Thursday, March 24, 2016

What is the Lord's Supper?

THIS CUP IS THE NEW TESTAMENT


This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  This do as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.  1 Corinthians 11:25

DEAR CHRISTIANS, by God's mercy we have heard these words hundreds of times, but tonight we will learn what they mean.

The Lord's word, "this do" empowers the church to carry out the thing He commanded on the night He was "betrayed" by Judas, the night He was "handed over" to sinful men, by "the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" in order to rid the world of the most destructive force it has ever known:  our sins, our idolatry and adultery, our pride and our greed, and the devotion we have to our bellies above all things.

What is the church doing when she gathers to celebrate the Lord's Supper?  She is observing the New Testament which Jesus established with His own blood, a covenant by which God forgives our sins, cancels their consequences, and remembers them no more.  This forgiveness is your very life and breath.  You could not live a single day without it.  This divine mercy sealed with the blood of Christ God's Son is the certainty that your many heedless wrongs will not condemn you either now or at the day of judgment because they are atoned for, forgiven and forgotten.

To celebrate the Eucharist is to observe the New Testament.  It is to practice the Christian faith.  It is the thing that constitutes us and that defines us as the redeemed people of God in Christ.  It is the remission not of cancer, but of sin.  It is the nourishment by which we live and move and have our being.

Holy communion is not like a Firefox "add-on."  It is not one of several worship components that the church might or might not decide to "plug in" on a given Sunday.  Instead, these three things go together:  the Lord's People, the Lord's Day, and the Lord's Supper, and what God has joined together let not man put asunder.

What do the words, "in remembrance of me, " mean?  Consider first the word "me" because it is so startling.  A good Jew would never put a morsel of food to his lips without first remembering God as the font of all goodness and the source of the nourishment that maintains the precious gift of his life.  This was not a mere recollection or sentimental remembrance, however, but an act of faith; a recognition and an acknowledgement, and a giving of humble thanks to God for the food He graciously provided so that a man might live and be glad for another day.  This duty to remember was discharged through fixed prayers and then by consuming the food provided.

But Jesus does something revolutionary here, something radical, something over the top!  He does not tell the disciples to remember God, but He says instead, "remember me!"  By doing this Jesus puts Himself on par with God and declares His own divinity!  He is saying that as God is the font and source of our sustenance, even so, "I am the Bread of Life," the font and source of salvation from sin and death.  "If anyone eats this bread he will live forever."  "Do this in remembrance of Me!"

We should also understand that in order for the church to celebrate the Sacrament there must be the explicit intention to do so.  There must be a consecration.  This is shown by the second half of the Divine Service from the Offertory forward, the part we call the Liturgy of the Sacrament.  We should think of the entire Liturgy of the Sacrament as having the Eucharist in mind and leading to it.  One place where our intentions are made most plain is the Preface on Page 24.

Consider the words in the Eucharistic dialogue, "Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God.  It is meet and right so to do."  The Greek word for "thanks" is Eucharist, thus, in this dialogue these words are not merely reminding us to be grateful at this moment in time, though we are, but they are, more importantly, the proclamation of our intention:  Let us now make Eucharist to the Lord our God!  Let us now celebrate the Sacrament Jesus gave for our life and salvation!  Let us now eat His body and drink His blood given for the remission of our sins!  Thus, the thanksgiving is made, the meal is consecrated and consumed, and the gift of eternal life is renewed, confirmed, strengthened and preserved within us.

Yet, what exactly takes place each Sunday?  Is the church observing a distinctive Eucharist each time?  Is it a repetition of the first, or a replica?  Scripture does not say but it seems impossible to limit it.  It is a repetition and a replica of the First Holy Communion to be sure, but it is more.  It is also a foretaste of the Messianic Banquet and the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in which the church finds that she is the Lord's spotless, unblemished beloved and holy bride, and the object of His true, perfect and enduring love.  You are that church.  You are that Bride.  Therefore this Blessed Sacrament does not only look back to the cross and resurrection of our Lord, but it especially looks forward to the "world without end" that we long for in this weary world.  It not only looks forward, but propels us forward, ever closer to our Lord who, with each passing day, is coming closer to us, coming to meet us on the clouds with great power and glory so we will be forever with the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4).

Lastly, because the Lord says "this" do and not "that" do, no one has the right to change the elements or the administration of the sacrament.  We must use natural bread, and natural wine.   This is the Lord's Supper, not man's, so take and eat!  Take and drink!  This cup is the New Testament in Jesus' blood given for you for the remission of your sins.  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

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