before we end this year’s “Thanksgiving week” I think it would be appropriate for us as a church to celebrate the ordinance of communion—in order to remind us of God’s GREATEST Blessing—the sending of His only Son to this world so that His body could be broken and His blood shed on a Roman Cross as He died for our sins.
And, there are several REASONS that observing the Lord’s Supper at this time of year is appropriate.
First, communion goes well with this holiday is because, as 2nd Corinthians 1:20 says, “the promises of God all find their ‘yes’ in Christ.” And they do indeed! Think about it. Our Lord’s virgin birth, sinless life, vicarious death, and victorious resurrection prove that God is completely faithful! Jesus’ coming to earth shows us that all God’s promises are true. As the hymn writer puts it, Jesus Christ is indeed, “the fount of every blessing.” of God.
The second reason I think communion “fits” this Thanksgiving season is because CHURCH HISTORY confirms this perspective. I mean, the members of the early Christian church, saw partaking in the Lord’s Supper as primarily a time of praise and thanksgiving. In fact, the first name they gave this ordinance is “Eucharist” and it comes from a Greek word that literally means “giving thanks.” So, from the beginning this service was seen as an expression of gratitude to God—gratitude from hearts filled with praise for the gift of His Son and for all the ways a relationship with Jesus enriches life.
And then a third reason I think this is appropriate is because, as Luke and other Gospel writers tell us, Jesus’ first act at the very first “last” supper was to give thanks. In fact, He did this before sharing the bread and also before sharing the cup—a tradition our deacons help us continue in our celebration of this ordinance to this day. So, Jesus Himself set the example in this. He showed us that the Eucharist is indeed a time for Christians to give thanks to God, “for His indescribable gift.” (2nd Corinthians 9:15)
My point is that this special meal is designed to remind us to thank God.
And while I think of it, let me remind you that here at Redland we believe in open Communion. In other words, you don’t have to be a member of this church to share this meal with us today. All Christians are welcome to this table. After all, if you are His, this is yours. So, if you are a believer and are in town to share Thanksgiving with your family—please join us in this observance.
Now, so that we can better understand this principle of communion being a time of giving thanks to God—I want us to wrap our observance of this ordinance around the answers to two questions:
(1) And the first is this: “Why do we thank God for the BREAD?
Why is there always a deacon assigned to give thanks before we distribute these little pieces of unleavened bread? Well, we do this because the bread symbolizes the body of Christ—and we are thankful because, this particular element of communion reminds us, that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God HAD a body. The bread reminds us that Jesus was a flesh and blood human being. That body that hung on the cross was a real one. Those hands that were pierced were hands just like yours and mine. The Roman spear that was thrust through His side went through real ribs and tore open a real heart.
Heresies like Gnosticism said that Jesus just appeared to be human—but the Bible teaches—and His crucifixion confirms what communion celebrates—namely that in Jesus—and only in Jesus—God literally became one of us.
I love the way that ole St. Augustine described this amazing paradox:
“Man’s Maker was made man; that He, Ruler of the stars might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread of life might hunger—the Fountain of life thirst, the Light of life sleep in the darkness—the Way be tired on its journey; that Truth might be accused of false witnesses; the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation of the Universe be suspended on wood—that Strength might grow weak, that the Healer might be wounded. That life might die.”
All of Augustine’s statements boil down to one wonderful fact: In Jesus Christ, God Himself descended to literally become a man. Like you and me Jesus got hungry and thirsty. He had sore feet after a long journey. He had headaches and hangnails and muscle cramps. When He was struck, He bruised; When He was sad, He wept; When He was happy, He smiled. When Jesus was angry, He revealed it. When He got cold, He got goose bumps; He got hot and sunburned under that Palestinian sun. Jesus got bone-tired such that he needed sleep and refreshment.
