You know the best thing about attending seminary is the people you meet there. Sue and I discovered this to be true almost from the moment my seminary studies began. I never will forget that day….the day Sue and I pulled into seminary housing with our little U-Haul truck. Our marriage was 7 days old and we were about to begin our life together with three years of study at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. And some of the first people we met were BILL & DONNA RATLIFF. Almost as soon as we started unloading our truck they came out of their apartment and began to help us move into our first home. They even invited us to dinner that night — I’ll never forget because it was the first time I had macaroni and cheese that didn’t come in a box. Bill and Donna were great. Bill helped me find my way around campus. Donna introduced Sue to the neighbors. They loaned us a toaster oven since our apartment did not yet have anything to cook on-and we became fast friends. In fact, throughout those years Sue and I would often travel with Bill and Donna on holiday trips home. Since their family was from the D.C. area and ours was from Delaware, a couple times a year we would share a car and split the gas costs on the trip East.
When it came time to stop for meals Donna would always do something that at first would kind of bug me. She would suggest that instead of eating at a fast-food restaurant we should eat somewhere nice. One of her favorite phrases when meal time rolled around on those trips was, “Hey, let’s make a memory!” When she said that it always made me nervous because — due to my limited income as a seminary student — I wasn’t sure I could afford to….”MAKE A MEMORY.” And, I figured why can’t we “make a memory” at MacDonalds….I’ll order a cheeseburger instead of my usual Big Mac….or I’ll put mustard on my French Fries or do something else memorable. But Donna Ratliff wouldn’t settle for this. She saw the value in making a meal a truly unforgettable event. And I don’t know about you but I tend to forget my fast food dining experiences. They are usually not worth remembering no matter which VALUE MEAL I select. And you know, although it was more costly. Donna’s way was always best. We MADE some great memories over the years sharing experiences I will never forget in restaurants between here and Louisville, Kentucky.
And you know memories don’t just happen. They usually have to be MADE. Without some conscious effort, as time goes by, we tend to forget more than we remember. The Greeks of Jesus’ day described “time” as a “sponge” or an “eraser.” They defined time as, “that which wipes all things out.” They realized that the human mind is much like a slate and time is the sponge or eraser that wipes it clean. And they were correct in their conclusions for human beings are forgetful so memories don’t usually just happen. They have to be made. And one way to MAKE a memory-one way you insure that something will not be forgotten-is to associate something else with it.
It’s funny….the way our minds work, the more we have to remember, the more we DO remember. It is easier for us to remember something if we have something else to associate it with…something else to remember. For example: you remember words better if they are set to music even though with a song you are remembering both the melody and lyrics. You remember someone’s name if you have a descriptive adjective to associate with it like “Diligent Daniel” or “Sweet Sarah” or “Beautiful Becca.” Associating the thing you want to remember with something else is a very effective way to MAKE a memory. And throughout scripture we see God using this memory retention tactic with His people. In Deuteronomy 6, He commanded the Hebrew people to remember all of His law by writing a portion of it on a small piece of paper and placing the paper in little boxes or phylacteries…and tying this contraption to their foreheads or wrists. He also told them to put these symbolic boxes on the door frames of their houses. When I was in Israel I saw conservative Jewish men at the wailing wall worshiping with these reminders fastened to their heads. And every hotel room we stayed in had one of these little boxes attached to the door frame. All of this was done so that the people of Israel would MAKE a memory…and in so doing never forget vital, important truth about God.
Throughout His ministry Jesus repeatedly used this technique of memory association to help the disciples remember things about His nature and purpose. He made a memory when He pointed to a grape vineyard and said, “I am the TRUE VINE.” He made a memory when He fed 5,000 men and said, “I am the BREAD of life.” He made a memory when He looked down into a well and told a thirsty woman, “I am the LIVING WATER.” And today we gather around this table because of something that Jesus did on the Thursday night before His arrest and crucifixion. As Jesus ate with His disciples….as He conversed with them around that table….He did and said some things that made that particular Passover Meal truly unforgettable.
He took some bread and made a memory by saying, “THIS….THIS IS MY BODY BROKEN FOR YOU. DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME.” Then He took the cup and made a memory by saying, “THIS….THIS CUP IS THE NEW COVENANT IN MY BLOOD. DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME.”
So you see, in the midst of the table talk that night Jesus made this memory so that whenever we eat bread and drink from a cup as we do today. Whenever we do this we will automatically associate this act with vital truths that Jesus wanted us to never forget. Let’s recall them together this morning.
1. First of all, Jesus wanted us to never forget His death.
In I Corinthians 11:26 Paul said, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you remember the Lord’s death until He come.” Think about it. The one incident in His ministry that Jesus selected to be preserved and memorialized was His death. Whenever He performed a miracle He never said, “Build an altar here so you won’t forget this. Or carve a statue so you’ll remember this.”
No, in fact He often did just the opposite. Frequently Jesus said, “Don’t tell anyone about this….don’t memorialize this.” But His death was different. He constantly referred to it as the high hour of His life….as if it were the sole purpose of His coming to earth….as if it were the one hour of His life for which all other hours existed. We might forget everything else He did but He did not want us to forget His death.
So He used this meal to make this memory so that we would always remember that Jesus died-for the sins of every person who has ever existed or ever will exist. Malcolm Muggeridge once said, “One thing at least can be said with certainty about the crucifixion of Christ; it was manifestly the most famous death in history.
