Sacred Assembly: Communion
February 21, 2010 Series: Sacred Assembly
Topic: Gospel Passage: Luke 24:35–24:35
Sacred Assembly: Communion
February 21, 2010
Marks of a Church
Luke 24.35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. Typically, we go straight through books of the Bible verse by verse, but occasionally we preach a short topical series on what the elders consider important issues for our church and our culture. So, between James and Habakkuk, we find ourselves in the fourth week of five in our Sacred Assembly series. This series is our effort to explain what the church is, and what makes a good one…according to the Bible. More than that, it is our public declaration that Damascus Road is more concerned with being biblical than we are with being cool, relevant, or attractive—if those things collide. That doesn’t mean we pretend that it is still 1950 in our churches, we do need to reach the culture today. But we must come to the conviction that being biblical is how to be most relevant to a culture that needs salvation—that for some things we should act the 50’s AD.
To that end, in WEEK ONE we learned that the church are God’s special people, a family that gathers to worship Jesus in his presence through His Spirit. In WEEK TWO, we learned how we worship through the proclamation of God’s Word—the means through which God brings life and growth. In WEEK THREE, we learned how God calls particular men to lead His people and protect the purity of our worship, men who will give an account for how they’ve lead. Today, in our FOURTH WEEK, we’ll talk about the zenith, the pinnacle, the moment that all moments should point to in our worship service—Communion.
That might surprise some of us to hear that. I grew up in the church and never, perhaps, until this series realized the place of Communion in the church. For those who haven’t a clue what I am talking about, Communion, also called the Eucharist (thanksgiving), or the Lord’s Table, is a family meal taken every week at Damascus Road. Following our worship through the sermon, as we worship in song, people come forward and take a small piece of bread and dip it in a grape-derived product, and eat it. My concern for today’s church, for our church, is that Communion has lost its sacredness and, as a result, its meaning. Many of us grew up at churches where we took communion once a month out of routine. Ushers would pass large shiny plates with microscopic crackers that got stuck in our teeth after one bit. Then, another shiny stacked plat would come around with small smurf-size cups of juice. AND, without much thought, we’d take a cup and wafer because it felt weird not to. The experience felt obligatory, like an add-on, something you did out of obligation with little intentionality once a month. In truth, It is one of the identifying practices of a Christian Church—it should appears strange to the world. I’m afraid, that it might even be strange to us.
When we look at how various Christians worship today, it is apparent that few believe that Communion is the central aim and goal of worship. Our entire concept of worship is skewed. If someone asks how your “worship” was on Sunday they’ll respond with how the music made them feel—good, bad, or vanilla. What I was able to feel or do becomes the measure of our worship versus God. In truth, we worship with our voices, we worship through hearing and proclaiming the Word, we worship in our giving, but we worship in a particularly powerful way through Communion.
Why do we do Communion? - The Last Supper (Luke 22.14-20)
Acts 2 reveals to us that the breaking of bread was one of the FIRST things that the church began to do. Why? The short answer is that the Jesus told them to. Luke 22.14ff records how Jesus left his followers with two different sacraments to regularly practice. A sacrament is a visible symbol of something invisible. In other words, it is a physical representation of what has happened spiritually in the believer who participates in it. Jesus instructed his disciples in two practice communion whenever you gathered and to baptize disciples.
Jesus commanded baptism as he ascended to heaven, as part of the GREAT COMMISSION. BUT Communion was instituted by Jesus on the night before he would be crucified. Only hours before he was to be betrayed and arrested, a Jewish Jesus sat down with his Jewish disciples to celebrate the Jewish feast called Passover. Luke 22 .14-20 14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Jesus had celebrated Passover for each of the 33 years of his life. And before then, it has been practiced by Jews since their redemption fromEgypt. In essence, Jesus took what had been celebrated for thousands of years and suddenly made it all about HIM.
Passover Bread (Exodus 12.1-14; Deut. 6)
What as Passover? Passover was an annual feast that the Lord, through Moses, instituted prior to Israelleaving Egypt. First recorded in Exodus 12, the Israelites are given specific instructions right before God unleashes his wrath in the 10th and final plague. Each household were to take a one year old male lamb, without blemish, and slaughter it at twilight. Then, they were to take some of the blood and smear it across their doorway as a substitute for the firstborns of their homes—the wrath of God would PASSOVER their home—but it would kill the firstborn child or animal in every other home.
After covering their door, they were to feast on the lamb and to eat unleavened bread. As they wander through the wilderness, Moses reminds them of the ceremony: Deuteronomy 16.1-3 “Observe the month of Abib and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Abib the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 And you shall offer the Passover sacrifice to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, at the place that the Lord will choose, to make his name dwell there. 3 You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. It is called the called the “bread of affliction” because it was made and eaten in haste before the Exodus (no time to let it rise). When the bread is eaten during the Passover meal, the host breaks the bread and says something along the lines of: “This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in want come and celebrate the Passover with us. May it be God’s will to redeem us from all evil and from all slavery.” It was at the serving of this bread to His disciples that Jesus said “this is my body broken for you”.