My point in reviewing this familiar truth is to remind you that as the man, Jesus, God came down to our level. He went through our human experience. And that is indeed a reason to thank God. You see, since Jesus Christ had a real body means there is no experience you and I go through that God has not gone through—while wearing the same sort of “earth suit” that you wear every day. As Hebrews 4:15 says, Jesus was, “tempted in every way, just as we are, yet He was without sin.”
Don’t get me wrong. God is omniscient and always has been—I mean, God knows everything—including what we feel like. Even our thoughts are not hidden from Him. But it’s easier for us to understand this because we know—we believe—-that in Jesus God actually became one of us. He was fully God but He was also completely man. He had a BODY. And the bread in our communion meal symbolizes this wonderful fact.
A couple months ago I read about a man named Charles Foster. In his everyday life, Charles is a respected veterinarian, a practicing lawyer, and a teacher at Oxford University in England. But as noted in his book Being a Beast, Foster also has an unusual practice. Every so often Foster tries to live like the animals. He’s lived like a goat—and like a deer—and even like a badger. Yes, like one of those dark-dwelling, tunnel-making, rodent and worm-eating mammals. Usually he does this alone, though for a few days he went with his eight-year-old son, Tom. On a friend’s farm, they made a human-sized badger home, a 15-feet long hole that they would sleep in. Charles says he’s probably spent six weeks living underground like this over the years, sleeping during the day, awake at night like real badgers. For Foster the main part of living like a badger involves getting low to the ground, crawling around on his hands and knees. He also blindfolds his eyes (because badgers’ eyesight is terrible) and eats earthworms (since 85 percent of a badger’s diet consists of worms).
Now as strange and even repugnant as this sounds, think of something even stranger and potentially more repugnant—the God of all creation Who exists in perfect beauty and splendor becoming a human being and living on our fallen planet—and there was no escape for a full human lifetime. Jesus Christ came to us not just as an interesting nature experiment. Nor was he repulsed by us. He came out of love to rescue us from our sin. That’s what the incarnation is all about.
And I don’t know about you, but this fact means so much to me. You see, I know that when I pray I know I’m not talking to Someone Who is removed from my existence. I’m not talking to someone Who’s never left the glories of Heaven. I’m talking to Someone Who has walked in my shoes. I’m talked to God, Who in Jesus, became flesh—had a body just like mine.
Would you join me now in prayer as I thank God for the body of Jesus?
We are so very grateful for the fact that in Jesus Christ, You literally put on flesh, just like ours.
We praise You for the body of Jesus because it reminds us that, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” The fact that Jesus had a real body compels us to, “draw near with confidence to Your throne of grace.” We are more eager to come to You with our problems, because we know Jesus had them as well. Thank You for Jesus’ body, a body that not only bore our sin but illustrates to us the wonderful fact that You do indeed know what we go through as we live on this fallen world. In Jesus’ most precious name I pray. Amen
PARTAKING OF THE BREAD
As you eat this bread remember what Jesus said when He instituted this memorial meal, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Before we continue let us answer a second question and I’m sure you know which one I’m referring to:
(2) Why do we thank God for THE CUP?
Why does a deacon always lead us in a prayer of thanks at this point in our observance? Well, we do this because of course the cup represents the blood of Jesus—something we are very thankful for, because as 1st John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sin.” We’re thankful because we know that nothing we do can ever cleanse us and make us pure. As the old hymn text puts it and sing it with me: “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow! No other fount I know! Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”
But this begs the answer to another question—namely, “Why can’t God just forgive the debt of sin outright? If our Creator was truly generous, couldn’t He just move on without repayment?
You know, live and let live?” Here’s why: sin has a cost—and someone has to pay it. Consider this example. Let’s say your neighbor crashes his car through your fence. When you discover the shambles, you forgive him. You say, “Don’t worry about the fence! All is forgiven.” That would be a wonderful thing for you to do—but forgiving your neighbor doesn’t do away with the bill or dissolve the damage; it means you eat the cost.
Here’s a more complex example.