No other death has aroused one-hundredth of the interest, or been remembered with one-hundredth of the intensity and concern.” Why is His death so important? Why must we never forget it? Well, we must never forget it because it was by His death that we are redeemed from our sins. In dying Jesus took our sins upon Himself and died in our place. Bruce Carroll has a song that he titled: THE GREAT EXCHANGE. Listen to the words:
“Once upon a time upon a hill far away…an unfair proposition before a righteous Man was made.
He could’ve changed His situation….but instead chose to obey at THE GREAT EXCHANGE.
An eternity He traveled to be there at that place…the chosen destination to show mankind God’s grace.
His longing to redeem us could only be explained as THE GREAT EXCHANGE.
I walked that same hillside, as I knelt down to pray….He showed me all the wrong I’d done and the price He paid that day.
And then I arose forgiven. His loss became my gain at THE GREAT EXCHANGE.
Everything that mankind lost, Jesus has reclaimed…the pathway to eternity by His death arranged.
And all of this He offers, if you’ll meet Him today at the GREAT EXCHANGE.”
You see when we partake of this meal we remember that when Jesus died it was a GREAT EXCHANGE. He became poor so we could become rich. He laid aside the rights of deity so that He might become our servant. He gave up perfection to become sin for us. He died so that we might live. Communion reminds us that our Holy God exchanged His only Son for sinful people like You and me. The famous religious journalist Charles Clayton Morrison once said, “The church is the only institution in the world whose membership is based on unworthiness to be a member.” We are not perfect people. We do not gather at this Lord’s Table because we deserve to do so. We are recipients of grace — undeserved love. The fact that Jesus died to save the lost…the fact that He loved the unlovable…this made His death the most monumental thing that ever occurred since the beginning of time.
So, you see, Jesus’ death is something we must never forget.
2. But I think Jesus also MADE THIS MEMORY because He wanted us to remember not only His death….He wanted us to also remember His PRESENCE.
Whenever we observe communion we are not remembering a dead man. This service is not a wake — for Jesus is not some distant memory. He is our living Lord. When we eat this bread and drink from this cup we are celebrating the fact that He is with us here now and always.
You know there are various views on the meaning and interpretation of the Lord’s Supper. Catholics believe in what they call “TRANSUBSTANTIATION.” This is the belief that when a person partakes of the supper, the Lord performs a miracle and actually changes the bread into the actual body of Jesus and the wine into the actual blood of Jesus. Episcopalians and Lutherans believe in a thing called “CONSUBSTANTIATION.” This is the belief that the Holy Spirit is present with the bread and the cup and gives them unusual powers of blessing. Theirs is not the same belief as Catholics…but it’s not far from it.
But, as Baptists, we look at this ordinance as being purely symbolic….We believe that this bread and cup are a symbol of the death of Jesus on our behalf. We believe that there is no saving power either in the Lord’s Supper or in Baptism. They are both pictures of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In fact you could say that the truth of the whole of the gospel story is crowded into these two ordinances.
So this is a symbolic meal. But we do believe that in a very real sense we meet the Lord at this table. Whenever we eat of this bread and drink from this cup we do so to remember that Jesus is here now in this place. Do you remember the experience those two disciples had as they walked on the Road to Emmaus after Jesus’ crucifixion? Jesus appeared to them and walked with them but blinded by their grief, they did not recognize Him until He sat down at the table with them to eat…and as He blessed the bread and broke it-as He did at the first Lord’s Supper-their eyes were opened and they knew Him. When He was gone from their midst they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?” And in a similar way, our hearts burn with His presence as we come to His table today to break bread and drink from the cup. Whenever we do so we both experience Jesus’ presence now and remember that He is always with us just as He promised He would be. Communion helps us remember Jesus’ presence.
3. And then….Jesus commanded us to observe this supper so we would remember one final thing….HIS PROMISED RETURN.
Whenever we come to this table, we not only look back to the cross and we not only look up to His presence….but we also look forward to His coming again. Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians? He said, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you do remember the Lord’s death until He come.” We have not seen the last of Jesus Christ. He will come again. In John 14 He promised, “I go to prepare a place for you…I will come back and take you to be with me that you may be where I am.”
So you see, the Lord’s Supper is a symbol not just of a meal that happened 2,000 years ago but also of one that will occur when Jesus returns. When Jesus comes back Revelation 19:9 says that we will all sit down to enjoy “the wedding supper of the Lamb.” We’ll gather with our loves ones and friends and our Lord and rejoice and be glad.
Imagine the memories we will make as we gather around that table!
As we partake this morning….remember all these things….Jesus’ death….Jesus’ presence…and Jesus’ promised return. THE ORDINANCE OF COMMUNION
You know I am thankful that when we worship together here at Redland. God always makes a memory for me. It is never just another Sunday around here. God always teaches me something new. Whenever I worship with you wonderful people, He constantly shows me some new way that I need to grow. Perhaps this morning He has done something like that for you. Maybe today God has nudged your heart and mind in such a way that you know realize you need to respond. You understand that this is not just another Sunday for you rather it is a moment of truth that you can accept or reject. Some of you may feel this is the day you need to join this church….God has called you to join us in the work He is doing in this place. Others may feel this is the day you need to respond to God’s call in your life in some special way. And some of you may have come to that all important time in life when you decide to actually give your life to God. You are ready to take that step of faith and believe that Jesus died for your sin. You want to invite Him into your heart and life….you want to accept THE GREAT EXCHANGE. If any of these decisions apply to you then I invite you to do something that will help you never forget this decision. Walk forward and share it with me and this entire church….make your decision public…make a memory today.
Won’t you come and do this as we sing?