Jesus & Bread
This wasn’t the first time that Jesus talked about being connected with bread. In John 6, after Jesus feeds the five thousand and, after doing this, he perceived that the people wanted to make him King. So, he makes a quick exit and goes off a mountain by himself. Meanwhile, his disciples set off across the sea. Jesus had not showed up yet so the crowds let them go. They rowed about four miles across, which is about halfway, before it began to get rough. Then Jesus comes walking on the water and climbs into the boat, encouraging them not to be afraid. When crowds finally realized Jesus wasn’t coming back, they jumped in their own boats and rowed after Jesus. When they catch up to Him, Jesus rebukes them for their motives (they just wanted bread) and reveals tot them who he really is (not just a food bank) and what they truly need (not just full stomachs): v. 47-51 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
So what does this all mean? It means that if Jesus is going to tell his disciples to remember them as they break bread “THAT IS HIS BODY” and earlier that, anyone that eats of his body will be given life, perhaps this is more than just something we do—perhaps why we are here at all IS MOST EXEMPLIFIED in COMMUNION. If as the Bible teaches, we were made to worship God, perhaps, we don’t do that through music, the building, the fellowship, the studies, the sermon, as DEEPLY as we do through COMMUNION.
This brings us to the verse we started with in Luke 24. After His resurrection, according to Luke, before He appeared to the 12 disciples, Jesus (incognito) appeared to two other disciples walking out of town toward a city called Emmaus. Jesus began to walk with these disciples, hiding his identity. They were upset about Jesus being crucified, having expected him to be made King and to “redeem” Israel as had been done in Egypt’s day. Despondent, they described how the tomb had been found empty that morning by a few women who “said” they saw angels. Jesus then reveals himself to them and begins to teach them how ALL OF THIS HAD TO HAPPEN this way: Luke 24.27-35 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The word “known” comes from the same Greek Word used in v. 16 and 21 which says “to recognize”. But here, Luke uses a stronger form of the verb to “to know.” The disciples use this term to reveal to the disciples how their despair in what happened and their doubt in Jesus has been transformed. Their experience did not merely symbolize what Jesus had done, but it in fact confirmed that Jesus WAS KING and God revealed this truth THROUGH this meal.
What Communion Means
And within a few days, after Pentecost, the disciples began to practice the breaking of bread. Acts 2.42 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And, perhaps it is stretching this verse a bit because they could mean they know him in the sense that they recognized him when he broke bread. But, I’d rather argue that it is through COMMUNION that we in fact KNOW Jesus in a way unlike anything else we do:
Through history, there have been arguments between brothers in Christ, about what exactly is happening when we take communion. (1) Some argue that the bread and wine actually change into the body and bread of Christ; (2) others that they remain the same while Jesus’ presence is really there; (3) and others that they are simply representations. Regardless of the view chosen, the one thing that is shared by all views is that we are ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING IN SOMETHING!
- NEW LIFE – It reminds us of our REDEMPTION for slavery to sin. It is a declaration of the eternal truth of the gospel—of the fact that Jesus died in our place for our sins, and he was raised to give us a new life. Jesus is not crucified every time we take communion, rather, we REMEMBER the work is finished. The shame has been taken, the guilt removed, you are FREE! He suffered once for all, for your sins past, present, and future. We have been freed from our sin, saved from God’s wrath, and adopted into the family of the King who is now reigning in victory.
- RENEWED LIFE – And now only is it participating in what God has DONE, but in what he is doing. It is the very place where we recognize our SANCTIFICATION—that we are in a redeemed work in progress. We do not repent once, we confess and repent ALL THE TIME. The act of communion, unlike any other time or event in our lives, calls Christians to put their sin to death in the light of the fact that Jesus died, compels us to examine OURSELVES and repent before partaking
- SHARED LIFE – But this is not a handi-snack lunch for one—this is a meal where we SHARE in our UNITY. We participate together in Christ’s death for the church—for us. We see our life born together, as our life growing together, as our sin affecting each other, our faith working itself out together. This is the beauty of the gospel, the unity of God’s people. We worship together with our voices in song; we worship together through hearing the Word of God proclaimed; we worship together through giving of our offerings; and we worship together through taking of communion—Jesus dying for the church, forgiving the church, caring for the church. As I take this I say to you and you say to me…I am your brother in Jesus—I love you in Jesus.
- ETERNAL LIFE – Finally, Jesus told his disciples to do this in remembrance of him. Paul wrote in 1Corithians 11.26 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. It is not only our life, our growth, our unity, it is our HOPE. This one meal points us toward the future marriage supper where we will sit with Jesus and feast with him.
In other words, Communion is more than a meaningless routine; it is a Sacred meal that means something. Through this powerful active experience, we come to know Jesus intimately in a way that sets us apart from the world as genuine believers (Luke 24.25). Not only are we memorializing his death for us, we are proclaiming it. Not only are we proclaiming, we are participating in the benefits of that death. As we receive physical nourishment, the meal gives us spiritual nourishment. As we take the bread and cup individually, we do so in unity with one another. Together, we affirm Jesus’ love for us and the blessings that come from that love. Together, and all at once, we affirm our sinfulness and our faith in Jesus to cleanse us from all sins. It is a meal like no other, one filled with joy, thanksgiving, and a deep abiding love (John 6.22-59).
How we take Communion?
This is why we take communion EVERY TIME we gather. You have a choice to take communion and Paul warns people to be careful about taking it. How we take communion matters, not only for you as an individual, but for the family. 1Corinthians 11.27-34 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
If you are not a Christian, don’t take communion. Do not feel ashamed, embarrassed, or weird. Communion is for those who have been adopted into God’s family through the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you are an unrepentant Christian, do not take communion—confess and repent of your sin, you may still be a brother or sister, but you and Dad are not on speaking terms, making it impossible for us to fellowship with you. If you are out of unity with someone in the body, with a leader, a fellow member, or a brother not here, don’t take communion until you have sought to restore that relationship—as much as it depends on you.
For those who are Christians, FEAST on the LORD. Remember what God has done, what he is doing, and experience it, perhaps for the first time, as a family member set apart for God’s glory.