During the U.S. housing crisis, shoddy banking practices, fat-cat executives, and corporate corruption threw a sledgehammer into the global economy. Now, imagine Jesus is installed in the aftermath as the new CEO of one of the massive corporations guilty for the crisis. The old CEO is out the door; a new boss is in town. Jesus is personally innocent: he wasn’t behind the wheel when the ship got steered into the rocks. But there’s still a huge debt. I mean, the Bank of America alone owed people $17 billion. Someone has to pay the costs. Here’s what actually happened: in the aftermath of the housing crisis, the banks were deemed “too big to fail,”—and the government forgave the debt, covering the most expensive bailout of human history. Though the banking industry had caused massive damage, the debt was forgiven. But of course, the debt didn’t go away. Someone else covered it—in this case, the American people. Someone always eats the cost. Well, we thank God for the blood of Jesus because by shedding it the Cross, God was eating the cost of our sin.
Back to the question: Why can’t God just forgive the debt? He can and did. This is what happened at the Cross: God justly forgave our sin debt—by personally covering the cost. In fact, I misspoke earlier when I said the White House gave Wall Street the most expensive bailout of human history. Actually, the most expensive bailout was when the Father established his incarnate Son as the new CEO of a corrupt corporation called Humanity Inc.—and together, in the power of their Spirit, they took upon themselves the most outrageous debt-forgiveness plan the world has ever known. So, we thank God for the blood of Christ—because it paid our debt.
Do you remember the old chorus? Sing it with me if you know it:
He paid a debt He did not owe — I owed a debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
And now I sing a brand new song, Amazing Grace all day long,
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay!
My debt He paid upon the cross, He cleansed my soul from all its dross
I tho’t that no one could all my sins erase
But now I sing a brand new song
Amazing Grace all day long.
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay
He didn’t give to me a loan
He gave Himself now He’s my own
He’s gone to Heaven to make for me a place
And now I sing a brand new song
Amazing Grace all day long
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay
Won’t you join me know as I thank God for the cup?
Thank You for this cup—a cup that symbolizes the precious blood of Jesus—blood that was poured out to defeat fear and death, blood that paid our sin debt and gave us access to You.
We are so very thankful for this cup because it reminds us that: “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that we were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down from our forefathers—but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” Thank You God. In Jesus’ name I pray. AMEN
PARTAKING OF THE CUP
As you drink this cup, do so thankfully because as Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.”
In closing, I want to remind you of another reason communion should always prompt our gratitude to God. It compels us to thank God, because as Paul said in 1st Corinthians 11:26, “Whenever we eat of this bread and drink from this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” In other words, Communion reminds us that someday Jesus will return bodily and in great victory to take us home to be with Him and all the Christians who have died before us.
You know one of the best things about Thanksgiving is the gathering of family. On this day every year, children come home and sit around a huge table with parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts. I am convinced that one of the things that makes all that food taste so good is the fact that we share it with loved ones. Well as we grow older the crowd around the table every year changes as parents and grandparents pass away. Thanksgivings can be hard. I remember the grief I felt in the pit of my stomach as we gathered around my parent’s table the first Thanksgiving after dad died. It was so hard to see his chair at the head of the table empty that year. If you have “empty chairs” then you know what I mean. One thing that enables us to endure grief like that around the Thanksgiving table—is this table—because when we gather around it, we symbolize the fact that someday, Jesus will come back. And when He does, He’ll take us home to be with Him and our Christian loved ones who have preceded us and once again we’ll sit around a table the banquet table of the Lamb of God—never to be separated again! Aren’t you thankful for that promise of God!?
As we sing our hymn of invitation, if you’re here and are not a Christian, then I invite you—I urge you—to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Today—accept God’s indescribable Gift.
And if you are a Christian, but you don’t have a church home, then if God so leads—show your gratitude to Him by coming forward to ask to join this church so that you can have a place to serve Him. But come know, in any way that God leads.